This Startup Wants to Check the Ripeness of Coffee Beans From Space

(Bloomberg) -- Satellogic, a Buenos Aires-based space imaging company backed by Tencent Holdings Ltd., reached an agreement with a Chinese state-owned rocket launcher to put 90 satellites into orbit that can remap the planet every week.

The company -- which also offers analysis of satellite images for the forestry, agriculture and energy industries -- and China Great Wall Industry Corp. will send the machines into low Earth orbit on Long March 6 rockets, Satellogic said. The satellites should be deployed by the end of next year.

While other Earth mapping companies like Planet Labs Inc. have larger satellite constellations, Satellogic wants to have the biggest capacity for mapping at one-meter resolution -- precise enough to monitor the ripeness of coffee beans, the progress at construction sites or the potential challenges to supply chains.

It’s one of many niches being opened as tiny satellites transform the space race. The company will send about a dozen satellites per launch beginning in the last quarter of 2019, said Emiliano Kargieman, Satellogic’s founder and chief executive officer. The company eventually wants to expand the constellation to 300 satellites.

The system “will tap into a sweet spot for growing more mainstream markets for Earth observation data,” Kargieman said. “They are not tools for surveillance as much as for leveling the playing field, to get rid of asymmetry of information and make the way we go after some really big problems more efficient.”

Kargieman said the company has raised a total of about $80 million, including $27 million in a Series B round in June 2017 that included Tencent.

The company already has launched eight satellites. Satellogic disposes of the machines after three years in orbit with a controlled reentry that leads to disintegration in the atmosphere.

The launches come as the Chinese government slowly opens its ambitious and secretive space program to private enterprise, spawning homegrown rocketeers and satellite makers. Satellogic’s constellation will focus on tracking economic activity and cannot follow individuals or track an individual car, Kargieman said.

“We don’t really see this technology as concern for privacy and individuals,” he said.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.