Startup company Albedo has received the first U.S. license to commercially sell 10-centimeter imagery. The company has taken advantage of new regulation released by the U.S. Department of Commerce in July 2020, working with NOAA’s Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs Office to work out the details.
High-resolution satellite imagery has always been a controversial issue within the earth observation community. Commercial firms want to sell the best possible imagery while the U.S. government has been concerned about high-quality/high-detail images compromising national security or affecting the security of U.S. allies. The U.S. government has until last year had a more conservative approach to allowing the sale of imagery with Europe selling higher-resolution imagery to commercial firms, followed by complaints by U.S.-licensed firms to match capabilities and sales capabilities.
Commerce recognized the old policy lagged behind and was reactive to foreign competitors, especially since those competitors weren’t bound by any restrictions. Under the new rules, Albedo is a “Tier 3” provider with unique capabilities – 10-centimeter imagery – that no current U.S. or foreign company can generate, giving it an advantage in the commercial marketplace. Sale of Albedo’s imagery can be temporarily limited if requested by the U.S. government for national security reasons, notes Payload.
The higher-quality 10-centimeter imagery provides better detail, enabling insurers to measure roofs and assess properties more accurately. Companies currently dependent on local drone and aircraft flights for gathering information can tap into Albedo’s images for the same results without the headaches of scheduling flights or monitoring drones.
Albedo, via a blog post on its website, notes the hard work is still ahead. The company has to build and operate satellites operating below the 400 kilometer altitude of the International Space Station. Flying lower to the earth’s surface means more atmospheric drag, even at the wispy edges of space, so satellites have to include thrusters and incorporate other design features, so they don’t simply slow down and get dragged back to earth months after launch.
Flying closer to the earth provides significant benefits as well. Cameras closer to the earth, like Albedo’s, can take better quality imagery and radios need smaller antennas and less power to transmit data than ones flying higher.
Albedo raised a $10 million seed round earlier this year and hasn’t announced a date when it plans to fly its first satellites. Given the size and early stage of the company, it’s probably getting some M&A offers from larger firms that would like to add the technology to their expansion plans.