How does the business of selling Earth observation data work?

There is an ever-increasing number of satellites in orbit around Earth. There are more firms every day that are using satellite-provided Earth observation imagery to provide services. How does the Earth observation imagery get from the satellites to the service providers? There is a position in the value chain between the two business areas, and one firm in that niche is SkyWatch. We asked Marine Dumontier, SkyWatch’s marketing manager, about the firm’s value proposition and how it fits into the space sector. 

What services does SkyWatch provide its customers?

SkyWatch is building digital infrastructure for the automated distribution of Earth observation (EO) data. With terabytes of EO data being captured every day by hundreds of satellites, we made it our mission to make these datasets available to a new generation of geospatial data users.

Thanks to our platform EarthCache™, developers can access a variety of low, medium, and high resolution datasets programmatically. With just a few lines of code, they can integrate EarthCache data into their application and retrieve data from any of our growing list of data partners, which include many of the industry’s key players such as SIIS, 21AT, Planet, ESA, NASA, and more. 

Adopting EarthCache into any development environment eliminates the need for multiple integrations and costly multi-point searches. Instead, EarthCache allows development teams to focus on their business application and in delivering actionable geospatial intelligence to their end-user.

SkyWatch has also developed TerraStream™,an automated data management platform that helps satellite operators and data providers cost-effectively distribute their data while simplifying their operations and expanding market reach. TerraStream eliminates the need for satellite operators to invest in building and managing a complex and costly IT infrastructure and technical team. TerraStream is an end-to-end, fully integrated, customer management, data management, and distribution platform that can have emerging satellite companies ready to sell data in days instead of years. 

How do these services differ from those offered by other similar companies?

Traditionally, the EO data market has been dominated by a small group of companies owning the majority of satellites and focused primarily on selling the collected data via large government and military contracts. With thousands of new satellites scheduled to launch over the next decade, there is an increasing availability of high-quality EO data, both in terms of variety and quality of resolution.

As a result, hundreds of thousands of new applications using satellite data will be developed by companies looking to cost-effectively monitor assets. These application areas include fintech, precision agriculture, smart cities, forestry, mining, civil engineering, oil and gas, energy, utilities, and insurance.  NSR’s Satellite-based Earth Observation, 9th Edition Reportforecasts the global opportunity for the sale of satellite imagery to reach $1.8 billion by 2026, driven by high demand downstream, and more competition upstream from new players and constellations.

SkyWatch is aggregating the world’s satellite data, offering application developers and data scientists an easy way to access EO data. Data available through EarthCache is scrubbed, normalized, clipped, and pre-processed, allowing customers with no previous geospatial experience to generate insights from these datasets right away for their internal stakeholders or external customers. 

The EarthCache platform is uniquely designed for applications developers and data engineers. With one API call, they can search terabytes of data and retrieve only the specific data they need, or place tasking orders for future data to be delivered upon collection, allowing them to monitor areas at regular intervals.

SkyWatch also offers developers full access to downloadable data without the need to share their algorithms and do any further processing in our application. We make it easy for development teams to reliably find the data they need while keeping their proprietary algorithms private. 

What benefits would a satellite operator gain from outsourcing data distribution rather than build their own IT infrastructure?

The space industry is full of stories of companies gathering hundreds of millions of dollars in investments to launch a new constellation only to declare bankruptcy before they can achieve profits. This is a notoriously hard-to-enter market, with the majority of actors relying heavily on government funding and contracts to operate profitably. 

While a shorter revisit time, finer resolution, and different band availability could prove to be a truly competitive distinction for a satellite company, a reliable and robust digital infrastructure for data storage, indexing, and delivery is more of an undifferentiated attribute. However, for a growing segment of the market, immediate and programmatic access to stored data is now a requirement for purchase. 

Rather than spend tens of millions of dollars building and maintaining that IT infrastructure, new satellite companies are now turning to SkyWatch to outsource that work. By relying on a company with an already established infrastructure in place, these companies can ensure their data will be available for purchase as soon as they finish calibrating their satellites, saving them months if not years of time before they can generate revenue from their investments.

Additionally, the SkyWatch TerraStreamplatform can be plugged into SkyWatch’sEarthCachemarketplace, offering satellite operators direct access to an established base of buyers without having to spend a cent on marketing or sales efforts. As a result, data providers can redirect part of their initial funding towards other parts of the business, offering them a much stronger chance of success long-term.

How would you classify the segment of the space sector in which SkyWatch operates, and how does it relate to other segments in the space sector (e.g. launches, satellite manufacturing)?

SkyWatch fills the gap between ground stations and algorithm providers. A new generation of companies is being built around extracting insights from geospatial data at scale while a growing number of satellites will be placed into orbit to collect new data. SkyWatch is allowing developers and data scientists to access geospatial datasets that were previously reserved for a specialized few. Additionally, SkyWatch is making it easier than ever for newer constellations to distribute their data to their customers.