Alba Orbital’s mission to picture the Earth each 15 minutes brings in $3.4M seed spherical – .

Orbital images are in demand, and if you believe that in a couple of years it will be enough to have daily images of all over the world, you need a lesson in ambition. Alba Orbital is here for the intent of observing Earth every 15 minutes instead of hours or days – and it has only raised $ 3.4 million to put its next satellites into orbit.

Alba caught our attention on the last day of the Y Combinator demo. I was impressed with the startup’s performance of already having six satellites in orbit, which is more than most space-ambitious companies ever have. But it’s just the beginning for the company that needs hundreds more to deliver its planned high-frequency imagery.

The Scottish company has spent the past few years in preparation and research and development with the goal of creating a solar powered Earth observation satellite that weighs less than a kilogram, which some must have thought was ridiculous. However, the joke is on the skeptics – Alba has started a proof of concept and is ready to send up the real thing as well.

The sub-kilogram Unicorn-2 is little more than a flying camera with a minimum of storage space, communication, power and movement. It’s about the size of a soda can with paperback-sized solar panel wings and costs about $ 10,000. It should be able to capture up to 10 meters resolution, good enough to see things like buildings, ships, crops, and even planes.

Credit: Alba orbital

“People thought we were idiots. Now they are taking it seriously, ”said Tom Walkinshaw, Founder and CEO of Alba. “You can see what it is: a unique platform for collecting data.”

While the idea of ​​daily orbital images like Planet’s once seemed exaggerated, it is clearly not enough in some situations.

“The California case is likely a forest fire,” Walkinshaw said (and it always helps to have a California case). “Having a picture of wildfire once a day is a bit like a chocolate teapot … not very useful. And natural disasters like hurricanes, floods are a big deal, including transportation. “

Walkinshaw noted that the company was overwhelmed and profitable before taking on the task of launching dozens more satellites, which will enable the launch round.

“It gets these birds up in the air, gets them ready, and ships them out,” he said. “Then we just have to increase the production rate.”

Alba Orbital founder Tom Walkinshaw next to a Y Combinator sign.

Credit: Alba orbital

When I spoke to Walkinshaw on a video call, there were about 10 completed satellites in their launch cartridges on a rack behind him in the clean room, and more are under construction. When it comes to scaling, the new investor James Park, founder and CEO of Fitbit – definitely someone who knows a little about hardware going to market – helps.

Interestingly, the next batch to be put into orbit (possibly in a month or two depending on the machinations of the launch vendor) will focus on nighttime images, an area that Walkinshaw had suggested was undervalued. But as the orbital thermal imaging startup Satellite Vu demonstrated, there’s an immense appetite for things like energy and activity monitoring, and nighttime observation is a big part of that.

The launch round will bring the next rounds of satellites into space, and after that, Alba will work to scale manufacturing to produce hundreds more. Once these start to rise, it can demonstrate the high-rate imaging it wants to produce – at the moment it’s impossible to do so, even though Alba has already hired customers to buy the images it gets.

The round was chaired by Metaplanet Holdings with the participation of Y Combinator, Liquid2, Soma, Uncommon Denominator, Zillionize and numerous angels.

Walkinshaw welcomes the competition but is confident that he and his company invest more time and effort into this class of satellites than anyone else in the world – a major obstacle for anyone looking to fight. It is more likely that companies, like Alba, are pursuing a particular product that is complementary to those already or on offer.

“Space is a good place now,” he concluded.

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