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Space companies are trying to tap into new markets with big data

Illustrated collage of circular shapes, spheres and binary code.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Space companies are trying to grow a market for the massive amounts of data beamed back from satellites each day.

The big picture: It's cheaper than ever to launch Earth-observing satellites to space, making it easier to collect large amounts of data from orbit.

But the market for imaging and analytics companies is still mostly limited to government customers and sophisticated, high-paying users like the oil and gas industry.

"There are very few industries out there that wouldn't in some way benefit from this kind of data. ... How do we make that an efficient and effective process to make that happen? And there's no magical answer to that, but it is going to take a lot of different companies trying different things."
— Krystal Wilson of the Secure World Foundation

What's happening: Companies collecting data from orbit are now offering processing and analysis of it in an effort to expand their revenue and customer base.

  • Planet — a company with more than 100 Earth-gazing satellites in orbit — can image anywhere on Earth each day, and the company sees a future in data analytics.
  • "Our goal to make satellite imagery universally useful to everyone by indexing the objects in every image and developing a database of not just images, but the physical objects in those images," a Planet spokesperson told Axios via email.
  • Spire is also focusing on analyzing its own data for customers interested in weather systems, resource management and other applications.

What's next: Some companies are attempting to gather satellite data from different sources and make it easily available to a wide variety of users.

  • Hypergiant and Dynetics are partnering with one another to make it easier and more efficient to gather and analyze data from space.
  • "Right now, the cost of getting data from space has kept the information flow relatively narrow. However, as we put more satellites into space and we decrease the cost of getting that data, more companies will demand it," Hypergiant CEO Ben Lamm said via email.
  • The market for Earth observation and analysis could grow to $7 billion by 2028 from about $3 billion currently, according to Northern Sky Research senior analyst Dallas Kasaboski.

Yes, but: Satellite companies by and large are interested in catering to big government contracts and other large corporations with deep pockets over making their data accessible to the masses, at least for now.

  • "It's one of the reasons why these players are still focused on the bigger fish, because they know that it's a several hundred million dollar program, they have to recoup that cost in a five to 10 year timeframe," Kasaboski told Axios.
  • Creating a new market is also a slow process in general, and this part of the space industry is just at the beginning of this work, Wilson said.

The bottom line: Companies collecting and analyzing Earth-observation data will need more than just government contracts to grow a sustainable market.

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