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Speaker Spotlight: Dan Lopez, VP Technology, UrtheCast Posted on Nov 09, 2015

In the latest interview in the Space Tech Speaker Spotlight series, Mindy Emsley spoke to Dan Lopez, VP Technology of UrtheCast. UrtheCast surveys the globe from cameras aboard the International Space Station. The biggest current customers for Earth observation services tend to be governments, which use satellite images for everything from monitoring the health of forests and gauging the extent of natural disasters, to tracking climate change and surveying other nations’ armies and navies. However, there are also emerging markets for satellite imagery in the private sector. Energy and agricultural businesses, as well as financial firms, are finding it useful to take a high-level view of the Earth’s surface, especially with the remarkably fine resolution that is now possible.

Dan is an innovative entrepreneur and architect who has advised a wide variety of web-centric businesses and brands by lending his creative, strategic and technological vision. With 15 years’ leadership and technology experience, he is a seasoned startup and open-source veteran, with domain expertise in federal, defence and intelligence, big data and consumer web. Having served as Director of Technology at JUXT in the heart of Silicon Valley, and Web Architect at the Linux Foundation, he has built bleeding-edge consumer-facing technology and applications from the International Space Station to Times Square. Dan leverages his engineering expertise, and a focus on open source and cloud technologies, to harness imagination and entrepreneurial spirit.


ME: Mindy Emsley

DL: Dan Lopez


ME: Please describe your role as VP of Technology at UrtheCast. What excites you about your job?

DL: I lead technical strategy, design, development, integration, operations and related software and services for UrtheCast platform, web, mobile, API services, integration, cloud infrastructure and operations, and consumer-facing technologies. It’s the closest thing to going to space. The amount of international collaboration that is required on a daily basis is truly remarkable.


ME: What are the key challenges and opportunities UrtheCast currently faces?

DL: Sending anything to space is hard and expensive. We have four cameras operating in a harsh environment. Things can go wrong, and when they do they are hard to fix. We also will be storing one of the world’s largest data sets of satellite imagery, which requires careful considerations on cloud costing and economics, and compute and storage technologies, especially scalability, and performance. There are boundless opportunities with our third-generation constellation when we begin to fuse SAR and optical imagery, and remove the cloud cover issues from the equation.


ME: Earth observation has emerged as one of the key applications driving the growth of small sats. How do you think UrtheCast's API is helping to break open the traditional Earth observation model?

DL: UrtheCast web platform and APIs seek to break the mould of traditional Earth observation by creating fast, easy access to imagery and data at a global scale. The Urthecast Platform, a cloud-based suite of RESTful APIs, allows for unprecedented access to Earth imagery and geospatial datasets to create dynamic spatiotemporal products. Our platform is built on open web standards that are easy for any developer to understand. Environmental monitoring, disaster relief and precision agriculture are just some of the possibilities.


ME: How important is the role of Silicon Valley in the evolution of space technology, and how disruptive is it for the space industry?

DL: Silicon Valley is an amazing environment for startup and early-stage companies to kick-start commercialisation of their innovative products or services. The amount of disruptive innovation in a growing community, and support for entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers and investors who share a passion for shaping the future of space exploration, is ideal. Access to capital is also a key element for startups, and Silicon Valley is the perfect place to fund ideas.


ME: UrtheCast recently acquired Deimos Imaging and branched off from the space station. What does this mean for the platform and the economics of the suite of sensors?

DL: Deimos-1 and Deimos-2 greatly extend the reach of UrtheCast capabilities and add immense value to both our imagery stack and platform. Developers and innovators now have a full stack of imagery ranging from .70 metres to 22 metres of high-quality commercial data.


ME: What can you tell us about UrtheCast’s small-sat constellation development? What improvements have been made that enable imaging regardless of cloud cover?

DL: With X-band and L-band quad-pole SAR, UrtheCast can fuse that data with optical imagery to create a new set of imagery that looks like optical but can be created regardless of clouds, since the microwave wavelengths of SAR penetrate clouds. This capability will unlock markets that are underserved due to having high cloud cover during the year.


ME: Improved Earth observation technologies have had a highly positive impact on environmental and humanitarian monitoring capabilities. What can you tell us about UrtheCast’s recent surveillance projects and activities?

DL: We have monitored farms in Saudi Arabia to the Midwest of the United States, Hungarian and Jordanian refugee camps, and have partnered with organisations such as the UN and World Resources Institute. The World Resources Institute uses our 5m Theia data to provide accurate, up-to-date health of global forests and monitoring deforestation at unprecedented scale.


ME: We’re eager to hear your presentation at Space Tech Expo Europe, but what are you most looking forward to about the show?

DL: I am looking forward to hearing other space technologists talk about what is on the horizon for small-sat constellation concepts, economic shifts in sending sats to space, addressing real-world need for data, and how we get that data into the hands of developers and innovators.


Hear more from Dan on the Small Sats day at Space Tech Expo Europe. Dan will be speaking at the Reconciling the Economics of Small Sats session at 09:10hrs on 19 November.

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