Ukraine via Satellite
To our Valued Investors:
Beginning about one year ago, Orbital Insight’s GO platform had its sights set on the Crimean Peninsula, which was (and continues to be) internationally recognized as part of Ukraine. Moscow’s annexation of the region had already drawn much international criticism, and the way the peninsula’s location suggested a vulnerability to further aggression into the sovereign nation was, of course, a cause for disquietude.
The GO platform was able to collect data from satellite imagery and cell phone usage monitoring in the territory that revealed heightened levels of Russian military activity. In addition to the buildup of more than 100,000 troops and a large accumulation of aircraft on the airfield near the peninsula’s western coast, Orbital’s analysis showed vehicles near the training ground practicing to use smoke as a tool to obscure troop movements. This maneuver, according to military intelligence, strongly suggested a preparation for offensive action. Again, this was early last year. In hindsight, it feels like this level of evidence should have made Ukraine’s current situation much more predictable than we actually experienced. In fairness, though, few would have anticipated the ferocity and the utter disregard for human life that would characterize the eventual Russian attack. Indeed, some observers within the global intelligence community even speculated that Vladimir Putin was engaging in some sort of high stakes chicanery at the time of these observations, and nothing more.
Perhaps a small part of the missed opportunity is due to an underestimation of the value of what Orbital routinely delivers. Satellite imagery existed before this Palo Alto-based company was founded in 2013, of course, but it was Orbital that ushered in a new era of how such information can be utilized. Before these AI-driven algorithms were available, analysts of satellite imagery had to pore over stacks of pictures, trying to spot the minute changes from one shot to another. Imagine those illustrated “Can You Spot the Differences” exercises in children’s magazines, but with thousands of scenes instead of two, with the subtle changes much harder to detect, and with the stakes being considerably higher. As with the other best technological advancements at our disposal, Orbital condenses hundreds of hours of labor into a minute, and its results are significantly more detailed and accurate.
Sadly, now that Russian aggression is in full force, the stories we are told through satellite imagery are much more conspicuous. “Before and After” shots of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine reveal the extensive damage that has been inflicted upon parked Ukrainian aircraft by numerous bombing raids. In the northeastern part of the country, bordering Russia, pictures of Chuguiv (seen in the above image) show damage to oil storage facilities and airport equipment. Such forms of destruction are extreme, so they can be detailed by photography from any satellite, and analytics from a company like Orbital are not needed to understand what is being shown. Still, other facets of Ukraine’s current circumstances do require the added insight for true comprehension. Immediately following the initial onset of the invasion, Orbital detected a trend in “human flow data” in Kyiv. By studying anonymized usage data from cell phones and other devices, it was revealed that the city’s population decreased by just over one million individuals — a decline of about 20 percent — ten hours into the atrocity. Beyond the small consolation of knowing that so many were able to quickly escape the city, an understanding of population shifts is a vital part of preparedness to adequately provide aid for refugees.
U.S. military forces have discovered Russian jamming of GPS signals in Ukraine and as far out as the Black Sea, which could severely hamper defense strategies. Pentagon officials have stated that the activity has thus far has not interfered with US support operations — American aircraft are virtually “jam-proof” — but it is unclear to what extent it has affected in-country Ukrainian activities. Part of the civilian GPS obstruction involves “spoofing”, which replaces legitimate data with false signals that make a device report an inaccurate location. Malicious actors like the Russian military can accomplish such spoofing with relative ease. Last month, in response to this threat, the United States Department of Defense awarded Orbital Insight with a contract to deliver a new technology platform for identifying Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) spoofing across the world. The platform will use AI and machine learning to establish patterns and reliably detect anomalies that suggest spoofing. The countermeasure will prevent aggressors from using the tactic not only to confuse situational awareness but also to cloak their own illicit activities.
Apart from these ways of directly confronting some highly objectionable geopolitical circumstances, Orbital’s usefulness has recently been underscored in other ways. In several previous Iron Edge newsletters, we’ve discussed how the company created a covid-19 “heat map” in the early days of the pandemic, how it monitors crop health in foreign nations and business activity levels at your local Home Depot, and how it analyzes the ongoing global supply chain crisis down to the finest detail. Military conflict invariably creates supply chain problems or, as in present days, exacerbates existing ones. The Russian and Ukrainian region is the world’s leading source of titanium, and their biggest customers traditionally have been manufacturers of commercial aircraft. Boeing and Airbus are basically reliant on Russia’s VSMPO-Avisma, the world’s largest titanium producer. Both companies have reportedly begun to approach VSMPO’s competitors for political reasons and to prepare for the possibility of Russian retaliation against sanctions. Perhaps closer to home is the effect we’ve all been seeing at the gas pump, with American fuel prices ascending to levels that are beginning to threaten our very lifestyle. The first step toward combating these examples of collateral damage is to have a complete understanding of the issues, and Orbital Insight is perfectly situated to accomplish that. With satellite imagery, the company lets us know what’s going on, without ambiguity, in titanium mines and oil refineries worldwide. They maintain an up-to-the-moment accounting of global oil reserves with daily measurements of the shadows on top of floating oil storage tanks (The Intelligent Eye in the Sky, February 3, 2021).
Since the company was formed, the list of ways Orbital Insight has innovated to improve a variety of industrial, commercial, and military functions has been growing rapidly and in largely unexpected ways. The past two years have regrettably brought us a health crisis, severe shortages, as well as war in Ukraine and elsewhere around the world. These dark moments have repeatedly created opportunities for Orbital to “step up to the plate” and make things better for many people, even if it did so behind the scenes. On top of that, this kind of impact-making paves the way for an abundance of public and private contracts, which strongly indicates that this is a company that can expect unbounded growth in good times and in bad.
Artificial Intelligence has been evolving for decades, and Orbital Insight is steering it in the most exciting and singularly useful directions. Unfortunately for most, the company’s shares are not yet available to the investing public. It is privately held, not for sale at the stock exchange, but your friends at Iron Edge VC can deliver your piece of this promising enterprise, at an extremely attractive valuation, through our fund. You can receive this benefit before the masses have the opportunity drive the stock price higher. Demand for ownership is spiking in this name as public awareness of its impressive technology continues to grow, especially in light of its evolving geopolitical relevance. Orbital was one the most substantial investments in which we participated in 2021, and it had been “sold out” for much of this year. Today, we have a limited quantity of Orbital in inventory, but we don’t expect it to last. If you would like to learn more, or if you know of anybody else who would, do not hesitate to contact us by clicking “Get in Touch” below.
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All the Best,
Founder & Managing Partner
Founder And Managing Partner