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Why we invested in micro-satellite company, ICEYE

Author: Vinoth Jayakumar

Posted on

Over the past ten years, river floods have been one of the most dangerous natural disasters. Deluges have killed thousands a year. This number is set to accelerate as climate change is projected to affect weather patterns, making them not just much more frequent, but also much less predictable.

NASA recently called for new satellite systems to manage early warning signals. George Allen, the lead author of the new research, stated “Our study shows that there’s room for satellites to help fill in the gap. However, for satellites to inform real-time flood mitigation, they have to provide data to water managers within a sufficiently short lag time.”

The ability the satellite has given us to gather intelligence, assist national security and monitor natural disasters has been paramount to the development of all nations. However, data access from satellites is limited to very few organisations, usually government-backed, due to cost and privileged access.

As we make this announcement, Mount Kilauea, currently erupting in Hawaii is affecting the lives of thousands of locals, causing evacuations and earthquakes. Volcanoes such as Kilauea are under close monitoring with specialised instruments. There are, however, approximately 1,500 active volcanoes that are poorly monitored due to their remote locations.

Traditionally satellites have been dated, titanic objects mostly in high earth orbit and are slow to react, taking days or even weeks to adjust the position to see a specific view of earth. The alternative is a microsatellite enabling a constellation of satellites to achieve a much lower cost. This results in higher cadence leading to higher data quality and a useful data output which can then be used for insurance, national security, and natural disasters; a potential solution for the problems faced by current early warning flood systems or volcanic eruptions.

It is in this context that we are excited to announce our investment in Finland-based synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) data company ICEYE, the first satellite company in the world to have successfully launched an SAR satellite with a launch mass of under 100kg. Backing an incredibly young yet capable team whom can reduce the level of cost per satellite to as low as single-digit millions, including launch.

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Not only is it reducing the production cost significantly but does not displace anyone within the industry, helping to augment existing high orbit satellites with the potential to link up with drones in the future. ICEYE is unique in its use of radar satellite, benefiting from its ability to see through cloud cover and working day or night, allowing for much more reliable earth observation.

Led by True Ventures, we are pleased to join Seraphim Capital, Promus Ventures, Tesi, OTB Ventures, and Space Angels together with our sister funds, Draper Associates and Draper Nexus, coming together to form a syndicate. We hope to combine learnings from SpaceX investment via DFJ with Tim Draper. Through a high cadence of a satellite constellation which can detect change rapidly, we invest with hope for a much more interconnected and safer world.