In this episode of Popping the Bubbl, Sandra and I sat with Megan Kane--Export Control Officer and Nick Allain--Head of Brand for Spire Global. Spire in the most basic sense is a data company. Their products are consumed by corporations we all recognize, federal agencies, and a variety of other consumers. It’s all normal until we pull back the veil and reveal that Spire gathers its data through a constellation of DIY satellites.
Now that we’ve Popped! our surprise about Spire, let’s dig a bit deeper--From their website, “Spire Global Inc. is a space to cloud data analytics company that utilizes proprietary satellite data and algorithms to provide the most advanced maritime, aviation, and weather tracking in the world.”
By leveraging the data that only their satellites can collect, then using machine learning to crunch millions of pieces of data, Spire is creating a finished product that is establishing new markets in the space industry.
The quality of Spire’s data is driving agencies like NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency) to consider outsides sources as required data sources. Shipping companies that used to struggled to track ships now have a faster, more accurate and reliable means plotting the movement of their fleet. Spire’s data even assist in preventing piracy.
The innovative drive of Spire is captained by CEO Peter Platzer who graduated with an MBA from Harvard then headed to France to earn an MS in Space Science and Management from the International Space University. Yes, there is a university that teaches students to master space.
How does Spire do it?
The power of Spire’s data is built by its 40 satellite constellation that monitors about 85% of the planet. BTW, the other 15% is so remote, it is not beneficial to anyone to track it. Spire designs and builds its own satellites in-house.
While traditional objects launched into space, things like the Opportunity Rover, cost billions of dollars to build, launch and maintain, Spire does the job for a million dollars a machine.
Their satellites are about the size of a loaf of French bread and weigh about 10lbs. The satellites are named, often after or by Spire employees. At one-point Megan had a one named after her (Lemur-2 #6 Kane--Nick has one too Lemur-2 #7 Nick-Allain), we’re told, that one acted a little funny. Once the satellite is built, it is boxed up and sent off to Kazakhstan, Vladivostok, or any other launch worldwide facility. There is actually a broker that specializes selling space on launches headed to space.
The satellites essentially hitch a ride on someone else’s mission. To deploy the satellite, the astronaut team basically releases the it with the trash. The satellite remains in space for a short time, 18 months to 3 years is common.
What about the data?
Let’s examine the weather data. While Spire’s satellites scrape the top of the atmosphere, they examine GPS signals. They then measure how much the atmosphere affects the signal and then reverse engineers temp, pressure and humidity for slice of atmosphere.
This process is repeated hundreds of times, over multiple satellites, per day. These slices are assembled into a 3-dimensional model of the atmosphere which dramatically improves forecasting. It also increases the client’s ability see weather as a world-wide system with more clarity. The exponential jump in the quality of data has improved prediction models at the same level. With our current active hurricane season, Spire is already contributing mightily to all our lives.
Not Like Other Startups
While other startups have a tough road, much of their path is known. Spire consistently encounters problems that have no established protocol. Frequently they have to become the 1st ever to do a given act; thus, making them the world expert. Nick estimates they get 1 email a week that profiles a problem that has never existed in the history of man, WOW.
Spire at one point had to work around the recent Russia/Ukraine Crimea conflict that threatened to interrupt their next launch. Problems like this are mirrored only by epics from history like Erwin Finlay-Freundlich’s expedition to prove Einstein’s theory of relativity, in Russia at the dawn of World War 1 in the summer of 1914.
Spire’s emerging ground station network, vital for them to maintain their network, is creating a marketplace for companies that require a ground station of their own. Spire’s work to create their own network has created a body of knowledge that has never been collected.
Of all the things emerging from the Silicon Valley, Spire launches above all the rest. Their innovation spawns unique challenges that their creativity continues to conquer. When a company is creating this frequently, happy accidents happen and something astounding is born. Whatever comes next for Spire, we’re on board.