ITHACA, N.Y. — With $7 million raised from investors, local technology firm Ursa Space Systems is setting its sights on new horizons and shooting for the stars.

Founded in 2014, the company based in downtown Ithaca, specializes in analytics and satellite-based imagery with an eye towards business applications. For founders Adam Maher and Derek Edinger, it’s proof that their business plan, hatched over many years of work in the satellite industry, has real potential in today’s data-driven market.

Both are upstate New Yorkers, born and bred. Maher hails from Homer, Edinger from Rochester. Both went to college at Cornell. Running in the same professional circles, the two became familiar with each other while working out in California.

“At the time, what was happening in the satellite industry, companies were taking expensive government satellites and working the costs down. But they were optical, which can’t see at night or through clouds. As I was talking with customers, from agriculture to economics, they were saying ‘we work whether its rainy or sunny’. In a place like New York, where we pretty much don’t see the sun from November to March, they were asking to get around this cloud problem,” said Maher.

“Synthetic aperture technology wasn’t being exploited to its full potential, no one was looking at this sophisticated measurement system and turning it into information that someone could use in their workload. Right now, the current state of the art is around individuals who know how to work with these sensors, but the average person just wants to know what is going on the other side of the world.”

Synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) uses successive pulses of radio waves to create images of objects on the ground, using the echoes bounced back from the landscape below after it’s hit by the wave pulses. Received and sent by the satellite’s radio antenna, the data is then processed through complex computer algorithms to produce a high-resolution satellite image. Radio waves can penetrate clouds and the radio echoes can be processed both during the day and night, big advantages over optical (visible) light wavelengths seen by our eyes.

Maher describes Ursa’s work as adding transparency to the global economy. “As you can imagine, supply chains around the world are becoming more and more global. Say your supply chain relies on crude oil in Asia or Africa. Countries there don’t take part in reports on economic activities. We fill in the blank pieces of the supply chain, check for disruptions, and bring an ability to understand the risk for that.”

“We track a large amount of the world’s crude oil on a weekly basis for the companies and for financial institutions. We can provide very rapid, reliable updates, We were tracking Hurricane Harvey on a daily basis. By using a particular type of satellite imaging that can see through clouds at night, even during the middle of the night we can make the measurements that someone on the ground needs.”

The money raised from investors will be used to ‘scale up’ Ursa’s business offerings, expanding its customer base in the oil and gas industry, but also developing new data algorithms, products and offerings to appeal to businesses in other commodities. As a result, the company, which currently employs eleven, expects to add another fourteen jobs, nearly all of them locally. Ursa is seeking both individuals with marketing expertise, and those who can help them write new satellite algorithms to expand their array of data products.

Ursa Space Systems staff. Image provided.

When asked why Ithaca is a good location for their business, Maher was enthusiastic. “Ithaca gives us a lot of benefits. Bloomberg did a comparison of Ithaca vs other startup centers around the world, and Ithaca has a good combination of life-work balance, good universities and support structures like Rev, the same hallmarks you would find in the major startup areas of Silicon Valley. I’ve had very good luck attracting people out here, people love Ithaca, they move here from larger cities, we’ve had others move here from Washington DC, Boston, other metro areas as well. It’s much more affordable than the large cities.”

Julie Baker, Vice-President of Operations for Ursa, added that the benefits of being here go beyond Tompkins County. “This area is good for locating and attracting engineers and tech talent. There are other strong universities in the region, RIT’s imaging science is renowned. {There’s} other expertise in upstate NY, there’s a lot of technical activity.”

Ursa Space Systems is a member of STARTUP-NY, the state’s tax incentive and academic partnership program for new and expanding businesses. Maher says that while tax incentives provide significant benefits, organizations like Rev have provided the mentorship and guidance Ursa needed to be successful in upstate, and helped keep them in the area instead of moving elsewhere. “Rev has been great for us,” concluded Maher. {Disclosure: The Ithaca Voice is a member of Rev}.

With hard work and good fortune, the company hopes to keep growing in the area as it expands its clientele and the staff to meet their customers’ needs. Ithaca may be in one of the cloudiest regions in the nation, but for Ursa Space Systems, the future looks bright.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.