Falling launch costs and a host of other technological innovations have led to a renaissance in geospatial intelligence, with several startups aiming to capture better and more frequent images of the Earth than ever before.
Most of these startups, however, focus on using satellites to collect data. This is not the case for Near Space Labs, a four-year company that instead aims to collect geospatial information from the stratosphere, using small autonomous wind robots attached to weather balloons. The company has named its platform “Swifty”, and each is capable of reaching altitudes between 60,000 and 85,000 feet and capturing 400 to 1,000 square kilometers of footage per flight.
The company was founded in 2017 by Rema Matevosyan, Ignasi Lluch and Albert Caubet. Matevosyan, who is an applied mathematician by training and previously worked as a programmer, did her Masters in Moscow. There she began researching systems engineering for aerospace systems and also flew weather balloons to test aerospace equipment. “He clicked on the fact that we can fly balloons commercially and provide a much better experience for customers than any other alternative,” she told TechCrunch in a recent interview.
Four years after its launch, the company closed a $ 13 million Series A funding round led by Crosslink Capital, with participation from Toyota Ventures and existing investors Leadout Capital and Wireframe Ventures. Near Space Labs also announced that Crosslink partner Phil Boyer has joined its board of directors.
Near Space, headquartered in Brooklyn and Barcelona, Spain, focuses primarily on urbanized areas where change is happening very quickly. The robotic devices that attach to the balloons are manufactured at the company’s Brooklyn workshop, which are then shipped to launch sites across the country. The company’s CTO and chief engineer are both based in Barcelona, so hardware R&D takes place there, Matevosyan explained.
The company currently has eight Swifies in operation. It sells the data it collects and has developed an API through which customers can access the data through a subscription model. The company does not need to have specific launch sites – Matevosyan said the Swifties can launch “from anywhere at any time” – but the company is working in concert with the Federal Aviation Administration and the air traffic control.
The main value proposition of Swifty to satellite, according to Matevosyan, is resolution: From the stratosphere, the company can collect “resolutions 50 times better than what you would get from a satellite,” he said. she declared. “We are able to provide persistent, near real-time coverage of areas of interest that change very quickly, including large metropolitan areas. Additionally, she said Near Space could iterate its technology quickly using Swifties’ plug-and-play model, when adding a new sensor to a fleet of satellites is not so easy. already in orbit.
Near Space has booked over 540 flights through 2022. While customers pay for flights, the data generated from each trip is not proprietary, so the data can be sold over and over again. Going forward, the company will use the funds to expand its geographic footprint and recruit many new hires. The goal, according to Matevosyan, is to democratize access to geospatial intelligence, not only for customers, but also for developers. “We believe in diverse, equal and inclusive opportunities in aerospace and Earth imagery,” she said.