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Cubesat Cameras: digging for new gold in a data-driven world

Cubesat cameras can index every corner of the globe daily. Thus, documenting change as it happens. But, more importantly, they are redefining the way we think about earth intelligence.

Cubesat Cameras - the xScape100
The xScape100 Cubesat Camera

The rise and fall (and rise again) of the gold diggers

We are all too aware that gold (nearly) passed as the most significant economic asset. Then, in the second half of the previous century, floating currencies, regulated by supply and demand, became the new standard. These economic forces, linked to economic productivity, still significantly impact how we make financial decisions.

However, the tech industry created cryptocurrencies on the back of a data-driven economy and a desire for financial self-control. As a result, most of the latest unicorns of the last two decades build their empires on the acquisition and sharing of data, information and, ultimately, intelligence.

Just think how Google is indexing the internet and collecting data of every person using their services. Advanced algorithms turn this data into information and, eventually, deep user insight. The same for Facebook; their most significant asset is its data-gathering platform. It mines the messages and pictures that friends and family share to tailor marketing activities for its clients.

Uber and Airbnb are using the same principles. However, without owning any of the infrastructure used to deliver their shared services, they exploit their users’ data to grow their offerings, better known as a two-sided market.

The small satellite industry, and more specific Cubesat cameras, can index each corner of the planet to translate it into actionable information. However, the challenge is to close the loop between the Cubesat camera sees and what’s happening on earth.

Cubesat cameras, value-adding instruments

The old saying goes that you can’t fix what you can’t measure. Equally, in the remote sensing business, the synonym is that you can’t fix what you can’t see. So now, the question is, what value can Cubesat cameras add?

In all the cases above, the new gold is business models built to exploit data obtained from various sources and turn that into deep insight to create value. For example, companies use data to create top-line value and not merely eliminate bottom-line inefficiencies. Value is generated by drawing on data from multiple sources and embed both partner and end-user interest in the solution.

Although programmes like Landsat and Copernicus are making lower resolution EO data freely available, higher resolution Earth Observation data is only accessible by the privileged few, even still today. Moreover, access to EO data is frequently controlled by political powers and those with bottomless pockets. At the same time, traditional EO satellite operators are comfortable with this scenario because why would you kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Now, luckily, with the current Newspace race and the growth in Cubesat Cameras, we are also experiencing the democratization of data. Thus, we are entering an era where earth observation data are becoming accessible to non-technical users.

As you read this article, large constellations with Cubesat cameras are already creating deep stacks of data documenting every event and change happening on the corners of the globe. New gold is created by indexing all of these changes and combining them with actionable business models. The question is, are we ready to mine these data sets?

A new paradigm for Cubesat cameras

When we speak about new business models and ecosystems, we understand that it spans many parts of our daily lives. From the online conversations we have, the transactions we make, to the routes we follow. The platforms we use are capturing all of these moments in one or another way.

According to an article published by the World Economic Forum, there are four archetypes of data-driven value creation: new value pools, new business models, richer stakeholder experience and better decisions.

The four archetypes of data-driven value creation as identified by the World Economic Forum.

For example, the agricultural and insurance environments are well-positioned to exploit these business paradigms. Farmers are now able to make decisions based on data to increase growth and improve efficiencies. But, more importantly, these paradigm shifts are providing farmers access to new value chains, insurance and benefits they’ve never seen before.

Furthermore, by combining several data-driven technologies, insurance companies can now offer their services near real-time to small farmers across the globe. In the past, and without satellite technology and Cubesat cameras, this would have been unimaginable.

The ability of Cubesat cameras to democratize the Earth Observation industry brings new layers of information and, ultimately, intelligence that provides more momentum in the shift to exploiting these layers of new gold created.

Cubesat Cameras and the Green Deal

For many, the new gold is green. For Europe, this means being the first climate-neutral continent, and the European Green Deal articulates this very well. The intention is to finance the European Green Deal with one-third of the 1.8 trillion euro┬áinvestments from the NextGenerationEU Recovery Plan and the EU’s seven-year budget.

Looking at the planned actions, it is evident that decision-makers require many eyeballs to monitor and index change. But, more importantly, businesses must investigate new opportunities to exploit data and information. These eyeballs must come in the form of satellite technology and, more specifically, Cubesat cameras.

Gold digging Cubesat Cameras

The million-dollar question is, how will Cubesat Cameras and the business models using their services evolve to address the shift to two-sided data-driven business models?

Today, 3U and 6U platforms with medium resolution Cubesat cameras dominate the nanosatellite part of the EO sector. These medium resolution instruments are more than adequate to address a substantial part of the EO industry’s needs. However, they do have limitations. For example, they lack long term reliability, life expectancy, and the ADCS performance is limited.

Nevertheless, Cubesat cameras are evolving, and at Simera Sense, we see the following challenges and trends:

  • Cubesats are growing in size and stature. But, we all know, 3U and 6U Cubesats have well-documented limitations. Therefore, to avoid these pitfalls, the 12U form factor is becoming more attractive.
  • The commercial value of 3m to 5m GSD data is limited because everybody wants increased spatial resolution. At Simera Sense, we believe that the next mega-constellations will address the 1.5m to 2m GSD market.
  • Data efficiency and, therefore, downlink capabilities are the biggest bottleneck. Cubesat cameras generate Terra bits of data daily, and getting that on the ground is a significant challenge. The answer is not only more bandwidth but more intelligence.
  • Cubesat cameras are becoming more focused, pun indented. At Simera Sense, we see that mission providers are procuring Cubesat Cameras to solve challenges within a specific domain. Thus, the general approach of one solution fits all is not more the order of the day.

Possible gold-digging models

On the other side of the coin are the business models mining gold within the tons of data. Yet, today, industry hardly evolved from a linear model to a two-side data-driven model. A model where an intermediary platform facilitates interaction and create value between suppliers and customers. Unfortunately, the EO industry still relies primarily on linear business models. So, let us look at possible strategies EO service providers can use Cubesat Cameras to “mine” for gold. These models have multiple actors like end-users and buyers dependent on each other but most importantly focus on the end-user:
  1. Linear model based on customer and seller growth:
    More End-Users > More Data > Larger Selection > More End-Users
  1. A model based on lowering price and cost structures:
    More End-Users > Lower Cost Structure > Lower Prices > Better Experience > More End-Users
  1. Improve delivery time and exceed customer expectations:
    More End-Users > Better Network Utilization > Faster Access to Information > More End-Users
 
Cubesat camera business model flywheel
Example of a simplified two-sided data-driven business model based on proprietary technology.

Contact us to learn more about how Cubesat camera solutions can address your data-driven needs.