Access to Earth observation data to improve with AI-based I*STAR platform

Telespazio has signed a contract with the ESA InCubed programme to develop an innovative service for improving access to Earth observation data. Derived from artificial intelligence (AI) models, I*STAR will allow new user groups to request customised, smart data acquisitions from satellite constellations simply, efficiently and promptly.

The community of Earth observation players is growing and diversifying, as is the number of missions and business models in the sector. Users need a simple solution that recommends intelligent acquisitions of satellite data, while national and international space agencies could benefit from a platform which enables them to promote their missions to those same users. All stakeholders are naturally keen to reduce operational costs.

I*STAR is being developed to address these needs by Telespazio, a joint venture between Leonardo (67%) and Thales (33%). The as-a-service solution will provide one-click access for organisations to acquire EO data. Using Deep Learning and Machine Learning algorithms, I*STAR can model user preferences with regard to satellite platforms, sensors, areas of interest and types of products, ensuring that even non-specialist customers can make specific requests from missions without the need for direct support from space operations. Through the automation of data acquisition processes, human intervention is reduced and resources are freed up, giving rise to tangible cost savings.

A further advantage of the service will be the ability to improve response times for disaster relief, allowing authorities and civil protection entities to react more efficiently and effectively.

Marco Brancati is Telespazio’s Head of Innovation and Technical governance: “I*STAR introduces a brand new solution in the Earth observation ground segment –  the ability to request products or acquisitions according to user profiles while minimizing the need to know specific mission or to have operational skills. We’re very pleased and encouraged that the ESA InCubed programme has recognised our novel approach and given us the opportunity to bring I*STAR to market.”

“I*STAR is built on the idea that AI is a key enabler for new ways to exploit EO data,” commented Michele Castorina, Head of the Φ-lab Invest Office. “Improving usability and access for an ever-wider user community will help to invigorate commercial EO by providing a marketspace for both downstream and institutional operators.”

The I*STAR activity kicked off in April and is expected to hold its first major development review in October.

To know more: Telespazio, InCubed

Photo courtesy of Telespazio

LPS22: Φ-lab shows how new digital tech and computing paradigms will reshape EO

With its themes of emerging technologies and the competitive business sector in Earth observation (EO), this year’s Living Planet Symposium (LPS22) championed topics that are fundamental to the mission of ESA Φ-lab. Indeed both the Explore and Invest offices of Φ-lab made major contributions to the event in areas such as Artificial Intelligence for Earth observation (AI4EO), Virtual Reality (VR), New-Space missions and quantum and neuromorphic computing.

“ESA Φ-lab’s defining mantra of transformative innovation in Earth observation, from idea creation through to supporting leading-edge product and service development up to market adoption, has allowed us to play a significant role at the 2022 Living Planet Symposium. Through presentations, discussions and practical demonstrations, our researchers and business innovators have provided a comprehensive view of disruptive activities in EO in both the institutional and commercial sectors.” – Giuseppe Borghi, Head of Φ-lab.

As one of the largest Earth observation conferences in the world, ESA’s Living Planet Symposium is a critically important forum for understanding our environment and climate. The 2022 edition was held last week at the World Conference Center in Bonn, and one of its central topics dealt with Enabling the Earth Observation digital transformation using emerging technologies, AI and data analytics to create new opportunities across the entire sector.

ESA Φ-lab was well represented at the event with a very broad range of offerings, including two sessions dedicated to showcasing the wealth of activities covered by the ESA InCubed Programme­­­­. In one of the Agora interactive forums, an overview of InCubed was presented within the context of the EO commercial sector as a whole and the forthcoming ESA Ministerial Council (CMIN22). There were also examples of current initiatives and strategic partnerships that Φ-lab is either developing or has put in place to support innovation and investment, such as the recently announced free cloud services from partner OVHcloud. The second session gave a detailed view of several commercial EO satellite missions that are benefitting from InCubed co-funding.

