Real-Time Satellite Data Arrives

Real-Time Satellite Data Arrives

Satellogic looks to change data collection

Weighing an average of 100 lb. and spinning around the globe at 16,800 mph, 15 satellites will soon be firing vital data to farmers at unprecedented speed from roughly 450 miles above Earth. By the end of 2015, Satellogic, a new Earth-imaging company, will launch its first service constellation and offer initial services of high-resolution imaging and video in several spectral bands.

Communication among the 15-craft fleet is cross-linked through the company’s mesh network, allowing Satellogic to be in contact with its satellites at all times. Most current observation satellites fly in low orbit at roughly 450 miles in height and travel at 80,000 mph. 

A single orbit around Earth takes about 90 minutes. Typically, controllers can only communicate with satellites when they are above a given ground station—for only a few minutes per orbit. The establishment of the mesh network secures around-the-clock access to satellites, allowing the download and delivery of images in real time, as compared with current time frames that can take days or even weeks to transmit images from satellites to customers.

The Satellogic system can take images in different spectral bands. “The material can be correlated from the different bands to specific aspects of farm management—crop stress and nitrogen uptake, for example,” says Emiliano Kargieman, founder and CEO of Satellogic. 

“We use the information to build predictive models and do daily crop monitoring for individual farmers looking at irrigation, fertilization or crop health—and deliver daily or weekly crop reports to producers,” he says.

Satellite data is often available through major corporations or government organizations, but getting access to data is sometimes difficult and expensive. However, as agriculture turns to data science to increase efficiency of water, fertilizer and other inputs, Kargieman believes opening access and lowering costs of satellite data are crucial. 

Richard Bennett, a grower in California’s San Joaquin Valley, notes the limitations of current satellite systems: “In trying to combat citrus greening disease, which many consider the AIDS of the plant world, we had a very costly project going with NASA, and they did some very expensive flyovers to gather data. The flights are fairly high, costly and they can’t go slow enough. However, Satellogic is coming to the table with lower cost satellites and an array of spectral technology, and that’s what’s drawing agricultural attention.”

A promising technology such as Satellogic, with multiple data offerings, will be extremely beneficial to a range of crop producers. Bennett says the new class of satellites will be able to pick up soil variations and direct farmers when modifying irrigation.

The satellites are designed for a lifespan of three years. This enables Satellogic to send a new generation of crafts up every few years to keep pace with technological innovations. Satellogic is firming up launch agreements with providers across the globe, and three prototypes are already in orbit. Kargieman plans on full operation by the end of 2015 with service to the agriculture and oil industries.  

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