15 September 2022 |

Space race


In our most recent email, we led with a focus on Bridger Photonics, a company using LiDAR technology to spot and quantify methane leaks in oil & gas supply chains. 

But that’s just one specific use case that better, more accessible aerial data collection offers for climate efforts. In recent weeks, more companies are raising money to make better imaging and data more available and accessible. Often, they want to operate from orbit:

  • Albedo raised a $48M Series A for its satellites, which take ultra-high-resolution images
  • GLOBHE raised a $1.8M seed round for its ‘crowd-droning’ platform. The idea is to connect drone owners & operators with anyone who might need their services for high-resolution observation data.
  • A few weeks back, Muon Space raised a $25M Series A to launch, in its own words, ‘tons of scientific-grade satellites into space.’ 

Albedo’s technology focuses on making high-resolution imagery, including thermal imagery, accessible to lots of different companies. Thermal imaging, specifically, can be helpful to climate causes. If you mapped your house, for instance, you might see where heat was leaking and could benefit from better insulation. Farmers might use it to understand soil conditions on their farms. At a macro scale, you could look at the carbon emissions intensity of different sites or geographies.

Many of these companies aren’t inherently ‘climate’ companies. But their work is relevant for climate and environment studies and products that depend on real-world data. For example, imagine the relevance of high quality data for companies working on nature-based solutions, like reforestation. Drones for collecting forestry data are already in – and there should be plenty of value in more ‘bird’s eye view’ imagery, too. 

From an enforcement perspective, helping governments get a handle on things like illegal logging is critical to reduce emissions and avoid climate tipping points, some of which threaten to turn carbon sinks into carbon sources. For instance, visualizing emissions from fires in the Amazon, often started to clear space for cattle ranching, paints a sad picture of inaction by the Brazilian government. While troubling, that also provides the rest of the world with fodder for negotiations, e.g., at COP27 later this year. 

CO2 emissions concentrations in South America

The net-net

Someday this data should get commoditized. The question is how quickly that happens and who’ll get it done. It’s a new space race. It’s not about putting people on the moon. It’s about building the tech stack to get into space, stay there, and collect better data. 

In the same way solar and wind energy have come down the cost curve, if companies can do the same for satellite imagery, governments and climate companies will figure out innovative ways to use it. What I’ll be most interested to see along the way is which companies partner directly with companies like Albedo to further their on-the-ground efforts. 

That’s where the real impact will come from; not just from observation, but from using that data and imagery to scale, say, measurement, reporting, and verification for carbon markets. Companies like Pachama already rely on satellite imagery to do the work they do. As the imagery improves, so too should their efforts.