A key area of innovation and cutting-edge research within Φ-lab is the future of computing for EO, and the subject featured in sessions chaired or co-chaired by Φ-lab researchers. In ‘AI@edge and Emerging Computing Paradigms for the Future of Earth Observation’, speakers presented research in a field which offers both significant computational opportunities and some daunting challenges. Andrzej Kucik was one of the session’s conveners: “With talks from both industry and academia, this session revealed the state of the art in deploying AI models at the ultimate edge – space. We also had a demonstration by IniVation of their neuromorphic event camera, which is inspired by biological retinas and has enormous potential for high-resolution, power-efficient sensing.” The discussion on neuromorphic algorithms continued in a subsequent Agora session co-hosted by Gabriele Meoni, where participants made some fascinating contributions on other technologies that are revolutionising information processing, including quantum, distributed and hybrid computing.

The Φ-lab stand at LPS22

Attendees were particularly keen to see Φ-lab’s sensor-derived virtual reality simulations. Located in the ESA exhibition booth, the VR demonstration was run by the Explore Office and based around two research initiatives. In one experience, users explored a virtual 3D model of the Earth through the VR headset and were able to overlay and analyse various EO datasets as they swept across the surface of the planet.

A second headset was on hand displaying the first prototype of a digital twin of ESRIN (the ESA establishment that is home to Φ-lab). “Digital Twin ESRIN is a complete 3D reconstruction of our site, created from drone imagery in combination with in-situ data from vegetation health and air quality sensors,” explained Head of the Explore Office Pierre Philippe Mathieu. “This simulation aims to provide a live twin of a geographical area in order to enable real-time quantification of our environment and its evolution, all delivered within a high-impact VR experience.”

Φ-lab’s presence was also highly evident in a number of other gatherings at LPS22. Division head Giuseppe Borghi discussed transformative innovation at the Digital Copernicus session, promoting its role in generating a unique competitive advantage in the European EO ecosystem. Following on from her team’s UNESCO-award-winning research on dengue fever monitoring, Rochelle Schneider dos Santos was well placed to co-host the ‘Earth Observation for Health’ session, but also facilitated a forum for young scientists called ‘Meet the Next GenEO’. Nicolas Longépé helped organise three sessions on super-resolution methods and SAR data analytics, and many other Φ-researchers shared results and ideas in discussions and on poster boards throughout the week.

The plenaries of LPS22, including ‘Future EO’ and ‘New Space & EO (Commercial Markets)’, are all available for streaming here.

To know more: Living Planet Symposium, ESA Φ-lab, Φ-lab Explore Office, ESA InCubed Programme

Main photo courtesy of ESA/JürgenMai

Boosting commercial Earth observation

One of the objectives of the Living Planet Symposium, taking place this week in Bonn, is to foster interaction between the institutional and commercial sectors to boost the Earth observation space economy. This is being achieved by highlighting existing partnerships, expanding the number of data users and facilitating access to private funds for companies.

With numerous contributions from industry, investors and ESA’s Commercialisation, Industry and Procurement and Earth Observation Programme directorates, the symposium has brought the business side of observing our planet to the fore. Several sessions featured the ESA InCubed programme, which helps start-ups, mid-cap and large Earth observation players bring their innovative ideas to market through commercial, technical support and investment advice.

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Living Planet Symposium kicks off

ESA’s Living Planet Symposium has opened with a flourish with over 4000 participants including scientists, academics, space industry representatives, institutional stakeholders, data users, students and citizens gathered to discuss the latest findings on our changing planet, as well as advances in satellite technologies, new opportunities in the commercial world, and ESA’s plans for the future.

The symposium – one of the biggest Earth observation conferences in the world – takes place every three years. With the urgency to understand and monitor our planet from space to address the climate crisis and the growing interest in satellite data for all manner of uses that benefit society and the economy, each Living Planet Symposium garners more interest than the last.

