Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

How Privateer aims to slash Earth imagery costs

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun3,2024

SAN FRANCISCO – Privateer’s recent acquisition of Orbital Insight sheds new light on the Hawaiian startup’s ambitious plans, which may include future acquisitions.

“We’re trying to build Uber for space data,” Alex Fielding, Privateer CEO and co-founder, told SpaceNews. “We’re treating nation states like drivers, satellites like cars and those of us that need to consume these data like riders. If you boil it down, what it solves is availability and price, which is similar to what Uber solved for Black car versus UberX.”

Since Privateer emerged from stealth in 2022, its leaders, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, said they were creating Uber for satellite data. But the firm appeared to be focused on space situational awareness until the purchase of Orbital Insight was announced May 6.

Privateer’s first product was Wayfinder, a visualization tool that merges space-traffic data from U.S. Space Command with observations from satellite operators and other sources. Orbital Insight is known for TerraScope, a geospatial analytics platform that fuses satellite and airborne observations with public and private data sources.

Privateer “has a platform for things in space that are looking at things on the ground.” Orbital Insight “has a platform for using these data to do an analysis on Earth,” Fielding said. “It couldn’t be a more natural fit.”

Inorganic Growth

Additional acquisitions could be coming.

“I’m sure it won’t be the last inorganic thing that we do to grow,” Fielding said. “But it’s definitely one that I am genuinely excited about. And I’m grateful that we get to do this together.”

The goal of merging Privateer and Orbital Insight is to seed new applications, like GPS did.

“How can we take GPS from a domain of targeting weapons systems to Pokémon Go and Tinder, and yet Earth observation has remained the domain of spying on each other from the inception? The imagination has been quite limited,” Fielding said.

Ramen and Beer

The first step in unleashing the potential of Earth observation is slashing the cost. Imagery should be cheap enough for application developers in college dorm rooms, Fielding said.

“An affordable price for a developer in a dorm room is ramen noodles and beer,” Fielding said, not $800 to $1,000 for a medium-resolution Earth image. “Global 2000 [companies] can’t afford that on a routine basis,” he added. “We have to fix that.”

Privateer aims to make Earth imagery inexpensive, in part, by enabling satellite operators to share imagery and data.

“One of our bets on the market is that the most sustainable thing you can do is share,” Fielding said. “If you have a camera over my house and I want to use it, just share. You don’t need to launch a second camera over my house.”

Free Tools

In addition, Privateer will offer free machine-learning and computer-vision tools to make it easy for people to gain insights.

“We’re going to open those up as microservices on the platform,” Fielding said. “You shouldn’t have to rebuild something that looks at multispectral data to tell you the health of your crop. We should just give that away and get people to go faster and build better applications.”

Customers will be able to quickly determine the number of “ships in a port, cars in a parking lot, minerals in a train car” or the amount of “pesticide on farmland,” Fielding said.

Fielding likens Privateer’s approach to Apple’s. By providing consumers with free access to mail, contacts, calendar and the Safari web browser, Apple cleared the way for a plethora of applications.

Financial Health

Privateer announced the close of a $56.5 million funding round at the same time as the Orbital Insight acquisition. Fielding declined to comment on what Privateer paid for Orbital Insight, saying “we are still restructuring and renegotiating contracts.”

Prior to the acquisition, “we were already raising capital,” Fielding said. The additional funds “enable us to go faster and we needed a certain amount of operating capital to give us a healthy runway.”

As private companies, neither Orbital Insight nor Privateer publish financial results. Revenue for Privateer and Orbital Insight, now a wholly owned Privateer subsidiary, are “quite healthy” and “in the double digits of millions,” based on generally accepted accounting principles, with strong bookings, Fielding said.

Over the last 12 months, U.S. and international governments provided 70 percent of Orbital Insight’s revenue. Declan Lynch, former Anduril Industries senior director, joined Privateer as chief revenue officer in April.

Lynch has “a background working for commercial companies that have government customers,” Fielding said.

When Privateer was evaluating the potential acquisition of Orbital Insight, “one of the things we looked at was gross margin,” Fielding said. “Gross margin at Orbital was traditionally something like 50 percent. Our’s was closer to 80 percent. Together, we ended up at a blended gross margin of about 65 percent. That’s a pretty healthy place for a business in the space world.”

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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One thought on “How Privateer aims to slash Earth imagery costs”
  1. Privateer’s strategy sounds promising, and the comparison to Uber’s disruptive model is intriguing. It’s interesting how they are aiming to revolutionize access to Earth imagery data. Looking forward to seeing how their acquisitions will shape the future of SpaceTech.

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