ICEYE employees inspecting a company SAR satellite in a clean room.
Finnish start-up ICEYE will further expand its business thanks to the company’s largest infusion of capital yet, with plans to have a network of satellites that can image anywhere in the world as much as four times a day.
ICEYE closed an $87 million round of venture capital fundraising, led by its prior investor True Ventures, which brings the company’s total funding to date to $152 million. Notably, ICEYE co-founder and CEO Rafal Modrzewski told CNBC that his company was aiming to raise $60 million but found more investor demand than it expected – with the COVID-19 pandemic not affecting investment in private space companies as badly as feared earlier this year.
The company’s business is based upon combining a special type of imagery with a form factor the size of a suitcase – reducing the cost of launching multiple satellites to create a network that can image places on Earth multiple times a day.
ICEYE has launched five satellites since its first in 2018, and plans to launch another four satellites this year and at least eight satellites next year. The imagery, known as synthetic aperture radar (or SAR), allows a satellite to capture images at any time, even at night or through cloud cover.
Its goal is to have a network, or constellation, of 18 satellites in orbit that can image any place on the ground at least four times a day.
“And there virtually isn’t a satellite that’s exactly the same as the others, as … the satellites that are going up, especially the ones that are going up next year, are going to be more capable and allow users to see more and and see faster,” Modrzewski said. “We actually can reprogram the hardware that’s already in orbit to enable new services.”
Founded in 2015, ICEYE now has about 200 employees and plans to use part of the new fundraising to further grow its headcount. Modrzewski emphasized that ICEYE’s “spacecraft is fully designed and then assembled in-house,” which requires “a very large engineering team.” The company’s satellites can now deliver imagery with a resolution of 0.25 meters, capable of distinguishing one car from another on the road. And adding more satellites to orbit will further enhance the distinctions ICEYE’s satellites can make.
The Grand Bahama island seen before and during Hurricane Dorian, as severe flooding covered much of the island.
ICEYE | gif by @thesheetztweetz
“With a single picture you will be able to identify a car because you have enough pixels per device,” Modrzewski said. “But with two pictures and a change to your picture, you can actually identify smaller items, because that picture will change from one picture to another. That’s a revolutionary capability.”
ICEYE’s imagery has been used by a variety of customers, ranging from natural disaster-related insurance to estimating the impact of oil spills. The company continues to invest in the customer service side of its business as well, with ICEYE being able to deliver imagery from a satellite to a user in under five minutes.
Expanding in the US
ICEYE engineers test hardware on one of the company’s satellites in an anechoic chamber
ICEYE wants to further grow its share of the fast growing sector of earth imagery – one of the key parts of the space economy that has grown to be worth more than $420 billion. Dr Mark Matossian, the head of ICEYE’s United States division, noted that “the U.S. is the largest SAR market hands down.” While he estimated that SAR imagery is a multi-billion dollar market, he said its difficult to quantify since “a fair chunk of it is not public” given national security-related contracts.
The company is in the site selection process for a U.S. satellite factory, which Matossian said is currently “at the state level.”
“We will continue to manufacture in Finland and Poland, so the U.S. will complement them,” Matossian said.
In addition to True Ventures and OTB Ventures, ICEYE’s latest fundraising was joined by Finnish Industry Investment (Tesi), Draper Esprit, DNX Ventures, Draper Associates, Seraphim Capital, Promus Ventures and Space Angels.
Subscribe to CNBC PRO for exclusive insights and analysis, and live business day programming from around the world.