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End-to-end commercial EO: three initiatives supported by InCubed

Covering satellite automation software, ground-station network access and Copernicus Sentinel-1 image processing, the latest ESA InCubed co-funded activities tap into market needs from across the space economy value chain.

“InCubed supports the entire breadth of the commercial EO arena, from space assets and the ground segment to downstream applications, a fact that is nicely demonstrated by these initiatives with AIKO, Spaceit and KappaZeta. All three companies have identified areas where they can add remarkable value through innovative solutions, and ESA co-funding, technical and commercial de-risking support is helping them achieve a faster time to market – a critical factor for commercial success” – Giuseppe Borghi, Head of ESA Φ-lab.

AIKO: MiRAGE autonomous satellite management

Satellite manufacturers and operators need to optimise their resources and be able to respond rapidly to in-flight events, but the necessity of human intervention often presents bottlenecks and inefficiencies in mission management. To address these issues, Turin-based company AIKO has developed MiRAGE (Mission Replanning through Autonomous Goal gEneration), a Machine Learning-based onboard automation package that renders satellites much less dependent on ground control. MiRAGE analyses in-orbit and operational data to enable the spacecraft to identify and react to unexpected events, thereby lowering operating costs and improving the quality of delivered services.

“MiRAGE empowers satellites to operate autonomously, overcoming the limitations of human-centric mission control,” says AIKO CEO Lorenzo Feruglio. “The software paves the way for benefits such as improved cost efficiencies, increased activity lifespan and boosted resource utilisation. MiRAGE is also highly scalable and will be able to support constellation architectures in which hundreds or even thousands of satellites work collaboratively to reach mission goals.”

The two-year MiRAGE InCubed initiative includes completing product development and acquiring flight hours in order to train and refine the Machine Learning models.

Spaceit: Aggregated Marketplace for Ground Station Services

A further challenge for satellite operators is access to the terrestrial networks that underpin both mission control and data downlinking. Commercial and institutional operators alike need a low-cost, low-latency ground infrastructure at their fingertips, but currently there is a lack of one-point-of-entry communication solutions that are integrated with multiple ground station networks.

Spaceit OÜ, an Estonian start-up founded in 2015, saw a gap in the market for connecting satellite operators with ground stations. Silver Lodi is the company’s CEO and co-founder: “We realised there was a need for a single platform for ground station services, a solution that we were well placed to provide as part of our cloud-based Mission Operations Platform.” The new platform is called Aggregated Marketplace for Ground Station Services, and development under InCubed co-funding started in December 2021. Standalone ground stations, together with virtual and physical networks, will be brought together into one unified ecosystem, allowing users to book services, manage contacts and communicate with satellites in one cross-network environment.

The user interface for Aggregated Marketplace for Ground Station Services, along with the activity to integrate the solution with the ground station segment, are currently being developed, with the Mid-Term Review due in June. In parallel, commercial negotiations with partners and customers are underway, and the product is expected to be ready for launch by the end of this year.

KappaZeta: analysis-ready Sentinel-1 data

The Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission gathers frequent Earth observation data (currently every three to six days across Europe), using radar to generate medium-resolution images day and night with no interference from cloud cover. Sentinel-2 by contrast produces high-resolution optical images by day, but the presence of clouds may mean that capturing frequent, useful data at a given location is problematic. Crucially for example, cloud-free vegetation images in Autumn may be available only once a month from Sentinel-2, which is far too sporadic for efficient farm management.

The KappaOne solution seeks to provide the best of both worlds by using Artificial Intelligence (AI) modelling to fuse radar and optical imagery. Simulated Sentinel-2 images will effectively be created based on Sentinel-1 data and organised into data layers such as natural-colour satellite images and biomass estimate.

The solution is being developed by KappaZeta, which like Spaceit is based in Tartu in Estonia. CEO Kaupo Voormansik explains the significance of KappaOne: “Providing Sentinel-1 analysis-ready data for commercial and governmental entities is a landmark activity for KappaZeta. We see that Sentinel-1 imagery is largely underutilised and in its raw format is too complex for the majority of users. KappaOne will make data usage very easy – in fact the name derives from our aim to deliver one-click integration of calibrated, pre-processed information.”

