SAN FRANCISCO – Sen, a British startup, awarded Lithuanian satellite manufacturer NanoAvionics a contract to build five nanosatellites to capture ultra-high-definition video from space.
Each of the 16-unit cubesats will be equipped cameras to create EarthTV, a video streaming service to “inform, educate and inspire humanity,” Charles Black, Sen founder and CEO, told SpaceNews. “Video provides a different type of data to what’s currently available in the Earth-observation market. It provides information about our ever-changing world.”
Sen was founded in 2014 to develop video-streaming technology for satellites. Sen plans to offer its video service free of charge for individuals and to offer a premium services for businesses and other organizations.
The firm launched its first six ultra-high-definition cameras in 2019 as hosted payloads on a commercial satellite. In orbit, the steerable cameras have captured video of their satellite host and of Earth.
“We successfully demonstrated how our system can capture, record and stream 4K ultra-high-definition video from space,” Black said. “We are exploring a number of opportunities for more camera missions with spacecraft primes interested in deploying cameras for self-inspection.”
Under a contract of undisclosed value, NanoAvionics will manufacture 16-unit cubesat buses and integrate them with Sen’s payload in its European manufacturing and research facility in Vilnius, Lithuania. Simera Sense of South Africa is manufacturing ultra-high-definition cameras for the satellites. Each satellite will capture 1.5-meter, 10-meter, 50-meter and wide-angle ultra-high-definition imagery, said Black, who established a cloud computing startup before founding Sen.
Sen plans to launch the first EarthTV satellite in 2021, followed by four more in 2022.
“We are delighted to have chosen NanoAvionics because we feel they are innovative technically and have substantial flight heritage,” Black said.
Sen and NanoAvionics are conducting a study to determine how many satellites to launch in the EarthTV constellation. Black offered a rough estimate of about 100 satellites.
To obtain imagery updated hourly over most of Earth’s surface, Sen would need roughly 50 satellites “but we want to do better than that,” Black said.
Early adopters of Sen video service are likely to be government-backed projects focused on natural disasters and human migration, Black said.
Sen is developing an open-source data platform “to inspire applications and analytics developers around the world to see what they could do with the data,” Black said. “We’ll share in revenues from analytics and apps that are developed using our data.”
Sen has raised “several million dollars” from nearly 40 private investors, Black said. The firm’s first satellite-mounted cameras in space are also generating revenue, he added.
For NanoAvionics, the Sen contract is an important endorsement of nanosatellites and their growing capabilities, said
Vytenis Buzas, NanoAvionics co-founder and CEO.
NanoAvionics manufactures six-, 12- and 16-unit cubesats. The larger nanosatellites are the firm’s “most sought-after products and main workhorses in enabling innovative satellite missions in” in low Earth orbit, Buzas said in a statement.