Case study

SME Instrument Case Study: ICEYE

About the Company

ICEYE is a Finnish company specialised in microsatellites. It was founded in 2014 as a spin-off of the University of Aalto and is based in Espoo (Finland), with offices in Poland and the USA. In 2015 ICEYE was selected to receive a 2.5 million euro funding from the Horizon 2020 SME Instrument. You can get more information about the company at:

Description of the project

ICEYE wants to change the way we observe Earth and make it more accessible. Their SAR (synthetic aperture radar) microsatellites aim at making images of any point of Earth every couple of hours. The solution will enable SAR technology to be used in entirely new ways to support decision-making for natural disasters, humanitarian aid, environmental protection, trade, exploration, security, farming, and other sectors.

ICEY satellite ICEYE-X1

They are combining a particular type of earth observation technology with a microsatellite on a low Earth orbit.
SAR microsatellites can capture images through clouds and in the dark, conditions that limit camera-based services in situations where waiting for daylight and clear skies is not an option.

In future, ICEYE plans to launch a constellation of SAR microsatellites which will be able to image any point on Earth every hour.
The aim of the SME Instrument project was to integrate, pilot test and demonstrate the ICEYE SAR system in its final form to attract private investment for satellite launching.

Why did the SME Instrument grant the ICEYE project?

Horizon 2020 logo
SME Instrument is a part of Horizon 2020 funding the most innovative SMEs
  • The project responds to a market need and creates new market uses for the technology
  • The idea was disruptive and will change how the market works in the future
  • The prototype was advanced
  • The business model was scalable and supported by a credible business plan
  • Industry partners and customers confirmed their interests in technology
  • Team members have technical and business know-how and experience

Results and SME Instrument Impact

The aim was to validate in-orbit performance of the microsatellite and begin operations with selected customers. The launch and SME Instrument project was a great success. ICEYE is the first company in the world to successfully launch SAR satellites with a launch mass under 100 kg.

Mesmerising photo of Dubai, UAE made by ICEYE satellite – ICEYE-X1


  • Funds from the SME Instrument allowed the company to finish the project faster
  • SME Instrument funding enabled accelerated growth
  • The grant increased project credibility and helped attract significant private investments from major VCs for launch
  • The company went from being a small space start-up to become an important industry player
  • Besides funding, the company also benefited from coaching, access to events with potential partners, clients and investors
  • The fast growth of the company and injection of funds attracted talent and increased the team size by 225% in 2.5 years (mostly the technical team)
  • ICEYE opened offices in Poland and the USA
  • Many high profile clients, including the U.S. Department of Defense – Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx)
  • The company is able to develop more satellites faster than expected
  • The project attracted strong media interest worldwide, resulting in over 200 reporting items in the BBC, Forbes, CNBC, New York Times and many others

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