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Nuview Plans to Map the Earth Using LiDAR Satellites

Jul 16, 2023

Clouds and darkness: These are the two challenges that bedevil every Earth observation (EO) satellite that relies on visible light cameras. But lasers can pierce both, which is why Nuview, an EO company based in Lake Nona, Florida, is building the world's first commercial LiDAR satellite constellation to fulfill its goal of mapping the planet in 3D.

Short for "Light Detection And Ranging," LiDAR uses a pulsed laser system to measure variable distances (in this case) from space to the Earth — it's the same technology some semiautonomous car manufacturers use to enable their vehicles to map their surroundings, and has also been used to map the Moon. When LiDAR is integrated with GPS data, Nuview expects the result to be a 3D map of the Earth's surface and above-ground features that can be captured and updated regardless of lighting and cloud-cover conditions. It's even expected to penetrate vegetation, revealing what's on the ground beneath.

"At Nuview, our goal is to map the entire Earth once a year, providing unprecedented access to accurate, up-to-date global data powered by 20 satellites in orbit," Nuview founder and CEO Clint Graumann told SpaceRef. "Traditionally, when LiDAR was used for mapping here on Earth, it's done with unscalable and expensive platforms like aircraft and drones. Nuview's technology is significant in that it will allow for large areas to be scanned at once."

According to Graumann, NuView plans to start launching the first of its satellites in the next 24 to 36 months. "Subsequently, the plan is to launch future satellites in four groups of five, each spaced by 18 months," he added.

Once Nuview has its 20 LiDAR satellites in service, they will map the Earth from space on an ongoing basis, with the goal of producing a new whole planet map each year.

Last month (on May 22), Nuview just secured its first binding contract, worth $2.75 million, with the US Department of Defense (DoD), through a DoD initiative called National Security Innovation Capital (NSIC) that funds startups’ product development. Nuview also has agreements with organizations in the energy, telecommunications, and agricultural fields, Graumann told SpaceRef.

"Mapping the Earth using LIDAR is an ongoing endeavor for Nuview," said Graumann. "We are committed to continually advancing our technology and expanding our mapping capabilities. As new advancements emerge and client demands evolve, we will adapt our approach to provide the most up-to-date and accurate geospatial information."

James Careless is an award-winning satellite communications writer. He has covered the industry since the 1990s.