By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - A Colorado-based startup developing a satellite network to predict weather using radio signals will launch its first two spacecraft on an Indian rocket, the company said on Thursday.
Privately owned PlanetiQ signed a contract with Antrix Corp Limited, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organization, to launch the pair of satellites in late 2016.
Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
PlanetiQ plans to build and operate a constellation of 12 miniature satellites that monitor GPS and other navigational radio signals passing through Earth’s atmosphere.
The signals change as they travel through different temperatures, pressures and levels of humidity, and the data can be incorporated into computer programs that predict local and regional weather and monitor changes in the global climate.
PlanetiQ is among a handful of companies looking to exploit a growing demand for weather data for commercial and government use. With the 12 satellites in orbit, PlanetiQ expects to measure the atmosphere about 34,000 times a day worldwide at altitudes between 650 feet (200 meters) above ground all the way into the ionosphere.
In 2013, agrochemical company Monsanto paid nearly $1 billion for the Climate Corporation, which produces apps of field-level weather, soil and crop data.
Planet iQ's satellites will be positioned about 497 miles (800 km) above the planet and inclined about 98 degrees relative north and south of the equator. From that vantage point, PlanetiQ satellites will track radio signals from the U.S. Global Positioning System, Russia’s Glasnoss, China’s BeiDou and Europe’s Galileo satellites as they pass through the atmosphere.
“The data is similar to that collected by weather balloons, but more accurate, more frequent and on a global scale,” PlanetiQ said. The remaining 10 satellites are expected to fly in 2017.
“We are considering all secondary launch opportunities, though (we) are looking at only polar orbits now with higher altitudes preferred,” PlanetiQ Chief Executive Chris McCormick wrote in an email to Reuters.
GeoOptics and Spire are two other startups planning to build and operate fleets of low-orbiting satellites equipped with so-called GPS radio occultation sensors. Tempus Global Data and HySpecIQ intend to fly a different type technology, called hyperspectral imaging, to collect similar atmospheric data.
(Story corrects first paragraph Colorado-based startup, from Maryland)
(Reporting by Irene Klotz)