Space has always fascinated us, humans, in many ways. Since we can think, we look to the stars and ponder what else might be out there. Even more so, space has interested many business and technology pioneers in recent years. CONTEC is a Korean startup that’s getting ready to transform the space sector. The company is working towards providing holistic solutions for downstream data transmitted by satellites and launched in 2015 with their vision of capitalizing on what they call “the New Space era.”
Their new web-based service, CONTEC INSIGHT, is a virtual platform that offers object detection and change detection by using satellite imagery. The application can help monitor smart cities in order to assist with disasters or stop unlicensed construction work in the monitored area. Sejong City, the first ISO-certified smart city in Korea, has signed a contract with CONTEC to receive a satellite image application service.
How was CONTEC founded?
The startup is a spin-off company from Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), offering space ground station services, satellite image processing, and application services. The AI-based detection techniques help provide clients with accurate information about the status of the equipment that they need for daily operations. The team behind this project combines rocket science and computer programming expertise to create cutting-edge technology that will revolutionize how we monitor our environment.
CONTEC will provide ground station (GS) service with 12 more stations in Korea, Alaska, and beyond by 2024. CONTEC’s first station will be located on Jeju Island, where it will provide EO satellite imagery for military operations to monitor North Korean artillery positions near the DMZ border region.
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The company plans high-quality services explicitly tailored towards each client’s needs at competitive prices while maintaining an efficient logistics system. Hence, their customers have all they need when working under austere conditions or during emergencies.
Interview with CONTEC CEO Sunghee Lee
CONTEC launched in Korea and Luxembourg as its subsidiaries, with 58 engineers working for the two offices. CEO Sunghee Lee is an experienced space engineer who got his inspiration to launch a GS (ground station) while working at Jeju tracking station on KARI’s satellite operational mission. He was there 16 years ago as well when they launched their first rocket.
We talked to Sunghee Lee to understand a bit more about this exciting field which will enable business cases in this upcoming new space era. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us.
CI: How can the CONTEC solution be differentiated from the already existing tech in this industry?
SL: One of CONTEC’s competitive advantages is that it offers all types of downstream services. The services are delivered as platforms, including ground station reception services (Lv1), where satellite imagery data are received through CONTEC’s own ground station, satellite imagery pre-processing services (Lv2), where the acquired imagery is processed, and application services (Lv3), where the processed imagery is utilized across different industries.
CI: How do you define success at CONTEC? Are there any values that you focus on?
SL: CONTEC’s core value is playing its part to boost the growth of Korea’s space industry as well as its own business. Also, CONTEC is coming up with various space-related content for future generations to raise awareness of space.
CI: Did you identify any competitors who are doing something similar or want to move into this space?
SL: At the moment, CONTEC is the sole ground station service provider in Korea. However, more and more companies are entering the ground station service sector all over the world. As the number of satellite launches is skyrocketing, the ground station service and the satellite application markets are also growing fast.
CI: What’s on the roadmap for CONTEC in 2022 and beyond?
SL: By the end of 2022, CONTEC is planning to build 11 additional ground stations. Also, the company aims to extend the cycle of communications with satellites and make its services available all over the world by installing its own ground stations in each continent. CONTEC will further expand its satellite imagery applications, including crop yield prediction, identifying disaster-hit regions, and existing urban management services.
CI: If there was one feature you could add to your product, what would you add to your portfolio despite any technical or financial challenges?
SL: To improve the efficiency of ground station-to-satellite communications, CONTEC is currently developing FSO (Free Space Optics) technologies. This module will be mounted on CONTEC’s satellite, which is slated to launch in 2023. Also, the module will undergo testing and verification by interfacing with CONTEC’s future OGS (Optical Ground Station).
What will the future hold?
The startup has raised $11 million in Series B from Atinum Investment as a lead investor with four other major VC investors such as Industrial Banks of Korea, Korean Development Bank, and the country’s leading telecommunication companies. This funding will be used for constructing more ground stations along with developing new technologies. These include space-to-ground FSO communication services, which can transmit signals at very high speeds across long distances without any loss due to atmospheric interference. Further, there will be less propagation delay on their way up into orbit, where they’re then able to deliver data back down again just like you’d expect through regular phone lines.
CONTEC is ready to provide turn-key solutions for space operators with its EO satellites. The company plans to launch a fleet of these spacecraft and get their own SI (Satellite Image) data, which it will then use in various ways, including providing applications services through imagery captured from orbit.
Lastly, the startup also commenced developing an LCT module and FSO Ground Station for future communication technologies. This is in order to offer high data delivery from satellite images with greater ease than ever before. CONTEC’s satellite system makes it possible to access and view the data in any location, on-demand. CONTEC ONE provides a single-click pass reservation, which might be a key differentiator in the future compared to other solution providers.
Photo credit: The images shown are owned by CONTEC and were provided to us with permission.