Harris, Draper Laboratory and Dynetics, three major players in the defense contracting business,formed OmniEarth, LLC to launch a constellation of 18 satellites (15 within the constellation, 3 on-orbit spares) that will image the Earth daily in a sun-synchronous orbit. The company expects to serve imagery with approximately 5-meter spatial resolution for multispectral imagery and likely 2.5 meter spatial resolution in panchromatic mode. The company is currently finalizing the specifications and will deliver them to the contractor for the imager soon. OmniEarth will provide imagery in a non-task-oriented business model; the objective is to deliver imagery daily from the same area, quickly and consistently.
According to Lars Dyrud, CEO of OmniEarth, “There is a new and rapidly growing opportunity for physically verifiable information.” OmniEarth’s mission statement is clear:
The $84 Trillion global economy is dispersed over 60% of the Earth’s surface. OmniEarth's subscribers eliminate business uncertainty with access to a guaranteed, reliable, consistent, analytics-ready data and information flow.
Analytics is one of the key differentiators in OmniEarth’s offering. OmniEarth will focus on the value of information. The intent is to remove the human component from image analysis and deliver automated image recognition and change detection. While other organizations employ staffers to gather intelligence from imagery, Dyrud believes that the application of scientific methods and automation will be the key to OmniEarth’s success in the future.
Dyrud sees the lower cost of building and deploying small satellites as the catalyst driving new innovation in commercial Earth observation, as well as the increased computational power available to handle what will be over 60 petabytes of data captured by OmniEarth each year. “Costs are dropping and capabilities are skyrocketing,” he said.
“We see satellite imagery as content only; our primary product development process is to create information products,” said Dyrud. He compares OmniEarth’s business model to that of the entertainment industry where one company creates the content (i.e. movies or TV) and another may deliver and package the results.
OmniEarth hopes to deliver products that empower executives at the highest level of either government or business to act on the information immediately. He believes that the decision makers don’t have to understand the technical details of either spectral integrity or spatial resolution. Using the example of companies that count cars in parking lots to provide competitive intelligence for retailers, Dyrud asked, “What if we can achieve the same result with lower resolution images?” He believes that with automated image processing and repeat coverage the intelligence provided to decision makers will be just as viable, and achieved at a lower cost.
Steve Cook, director of corporate development at Dynetics, echoed Dyrud, saying that the company's focus has to be on the analysis. "The goal of OmniEarth is to provide information," said Cook. With the volume of raw data the OmniEarth constellation will collect, the goal will be to offer information extracted from imagery that will appeal to industries from agriculture to insurance.
Dynetics is the manufacturer of the payload bus; Draper will provide the systems specifications; Harris will integrate payloads using its AppStar multi-mission payload platform.
How, you might ask, does a company decide to go into the Earth observation business? In the case of OmniEarth, it started with Fieldstone Partners, a private equity firm with expertise in satellite communications. Fieldstone had backed Aireon, LLC, to support Iridium Communications for the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation that would support the next generation of air traffic control systems. Fieldstone, after examining the Earth observation market, selected Dynetics as a partner because of its experience in developing and launching small satellites.
"This is going to be a 'big data opportunity' … we can sell the same information to different markets over and over,” said Cook.
OmniEarth hopes to have its first satellite in orbit by 2016, with the full constellation operational by 2018.