Affordable Hyperspectral Satellites: The Goal of Australian Space Startup Esper

Australian remote sensing startup Esper wants to capture hyperspectral imagery from space at a fraction of the price of its competitors. Armed with just $1 million in pre-seed funding and assistance from the Australian government in their first mission, Esper is aiming to beat out its better-capitalized peers with lower-cost tech. That’s what really separates us from all the other spectrometers and hyperspectral hardware that’s being put up there,” Esper CEO and co-founder Shoaib Iqbal said. There’s a lot of software that really comes into play to make sure it works that way. Esper is planning on launching a second demonstrator satellite with identical hardware later this spring with India’s ISRO.

Australian remote sensing startup Esper has set its sights on capturing hyperspectral imagery from space, at a fraction of the cost compared to its competitors.

The company is launching its first demonstration satellite today on SpaceX’s Transporter-10 mission, amidst a highly competitive field. What sets Esper apart is its use of hyperspectral technology, which utilizes a spectrometer to identify the spectral signature of objects. This allows for the detection of various substances such as minerals, chemicals, gases, and vegetation.

Despite having a modest $1 million in pre-seed funding and support from the Australian government for their inaugural mission, Esper is determined to outshine their better-capitalized counterparts with their innovative and cost-effective technology.

Their first mission, aptly named Over the Rainbow, aims to validate the company’s core technology through a demonstrator spacecraft. This includes a spectrometer system and proprietary software that interprets the spectral imagery. To keep costs low, Esper utilizes off-the-shelf components and consumer-level electronics, with the software ensuring the accuracy of the data.

“We are very much a smart sensor. That’s what really sets us apart from other spectrometers and hyperspectral hardware already in space,” states Esper CEO and co-founder Shoaib Iqbal. “By utilizing off-the-shelf components and tailored software, we are able to keep the cost of our equipment low while ensuring high-quality results.”

Esper was founded in early 2021 by Iqbal and Joey Lorenczak, who first met during a chemistry class at Monash University in Melbourne. Following their participation in numerous hackathons, the two won Unihack, a student hackathon in Melbourne, in 2019 for another space-related concept. However, after experiencing the devastating bushfire season that same year, they shifted their focus to Earth observation and ultimately hyperspectral technology.

“The entirety of southeast Australia was engulfed in flames,” recalls Iqbal. “We realized that with our background in space technology, we could help prevent future disasters by focusing on Earth observation. That’s how we discovered hyperspectral.”

Their promising technology has already garnered interest from potential customers in mining and disaster response industries. This positive response has led Esper to fully commit to hyperspectral technology.

The company joined the Techstars’ 2023 space accelerator program and has since connected with individuals from major U.S. government agencies, including the Space Force and the National Reconnaissance Office, both interested in purchasing hyperspectral imagery. (The NRO has already awarded study contracts to private hyperspectral providers, including startups.)

With the help of investors such as Stellar Ventures, Day One Ventures, and Dolby Family Ventures, as well as grants from Alexis Ohanian’s 776 Foundation and the Australian Federal Government, Esper has secured $1 million in funding. The team’s next goal is to launch a second demonstrator satellite with identical hardware later this year, in collaboration with India’s ISRO.

Esper has ambitious plans to launch commercial payloads by late next year or early 2026, with the ultimate goal of having 18 satellites in orbit by 2028, allowing for a daily revisit rate.

Avatar photo
Kira Kim

Kira Kim is a science journalist with a background in biology and a passion for environmental issues. She is known for her clear and concise writing, as well as her ability to bring complex scientific concepts to life for a general audience.

Articles: 867

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *