Near Space Labs Closes $ 13 Million Series A to Send More Earth Imaging Robots into the Stratosphere – TechCrunch

The declining cost of launch and a host of other technological innovations have sparked a renaissance in geospatial intelligence, with multiple startups aiming to capture higher quality and higher images of the Earth than ever before.

Most of these startups, however, focus on using satellites to collect data. Not so for Nearby space labs, a four-year-old venture that instead aims to gather geospatial intelligence from the stratosphere, using small autonomous wind-powered robots attached to weather balloons. The company has called its platform “Swifty” and each is capable of reaching altitudes between 60,000 and 85,000 feet and capturing 400-1,000 square kilometers of images per flight.

The company was founded in 2017 by Rema Matevosyan, Ignasi Lluch and Albert Caubet. Matevosyan, who is an applied mathematician by training and previously worked as a programmer, did her master’s degree in Moscow. There, he began researching systems engineering for aerospace systems and also flew weather balloons to test aerospace hardware. “He clicked that we can fly balloons commercially and offer a much better experience to customers than with any other alternative,” he told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

Four years after launch, the company has closed a $ 13 million Series A round led by Crosslink Capital, with participation from Toyota Ventures and existing investors Leadout Capital and Wireframe Ventures. Near Space Labs also announced that Crosslink partner Phil Boyer has joined its board.

Near Space, which is based in Brooklyn and Barcelona, ​​Spain, focuses primarily on urbanized areas where change happens very quickly. The robotic devices that attach to the balloons are made in the company’s Brooklyn workshop, which are then shipped to launch sites across the country. The company’s CTO and chief engineer are based in Barcelona, ​​so hardware R&D takes place there, Matevosyan explained.

Currently, the company has eight Swify in operation. It sells the data it collects and has developed an API through which customers can access the data through a subscription model. The company does not need to have specific launch sites, Matevosyan said Swifties can be launched from “anywhere and at any time”, but the company works in conjunction with the Federal Aviation Administration and air traffic control.

The Swifty’s main value proposition versus satellite, according to Matevosyan, is resolution: From the stratosphere, the company can collect “resolutions that are 50 times better than what it would get from a satellite,” he said. “We can provide persistent, near-real-time coverage of very rapidly changing areas of interest, including large metropolitan areas.” In addition, he said that Near Space can iterate its technology quickly using Swifties’ “plug-and-play” model, while adding a new sensor to a fleet of satellites already in orbit is not as easy.

Near Space Labs founders (from left): Ignasi Lluch, Rema Matevosyan and Albert Caubet Image credits: Nearby space labs (Opens in a new window)

Near Space has booked more than 540 flights through 2022. While customers pay for flights, the data generated from each trip is not unique, so the data can be sold over and over again. Going forward, the company will use the funds to expand its geographic footprint and attract plenty of new hires. The goal, according to Matevosyan, is to democratize access to geospatial intelligence, not only for customers, but also for developers. “We believe in diverse, equitable and inclusive opportunities in aerospace and terrestrial imaging,” he said.

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