In May, SpaceX became the first private company to send NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, the first crew to launch from U.S. soil in nearly a decade. Its Crew Dragon spacecraft carried a second crew of four astronauts to the ISS in November, with a third crew mission planned for 2021. In 2020, the company hit the 100-launch milestone for its Falcon 9 cargo rockets, and added nearly 1,000 satellites to its Starlink constellation - and the Falcon 9 that delivered its last 60 satellites was on its seventh trip, a milestone in reusable rocketry.
Cofounded by a former NASA astronaut, LeoLabs uses proprietary radars to track objects in Lower Earth Orbit, the area 62 to 1,200 miles above Earth’s surface where some 2,000 active satellites operate—up from 400 just a few years ago (and with 50,000 more planned for launch in the next few years). In 2020, the company introduced its Collision Avoidance Service, a subscription that alerts customers when their satellites are on course for a crash. SpaceX has signed on its Starlink sats for tracking, and LeoLabs also works with regulators, insurers, and the Department of Defense to “make sure there are no surprises in space,” says CEO Dan Ceperley. In 2021, the company will onboard two more radars, which will give the company the ability to track more than 250,000 pieces of debris, down to the size of a nut and bolt.
Montreal-based startup GHGSat uses its own satellites to measure greenhouse gases from outer space, using spectroscopic sensing to detect even small leaks from oil and gas and other industrial emitters anywhere on Earth. In September, they successfully launched their second satellite, which has sensors that can detect methane emissions 100 times smaller than any other technology. Last March, GHGSat’s Risk Index, which predicts oil and methane leaks, was incorporated into Bloomberg terminals.
4. ORBITAL INSIGHT
Palo Alto-based geospatial analytics company Orbital Insight meshes cell phone geolocation with images obtained from satellites, drones, and balloons to give businesses a god’s-eye view of a range of human activity. That power can be used for good: In 2020, it scaled up a partnership with Unilever to monitor its sustainable palm-oil supply chain in Southeast Asia, using cellphone data from delivery trucks to track how raw materials get from farm to refinery, to make sure suppliers are not contributing to deforestation of virgin rainforest for new plantations.
5. SLINGSHOT AEROSPACE
Slingshot Aerospace specializes in “situational intelligence,” helping companies in aerospace and defense rapidly make sense of reams of data collected by radar and other observation technology aboard satellites, airplanes, and drones. The company works with NASA, the U.S. Air Force, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing, and in October was contracted by the U.S. Space Force to create a VR space simulator to for training. Called the Slingshot Orbital Laboratory, the simulator was made in partnership with VFX studio Third Floor, the special effects studio that’s worked on projects including Gravity, The Martian, and The Mandalorian. In June, Slingshot launched a customized version of their earth mapping tool to help people in the Los Angeles area locate free or low-cost food during the pandemic.
According to fastcompany.com.