Spire seeks to expand business with Pentagon

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WASHINGTON — Spire Global, the company that operates a constellation of cubesats that collects a variety of radiofrequency data, is hiring a former Marine to help the company grow its business in the national security sector.

The San Francisco-based company announced March 5 that it has hired Paul Damphousse to lead its national security business development work at its Spire Federal business unit. Damphousse spent 22 years in the Marines as a pilot and space operations officer, with his final assignment before his 2011 retirement as chief of advanced concepts at the former National Security Space Office.

He has subsequently worked in industry, most recently as a senior director of business development as SES Government Solutions, the division of satellite operator SES that works with U.S. government customers. He also serves on the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee.

“I’m excited to join Spire and to lead the company’s growth into the critical national security sector,” Damphousse said in a statement. “Spire has established itself as a singular leader in the new space economy.”

In an interview, Peter Platzer, chief executive of Spire, said the company hired Damphousse to help the company take advantage of what it sees as growing interest from the national security community in the services its satellites provide.

“The interest from the United States government in the capabilities of smaller satellites is steadily increasing,” he said, including in national security. “We didn’t have someone, especially with as deep experience as Paul, looking at what capabilities we want to create to fulfill the mission needs of the various branches. Paul brings that to the table for us.”

Spire currently operates a constellation of 72 cubesats. The company is best known for using those satellites to collect GPS radio occultation data to support weather forecasting, and also flies payloads to collect Automatic Identification System (AIS) transmissions from ships and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) signals from aircraft.

The company also has the ability to add additional, customized payloads to its satellites for customers, something that Platzer said it would pursue with the Pentagon. He declined to go into details about specific capabilities and opportunities he sees with the Defense Department.

“This ability to launch a substantial number of payloads in a very short period time for, in Pentagon terms, insanely low cost, is something where we have seen a tremendous amount of interest,” he said.

Spire already does business with other government agencies, including NASA and NOAA. It has contracts with those two agencies to sell GPS radio occultation data as part of pilot programs that could lead to long-term data buy contracts. “I would say things are going really well” with those pilot programs, Platzer said. “We are fully committed to making this a success.”

While customers for Spire’s GPS radio occultation data are primarily governments, in both the United States and Europe, the demand for aviation and maritime tracking data is instead mostly from companies. “We see an acceleration of the customer sales cycle,” he said, including both the number of customers and amount of data they buy.

Spire plans to launch 30 to 40 new satellites this year, Platzer said, but argued the more important metrics are the number of payloads and their capabilities. Each satellite carries several payloads whose performance has increased significantly in the last few years.

“You have this multiplication effect where one satellite launched today is not just carrying more payloads than a satellite launched a year ago, but every single payload is significantly more capable,” he said. “We might launch 30 satellites this year, but their capabilities in terms of payloads and number of payloads could be something like 300 or 400 satellites of the version we launched two or two and a half years ago.”

Overall, Platzer said that “everything is growing in the triple digits” at Spire, including the number of customers and revenue. “We couldn’t be any happier with that.”

Spire raised $70 million in a Series C round in November 2017. Platzer said that the company’s growth now is increasingly funded by its revenue, but didn’t rule out raising more money. “We’re always interested in finding great partners,” he said.