Remote Sensing: ASTERRA, Startup of the Week

    The ability to find water on an alien planet is critical to future endeavors in space. Water is literally life; from sustaining human habitation to breaking it down for rocket fuel, water is critical to our future as a multiplanet species. And orbital remote sensing, and planetary geology, is the key to efficiently finding water.

    Even with the race to find water on Mars and the moon, this technology is critical to sustainable living on Earth. From orbit, ASTERRA’s technology knows where the leaks are.

    This provides city planners with vital information. Sustainability in space begins with dual-use technology. ASTERRA’s imaging and orbital sensing is exactly the kind of tech we need. Space Tech Nation recently had a chance to interview their CEO, Elly Perets. Read on for more information from this fascinating new company.

    [SpaceTechNation] How did your company get started?

    [Elly Perets] Our founder, Lauren Guy was a student researcher investigating underground water on Mars using synthetic aperture radar (SAR), which can penetrate beneath the surface. Lauren, having worked in water companies, understood the vast potential of this technology to solve the ongoing issue here on Earth of what is called “non-revenue water,” or drinking water that is lost in pipes before it reaches the customer. In some regions, these losses can account for over 60% of total water usage, a staggering waste of resources.

    Lauren got to work developing an algorithm that analyzes a raw radar image and detects places in the ground where treated drinking water is present. Unlike groundwater or rainwater, drinking water has no reason to be in the soil, and if it’s present, it’s probably a leak.

    In 2015, we ran our first successful trials, and from there, we’ve taken the technology global. We have completed over 450 projects in 60 countries, saving billions of gallons of drinking water annually. Over the last two years, we have expanded our product line to help other types of critical infrastructure, such as dams, roads, and railways.

    [STN] Is this your first experience with deep tech and aerospace?

    [EP] Our team brings together experts in remote sensing, geophysics, machine learning, and data science, who have worked on related projects in the past. We are proud to be one of the only companies in the world that have succeeded in commercializing SAR data on this scale, and see ourselves as “new space” pioneers in Israel, and globally.

    In terms of the first experience, for many of us, this is the first time we are working with technology that brings so much good to so many people. Our SDG (sustainability development goals) matrixes are staggering. Being part of a company that helps shape the world to become a better place for humanity is energizing. 

    [STN] Who are the team members and how was the team formed?

    [EP] We are unique for a tech company in that much of the team is comprised of geophysicists and remote sensing experts, which we continually draw from academia and the industry.

    I joined as CEO at its earliest stages, coming from a long history of leading software companies.

    As Lauren took on the CTO role, we brought in experts such as Yuval Lorig (VP R&D), Inon Sharony (AI Lead), as well as a sales and marketing team with a history of water in the water-tech and satellite industry.

    [STN] As funding is so often an issue, can you tell us a little about where you are at with funding?

    [EP] We recently completed our B-round, where we raised 6 million USD from transatlantic venture capital investor Beringea.

    As the scale of the opportunities in the earth observation market is growing beyond our initial estimates, and the company maintains a leading position in the SAR analytics area, we are getting ready for a C-round in 2022.

    [STN] So what does growth look like for you? Is it a merger, or will you stay independent?

    [EP] Right now, we are focused on growth, and becoming the leading SAR analytic company in the Earth Observation (EO) market is within our reach. Our vision is to be humanity’s eyes in the SAR spectrum. In the water industry, we have proven that not only can we successfully penetrate a very traditional market by providing actionable data, but we can also even become a worldwide standard for water utilities. For example, just recently, we were awarded the first-ever American Water Works Association (AWWA) innovation award. AWWA is the largest professional water organization in the world, and its standards are widely accepted.

    We see this is a testament not only to the strength of our technology but to our business model as well, which has proven sustainable and suitable for long-term growth. As we expand our product line over the coming years, we are working to make SAR data accessible as a standard tool for all the verticals we operate in now and in the future.

    [STN] Lets talk about COVID for a moment. What impact did it have on your operations?

    [EP] On one hand, as a space-based company selling to critical infrastructure, our core business is not significantly impacted by COVID. On the other hand, we value being active partners on projects, and COVID impedes our ability to join local field crews on project sites in a customer success capacity. Additionally, as an international company with offices in Israel, the US, the UK, and Japan, COVID has made inter-company travel difficult and impacted our ability to attend conferences.

    [STN] What about partners? Who would you like to work with most?

    [EP] First and foremost, we look for partners – from the EO segment (e.g. satellite operators & GIS software developers) — who share our vision for a more sustainable world through remote sensing. As half the world burns and the other half floods in the face of climate change, recognizing the impact that space technologies can have is the starting point.

    Our partners are also those who recognize the value and scale of what we have brought to the table in terms of SAR analytics capabilities and can complement our role as data providers.

    [STN] So what does the future look like, say 5 years from now?

    [EP] Recently, we rebranded our company from “Utilis” to “ASTERRA.” We wanted a name that was more representative of our role as a space-based company and data provider to multiple industries. In 2021 alone, we nearly doubled our staff. Much of that staff was brought on to build up our AI and software engineering capabilities, something we see as being a key driver of growth over the next five years as we expand into other industries. All these are steps to actualizing the more holistic vision that we have naturally adopted as we’ve grown, and where we see ourselves in the future.
    As stated earlier, our vision is to become humanity’s eyes in the SAR spectrum. “Eyes” is not only the collection device, but more than anything else a complete system allowing to act, react and adapt to the changing reality.

    [STN] What does success look like for Asterra?

    [EP] Infrastructure is crumbling around the world, and even trillions of dollars in investments in new infrastructure is not sufficient to address the scale of the problem. Properly maintaining existing infrastructure is just as important, and can sometimes saves lives. Success is when governments and infrastructure providers recognize SAR and Earth Observation data, from ASTERRA or otherwise, as indispensable tools to make infrastructure more resilient.

    To learn more: ASTERRA: Underground Infrastructure Analysis, The Intelligence to Act


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