Charlottesville-based startup lending satellite technology to Ukraine

Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 5:55 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - A Charlottesville-based company says its technology is helping families affected by the war in Ukraine.

Astraea was founded by its Executive Chair Brendan Richardson, CEO Daniel Bailey and Chief Technology Officer Simeon Fitch. Richardson and Fitch both went to the University of Virginia. All of them were all living in Charlottesville in 2017 when they decided to combine their skills and interests. They then worked with UVA Licensing and Ventures Group Seed Fund to get their company rolling.

Astraea uses satellite images similar to Google Earth, except it is updated almost every day, meaning that the company’s information can be used to see frequent changes. The team uses this to aid environmental projects and help improve the climate, but when Russia invaded Ukraine, the company decided to direct its tools to help.

“This is personal for us. A good part of our engineering team is Ukrainian. Some of them are still in Ukraine,” Richardson said. ”We were able to launch a website that makes their imagery every day available to a whole host of humanitarian organizations and nonprofits that are using it to help people get to safety or find corridors to escape the violence. And the ministry of defense was also using that imagery to plan their defense forces and maneuvers.”

Astrea provided its services for free to groups in need and various humanitarian organizations.

“They were actually able to go in and get two young girls out of harm’s way and reconnect them with their family,” Bailey said.

Richardson says Astraea works with dozens of satellite operators to get the necessary and updated information out. That includes both free and private satellite data, as the free data comes from places like NASA. He says there are also dozens of private satellite operators that run their own constellations that are constantly taking imagery of the Earth, and then selling it to the government or large companies. He says Astraea works with all of those data providers to get the most recent image that matters to customers and the public.

“We’re trying to provide ground intelligence, timely ground intelligence to people who might not otherwise have access to the resources to do that,” Fitch said.

Astraea says it is now helping dozens of nonprofits in Ukraine and plans to continue doing so.

“Step one is to be is to be able to provide truthful, unadulterated information about the state of our planet in any given place on the earth,” Fitch said.

“This kind of insight and awareness about what’s happening anywhere on the planet, is going to be just a natural thing that most people have,” Richardson said.

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