(Bloomberg) -- Peter Thiel is financing a startup set to launch cameras on satellites for the U.S. government, extending the billionaire’s portfolio of national security investments.
Thiel invested more than $20 million in HySpecIQ LLC, the startup said. The cash will enable the Herndon, Virginia-based company to build and launch two satellites with cameras featuring advanced sensors to peer through solid objects in early 2023.
For Thiel, a self-described conservative libertarian, HySpecIQ represents a deeper investment in technology to aid the U.S. government. He’s also a major backer of data analysis juggernaut Palantir Technologies Inc., border security startup Anduril Industries Inc. and, through his venture firm Founders Fund, Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp.
For HySpecIQ, the money from Thiel was a lifeline for a struggling startup. “It was like Lazarus rising from the dead,” said John DeBlasio, an early investor who was appointed chief executive officer this month as part of Thiel’s investment.
Founded in 2013, HySpecIQ formed an early accord with Boeing Co., only to see the alliance disintegrate by 2015. DeBlasio blamed a change in Boeing’s satellite strategy for the partnership’s dissolution. The setback forced the 15-person company to revamp its business plan. It brought on William Schuster, a veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency, as a founder and narrowed its focus to an advanced form of imaging known as hyperspectral.
The technology detects hundreds of colors across the electromagnetic spectrum, which are invisible to the human eye, to analyze the individual properties of each object. In this way, customers can identify the material and chemical makeup of each thing. And because the images are captured by satellite, they can monitor areas for change over time regardless of weather conditions.
Like India’s Pixxel, which raised seed funding this year, HySpecIQ aims to provide more detailed geospatial data and analytics than those currently offered by Planet Labs Inc., Orbital Insight Inc. and other companies operating conventional image-capture satellites.
Two years ago, HySpecIQ secured a contract with the Defense Department’s National Reconnaissance Office, which manages commercial and defense satellites for the U.S. government. The company said it’s also beginning to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Forest Service, though it doesn’t yet have contracts in place with those agencies.
The uses in government range from locating buried explosives on a battlefield to detecting dead wood among living trees. HySpecIQ is also courting companies in the agriculture and insurance industries.
“HySpecIQ’s superior satellite sensor technology meets the urgent need of government to provide security,” Thiel wrote in an emailed statement. “Starting from that key market, HySpecIQ has the potential to provide great value across industries.”
If all goes according to plan, HySpecIQ would follow in the footsteps of Palantir, which has expanded its government business and now generates roughly half its revenue from large commercial clients. “This looks a lot like Palantir in the early days,” DeBlasio said.
Thiel’s capital comes from his personal Rivendell Fund. It brings the company’s total funds raised to $35 million, cash it will use to continue developing data analysis tools and an additional 10 satellites in the future.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.