EarthNow, a Bellevue, Washington-based start-up, Wednesday announced its intent to beam non-stop real-time videos of Earth with the help of a large constellation of advanced imaging satellites it intends to deploy in the not too distant future.
An Intellectual Venture spin-out, EarthNow’s ambitious space imaging program has attracted the approval and financial support of the likes of Bill Gates, Airbus, SoftBank and OneWeb founder Greg Wyler who are backing the project to the hilt.
First off, the company will channel the investment from the mentioned sources toward developing a comprehensive system design that will be the key to the success of this ground-breaking endeavor that proposes to deliver “live and unfiltered” footage of anywhere on planet Earth – well, almost.
“EarthNow is ambitious and unprecedented, but our objective is simple; we want to connect you visually with Earth in real-time. We believe the ability to see and understand the Earth live and unfiltered will help all of us better appreciate and ultimately care for our one and only home,” said Russell Hannigan, founder and CEO of EarthNow.
EarthNow‘s potential customers, at least initially, will be high value business enterprises and various government agencies that can make the most of the company’s intelligent earth vision services for a host of projects, ranging from tracking storms, forest fires and other natural disasters as they develop, to monitoring illegal fishing activity, keeping a watch on conflict zones around the world, tracking whales and a whole lot more.
The company is also aiming at mass-market applications of its services by developing dedicated software for tablets and smartphone devices.
“We are excited by the prospect of giving everyone a stunningly beautiful real-time window on your world from space,” Hannigan said. “With EarthNow, we will all become virtual astronauts.”
With its plans to offer video footage of Earth events as and when they happen, EarthNow is definitely bringing something new to the space imaging table, which the existing systems have so far not been able to provide its users, only managing to deliver images and footage of the planet that are far from real-time.
“With existing systems, users can see only what has happened in the past. With EarthNow’s constellation of satellites, you will see events unfold as they happen in real-time,” said Hannigan.
EarthNow, however, is not going to be altogether competition-free, what with companies like BlackSky, Planetary Resources, and Planet also exploring near-real-time satellite imagery services.
Admitted, their proposed services will not have the same draw as EarthNow’s live videos, but the fact remains that these companies can work towards developing their individual systems and technologies to be at par with EarthNow and prove to be formidable competitors in times to come.
Add to that SpaceX’s super-ambitious Starlink constellation project, which should see Elon Musk’s company launch 4,425 satellites by 2025, and you are looking at some serious game changers.
It must be mentioned that SpaceX launched two prototype satellites Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b, nicknamed Tintin A and Tintin B, in February this year, to kick-off its Starlink constellation project.
It doesn’t end there!
With Canadian companies Telesat Canada and Kepler Communications slightly ahead in the race in so far as demo satellites are concerned, both having launched prototypes in January, the competition scenario is going to be far from rosy.
While Telesat deployed its 168-kilogram smallsat with the help of an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, Kepler launched its smaller Cubesat atop a Chinese Long March 11 carrier rocket.
OneWeb, on the other hand, will launch its first ten operational satellites in May this year, bypassing demo launches altogether.
The Arlington, Virginia-based company is looking to reach out to world broadband consumers with 500-Mbps connectivity as early as 2019, at least a year or two ahead of Telesat and SpaceX.
According to OneWeb founder Greg Wyler, the company should have its next-gen constellation in place by 2021, ready to provide five times as much speed to consumers at 2.5 Gbps.
However, with Wyler being one of the financial backers of the EarthNow project, OneWeb should not be looked at as potential competition for the Intellectual Venture spin-out; on the contrary, it may well prove to be a blessing in disguise.
While testifying before Congress alongside Wyler in October last year, SpaceX Vice President of Satellite Government Affairs Patricia Cooper said that the company will follow up its demo satellite deployments with operational satellite launches in 2019.
She said that the company was looking forward to providing some level of broadband service by 2020-21, by which time it would have some 800 operational satellites in low orbit around the planet.
Telesat, which currently operates 15 geostationary telecommunications satellites, has not yet decided on a manufacturer for its 117-strong satellite constellation.
The Canadian company, however, expects to begin its launches sometime in 2020 and be ready to start its service in 2021.
Like Telesat, Kepler has also not finalized a manufacturer for its 140-satellite constellation although the company is preparing to launch its second CubeSat prototype called ‘Case,’ later this year.
However, with its focus on providing low-data to Internet-of-Things devices, Kepler is not being looked at as much of a competitor to OneWeb, Telesat or SpaceX.
All of these companies are working towards developing satellite constellations to provide high-speed Internet services to world broadband consumers and are, hence, not a threat to EarthNow’s business model.
However, by the time they are done with deploying their respective constellations, they will have achieved the wherewithal to develop their own real-time Earth monitoring services and suddenly become a force to reckon with.
Well, as far as consumers are concerned, the more the merrier.