PlanetiQ's latest satellites carry the fourth-generation Pyxis radio occultation sensor which receives signals from all four global navigation satellite system constellations: Beidou, Galileo, Glonass and GPS. Credit: PlanetiQ

Correction: An earlier version of this story said PlanetiQ won a $60 million NOAA contract to provide radio occultation weather data. The company has since said it won an $8 million task order under a multiple-vendor contract with a potential maximum value of $60 million.

SAN FRANCISCO – PlanetiQ won an $8 million order to deliver daily weather data to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration over six months.

It was the first task order under a NOAA indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract awarded in March to PlanetiQ and Spire Global. The overall contract has a potential value of $60 million over five years.

The $8 million contract was PlanetiQ’s first sale of operational radio occultation data for numerical weather models. In the past, Golden, Colorado-based PlanetiQ has delivered data to other government agencies for evaluation and testing.  

“This is a very big deal for us,” PlanetiQ CEO Ira Scharf told SpaceNews. “NOAA is obviously one of the biggest buyers of weather data in the world. It’s a tremendous credibility boost. It shows the quality of our data, the reliability of our data and the impact that data can have on weather forecasting.”

PlanetiQ plans to establish a 20-satellite constellation. Two PlanetiQ satellites are in orbit and a third is scheduled to launch later this year. Several more” are on deck for 2024, Scharf said.

Bending Light

PlanetiQ’s satellites are equipped with receivers to pick up signals from the U.S. Global Positioning System, Russia’s Glonass, Europe’s Galileo and China’s Beidou global navigation satellite systems. Atmospheric density, which bends the angle of the GNSS signals, can reveal temperature, pressure, humidity and electron density in the signal’s path.

“Our state-of-the-art, next-generation radio occultation sensors, called Pyxis, are smaller, lighter and consume less power, but have nearly three times the data collection capability than any other system in operation today as we receive signals from all four world-wide GNSS constellations,” Rob Kursinski, PlanetiQ co-founder and chief scientist, said in a statement.

Scharf added that the PlanetiQ data will help NOAA “significantly improve short and medium-range weather forecasts, and provide essential insights to enhance climate change research for the government, military and the private sector.”

“PlanetiQ is very pleased to be selected by NOAA to support its global operational needs for GNSS-RO,” Chris McCormick, PlanetiQ co-founder and president, said in a statement. “We look forward to launching more spacecraft in the next 18 months to expand our global coverage and resolution to further support NOAA and international partners in weather forecasting and climate research.”

Slow and Steady Development

Founded in 2015, PlanetiQ has raised more than $35 million to date, including $18.7 million in 2019.

PlanetiQ established a radio occultation constellation after some of its competitors like Spire Global and GeoOptics, but company officials say the time was well spent since their receivers produce high-quality data at low cost.

Space Weather

In addition to improving terrestrial weather forecasts, radio occultation data is useful for understanding space weather.

NOAA awarded contracts last year to GeoOptics, PlanetiQ and Spire to provide space weather data as part of a pilot program to test the value of the commercial observations.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...