“We’ve already signed up to be one of the first clients of PlanetiQ once they get up and running,” Pardue said at the Hosted Payload and SmallSat Summit in Washington, D.C. “We are also an investor in OmniEarth, which we also have a lot of confidence in.”
Pardue described Weather Analytics as a big believer in small satellites, highlighting several markets where the company envisions applications for data provided from Low Earth Orbit (LEO). He said Weather Analytics has had recent discussions with the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank on practical ways to implement weather data, particularly among countries in Africa where preparedness for meteorological phenomenon is low.
“They are in desperate shape to get information that they can use to make a difference in people’s lives and we firmly believe at Weather Analytics that satellites, especially small satellites, offer an acceptable proxy for weather monitoring,” said Pardue.
Both PlanetiQ and OmniEarth have announced significant progress with their SmallSat constellations in the past year or two. PlanetiQ partnered with spacecraft manufacturer Blue Canyon Technologies and entered talks with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) for its constellation of GPS Radio Occultation (GPS-RO) satellites. In June PlanetiQ successfully tested its Pyxis GPS-RO sensor, and anticipates fielding 12 satellites by 2017, reaching 18 by 2020. OmniEarth teamed up with Ball Aerospace to build imagers for its satellites, with Spaceflight Inc. for rideshare opportunities, and acquired IRISmaps to bolster analytics capabilities. OmniEarth also opened an office in California to focus on drought mitigation, and joined forces with Dropcountr to enable digital water conservation outreach for the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA). Several other SmallSat ventures focusing on Earth observation, weather, and other data, such as Spire, Planet Labs, UrtheCast, BlackSky Global, and GeoOptics, have also gained traction.
Weather Analytics collects data from a variety of sources and has more than three decades of archived information. In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit organization that invests in technology that could benefit the U.S. intelligence community, made an investment in Weather Analytics in March 2013.
Pardue said the World Bank is evaluating ways to leverage feature phones — mobile phones that are more capable than traditional cell phones but not as advanced and costly as smartphones — to bring weather information to people in Africa. This could allow people who are beginning to develop financially to prepare for inclement weather that could otherwise destroy only recently accumulated wealth.
“This can be active and transformational, and the key to all of it, we believe is small satellites,” he added.
Though ready for an influx of new data from SmallSats, Pardue cautioned that based on his observation, not many are adequately prepared for the gargantuan quantity of data that these operators are soon to create.
“One thing that strikes me is there are way more pitchers than there are catchers. There are a lot of people getting ready to generate huge mountain loads of data nobody has ever seen before. I don’t feel like most organizations that can actually use this data to great advantage are remotely prepared to catch it. I don’t think they are,” he said.
Pardue said Weather Analytics’ data engine is prepared to ingest not just weather data, but oceanic, agricultural and other data forms. Being “data agnostic” helped the company build a Web-enabled, all-cloud repository for data, he said.
Weather Analytics is targeting the insurance community as one of its main customer bases. Pardue said this vertical takes longer to decide on being a customer compared to others. In March 2015 specialty insurance underwriter HCC Specialty reached a strategic alliance with Weather Analytics for access to historical and real-time global hourly data for more than 100 weather variables and indices. Weather Analytics has more than 100 customers and partners, according to its website. Pardue mentioned other markets such as government and agriculture as interesting to the company, with the surprise standout being retail in terms of the market with the most potential.
“Retail is really interesting because of the insights you get from consumer behavior. When you get five to 10 years of one square kilometer weather to understand what the different buying behaviors were at this store and that store and how it correlates to non-obvious relationships, such as wind and cloud cover, that gets really interesting. That’s the biggest single sector,” he said.