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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.

Go deeper

Updated 6 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Inauguration Day dashboard

U.S. Capitol and stage are lit at sunrise ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden. Photo: Patrick Semansky - Pool/Getty Images

President Biden has delivered his inaugural address at the Capitol, calling for an end to the politics as total war but warning that "we have far to go" to heal the country.

What's next: Biden and Vice President Harris review readiness of military troops, a long-standing tradition to signify the peaceful transfer of power.

12 mins ago - Politics & Policy

President Joe Biden vows to be “a president for all Americans”

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Joe Biden sought to sooth a nation riven by political divisions and a global pandemic, but warned that "we have far to go" to heal the country and defeat a "virus that silently stalks the the country."

The big picture: Moments after taking the oath of office, Biden spoke on the Capitol’s West front, from the very steps that a pro-Trump mob launched an assault on Congress two weeks earlier. They were attempting to overturn an election where Biden defeated former President Donald Trump by more than 7 million votes.

Updated 29 mins ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: The Biden and Harris inauguration

Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were inaugurated as president and vice president respectively in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning.

Why it matters: Top Democrats and Republicans gathered for the peaceful transfer of power only two weeks after an unprecedented siege on the building by Trump supporters to disrupt certification of Biden's victory. Trump did not attend Wednesday's ceremony.