ARCTIC STORIES: ICEYE is the first commercial satellite company in Finland. Its story began on a satellite project at Aalto University. Two engineering students, Rafal Modrzewski and Pekka Laurila were learning about nanosatellites, and decided to commercialize their skills.
“It just happened that there were several top conferences organized in Finland, and we were able to meet and talk with potential clients about their needs,” CFO Pekka Laurila recalls the early phases when the novice entrepreneurs realized that real-time satellite images could bring business.
ICEYE designs and builds space technology based on microsatellites that are equipped with radars – in tech-speak the company develops remote sensing satellites with synthetic aperture radars (SAR). The satellites can provide information from areas where there is no infrastructure. They make it possible to observe the Earth even in the dark and through clouds, something that regular satellite cameras are not able to do.
As the data is collected, it will be available almost immediately. This is where the new services come in. Object detection, target tracking, activity monitoring and environmental conditions classification are just some examples of the services ICEYE’s technology offers.
For a Finnish company, the Arctic perspective was clear from the start – shipping, oil industry and of course, the environmental dimension. The name ICEYE stems from a use case connected with shipping and monitoring the Arctic sea ice.
“We wanted to start with clients who know exactly what they need. Arctic shipping is a perfect example of clients who need real-time information on where the ice is moving, and they know to ask for that information.”
“With a brand new technology, sometimes you will also need to train the users. You have to provide the services in such refined form that the data becomes abstract, and we just propose solutions,” Pekka Laurila reflects.
Most of the ICEYE services are intended for use in multiple industries. Government agencies are also on the list of prospective clients. Detailed data will help everyone make good decisions.
“We are able to reach any region in the world. There are places that may be dangerous, or inaccessible. In order to cover a large area you may need so many photographers that it just would not make any sense financially,” Pekka Laurila points out.
Timeliness and cost-efficiency are ICEYE’s assets. It can develop satellites that are potentially a hundred times cheaper than the current satellites deployed by states. The electronics chosen are light and special.
“There is a technological shift going on – in our satellites, we can use off-the-shelf components, like in smartphones. We can make things very small and very powerful,” Pekka Laurila explains.
The first years have been full of hard work, not only with the technological innovations, but also in securing financing. Even in the days of digital communication, some things work best face to face. This means that the young executives spend quite a lot of time travelling.
“My own background is in geographical information systems, so it is quite technical. When I have studied the various fields of industry where our future clients work, I have learned a lot about the world.”
“We want to emphasize that our service will be global, and it will be the fastest in the world. It is important to know the scale of your ambitions,” Pekka Laurila says.
ICEYE set their sights high, and it has paid off. The company has already secured nearly 20 million USD in investment. They have over 40 employees from over a dozen different countries. The financing and the clientele are also global. The company has just expanded to the U.S. and to Poland. The first satellite launch is scheduled for later this year.
Finland has been a great place to start from.
“The university and research infrastructures are excellent, and it is possible to get support, including financial support. We are working on radar technology, and Finnish radio technology has traditionally been of high quality,” Pekka Laurila notes.
As they put it, ICEYE's mission is to revolutionize satellite imaging and situational awareness. Not even the sky is the limit.
“We are doing complicated things, but the challenges we are facing are exactly the kind of challenges we wanted in the first place,” Pekka Laurila says with confidence.