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High-tech company celebrating its grand opening in renovated site in Santa Fe

SANTA FE – Santa Fe’s Descartes Labs is holding a grand opening of its impressive Santa Fe headquarters Monday, just time for work on a new federal contract.

The fledgling tech company is joining forces with the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to provide a platform to build global-scale applications for the agency’s “Geospatial Cloud Analytics” program, with the aim of helping open up a commercial marketplace for data scientists. Descartes Labs, which got its start from brainpower spawned at Los Alamos National Laboratory, uses satellite imagery and other means to identify and analyze changes on the Earth’s surface.

Mark Johnson, CEO and co-founder of Decartes Labs, poses in the company’s new workspace on Guadalupe Street in Santa Fe. A formal grand opening is scheduled for Monday.

The firm can quickly identify worldwide trends in areas such as new construction, crop yields and wind turbine expansion. Formerly located in Los Alamos, it will stage a ribbon-cutting for its headquarters building, which is downtown at West Alameda and South Guadalupe, on Monday.

For DARPA, Descartes Labs will provide what it describes as a “cloud-native infrastructure” designed to store and provide access to massive and complex geospatial data sets.

The firm’s work for the federal agency will focus on food security and fracking.

“We’ve been doing the groundwork for this for quite a while, and this is a good extension of that into government work,” said Mark Johnson, the company’s co-founder and CEO. “It’s very much in line with what we’ve been doing as a company.”

Nikhil Sharma, who works in machine learning for Decartes Labs, takes part in a teleconference Friday at the company’s new headquarters in Santa Fe.

Decartes Labs was awarded $7.2 million from DARPA to set up the platform.

“Then you can build a system that gets data out to everyone else and build models on top of that,” Johnson said.

“The goal of GCA (geospatial cloud analytics) is to provide a secure cloud-based platform that automatically curates multisource global data and metadata, allowing analysts to focus their attention and expertise on analysis – not data collection, aggregation and curation,” Joe Evans, program manager in DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office, said in a news release.

“The vision is for commercial analytics providers to use the common data platform to develop and offer their services in an analytics marketplace.”

Born in the late 1950s in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik, DARPA is a division of the U.S. Department of Defense but separate from other military research and development agencies. Its mission is to develop emerging technologies primarily for military use, but those technologies often will have nonmilitary applications.

For instance, the agency’s GCA program can be used to predict food shortages in different parts of the world, locate fracking sites, and detect where illegal fishing operations are taking place.

Descartes Labs switched its headquarters from Los Alamos to Santa Fe last year and recently moved into the historic Firestone building, which has gone through iterations as a tire shop, bank, music venue and restaurant. About 50 employees work in Santa Fe and others work in San Francisco.

With economic development assistance from both the state of New Mexico and the city of Santa Fe, the company has spent about $2 million renovating the building. There’s room to expand to 100 employees in the facility.

“Not to sound too woo-woo, but we wanted to have something with good energy,” Johnson said of the 34,000-square-foot, two-story building overlooking the Santa Fe River.

The grand opening event for the headquarters will take place from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Monday.