Development of KappaOne kicked off in October 2021 with partial funding from InCubed. The first data layer services are due for release in the next few months.

To know more:  MiRAGE, Aggregated Marketplace for Ground Station Services, KappaOne

Copernicus Sentinel-1 image courtesy of ESA/ATG medialab

GEMSTONE monitoring tool initiative gets underway with InCubed support

Czech company SpaceKnow is developing GEMSTONE (the Global Economy Monitoring System delivering Transparency and Online Expertise) under an InCubed co-funding initiative. Based on Machine-Learning-derived data from satellite imagery, the platform will provide users with key insights on industry and supply-chain performance.

Businesses and public institutions often encounter a number of problems in sourcing useful industrial Earth observation data. Not only is it difficult to retrieve information promptly due to the time delay between a phenomenon occurring and related data becoming available, but analysts need to search a wide spectrum of sources to pull together actionable insights. Reliability is also an issue, with concerns that the data received may not be impartial or free from bias.

GEMSTONE seeks to address these obstacles by providing a single point of reference for data, based on indices computed through Machine Learning (ML) analysis of satellite imagery. Users benefit from access to performance information on selected industries and commodity supply chains, drawn directly from unbiased Earth observation data and rapidly processed with state-of-the-art algorithms.

With interactive features allowing customers to tailor the platform to their needs, GEMSTONE is primarily aimed at sectors including banking, insurance, government, automotive and energy. Knowledge can be gained for a specific area or country, or topics of interest can be selected such as lithium or wood production. Customers can also pinpoint sites related to a company or product and then monitor accumulated data at these locations.

GEMSTONE forms an integral part of the wider mission of SpaceKnow. Its Economic Products division is creating what it terms a virtual encyclopaedia of the physical world, fusing satellite imagery data with ML and advanced statistics to create actionable geo-information.

“The things we do at SpaceKnow are supporting key decision making all over the globe, and GEMSTONE will be a premium platform delivering our insights to financial and industry leaders,” commented Jaroslav Javornicky, SpaceKnow’s Co-founder and CEO. “Working with ESA’s InCubed programme gives us access to financing and additional EO expertise that together provide a vital springboard for accelerating our time to market.”

For ESA Technical Officer Piera di Vito, the commercial advantages of GEMSTONE are clear: “GEMSTONE aims to offer a fully scalable product that will bring multiple satellite imagery sources into one place and transform location-specific knowledge into business indices. The platform has the potential to satisfy the demand for a state-of-the-art solution that effectively streamlines outputs without the need for further analysis. As such, GEMSTONE is set to become yet another example of the value of EO in industrial applications, and we’re pleased that InCubed is supporting this activity.”

After kicking off in August 2021, the development of GEMSTONE is progressing well, with data sets and data labelling now complete. The next major review of the initiative is scheduled for the end of April.

To know more: SpaceKnow, InCubed

ESA strengthens its support to start-ups with free cloud services from OVHcloud

Cloud service provider OVHcloud has agreed to make a free cloud service package available to innovative start-ups that collaborate with ESA Φ-lab, the ESA InCubed commercial programme, ESA Business Incubation Centres (ESA BICs) and ESA Technology Brokers.

ESA Φ-lab, in its continuing effort to bolster start-ups that develop innovative products and services, is keen to provide such companies with a series of free measures to help boost their growth. The first example of this assistance is access to cloud computing services, a vital tool for the development and deployment of New Space applications. 

The selected partner for this initiative is OVHcloud, an international provider delivering public and private cloud services in 140 countries. With over 400 000 servers lodged in 33 data centres, the company also offers domain name registration, web hosting plans and telephony. The OVHcloud Start-up Program has been running since 2015 and has so far helped more than 2000 enterprises with resources, training and advice.

