Finding Space in Glasgow

Street Art, Glasgow, 2019.

The Data.Space 2019 Conference took place in Glasgow last week, with the key messages of the event focused on new developments in the space industry, need for more transparent pricing for purchasing satellite data – an increasing need for automated systems that allow payment by the pixel, and the continuing rise of the concept of delivering services. The rest of this blog picks out some of the conference highlights for us during the two days.

The conference opened with the importance of services for satellite data. Stuart Martin, Satellite Applications Catapult, noted that for data companies to grow and scale, ‘It’s all about the service.’

Paul Majmader, Earth-i, gave a really interesting talk on how they are using the video data from their Vivid-i satellites (also known as Carbonite-2) which were launched in January 2018. They have a stronger analytical arm and are developing services looking at improved object recognition, more accurate 3D modelling, better change detection and mitigating cloud issues by aggregating a number of images. They plan to launch their first commercial video constellation of five satellites by 2020, and then subsequent constellations of five every nine to fifteen months. The constellations will have different orbital planes to provide data throughout the day, a 1 m spatial resolution and they aim to have 8 revisits each day.

Joe Flasher, from Amazon Web Services, described their services and what really interested us was the recently launched AWS Ground Station service to download and make data available. They reported that in tests with Digital Globe to get data from their usual ground stations uploaded into the cloud took around one hour, whereas with AWS it took one minute. Certainly something we might be able to use!

The One’s to Watch session included propositions about distributing quantum keys to secure communication (Craft Prospect), CubeSats to remotely monitor the land surface temperate (OroraTech) and methane (GHGSat), and using space data to support lending (Sat Sure), monitor infrastructure (Live EO) and the fusion of multiple datasets (DCAT). One interesting point in the following session on logistics was the French Space Agency (CNES) discussed how they are changing to support new space – by playing the role of the critical friend rather than competing.

The afternoon began with how EO data is being used for humanitarian purposes. The need to understand the practical, political and governance issues of the work, is actually far more important than the technical side. A great example of a useful product was the Field Papers application, where paper maps are printed out for disaster responders to take out with them, they mark these up and then scan a QR code which takes an image of the map, uploads it and updates the map with new notes for other people.

The final session on the first day was Blue.Space which began with a discussion with the Peter, Platzer, Spire CEO on the formation of Spire, why they chose Glasgow as a European base and their operating principles. The location considered human, infrastructure and risk capital before settling on Scotland, and they see oceans as an obvious fit for their business model as its contribution to the global economy is often invisible and satellites offer significant advantages over other forms of monitoring.

This was followed by Karen Day of Fulcrum Maritime Systems describing their systems including MetOcean, Automatic Identification System (AIS), Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), satellite and drone data alongside people logging data on ships. They have a 20-minute turnaround for oil spill detection and see a new area as Greenhouse Gas emissions.

Andy Iwanoczko, Telespazio Vega, also presented their vessel monitoring system and showcased how AIS and EO data can be used to pick up unusual behaviour that indicates an out of the ordinary activity is occurring.

The second day began with strategy and funding for space. Harald Gruber, European Investment Bank, talked about how venture capitalists in Europe are more risk-averse and focus on smaller investments than their counterparts in the US. This reinforced messages we’d heard at the Copernicus Ecosystems Workshop last November. A more positive view of funding came from Gareth Keane, Promus Ventures, noting that investment in space has been growing rapidly over the last three years and that they saw lots of potential for the space industry ahead.

The Challenges.Space session was William Priest, Chief Executive of the Geospatial Commission, who described the importance of opening the economic value of data by looking at interoperability, data quality and standards; alongside the move to increased open data.

The session became more memorable with the last speaker Martin Harris, Tumika, who did admirably to content with the loud automated messages of a fire alarm test. We found Martin’s presentation extremely interesting who discussed the role of New Space in development activities. He discussed that 25% of grants will often be spent on Impact, Compliance and Monitoring and using EO to increase efficiency would allow an increased proportion of the grant to be used for the original intention. The challenges in development are long term investment, a strong focus on a specific activity rather than platforms that everyone can benefit from and implementing top-down approaches that may not suit those on the ground.

Luigi Scatteia from PriceWaterhouseCoopers talked about how they’ve moved from reporting into helping to problem solve within the space sector.  Their advice was to start small, in a scalable way, and follow a use-case driven approach when developing a service.

The final session was looking at future developments. Daniel Ceperley, from LeoLabs, described the plans for 16,000 low earth orbit satellites to be launched in the next few years – which given there are currently only around 1,000 satellites in LEO shows the huge anticipated growth. One of the new companies in this area is Capella Space Corporation, and the founder and CEO Payam Banazadeh noted their plans to launch 36 high-resolution SAR CubeSats, beginning later this year, to eventually provide a revisit time of only one hour.

Overall, it was a great conference with intriguing presentations, interesting discussions and a great chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones. We’re looking forward to 2020!

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