British Columbia — Commercial remote-sensing company RapidEye AG expects to finish establishing a global network of distributors for its satellite data by the end of the year. At the same time, a strategic partnership with ‘s MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) will give customers the option of downloading imagery directly from the five-satellite constellation.

RapidEye Vice President John Ahlrichs said the business model is to have one distributor for each territory, although those firms would have some rights to sell data worldwide on a non-exclusive basis. Due to the nature of the market, RapidEye will have multiple distributors in the United States. “We are well into the process of selection of our distributors in , and have just started the process for the rest of South America, , ,” Ahlrichs noted. “Other regions will follow as our expectation is to have the world covered by the end of the year.”

He said RapidEye’s core business is in developing wide area, repetitive monitoring, change detection and assessment services that are based on multitemporal, multispectral image analysis. RapidEye AG announced Feb. 4 that its constellation had successfully completed all of its post-launch testing and calibration activities and was ready to take on commercial operations. The five satellites were launched in August 2008 and are capable of downloading more than 4 million square kilometers of multispectral imagery per day. The data from the optical satellites with 6.5-meter resolution can be used by customers in the agriculture, forestry, energy, and defense intelligence sectors.

Over the last several months RapidEye AG of , has announced a series of distribution deals for the satellite data. In January it named Beijing Earth Observation Inc. (BEO), a subsidiary of Eastdawn Group Inc., as its Chinese distributor. In February it reached a contractual agreement with the Mexican company Bufete de Ingeniera en Telecomunicaciones y Sistemas, S.A. de C.V. (B.I.T.S.), to be its sole distributor of satellite imagery in and announced its partnership with the Moscow-based company Sovzond as distributor of imagery for markets in , , , , and . That same month RapidEye announced it had entered into an agreement with MakaLani LLC of Honolulu for that firm to become its distributor of satellite information in the United States will focus on selling to the government, in particular to the Department of Defense as well as intelligence organizations, said David Germroth, MakaLani’s representative for government relations and marketing.

Germroth said although RapidEye’s resolution is not as good as other satellites, its daily revisit capability and multiple spacecraft allow it to “get the big picture anywhere in the world.”

“It’s sort of a like a canary in the coal mine opportunity,” he explained. “The data is not that expensive so if an analyst wants a broader area analysis of a part of the world and they don’t want to spend a lot of money on that, RapidEye can provide that service.”

After the initial data collection, then other intelligence assets could be cued to the area of interest, Germroth added.

Since the RapidEye constellation revisits the same area on a regular basis, there is also the ability to use the satellites for change detection, he noted. “We’ve been marketing pretty heavily and we have some significant things already set up,” said Germroth who declined to discuss the company’s military and intelligence customers.

RapidEye and the constellation’s prime contractor MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates also entered into a strategic agreement in April on the distribution of RapidEye-compatible downlink systems, said Wade Larson, MDA’s director of business development for space missions.MDA of British Columbia selected as the sole supplier of direct downlink systems for those who want their own ground stations for RapidEye.

“These are customers with bigger data requirements who simply want to own the entire operation themselves,” Larson explained. “That’s a little bit of a deviation from the RapidEye business model.”

He said the original plan called for RapidEye to obtain the data from the satellites, process and analyze it and then provide the customer with the information.”All that is in place but what they’re finding is that there is a category of customers who want their own ground station, who want to receive the data hot and then make their own use of that,” Larson said. “We’re partnering with [RapidEye] on the development of those stations.”

Larson did not provide details about potential ground station customers. The systems could be offered either as additions to existing satellite ground stations or as completely new ground stations.”There is always a degree of customization for the specific customer but a lot of the pieces are fairly standard,” he said. “You want [a] data management system, an archiving system; these are modules that can be put in there with a degree of customization.”

Larson said the market for RapidEye data was originally focused on agricultural uses but has grown to support other applications. He said the constellation’s high-revisit capability, for instance, can be used for the mapping of larger areas for defense intelligence purposes or taking inventory of forested areas for government departments.

In a statement, RapidEye Chief Executive Wolfgang Biedermann, said the marketing of ground stations will allow the firm to appeal to more customers. “The expansion of the RapidEye offering to include direct data downlink services will complement RapidEye’s core products and services business and will allow RapidEye to serve even more customers with near real-time imaging requirements,” he said.