EarthNow satellite venture backed by Bill Gates, SoftBank emerges out of stealth mode

EarthNow says it represents a dramatic leap forward in capability compared to other Earth observation satellite systems. (Pixabay)

There’s a new satellite venture in town, and this one has the backing of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, OneWeb’s Greg Wyler, the SoftBank Group and Airbus.

Coming out of stealth mode is EarthNow, which intends to deploy a large constellation of advanced imaging satellites to deliver real-time, continuous video of almost anywhere on Earth. A spin-out from Intellectual Ventures, the company isn’t disclosing how much it’s raised but it recently closed a first round of financing with investments from the aforementioned partners.

“EarthNow is ambitious and unprecedented, but our objective is simple; we want to connect you visually with Earth in real-time,” said EarthNow founder and CEO Russell Hannigan in a statement. “We believe the ability to see and understand the Earth live and unfiltered will help all of us better appreciate and ultimately care for our one and only home.”

According to Hannigan, instead of watching events transpire minutes, hours or days after they’ve occurred, EarthNow’s constellation of satellites will be able to show events unfold as they happen in real time. The company says users will be able to see places on Earth with a delay as short as about one second.  

EarthNow takes advantage of an upgraded version of the satellite platform, or “bus,” developed originally for OneWeb's service. Each satellite is equipped with an unprecedented amount of onboard processing power, including more CPU cores than all other commercial satellites combined.

“We created the world’s first low-cost, high-performance satellites for mass-production to bridge the digital divide,” said Wyler, founder and executive chairman of OneWeb, in the release. “These very same satellite features will enable EarthNow to help humanity understand and manage its impact on Earth.”

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When OneWeb broke ground on a new $85 million satellite manufacturing facility in Florida last year, it said the satellites built in the plant will be used primarily by OneWeb, but satellites also will be available for other commercial satellite operators and government customers.

Airbus plans to mass-produce the satellites using advanced production lines in Toulouse and Florida.

Initially, EarthNow will offer commercial video and intelligent vision services to a range of government and enterprise customers. Some of the applications that EarthNow suggests could be done using its constellation: catch illegal fishing ships in the act; watch hurricanes and typhoons as they evolve; detect forest fires when they start; watch volcanoes when they start to erupt; and assist media in telling stories from around the world.

In parallel, EarthNow plans to create compelling “live Earth video” mass market applications that can be accessed instantly from a smartphone or tablet. “We are excited by the prospect of giving everyone a stunningly-beautiful real-time window on your world from space. With EarthNow, we will all become virtual astronauts,” Hannigan said.