The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have awarded Albedo a permit to sell the commercial optical imagery having a resolution of about 10 centimeters per pixel. “We’re a step closer to getting this mission a reality,” Albedo co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Topher Haddad told SpaceNews. “We’re gathering 10-centimeter imagery from the space and making that data available, transparent, and easy to acquire.” Now it’s just a matter of getting to the space in the next several years.”
Albedo, a startup located in Austin and Denver, proposes to launch a fleet of refrigerator-sized satellites to collect electro-optical and thermal imagery with 10-centimeter precision and four-meter resolution, respectively. Some questioned how NOAA would handle the request because the resolution is ten centimeters per pixel, which is higher compared to any commercial satellite imagery currently available. “The licensing procedure and how efficiently it was done by NOAA wowed us,” Haddad added.
In 2020, the Commerce Department, which supervises NOAA, issued new remote sensing regulations that established a three-tiered licensing system. Tier One, which includes capabilities identical to those offered by foreign vendors, has few limits under the new laws. Tier Two systems that can provide data that is similar to that available solely from other United States sources are subject to various licensing limitations.
Albedo is in Tier 3, which has tighter limitations and is reserved for companies with no peer competitors. In the event of a national emergency, the Secretary in charge of the Defense and Director of the National Intelligence, for example, can claim imagery collected by Albedo over a specific area for a limited amount of time and prohibit Albedo from sharing the information with others.
Albedo will be unaffected by the provision “until we have a good number of satellites in the constellation,” according to Haddad. Albedo investor and advisor Keith Masback praised the company’s license clearance. Masback campaigned for a changed regulatory strategy as NOAA Advisory Committee on the Commercial Remote Sensing’s member prior to 2020.
“Albedo’s 10-centimeter license reflects a more reasonable strategy that is focused on helping the competitiveness of the US remote sensing business while putting national security into account,” said Masback, former president and CEO of the US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation.
In a blog post published on December 14, Albedo stated that the NOAA license puts “Albedo one step nearer to delivering aerial quality imagery from the space a reality.” “On a worldwide scale, the 10cm satellite imagery will deliver a new degree of transparency and visibility.” According to the blog, the imagery will assist local governments better urban planning, enhance views of the forest canopy heights for the carbon offset initiatives, and allow insurance and solar companies to take correct roof measurements.
In terms of international transparency, lower-resolution electro-optical imagery indicated potential Uyghur internment camps in China. Albedo imagery will act as a “zoom-in lens” for thorough verification, according to the site.