Interview

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Interview with 2016 EARSC Company Award winner, Fabrizio Pirondini, CEO Deimos Imaging

This is the third year and the third winner of this now prestigious award is Deimos Imaging. This achievement was recognised by EARSC members in delivering the award to them this year.

Tell us a bit about the history of Deimos Imaging, how the Company was split from Deimos Space and how it has grown over the years?

Deimos Space was founded in 2001 by a group of engineers, we were 23 back then, with the idea of setting up a small, agile company dedicated to providing high-quality space engineering services.

After a few years of growth, in 2006 we decided to start Deimos Imaging as a spin-off, and expand into the growing satellite imagery market by acquiring and operating our own satellite, the Deimos-1.

When the satellite was launched, in 2009, we were around 20 people, and we managed to be successful enough in the satellite imagery market to convince our parent company, Elecnor, to invest into a second-generation satellite, Deimos-2. The satellite was launched in 2014, and by then we had doubled the size of the company to 50 people, and we were operating two control and processing centers in two separate facilities in Spain.

The next big step for Deimos Imaging was the acquisition by the Canadian UrtheCast Corp. in July 2015, which enabled us to keep growing steadily and which gave us a clear roadmap for the future. We have now more than 100 employees, and we plan to keep growing significantly in 2017.

Please tell us a bit more about what Deimos imaging does? What are the key markets that you address?

Deimos Imaging has grown over the years to become one of the world’s leading satellite imagery providers. We own and operate our Deimos-1 and Deimos-2 satellites with a 24/7 commercial service from our facilities in Spain and through a network of ground stations in Canada, Sweden and Norway.

The acquisition of Deimos Imaging by UrtheCast added significant value to the company, and we included in our portfolio two other unique data sources, both based on the International Space: a mid-resolution camera, Theia, and the first UHD color video camera in space, Iris.

Moreover, as a founding member of the PanGeo Alliance, we can provide quite a unique portfolio of EO data to a very broad range of customers.

After the acquisition by UrtheCast we have expanded beyond our traditional markets in Europe and Latin America, and we have now achieved a true worldwide commercial footprint.

What is your view on the evolution of online web services – what timescale will it occur over and will you embrace the change?

Deimos Imaging has a “traditional” business model for earth observation and we deliver the information through standard channels to our customers. Urthecast has a different approach based on a web platform and the customer can access the data through an API in a real time. This way of distributing the data is becoming more available nowadays and we really think this will be the key for the next generation of application of EO. It implies a faster and cheaper access to the services and it will allow more users to access the same data and in a different way. There market is changing and the evolution of online web services will happen very soon.

The PanGeo Alliance is the first global alliance of Earth Observation sensors operators. Could you briefly explain how customers benefit from a global network of resellers and a unified access point to new tasking and archive imagery?

The PanGeo Alliance, which we co-founded two years ago, has rapidly grown to eight member entities worldwide, in eight different countries.

As a member of the Alliance, we have access to an unprecedented fleet of EO sensors, which will be greatly expand in the coming years. Nowadays, the PanGeo Allliance includes 15 operational EO sensors, and it allows us to provide to our customers quite a unique portfolio of imagery of a wide resolution range (from 20 m to 75 cm/pixel), 4K full-color videos and AIS data.

For us, the Alliance also provides an additional global reseller network, which complements our existing channels.

But the key benefit for our customers is that we can act as a single access point for the whole portfolio, not just as a reseller, but as a true constellation campaign manager. We can combine the access to each member’s archive catalogue, and we can task the whole PanGeo fleet thanks to a multi-satellite mission planning and ordering system. This is like offering to your customers the control of a 15-satellite EO fleet.

What is your vision about the democratization of Earth Observation?

UrtheCast’s vision is what we call the “democratization” of Earth Observation.
This shall not be confused with a simple “free data” statement. We do believe that the price of the data is just a part of the equation. Quality, access, usability, continuity are among the other key factors you have to tackle in order to be really able to make a difference.

Our goal is to provide unhindered and near universal access of EO imagery and data. This has to be done at affordable price point, in formats and on platforms that do not require expertise, and within an eco-system that attracts third-party investment and innovation. We believe this would significantly broaden the utility of the EO data for organizations and individuals.

In order to achieve this goal, we are developing a complex end-to-end system which is composed both of space-based and ground-based assets. And this whole system is customer-driven, since we are basing all the requirements on the market needs we have identified in close relationship with our existing customer base.

We are currently developing two constellations of satellites, the 8-satellite UrtheDaily and the 16-satellite OptiSAR. The first system will provide complete daily coverage worldwide at 5m resolution, with very-high-quality imagery specifically designed for geoanalytics applications. The second system, composed of 8 pairs of very-high-resolution optical and SAR satellites, will complement UrtheDaily by providing a unique night/day, all-weather revisit capacity, with tens of observation opportunities per day on any given target.

In order to allow everyone to access and use this huge data stream, we have already developed and fielded a complex cloud-based infrastructure, the UrthePlatform, which will close the existing gap between the data and the users.

How you plan your vertically-integrated EO system (space base geospatial big data collection, processing, and information management system)?

UrtheCast is already structured as a vertically integrated EO system.
The upstream part is composed of the current sensors (Deimos-1, Deimos-2, Iris and Theia), and it will be complemented by our future constellations, UrtheDaily and OptiSAR. Our satellites and sensors already generate a huge amount of imagery, and the future constellations will definitely bring us in the realm of Big Data.

In order to download, move around, process and store this amount of imagery we need a significant ground infrastructure. This is why we developed our Midstream, which we call the UrthePipeline. This is already operational for the current generation of systems, but it has been really designed to cope with the future constellations.

The Downstream part of our strategy is covered by our UrthePlatform, which is a multi-sensor, multi-format searchable and query-able EO data distribution and exploitation system, fully cloud-based. The UrthePlatform is already operational, and it is already allowing a growing set of geoanalytics customers to work directly with the data on the cloud, without the need to download or move around huge amount of data.

The next logical step in the development of our vertically-integrated system will be to add more geoanalytical capabilities directly in our UrthePlatform.

Fabrizio Pirondini, CEO Deimos Imaging

Mr. Pirondini is co-founder and CEO of Deimos Imaging, a Spanish company part of the UrtheCast group, operating and marketing the Deimos-1 and Deimos-2 EO satellites. An Aerospace Engineer with almost 20 years of experience in the space sector, in his career he covered all facets of the Earth Observation value chain, encompassing technical aspects, business development, strategy and management. After an experience at the European Space Agency in Germany, in 2001 he co-founded Deimos Space, which is now one of Europe’s leading space companies. Until 2010, as Head of the Earth Observation Mission Analysis division at Deimos Space, he was responsible for the mission design and analysis of more than 20 Earth Observation missions. As CEO of Deimos Imaging since 2011, he led the expansion of the company into becoming one of the leading providers of satellite imagery. In 2014 he co-founded the PanGeo Alliance of EO satellite operators