Spire Global’s efforts to track ships and airplanes generated a new venture — a “data lake” with the space-friendly nation of Luxembourg. The “lake” with the Luxembourg Space Agency will be open to any startup, research institute or public agency in the European nation. Luxembourg says it’s one of the largest such lakes in the world.
CEO Peter Platzer described the data lake as a commodity that people can pull from to create products. In the same sense that steel is a raw product that people can use for everything from buildings to machines, the data lake will include information from Spire satellites to inform everything from ship movements to weather forecasting.
“It’s a truly globally relevant dataset, and we are actually really excited about what people will make based on that data,” Platzer said. While he said it will be up to Luxembourg entities to generate products that make sense for their needs, one possible use could be tracking the movement of plastic in the ocean using reflectivity of radio signals, he said.
There certainly is plenty of information to draw from. Spire has more than 100 small satellites in orbit that blanket the world in radio signals. It likes to use radio because more satellites in orbit will improve the resolution; small satellites that take pictures won’t have the same advantage, the company has argued, since higher resolution requires bigger lenses on the individual spacecraft.
Spire uses automatic signals from ships that include information such as the name of the ship, where it’s coming, where it’s going, and its nationality. Its radio signals can also obtain data about the atmosphere, such as temperature, pressure, moisture. Even measurements of the bending angle of the signals and the atmosphere can be used to track climate change, he said, since this angle changes depending on factors such as pressure and temperature.
The lake’s “data fusion” between vessel movements and environmental measurements can allow for unique applications, Platzer said. “People have been playing around and using ship tracking data to extract currents from the oceans, which have huge impact on any weather patterns,” he said. “They’re literally using every ship as a little buoy in the middle of the ocean.”
Luxembourg is a small country surrounded by Belgium, France and Germany. In latter decades, it’s been pouring resources into space efforts, seeing that sector as a potential area for growth (along with its traditional economic sectors, which include communications, industry and banking). That’s why, for example, it was one of the big sponsors behind Asteroid Day this past June 30, which talks about the potential for mining asteroids — as well as the need to protect Earth from any large ones that might threaten our planet’s infrastructure.
Spire’s long-term strategy with this venture is to help shepherd ideas from the product and development phase into the commercial phase, potentially creating partners in Luxembourg, Platzer said. And there are other ventures ongoing, too. The company has several launches planned in the coming months, but Platzer said one that really excites him is a small satellite (which will launch on a European Vega rocket) that will test commercial miniaturization of microwave technology to better measure environmental aspects such as wind speed over the ocean, or soil moisture and ice content on land.
Spire — which has roughly 200 employees — has received Series A, B and C funding rounds since its formation in 2013. As a privately held company, it only discusses its revenues in part; in past discussions, Platzer has said revenues are into the eight-figure range and that they are growing year-over-year in triple digits.