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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Albedo is the latest satellite startup to raise big money

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Albedo has announced a $48 million Series A raise, in a round co-led by Silicon Valley-based Bill Gates-founded Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Shield Capital. The Austin-Denver-based satellite startup has now raised $58 million in less than two years since its founding. Complementing the large round of Albedo is a padded table with cap.

The startup is a Y Combinator alum, a graduate of the Winter 2021 (W21) batch of the accelerator. New backers announced today include Republic Capital, Giant Step Capital and C16 Ventures. Existing investors Initialized Capital, Liquid 2, Kevin Mahaffey and other unnamed investors also participated in the latest round. (Fun fact: Liquid 2 is a seed-stage fund founded by NFL hall-of-famer Joe Montana.)

About that dressing table…

“The fact that Breakthrough and Shield are leading our round together is a good reflection of the wide range of applications that our images will enable,” said Albedo CEO Topher Haddad. “The company’s experience and industry knowledge that both teams bring will be invaluable in supporting Albedo’s growth.”

Haddad cited precision farming, forestry management, power line wildfire prevention, defense and intelligence as core verticals that require high-resolution optical and thermal images and fit within the investment theses of both funds.

The sweet spot

Albedo aims to collect high-resolution optical images of 10 centimeters and at the same time collect thermal infrared images of 2 meters from a small constellation of satellites.

  • Need a quick refresher on satellite image classification? We got you. A resolution of ten centimeters means that one pixel in each image represents a 10 by 10 centimeter square on the ground.
  • Industry compositions: Maxar and Airbus currently sell 15 centimeter images, which they can generate through algorithmic processing and upscaling the resolution of 30 centimeter images.

How does Albedo intend to deliver the goods?

The company started with the simple question “what if you could fly satellites really, really low?” and is reverse-engineering towards an answer. Albedo plans to fly its birds in VLEO — or very low Earth orbit — at an altitude about half the distance above Earth than the competition (450-650 miles above Earth).

Albedo’s engineering strategy has its drawbacks, such as aerodynamic drag and shorter spacecraft life. But the theoretical benefits of being closer to Earth could help the startup address the industry pain points related to resolution, latency and pricing.

Did someone say prices? Albedo is a card-carrying member of the transparent club with advance prices and has already published its rates online: $35 per square kilometer, with a minimum order size of 25 square kilometers.

If all goes according to plan, Albedo believes its six-satellite constellation will unlock high-resolution imagery for sectors that haven’t yet taken advantage of it at all. If Albedo can deliver, its offerings could even compete with sub-Kármán line optical operations and take market share from camera-equipped Cessnas, enterprise DJI drones and the like.

In short… it’s time to build

Albedo has a war chest, a meager team of 21 and a fast operational pace. In addition, the business strategy is relatively low-risk in terms of regulation. Albedo assured of a key, first of its kind license in December to sell 10-centimeter images.

What’s left? Build, launch and prove the first satellite. Albedo has been fully funded by its first satellite launch, Haddad says, but has a few more years of hard work to prove its technology in orbit.

The meta takeaway

Overall, it has been a quiet summer for capital deployment. But a handful of space startups have recently proven to be powerful exceptions to the rule. Beyond Albedo, just in the past two weeks, Atlas Space Operations has a $26 Million Series BOutpost raised one $7.1 million seedand Skyroot Aerospace lifted a $51 million B round.

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