Investing in Space: Picture day

A satellite image captured on March 25, 2021 shows the container ship “Ever Given” wedged in the Suez canal.

Airbus / CNES

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Overview: Picture day

Smile. You’re on camera (in space). 

Recently the spotlight turned to an increasingly lucrative sector of the space industry — satellite imagery — thanks to space-focused research and investment firm Quilty Analytics. The market for space pictures matured in the past decade, with expanded use in conflict hot spots, infrastructure and supply chains, to name a few.

I chatted this week with Quilty’s Director of Research Caleb Henry, who authored a report for the firm on “Very High Resolution” imagery. If you ask Henry, though, the “V” in “VHR” could stand for Valuable.

“The sharper it is, the shinier it is,” he told me.

For a bit of background: The quality of a satellite image is defined by how much a pixel represents the Earth’s surface. So a resolution of 30 centimeters means that each pixel equals a distance of 30 centimeters on the ground. Quilty’s report broke the satellite imagery market into four categories ranging from VHR, at 50 centimeters or sharper, to Low Resolution, at 5 meters or more.

There were just 11 commercial VHR satellites in orbit as of 2022, operated by a handful of companies. Quilty projects that number will jump past 100 by 2027. But while demand has grown steadily, the report warns that the incoming supply is poised to outpace need. 

“A lot of the growth projections that have been put out there for satellite imagery, including VHR, are inflated – especially when you look at historical norms,” Henry cautioned.

Satellite imagery “struggled to prove itself for years” as a sector in the space industry, Henry said.

“Now that it has proved that it can exist, the next thing it needs to prove is that it can thrive.”

What’s up

  • First NASA astronauts who flew with SpaceX receive rare award: Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in a ceremony at the White House. The pair launched on SpaceX’s first crewed mission, Demo-2. – NASA
  • Sierra Space completes its third inflatable habitat burst test, which the company says exceeded NASA’s requirement for human-rated certification and showed the structure is “viable for 60 years.” – Watch
  • U.S. Treasury sanctions Chinese satellite manufacturer over allegations it supplied the Russian Wanger Group with satellite imagery of Ukraine in support of combat operations. – SpaceNews
  • Polaris Dawn crew completes Air Force Academy skydiving program, doing solo jumps as the team continues to prepare for the mission’s launch this year. – Polaris
  • Capella Space creates subsidiary for U.S. government customers, called Capella Federal, to expand the market reach of its synthetic aperture radar (SAR) products. – Capella
  • L3Harris delivers the NTS-3 satellite to the Air Force in preparation for launch later this year. – L3Harris
  • U.S. and India meet to discuss space collaboration, with the delegations discussing human spaceflight, policies for private companies, and more. – State Department
  • Axiom says governments are the primary customers for its upcoming crewed flights, rather than privately paying individuals or groups. – SpaceNews
  • LeoLabs debuts latest radar site in western Australia. The company now operates 10 space-tracking radars around the world. – LeoLabs
  • NASA maxes out ISS’ capabilities: The agency says it has reached full use of the International Space Station, in part due to the increase in crew flying each mission. – SpaceNews
  • Lockheed Martin completes work on first mid-sized spacecraft, which is set for a demonstration mission later this year. – Lockheed Martin
  • SpaceX launches 8th mission of the year as the company continues to deploy Starlink satellites. – SpaceflightNow

Industry maneuvers

  • Los Angeles-based Embedded Ventures kicks off an inaugural $100 million fund. The firm, led by Jenna Bryant and Jordan Noone, is looking to expand its portfolio with “patient capital” and a key relationship with the United States Space Force. – CNBC
  • Virgin Orbit adds more debt via the investment arm of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, with the company announcing a $10 million sale. The topoff follows debt raises of $20 million in December and $25 million in November. The company is facing a dwindling cash position after its latest launch failed. – Virgin Orbit
  • OneWeb signs $50 million deal with Canadian distributor Galaxy Broadband to offer satellite broadband services in northern Canada. The multi-year deal marks an expansion of OneWeb’s existing partnership with Galaxy. – OneWeb
  • European startup raises 40 million euros ($43.6 million) in a round led by EQT Ventures and Red River West, as The Exploration Company works to develop a reusable space capsule called Nyx to fly a demonstration mission in 2024. – The Exploration Company
  • San Francisco-based startup Orbital Sidekick raises $10 million from investors including Energy Innovation Capital, Williams and ONEOK, as the company works to build its GHOSt constellation of hyperspectral satellites. – Orbital Sidekick
  • Sidus Space aims to raise $4.5 million in public offering, as the Florida-based satellite services company’s stock fell below 50 cents a share. –  Sidus Space
  • NASA names Joe Acaba as chief of the Astronaut Office: He takes the place of Drew Feustel, who has been acting chief since Reid Wiseman left the position, and will make astronaut crew assignments, including for the upcoming Artemis lunar missions. – NASA
  • Tiphaine Louradour joins Spaceflight Inc. after leaving Russian-owned ILS. She succeeds Curt Blake as CEO, the latter now consulting for Spaceflight’s Japanese owner Mitsui & Co. – International Launch Services / Spaceflight
  • Mustafa Veziroglu becomes co-CEO of Mynaric alongside Bulent Altan: Having joined in August as president, Veziroglu has worked to increase the company’s output and execution. – Mynaric
  • Julie Cullivan joins Astra’s board of directors. Her career has included executive roles at tech and cybersecurity companies. – Astra
  • Lauren Lyons is starting a new company, saying she’ll be sharing details “in the coming weeks.” Most recently spending her time as a consultant, Lyons was previously COO of Firefly Aerospace, and before that was at Blue Origin and SpaceX. – Lyons
  • Justin Kugler is leaving Redwire, seven years after joining Made In Space, which Redwire acquired before going public. Kugler was a VP at Redwire before becoming general manager of its in-space manufacturing and operations team. – Kugler

Market movers

  • Deutsche names Rocket Lab as top stock pick for 2023, and downgrades Astra to a hold rating from buy. In a report on the outlook for the year, the firm also cut its Astra price target to $1 per share from $2, while calling out BlackSky as “our wild-card sleeper pick” for the year. – Deutsche

On the horizon

  • Feb. 5: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launches Amazonas Nexus communications satellite from Florida.
  • Feb. 8-9: Commercial Space Transportation conference hosted by the Federal Aviation Administration alongside the Commercial Spaceflight Federation in Washington, D.C.

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