In the last few years, we’ve seen a big shift away from data processing on the ground, to having a much more advanced computing and processing power in orbit. Some people are saying that we’re entering the era of smart satellites and spacecraft. On Episode 13 of The Satellite & NewSpace Matters Podcast we were joined by Iulia Marushchak, the Head of Business Development at KP Labs, to discuss that claim. KP Labs are a Polish NewSpace company who aim to accelerate space exploration by advancing autonomous spacecraft operation using artificial intelligence and onboard heating and processing systems. Iulia’s career has given her valuable insights into the changes that onboard processing will bring to the industry, which she shared with us here:
I will take a step back to the start of where this onboard data processing idea is coming from, because the subject has gotten quite popular in the last few years. A lot of people are wondering why this is happening from outside the NewSpace sector. I would start in the Earth Observation sector. The amount of the data that is generated in the Earth Observation sector is tremendous. We have more than 1000 satellites circling the Earth, and there are more and more constellations coming from the commercial sector too. The amount of data that needs to be sent, stored and protected before it comes to the final customer in the form of the application or a service that they’re using is huge. There is a long wait, because this data is coming in raw to the data centres. This data is often very complicated, which is made worse by the very fast development of sensor resolution and frequency.
One hyperspectral image is about two gigabytes. It would take around seven minutes for the transfer of one picture, which wouldn’t give us much information. The amount of data we receive allows us to extract a lot of necessary data, but the typical length of a communication session is from 5 to 10 minutes. That’s where the speed of data analysis becomes a problem. People started looking for solutions to this problem, and that’s when they figured, why should we send all the images to the earth when we can process them in space?
In addition, when a camera takes a picture, quite often, it takes multiple shots. Some of them are cloudy, some of them have some interference, and it ends up with us having tons of pictures which are not relevant for us. That creates a lot of issues on the ground. In addition, if we talk about the real time services, first you have to segment these pictures, pre process them and extract what you can use. Only then could you create what you need from the images. The idea of processing data onboard the satellite is basically a solution to limit the data that comes from the satellites to the ground.
For crisis management, this is extremely important. If we have wildfire detection or flood detection systems and things like that, these services can change and save lives. We’re faced with a lot of challenges to make this happen, because you need powerful data processing units on board, and at the site at the same time, there are a lot of new missions coming. Now I think we could say that we have found some solutions to the problem.
When it comes to onboard data processing, there is also telemetry data. That’s important because it allows us to detect anomalies on board of the satellite and react quickly, taking measures to lower the risk, so that the mission will be successful. For the NewSpace sector that’s quite important because missions are developing fast, and they need solutions that allow them to manage the mission on board. At KP Labs we’re creating an ecosystem of products that would answer both of those needs. We’re building onboard data processing and supporting the operations of the satellite. We call this ecosystem the Smart Mission Ecosystem, and it consists of both smart satellites and smart payloads.
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