From the session’s opening query regarding the state of storage costs by moderator Dr. Chris Boshuizen of DCVC (Data Collective), through the efforts of Microsoft as stated by Stephen Kitay of Microsoft Azure Space to deliver the cloud to the space community, the panelists all agreed on one bottom line: Cloud services are phenomenal.
Spencer Ziegler of Orbital Wave said, “The processing power for startups is a game changer, simplifying the data flow from reception at the ground station to the network to the cloud and controlling it. That’s important and is how we bring the cost of space down. Without this advance, New Space would not be taking place.”
The cloud allows companies to focus on what smallsats do best, building a focused solution. Those companies do not have to worry about all of those other elements… the cloud enables a tighter integration of services, as indicated by Bronwyn Agrios of National Geographic.
For all, the ability to ensure satellite data is readily available is so incredibly important — this was emphasized by Rosalie van der Maas of Ellipsis Drive. “It’s a zoo [of data] out there and solutions for data visualization must be offered.”
When Dr. Boshuizen asked if we have all of the data we need, and then inquiring what is needed, Mr. Ziegler quickly replied, “More sensors, more satellites, more launches.”
The topic moved on to SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) satellites and the question was how such technology was evolving. Dominic Edmunds of PlanetWatchers noted that the value is there, as there are paying customers for SAR. However, those customers don’t care if the data they receive came from SAR or not… the value is in the analysis. He felt the industry tends to get carried away with technical white papers. The smallsat actors tend to read them… customers don’t. He pressed on by stating, “You have to believe in your product and get your product into the market and believe in your customer more than anything else. Believe in the value of the use case.”
Following up, Mr. Edmunds remarked that a firm’s use case should be presented to the customer and then the benefits explained to them. “Make it something they can be enthused about.”
Scary, that’s what Ms. van der Maas revealed about end users and how they react to purchasing anything that’s related to Earth Observation (EO). They won’t tell you that they are, she said, they simply don’t understand it. In fact, a company can try and understand their customers, “but the customer doesn’t understand you back.”
A general consensus was that the pricing for EO data was “incredibly vague and opaque” in many cases, with different prices for varying services, processing and analysis for different customers being quoted. Ms. van den Maas added that about one in five cases actually ends up with a sale… many customers defer their purchase due to the mix in pricing structures and close the sale possibility by saying “maybe next month.”
When it comes to actually building business success, Mr. Edmunds said there’s a lot of money going into this industry, but that business must be able to prove they can generate revenue… even more than that, turn an actual profit. How can what is being offered change their lives. “Understand the pain and pivot to address something specific. The potential is phenomenal. Be fully focused on your customers.” The panelists all agreed that business success requires fully focused attention on the customers.
Generally speaking, the determination by this panel of subject matter experts was that SATCOM operations should realize customers want to receive their data in a reliable way at a realistic price point. Pricing models are far too complicated. And the customers’ needs must be the focal point for the data and analysis sale.