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With Two New Satellites, Canada's Space Station Camera Company is Getting Huge

The acquisition is the third in a string of big announcements from UrtheCast this month, which is trying to establish itself as a key player in the growing earth imaging industry.

Matthew Braga

Matthew Braga

Image: Jesse Allen/NASA Earth Observatory image using Landsat data from the US Geological Survey

Not content with putting two high definition cameras on the International Space Station early last year, Canadian company UrtheCast just bought itself a pair of satellites. The acquisition is the third in a string of big announcements from UrtheCast this month, which is trying to establish itself as a key player in the growing earth imaging industry.

UrtheCast announced on Monday that it had acquired a "world leading satellite imagery provider," Deimos Imaging, a subsidiary of Spanish engineering and infrastructure company Elecnor S.A. The Spanish company has about 50 employees, operates the Deimos-1 and Deimos-2 earth imaging satellites, and owns a global archive of Earth imagery, according to a post on the company's blog.

The cost of the sale was €74.2 million, or about $100 million CAD.

Last week the Vancouver-based company unveiled a series of full-colour videos taken with its ultra-high definition Iris camera for the first time. Then, on June 19, UrtheCast announced its intention to build, launch and operate a constellation of at least 16 Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imaging satellites, which can generate high-resolution 2D and even 3D imagery regardless of weather or time of day.

Now, the Deimos satellite acquisition means that UrtheCast may soon have a trio of different space-based earth imaging sensors, assuming its SAR satellite constellation launches in 2019 and 2020 go according to plan.

"UrtheCast is rapidly accelerating its mission to democratize earth observation imagery, and bring a unique dataset and distribution model to customers and users that up until now, has not been available anywhere in the marketplace," explained Scott Larson, UrtheCast co-founder and CEO, in a statement.

The Deimos-1 satellite was launched in 2009, and captures 22-metre resolution images over a span of 650 kilometres. Deimos-2, launched in 2014, can capture detailed 75 centimetre "pan-sharpened" images—higher-resolution grayscale images augmented with lower-resolution data from multiple spectrums—over a 12 kilometre range.

The company's full imagery archive consists of a whopping 6.5 billion square kilometres, give or take.

The acquisition is an important step for UrtheCast in expanding its global presence and competing against companies such as the Google-owned SkyBox, which uses low-cost Cubesats. For example, Deimos counts the European Space Agency and European governmental agencies amongst its customers—which makes them UrtheCast customers now, too.