【Explore 23】The Future of the Optical Communications Market as Seen from the Field of Satellite Image Analysis

Warpspace Inc.
4 min readMay 15, 2023

Explore 23, organized by Planet Labs, was held in Washington, D.C., on April 12–13. The American company operates many Earth observation satellites, including Dove and SkySat, and has been hosting Explore as its event since 2019. The event attracts 200–300 visitors and about 600 people online, which is very large for a single company event. At Explore, satellite imagery analysis companies worldwide gathered to hear from customers and solution development partners about how they use satellite imagery data that Planet sells or makes available free of charge to others. This article introduces some of the presentations.

From the Field of Satellite Image Analysis — Necessity of Real-Time Satellite Data

Warpspace’s CSO, Mr. Mori, visited the site. Warpspace is developing WarpHub InterSat, the world’s first private-sector optical near real-time communication network service for satellites. WarpHub InterSat will enable acquiring and using more Earth observation data and other data in near real-time, thereby contributing to realizing a sustainable global economy through faster disaster response and more efficient resource management. Although Warpspace does not perform analysis using satellite image data acquired by Planet’s satellites, it is necessary to update its services based on a renewed understanding of the on-site needs of businesses that perform such satellite image analysis. From this perspective, satellite image analysis providers who participated in the field told Mori that, “Real-time data is still critical, and even if you can get data at the once-a-day level, you’re likely to miss essential phenomena with that frequency level.”

Many people voiced their opinions. At present, the Earth observation satellite data that is publicly available is mainly image data from observation satellites launched by governments of developed countries, such as the Landsat and Sentinel series. These satellites take only about one image per month for each location on the Earth, and some of these images may not be available due to cloud cover. Also, if there are about 200 satellites in operation, such as Planet’s Dove satellite, it is possible to take one image of the entire globe daily. Still, since these Earth observation satellites orbit in sun-synchronous sub-recurrent orbits, the image acquisition time is limited to around 10:30 a.m. local time. Therefore, if we refer only to free satellite data, we can obtain data only once a month. If we include paid data, even if we can obtain data every day, we cannot capture phenomena that were not occurring when the image was taken around 10:30 am. Satellite imagery is used in various industries such as agriculture, fisheries, oceanography, and logistics, but even if we could obtain observation data once a day, more is needed. Therefore, to break through this current situation, the background that the demand for real-time observation data is further increasing was reconfirmed, and the importance of Warpspace’s business and optical communications as a means to this end was reaffirmed.

Earth Observation Operators and the U.S. Space Command close, as seen from Explore 23

Another thing that Mori felt when attending this year’s Explore was that the event had a stronger security flavor than in the past. In the past, there have not been many government officials participating in Explore. Still, this year, the importance of earth observation projects from a defense perspective was strongly emphasized, with the opening keynote address by a top Space Force chief of staff, including Chance Saltzman, Director of Operations for the U.S. Space Force, he said. He said the importance of earth observation projects from the defense perspective was strongly emphasized. In particular, he said, the location of the event in Washington, D.C., where the government agencies are gathered, and defense officials are likely to visit, also helped him to understand Planet’s policy.

Meanwhile, last year the U.S. Space Development Agency (SDA) announced its “Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture (PWSA)” concept, which aims to use a constellation of large-scale military satellites to transmit information to the ground. The critical technology is space. The proximity of security and earth observation operators seen at Planet Explorer 23 may foreshadow the future expansion of the market for inter-satellite optical communication services that Warpspace is working on.

Opening keynote by Frank Whitworth, Director, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (left), and Chance Saltzman, Director of Operations, U.S. Space Command.

(Written by Junichiro Nakazawa)

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Warpspace Inc.

Warpspace develops “WarpHub InterSat”, an optical inter-satellite data relay service. We will realize this service for LEO Sat operators by 2025.