In an agreement signed between OVHcloud and the ESA Directorate of Earth Observation in conjunction with the Directorate of Commercialisation, Industry and Procurement, any company granted a contract as part of ESA Φ-lab, ESA InCubed, the ESA Business Incubation Centres (ESA BICs) or ESA Spark Funding from an ESA Technology Broker, will have access to a number of benefits free of charge. These include up to €100 000 of free credits for OVHcloud products and up to 20 hours of specific technical support from business experts.

ESA will inform its start-up community of the offer, and OVHcloud will promote the various ESA start-up incentives to companies whose products and services may be relevant to the space sector.

“As a leading European cloud provider, we’re very excited to launch this collaboration with ESA as it reflects our common interest in promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in the Space Economy,” said Jonathan Bowman Clarke, OVHcloud Start-Up Program Leader for Southern Europe. “With OVHcloud’s offering in combination with co-funding from programmes such as ESA InCubed, start-ups are able to access services that give an essential helping hand to early-stage ventures in the European space arena.”

For Michele Castorina of the Φ-lab Invest Office and InCubed programme, the benefits of the cooperation are clear: “This multi-Directorate agreement is a clear illustration of the coordinated support that ESA provides for economic operators, from incubation in the BICs to product development with Incubed. OVHcloud’s generous offer is a key enabler for start-ups, particularly during the commercialisation phase when setting up business services becomes a necessary part of getting the company off the ground. As such we’re more than happy to promote the OVHcloud Start-up Program to InCubed-supported entrepreneurs.”

Niels Eldering, Head of the ESA BIC and Brokers section at ESA, added: “We have a strong network of 23 ESA BICs and 7 Technology Brokers in over 70 locations in Europe. For our start-ups and innovative businesses, speed and connectivity are essential ingredients for capturing the market successfully, and we look forward to connecting our community to the opportunities that OVHcloud can bring.”

The offer is available to qualifying start-ups from 01 April. Further details can be found here.

To know more: OVHcloud Startup Program, InCubed, ESA BIC, ESA Technology Broker

InCubed co-funding launches EOMAP water-quality portal development

German company EOMAP has launched its development programme for EOSmart, an online solution for Earth observation-based mapping and monitoring of water resources. With funding support from ESA InCubed, EOMAP will collaborate with international stakeholders to produce a tool that puts enhanced information in the hands of water-management decision makers.

The world’s water resources are under ever-mounting pressure, as factors such as population growth and changing living standards drive increases in both industrial and domestic consumption. National and local authorities, together with private water utilities, not only face significant challenges in keeping track of demand and changes in water quality, but must also focus on risk management, budgetary constraints and meeting reporting requirements.

These challenges give rise to a clear need for smarter approaches to managing fresh water and marine environments. But information on past, current and predicted trends in water quality is often hard to come by, and so EOMAP saw a clear opportunity to draw on Earth observation (EO) data to help support water managers in their processes. The EOSmart solution will provide key quality indicators built on satellite-derived measurements of properties including sediment concentration, phytoplankton, cyanobacteria and temperature changes. The platform will transform the data into actionable, relevant information that management teams can integrate into their routine operations.

Karin Schenk, Head of the EOMAP Water Quality Department, explains the game plan: “We’ll co-create EOSmart with both global players in the water market and government bodies, and in fact we expect market-oriented cooperation to be the key to the success of the endeavour. Our aim is to offer an end product that gives customers novel water-quality data at their fingertips.”

EOMAP is already well established in the sector, and supplies bathymetry and seafloor mapping services to a global client base. “For more than fifteen years now we’ve been providing extremely high-quality aquatic data and software based on Earth observation,” adds CEO Thomas Heege. “EOSmart will leverage this deep knowledge and further empower customers to work with physics-based water-quality data. The benefit for them will be increased safety and efficiency – at lower costs. We are also delighted to be among the first German InCubed activities.”

