EarthDaily Analytics isn’t just here to capture pretty pictures of our planet
The space tech company harnesses breakthroughs in software to help decision-makers solve the Earth’s biggest challenges: from forest fires to leaky pipelines.
Vancouver-based space tech company EarthDaily Analytics wants to let you in on a “dirty secret” in the industry: “A lot of space companies are focused on the hardware. And so they don't think too much about what happens when you get the data down [from space],” says Chris Rampersad, vice president of engineering at the company. It’s no surprise, then, that EarthDaily doesn’t identify as a hardware company. “We really focus on the solutions.”
Perhaps EarthDaily’s most ambitious solution yet is its Constellation mission, slated to fully launch by mid-2024. The 10-satellite project – each capable of capturing features of the Earth that our eyes cannot perceive, thanks to the satellites’ ability to “see” beyond the visible light spectrum – aims to not only launch the satellites into space in order to acquire geospatial data of the Earth, but through its EarthPipeline, transform this data into imagery and useful information for industries and governments who monitor, conserve, and extract natural resources.
“We're focusing on [processing data into] scientific imagery that can be plugged into algorithms, so that you can see very subtle scientific signatures,” says Rampersad. “And with those signatures, you can infer things like […] how is the health of agricultural crops growing, or understanding where there's risk for forest fires. So we're more on taking imagery not for pretty pictures, but for quantitative analytics.”
In a global market forecasted at a value of USD $681 billion in 2025, EarthDaily hasn’t always been the only player in the geospatial industry. “Maybe 10 years ago, there used to be something called ‘new space’ – the industry focused on miniaturizing technology,” said Rampersad. San Francisco-based competitor Planet Labs is one leader in this space, building miniature satellites called CubeSats – roughly the size of a Rubik’s Cube – to image the planet. These satellites can be affordable to put into space, especially in tandem with the rise of SpaceX helping to bring down launch prices. In contrast, EarthDaily’s Constellation satellites are projected to be about the size of a refrigerator. However, Rampersad maintains that competitors such as Planet Labs still don’t address the large volume of data that the abundance of satellites in the atmosphere now collect: “We're seeing more and more data coming down from satellites, different CubeSats and other types of satellites [...] Now there's too much data for humans to look at.”
Rampersad maintains that EarthDaily’s use of big data – how it uses machine learning and AI in its EarthPipeline platform to conduct analysis – is what sets the company apart from its competitors, who rely on humans to do the work. “The space industry is just starting to migrate from the visual-pictures world into big data, where you can extract information without people having to go through the imagery and look at thousands and thousands of pictures. In the old way of doing it, people would actually find features on the ground and say, ‘Okay, look at a map and say this is the road intersection,’ [and] then look at their satellite image. And it's called ground control point marking, but [...] it's almost like a form of photoshopping: you'd look at one image, look at the other, and you'd match it. But humans would do that process. And now that whole chain within our [EarthPipeline] system is all automated. So now, when you are trying to line up two images, you can do it all automatically without humans having to do it. And it's far more accurate.”
The information that will come out of EarthDaily’s Constellation can help decision-makers who work with natural resources make better-informed choices. For example, it could assist governments to mitigate, assess, and respond to extreme events enhanced by climate change, such as forest fires. “We have the ability to understand where there's high risk [of a forest fire] due to forest fuels,” Rampersad says, “If there are materials that are dry near cities, that could be a sign that there's a risk there. Then there's assessment of fires when they happen. We can actually see fires during the day and the night because our satellites go over the earth two times – we'll see it twice, at 10:30 [in the morning] and 10:30 at night. We can then understand the impact really quickly. So that allows people managing the fire to move in and help respond.”
At the same time, this information could help extractive industries recognize the potential impacts of their infrastructure. “You can imagine an oil and gas company who would use our imagery to understand if a pipe bursts,” he says. “How would [the burst pipe] impact the environment? So in that case, we could supply data for them.”
Rampersad suggests that when customers use EarthDaily’s data, it’s typically in the interest of protecting natural resources: “While there might be different opinions on the [oil] pipeline itself, our data isn't to build [oil] pipelines. It would be more to help monitor and protect against issues that [could] happen [...] And so in those capacities, we will work – hopefully productively – with companies who are maybe having a more negative impact on the environment.”
EarthDaily recently encountered a situation where it was clear that a customer was no longer a good fit. “We used to have operations in Russia, and we had a contract with Russia, with a data sale,” Rampersad says. “And so we've actually cancelled our contract with Russia, and we've pulled our operations out of Russia, because of the invasion and war that's going on in Ukraine. We have operations in Ukraine, so obviously it hit us pretty close to home. Thankfully our owners took a strong stand on that.”
EarthDaily’s Constellation is a long time coming. The origins of the company lie in its first incarnation as UrtheCast, which filed for creditor protection in late 2020. UrtheCast sold its assets – one of which was purchased by the private equity firm Antarctica Capital, who built the EarthDaily we see today. Many of the staff remained on the team, in what was a “nice, seamless transition,” described Rampersad.
“We've been doing this for nine years and invested a lot of great engineering effort. It's a really tough problem to build an automated chain that can handle large 20 terabytes of data every day, process it, normalize it, make it just ready to plug right into people's algorithms,” he says.
These efforts are also largely thanks to other partners in the space industry, a number of whom are Canadian, such as INO and Xiphos Technologies. “We are using great companies in Ontario and Quebec,” Rampersad continues. “And so those are helping with our detectors, and the electronics, and the cameras, and they're just best-in-the-world capabilities that we have here locally, which is really good. And it's proud to be a Canadian mission. We do have some American partners, but a lot of the big players are Canadian.” Rampersad also noted that the Canadian Space Agency helped fund some of the company’s software technology.
Although the launch is still some time away, EarthDaily is excited to change the “paradigm of how satellite data can be used, and for some really big, world-pressing challenges.”
“Data has been used in a visual context [...] We're embracing some of the [artificial intelligence] revolutions that are taking place because AI is moving so fast,” he continues, “And it feels like our data is just coming in lockstep to feed that. And so seeing how our data can be used in an automated capacity to help with environment and sustainability solutions is really exciting. For I think the whole team here, we all are working towards making that happen. And I'm excited to see this being used in real world cases. So the moment we get our data out there and start seeing how it can impact the world – that'll be a really exciting day for all of us.”
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