Cubesat company raises $80 million

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The competition heats up: Spire, a cubesat satellite company focused on data gathering from space, has raised an additional $40 million in investment capital, bringing the total it has raised since 2012 to $80 million.

With the new funds, the company will support further growth and expand its constellation from 20 satellites in 2015 to more than 100 by the end of 2017.

The latest round of financing comes at a time when the need for advancements in weather and maritime data is at an all-time high. With the potentially catastrophic 2016 Weather Gap right around the corner, Spire offers a solution to the $2.4 trillion dollar global problem. Emerging as a leader in the ‘Space Race 2.0,’ Spire is the only commercial weather data provider with scheduled launches in 2015. The company will begin deploying its satellites on a near monthly basis beginning September 2015.

Though the company is willing to gather data in more ways than just weather, its offer to provide weather data suggests that the transition from government to private weather satellites is soon approaching. And there is no reason it shouldn’t. Weather data is very valuable. Just as private cable companies put up satellites to provide communications, so should weather outlets like the Weather Channel. It will pay for itself, and will likely provide us better data than any NOAA satellite.

In addition, this story indicates once again that the age of cubesats is now upon us.


  • J Fincannon

    Not sure why you think “will likely provide us better data than any NOAA satellite.” Cubesats are still small, have shorter lifespans. You can fit bigger cameras, sensor platforms on bigger satellites.

  • Maurice

    The beauty of the Cubesat lifecycle is that is mirrors that of consumer electronics – Scaling a 3*1U cubesat in LOE without a propulsion system to a 10*10*10U smallsat with a chemical propulsion system at GS orbit should be no problem. Radiation hardening commercial off the shelf components will likely be the next big step for cubesats

  • Edward

    Current NOAA satellites have lifespans of 15 years. By the time one (or a set) is designed, built, and launched, its technology is already a decade out of date. When these satellites reach end of life, their technology is a quarter century old.

    CubeSats and small-sats have shorter design and manufacture times, maybe even as short as three years. Because they are so inexpensive, it is worth replacing them frequently and give them short service lives in order to get the latest technology on orbit. The short lifespan becomes an advantage. By the ends of their lives, the technology is likely to be less than a decade out of date, and yet they can be quickly and inexpensively replaced with the latest technology.

    Ikonos, for example, is a small satellite that has already been in low Earth orbit (LEO) for 15 years. Skybox also plans on small, inexpensive satellites in low orbit. Both of these, however, are much larger than CubeSats but smaller then NOAA’s geostationary (GEO) satellites, and neither is designed for weather observation.

    Further, GEO satellites are far away, so their optics are taxed by the distance. The advantage of GEO over LEO, though, is that they can give a good, consistent view of a whole face of the Earth.

    One of the reasons in the past that NOAA’s weather satellites have been delayed, causing a weather data gap and causing US reliance on foreign weather satellites (and for a while we went from one-week forecasts back to three-day forecasts) is difficulty in developing the latest technology. Because the satellites will not be replaced for 15 years, NOAA becomes eager to delay their next set of satellites in order to get the latest technology on orbit, once it is working properly. With shorter lived satellites, NOAA would be more willing to put up the small-sats immediately and wait three years for the next refresh. No 15-year wait necessary. No gap in the weather data is yet another advantage to CubeSats and small-sats.

  • J Fincannon

    Thanks for your nice rationale. I have always been a fan of reduced spacecraft sizes, particularly in the realm of power usage.

    But I am not clear about Cubesats replacing the NOAA capability. “One of the reasons in the past that NOAA’s weather satellites have been delayed… is difficulty in developing the latest technology.” This suggests that whatever large sensor platforms are being developed is hard to do. Making it the size for a Cubesat platform would be even harder. Also, it is still hard to get to GEO. The reason the giant comm sats are giant and designed for decades of use is because it costs so much to get it there. You DON’T want to keep replacing them every 5 -10 years. It sounds nice to shrink all the capability of a NOAA satellite into a Cubesat, and hopefully someday we can, but I don’t think we are close yet. Sending clouds of Cubesats into LEO for short missions is clearly possible and some nice specialized work can be done, but its hard to replace the GEO sats using LEO sats.

  • Edward


    I meant to suggest that there will still be a valid use for the large GEO satellites for quite some time in the future.

    CubeSats and small-sats are most likely to complement larger satellites rather than completely replace them, and the current private observation satellites (e.g. Ikonos) probably do not have as much infrared and microwave capabilities as NOAA wants in order to measure temperature and humidity, but next generation satellites could be built with these capabilities.

    J. wrote: “But I am not clear about Cubesats replacing the NOAA capability.”

    It may be more enhancement than replacement. NOAA is looking into CubeSats:
    “NOAA’s plan centers around the proposed 12U Earth Observing Nanosatellite-Microwave (EON-MW) cubesat. The spacecraft would carry a miniaturized microwave sounder similar to the temperature- and humidity-sensing instruments flying on NOAA’s current polar orbiters.”

    NOAA is seriously looking into buying a lot of its data from privately funded satellite companies rather than putting up its own satellites. Whether these companies would use CubeSats, small-sats, large GEO satellites or a combination of these is not yet clear. Each have advantages and disadvantages.

    I recently read an article (which I wish I could find) that points out a problem that is being hashed out: NOAA makes the weather data that it receives publicly available immediately, for the reason that accurate weather prediction is important to human health and safety around the world. The private companies are working out ways for NOAA to keep *their* data private so that these companies can also sell their valuable data to other weather organizations worldwide. One proposed solution seems to be that NOAA could delay their release for a few days so that the private companies can get a reasonable return on their investment while the data has the greatest value, but the data would still become available for improving weather models for future prediction capabilities.

    Not everyone is enamored with CubeSats, however:
    “U.S. government agencies are taking very different approaches regarding their use, with some openly embracing them as useful scientific tools and others more skeptical about their effectiveness.”

    J. wrote: “This suggests that whatever large sensor platforms are being developed is hard to do.”

    It is like many development programs. When making something new, we all too often mess up the first time around and discover it during test. This is currently happening with the James Webb Space Telescope. Virgin Galactic is experiencing a similar problem with scaling up a working hybrid rocket to a size that gets a larger payload to the Karman Line, but the larger size does not work as well as had been expected.

    So, when NOAA wants to launch the latest technology, they sometimes have to wait until their existing satellites are past their end of life dates (expiration dates) and are living on borrowed time.

    Robert did not say that CubeSats were going to be the only type of satellite in Earth orbit, but he seems to be suggesting that there would be a large number of them. The industry news media seem to agree, as there are many articles on the subject, including limitations and potential problems with having large numbers in orbit.

    Right now, it looks like there are more ideas for additional science or business opportunities for CubeSats and small-sats to complement existing satellites, than there are ideas for replacing existing satellites.

    I, too, have been eager for nano technology to come into use in satellites, as the reduced weight and power requirements of the smaller parts can either make the satellites less expensive to launch or allow for more capability on each satellite. CubeSats and Small-sats are a great place to develop nanotechnology in order to make a big future impact.

  • J Fincannon

    Thanks for your expertise! Nice to see it here.

    I really only focus on the power system design of Cubesats. Clearly these vehicles are going to be used alot more around Earth and through the solar system. Should be fun!

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