Piera di Vito is the ESA Technical Officer assigned to the initiative: “Supporting the development of a toolbox that helps to manage our most precious resource sustainably is of value for society and a good fit with the profile of EO-centred products and services co-funded by InCubed. We look forward to seeing how EOSmart progresses this year, firstly with product development and then with the pilot, which will be a first chance to demonstrate the performance and potential of the product.”

To know more: EOMAP, InCubed

Register for ESA’s Living Planet Symposium in Bonn

The time has come to register to attend the European Space Agency’s Living Planet Symposium – one of the largest Earth observation conferences in the world. Taking place on 23–27 May 2022 in Bonn, Germany, and jointly organised with the German Aerospace Center, this prestigious event allows all attendees to hear first-hand about the latest scientific findings on our planet. Attendees will also hear how observing Earth from space supports environmental research and action to combat the climate crisis, learn about novel Earth observing technologies and, importantly, learn about the new opportunities emerging in the rapidly changing sector of Earth observation.

This renowned event not only attracts scientists and academics, but also those working in the space industry, institutional stakeholders, data users, students and citizens.

In short, the week-long symposium is open to everyone – to attend in person you just need to register by 9 May. Please note that the symposium will be an in-person event and not remote, thanks to the decline of COVID.

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Φ-lab helps mentor Italian start-ups in the Quasar space challenge

Φ-lab has provided coaching for the six chosen start-up companies in the Quasar challenge. Set up by venture capitalist fund Primo Space in conjunction with g-nous, the challenge culminated in an event where the finalists were able to pitch their value propositions to space industry representatives.

The Quasar open call is aimed at strengthening entrepreneurship in the Italian space sector by placing promising early-stage start-ups in contact with industry leaders and institutions. Launched in September 2021 by Primo Space and space-sector consultancy g-nous, the initiative fosters skills exchanges and new partnerships in an effort to reinforce Italy’s innovation potential in international space markets.

Start-ups submitting their application were evaluated in October based on relevance to the sector, level of innovation and team competence. The six chosen finalists then underwent an intensive, tailored mentoring programme during November, covering the areas of technology, business, fundraising and legal matters. Φ-lab has a wide-ranging partnership agreement with Primo Space and was one of the key contributors at this stage, with four mentors from the Φ-lab Explore and Invest offices offering advice and feedback to the start-up teams.

Explore Office researcher Gabriele Meoni found mentoring a stimulating experience: “I collaborated with two companies that are focused on my specialist area of cognitive computing in space. One of the most rewarding aspects for me was to see just how quickly industry is moving forward in this field, along with the fact that by exchanging ideas from our differing research and market perspectives, I feel we were able to learn a great deal from each other.”

Fully primed from their coaching, on 10 December the six start-ups had the opportunity to present their companies and meet investors, space entrepreneurs and industry representatives. The event hosted a sector-focused panel discussion with experts from ESA, D-Orbit, The Italian Space Agency, Ogilvy Orbiter and ThinkOrbital, while D-Orbit’s CEO Luca Rossettini also provided food for thought for the finalists in his inspirational keynote speech.

“We’ve been particularly impressed by the energy and innovative spirit of the finalists,” said Raffaele Mauro, General Partner at Primo Space. “We’ve also received great support from our partners and mentors, and the challenge even provided a catalyst for several Italian entrepreneurs living abroad to enter the fray. The drive and skills demonstrated by all involved parties are further proof of the continuing growth of Italy’s burgeoning space ecosystem.”

As a result of the initiative, the six finalists will now have a number of opportunities, including being prioritised within the Primo Space deal flow and investment analysis process, and gaining access to a wider space industry network. Primo Space and g-nous are already planning the follow-up challenge, to be launched later this year.

The six chosen start-ups are OhmSpace, Revolv Space, LEOcloud, StratoboticAdapTronics and Witted.

To know more: Quasar, The Φ-lab Explore Office, InCubed

Photo courtesy of Soukizy