29 December 2017
UrtheCast’s push to have its planned 5m multispectral imaging UrtheDaily constellation launched and operating in 2020 could pass a critical milestone as early as the end of January, if the Vancouver-based Earth observation company succeeds in closing a $175m financing to develop the project. However, any launch of its OptiSAR constellation has been pushed back from 2020 to 2023 at the earliest, as the company will now focus on developing “SAR accelerator” missions for clients.
In an update to investors issued today, UrtheCast announced it has reached an exclusivity agreement with an institutional investor; that financing would open “a path to the launch and commercialisation” of the UrtheDaily constellation, which is being designed to deliver images taken at the same time, from the same altitude everyday, in spectral bands chosen to match Landsat-8, Sentinel-2, RapidEye and Urthecast’s own Deimos-1 bands. Agreement was reached in November with Surrey Satellite Technology in Guildford, UK to build an unspecified number of spacecraft based on the SSTL-250 platform.
The SAR programme got a boost in August from a contract worth more than C$100m with a confidential customer for development of a dual-frequency stand-alone SAR class satellite, called SAR XL. The contract is still pending appropriation by the client’s government. In his Q3 statement in November, UrtheCast chief executive Wade Larson noted: “Selling one or more stand-alone SAR satellites provides a means to finance a significant portion” of ongoing OptiSAR development costs.
But the company’s plans for its OptiSAR constellation are facing an imminent blow. A contract signed in January 2017 with a confidential government customer for the sale and shared operation of the first two OptiSAR satellites will expire on 31 December, as “conditions precedent to the agreement” have not been satisfied.
If realised according to plan, the OptiSAR constellation would consist of 16 satellites in eight tandem pairs (one multispectral optical and one SAR) in two orbital planes.
UrtheCast’s business today is based on the output of the Deimos-1 and -2 satellites of its Madrid-based Deimos Imaging subsidiary and distribution of products from the various PanGeo Alliance satellites. Anchor customers waiting for UrtheDaily include Twenty First Century Aerospace Technology (21AT) of Beijing, which currently leases all the data from the Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL)-built DMC3/Triplesat constellation. 21AT will provide services in China based on UrtheDaily data.