A lot of information can be gleaned about a surface area just by taking the ground temperature data. If a crop field is under stress, for example, the ground temperature will be elevated long before there’s any actual indication of the stress on the plant itself, Hydrosat CEO and co-founder Pieter Fossel explained to TechCrunch. Now, with a new $5 million injection in seed funding, he hopes to launch Hydrosat’s first surface temperature analytics product for customers.
The seed round was led by Cultivation Capital’s newly launched Geospatial Technologies Fund, with participation by Freeflow Ventures, the Yield Lab, Expon Capital, Techstars, Industrious Ventures, Synovia Capital and the University of Michigan.
The geospatial data analytics startup, which started at the end of 2017, plans to gather surface temperature data using satellites equipped with thermal infrared sensors. Beyond agricultural data, surface temperature can also provide information about wildfire risk, water stress and drought — all important variables if you believe, as Fossel does, that climate change is already starting to exert forces on the planet.
While ground temperature data is collected by legacy institutions like NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), it’s not gathered at a very high frequency — sometimes a specific location’s ground temperature is only read every 16 days or so — or at a high resolution. Hydrosat hopes to fill in those existing data gaps. The company also collects data on other bands, using a multispectral infrared camera, but its primary value proposition is in its thermal data.
The first satellite will head to low Earth orbit with Loft Orbital on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the second half of 2022. That mission is named after Hydrosat’s former CEO, Jakob van Zyl, who passed away from heart attack about a year ago. Although the launches add a certain flair, Fossel stressed that the company is “a content company and a data company first.”
“We’re also developing some applications that sit on top of that [surface temperature] product that are geared towards crop yield forecasting, drought detection, and irrigation management,” he said. “Because these are all fundamentally driven by water stress and all of those applications are fundamentally enabled by our core product, which is land surface temperature data.”
Hydrosat’s first customers have been governments, in the form of a contract with the ESA and three SBIR contracts with the U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense. But through the raise, the company can start to deliver its product to commercial customers, which may include agribusinesses, insurance companies and even other companies that want to do analytics on top of its collection of ground surface data.
“[Hydrosat] will probably start in agriculture, which is our core focus, but it could branch out across industries, because temperature is a signal of a whole host of activities beyond our focus, which is environment, water, stress, food,” he explained. “Temperature is also a signal of economic activity. There’s a lot of cool use cases for temperature, from kind of a defense and security standpoint, as well.”
Looking to the future, Hydrosat has plans to launch a 16-satellite constellation to enable global monitoring. But that’s only the medium-term focus, Fossel said. The company’s long-term plans could include launching additional satellites, adding additional bands to deepen its data offerings, or building out its analytics layer. “Beyond that, it’s really about providing the underlying data that enables some of these applications in drought, food security, water stress, wildfire, and defense and security,” he added.