The transmission of satellite images to Earth for analysis was a significant technological breakthrough. But an Australian company is leading the way and using advanced computing to use satellites for imagery and analysis.
Spiral Blue is a Sydney-based startup founded by Taofiq Hug, an aerospace student at the University of NSW. He was halfway through a doctorate. when he decided to put that on hold to start his own business in 2017.
The company offers customers the ability to test their software and process data in space through its Space Edge Services platform, powered by NVIDIA Jetson hardware, a Linux-based operating system, and Docker containers.
Customers write software on Earth for use in space, using an on-board computer system where Earth observation satellites process captured images. This is an innovation that improves accessibility up to 20 times and reduces delays and accessibility.
Spiral Blue’s key initiative is the Rainbow Python project, an integrated hyperspectral instrument and on-board computer that enables chemical analysis of any location on Earth. It provides data and information that can be used in agriculture, forestry and mining for environmental monitoring.
As part of the project, its collaborative partner, satellite imaging company Esper, will launch two of its hyperspectral imagers on two separate payload missions. Spiral Blue’s Space Edge 1 Hyperspectral satellite will fly alongside and process imagery onboard to minimize cost, time and complexity.
Taofiq Huq says the grant accelerates Spiral Blue’s roadmap to mature Rainbow Python and makes hyperspectral data more accessible to industry.
On the way to deep space
By 2023, Spiral Blue plans to operate an operational constellation of Space Edge computers. Then, by 2024, he plans to join Australia’s first mission to the Moon to test computers in deep space.
The goal for 2025 is to realize the Nebula project, described as the “crystallization of our global vision of Earth and space observation”.
“It’s really turning a satellite with a computer on board into something that can do the work of ten or 100 satellites”
While Spiral Blue is a space company, Huq explains that its ambitions and motivations are squarely Earth-centric.
“Like most people, I started looking at space in the field of astronomy, but I also personally looked for new ways to protect the environment,” he says.
“So even though I was interested in space, it was always about how we could use it to make the environment on earth safer and use technologies to monitor not only the environment, but also activities such as illegal fishing and piracy.”
In 2021, Spiral Blue launched two of its Space Edge Zero (SEZ) image processing computers on rockets launched by Richard Branson’s satellite taxi service, Virgin Orbit.
This allowed Spiral Blue to begin testing its technology, which processes satellite imagery in space. A third was launched on a SpaceX rocket.
“The computers that were launched at that time weren’t really powerful enough to do the kind of processing that we envision,” Huq says.
“Satellites have been collecting images for a long time, and this process will not change, but we saw that instead of using the bandwidth used by satellites to send images, we could send information. We also acquired images in the commercial market and started to develop our algorithms, and we continue to add more.”
Monitor more, faster
Huq gives an example of images of ships that occupy a very small area on the surface of the ocean. Instead of shooting images from the satellite back to Earth for analysis, Spiral Blue’s technology allows much larger areas to be monitored from space, meaning more ships can be located faster.
“It’s really about turning a satellite with a computer on board into something that can do the work of ten or 100 satellites today using our algorithms,” he says.
The monitoring of ships at sea has several applications.
Spiral Blue can identify suspicious vessels at sea so they can be avoided or intercepted. Additionally, the company’s technology can provide information about incidents such as oil spills and illegal dumping faster than other methods, so action can be taken before pollution gets out of control. .
It can also monitor and track vessels, so fewer people get lost at sea, even if they don’t have an AIS (automatic identification system) beacon or it’s turned off.
Spiral Blue’s knowledge of forestry can prevent illegal logging and theft, notifying authorities if areas have been targeted. Additionally, they can manage and monitor the risk of bushfires and, in urban areas, can measure the effects of urban tree planting on urban heat islands.
Growth has been rapid at Spiral Blue, and from the current headcount of 11, Taofiq Huq says he expects it to grow to around 30 next year as the business continues to expand. .
Lachlan Colquhoun is the Australian and New Zealand correspondent for CDOTrends and editor of NextGenConnectivity. He remains fascinated by how companies are reinventing themselves through digital technology to solve existing problems and change their entire business models. You can reach him at [email protected].
Image credit: iStockphoto/orplayday