At UP42, we understand the challenges of being an early-stage startup – we've been there. So we're proud to support upcoming startups in their journey. And we're excited to welcome one such company, Xplore, as our newest partner.
We sat down with Lisa Rich, Co-founder and COO, for a chat about Xplore's mission to provide Space as a Service to commercial, government, and nonprofit customers.
UP42: Hi Lisa, let’s start with learning more about Xplore. When was the company founded, how big is your team, and most importantly, what’s the main problem you aim to solve?
Lisa: The company was founded in 2018 to provide exclusive data sets from our multi-sensor platform, the XCRAFT. We’re enabling low-cost access to high-quality data products from space that provide insights, intelligence, inspiration, and discovery for our customers. We’ve grown to 26 fabulous team members, and recently added a mission control software service, Major Tom, to Xplore’s product portfolio. We solve the problem of access – Xplore’s comprehensive and economical space-based data ultimately allows every company to be a space company.
UP42: You coined the term Space as a Service. Tell us more about that.
Lisa: By offering Space as a Service, Xplore is unique in our ability to deliver insights, intelligence, inspiration and discoveries to customers. We make volumes of valuable and important data accessible and economical. As we see it - you don’t have to go to space to benefit from space!
We’re proud to see the phrase “space as a service” becoming more common in the industry. We were the first to introduce the concept and, of course, imitation is the best form of flattery. The industry understands that benefits can be derived through a service-based model, and even government customers are changing procurement practices to better leverage the faster development cycles, and more economical solutions on offer.
UP42: Xplore has some very unique sensors. Can you speak about your UV data and visible imaging data services?
Lisa: Few people realize that the James Webb telescope is one of only a handful of active or planned ultraviolet telescopes in space today. That means UV is rare, and unavailable to the vast majority of scientists and analysts. By offering our two UV space telescopes as a service, Xplore can generate astronomical, planetary science, atmospheric and surface observations in UV wavelengths. We’ll make this valuable sensor data and custom tasking accessible to commercial, scientific, and government users.
Separately, Xplore’s video imagery is exciting because it is very high quality and provides a unique perspective of the Earth. Our video product is 8k, full color, and can be taken off-nadir, creating a perspective that offers unique and dynamic scenes for our customers.
UP42: More and more companies are going hyperspectral, with the technique being embraced by the remote sensing community. Why is hyperspectral so useful, can you give us some examples?
Lisa: Hyperspectral imaging is a powerful tool because you can see chemistry and material properties from space. Detailed spectral information can be used to identify a range of materials that support Earth observation applications used in agriculture, forestry, environment and resource management, marine, coastal and inland waters, geology and mineral exploration, defense and security. Traditional optical imagery can tell you if there is a crop planted, but hyperspectral can tell you the health of the plants, soil moisture, and other variables to optimize for better crop yield.
UP42: What can customers expect from Xplore’s hyperspectral imaging service?
Lisa: Xplore’s Hyperspectral Data Service delivers high-value imagery products for commercial and government Earth observation customers needing precise spectral signatures with a fast turnaround time. The service offers 5m resolution and hundreds of selectable bands with available off-nadir imaging options.
Various tasking modes are available to customers. For priority time-sensitive applications, the fast-tasking service enables customers to image specific locations at the earliest possible opportunity. For less time-sensitive applications, scheduled tasking can be used to image defined locations once or at predetermined intervals. Optionally, Xplore offers a unique data fusion product where hyperspectral imagery can be fused with data from our visible, UV, and spectrometer instruments. True data fusion – the ability to gather data from multiple instruments at the same moment in time – is a unique and valuable capability, and we expect demand for this to grow as customers understand the powerful applications for this data.
UP42: Your data collection destinations go beyond earth observation. Do you see potential in astronomy and solar system observation?
Lisa: Absolutely! We’re proud to work with the W.M. Keck Observatory, the premier center for astronomy in the world. Their team is providing valuable guidance on the development of Xplore’s UV telescope. XCRAFT is designed with enough power generation and storage capacity to never sit idle. It can take observations in eclipse, meaning while its solar panels aren’t receiving light. Our motto is: Always be imaging!
UP42: You recently acquired Major Tom® mission and flight control software satellite platform, can you tell us more about that?
Lisa: Major Tom is a cloud-based software service that enables operators to control their satellites with their ground stations. The API-driven platform provides a single user interface for satellite operators to work with any of the ground stations in our network. Current partners include AWS Ground Station, KSAT, Azure Orbital, Viasat, Leaf Space, and RBC Signals. Operators that choose Major Tom have access to hundreds of ground stations which can lower commanding and downlink latency. We believe the simplicity of this approach is an accessible, low-cost solution, as it presents financial and operational savings vs. creating proprietary mission control software.
UP42: When is Xplore planning to launch its first mission and when will data be available?
Lisa: Xplore is on schedule to fly in 2023, and data will be available within weeks of launch. In 2024 and 2025, we’ll have a steady cadence of launches to grow our constellation and better serve our customers.
UP42: What are the main markets that you serve and where do you see the most potential to unlock new use cases, accelerating the adoption of Earth observation?
Lisa: Xplore’s platform approach was designed to provide solutions to the widest possible market. Customers are always going to want the lowest-cost product that delivers the desired capability. Xplore’s hyperspectral data products are especially valuable for precision agriculture, forestry monitoring, coastal monitoring, and disaster relief. It’s worth emphasizing that data is only as valuable as the insights derived from it that enable action. Our excellent partners, like UP42, are the most efficient method for us to deliver data into the hands of data scientists and end users who can make a difference in their sectors.
UP42: What value does the partnership with UP42 bring to you?
Lisa: The UP42 platform and marketplace bring together diverse data sets, such as those generated by Xplore, with algorithms to identify objects, detect change, and find patterns ⎯ we’re excited to have a partner that provides a platform to developers and data scientists across all industries to leverage Xplore’s unique data to build, run, and scale programs.
UP42: What are your predictions for the evolution of the space industry, and how will it impact us back on Earth?
Lisa: Every company is a space company, they just don’t know it yet! We do expect in the years to come that as more companies understand the value of space-derived data and how they can leverage their businesses with it. They’ll want data from space to improve their business, keep their countries safe, inspire their audiences, and make discoveries. And we expect Xplore and UP42 to be key enablers of this future.