Microsatellite radar imaging startup raises $13M to launch new constellation

Finland-based ICEYE is launching a constellation of microsatellites with the aim of helping provide a view from space where traditional imaging cannot, with images delivered within a few hours using a technology that is typically very expensive and difficult to deploy. The startup uses something called synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) to observe Earth even through clouds and in darkness, and it’s gearing up to launch its first three SAR-equipped microsatellites within the next year.

ICEYE raised $13 million in new funding to help develop and build its microsatellite constellation, including an $8.5 million round led by Draper Nexus, with participation from True Ventures, Lifeline Ventures, Space Angels, Draper Associates and Finnish Funding Agency for Innovations. In total, ICEYE has raised $18.7 million since its founding in 2015.

The startup’s unique tech is its in-house SAR sensor, which can acquire images and transfer them to clients on Earth within a few hours, but which is still build from relatively affordable off-the-shelf components. It’s making SAR data available at lower costs and with greater time efficiency than has previously been available, ICEYE says, offering a unique value proposition for this highly sought-after data type to potential commercial and government customers.

This kind of data is valuable in a number of markets, including in transportation, in construction and surveying, and in the insurance industry, to name a few. It can also be used to monitor ecological conditions, including deforestation, with the advantage that it isn’t impacted by adverse weather systems that might obscure traditional cameras. This is important, ICEYE notes, because two-thirds of the planet is either in darkness or covered by clouds at any given time.

ICEYE says it plans to start offering commercial data sometime in the first half of 2018 following its initial launches.