Alba Orbital’s mission to image the Earth every 15 minutes brings in $3.4M seed round

Orbital imagery is in demand, and if you think having daily images of everywhere on Earth is going to be enough in a few years, you need a lesson in ambition. Alba Orbital is here to provide it with its intention to provide Earth observation at intervals of 15 minutes rather than hours or days — and it just raised $3.4M to get its next set of satellites into orbit.

Alba attracted our attention at Y Combinator’s latest demo day; I was impressed with the startup’s accomplishment of already having 6 satellites in orbit, which is more than most companies with space ambition ever get. But it’s only the start for the company, which will need hundreds more to begin to offer its planned high-frequency imagery.

The Scottish company has spent the last few years in prep and R&D, pursuing the goal, which some must have thought laughable, of creating a solar-powered Earth observation satellite that weighs in at less than one kilogram. The joke’s on the skeptics, however — Alba has launched a proof of concept and is ready to send the real thing up as well.

Little more than a flying camera with the minimum of storage, communication, power, and movement, the sub-kilogram Unicorn-2 is about the size of a soda can, with paperback-size solar panel wings, and costs in the neighborhood of $10,000. It should be able to capture up to 10 meter resolution, good enough to see things like buildings, ships, crops, even planes.