Space industry specialist have made the trip from all over Europe and beyond to attend the third edition of the Space Forum, a two-day event held in Luxembourg on May 21 and 22, aimed at promoting exchanges and triggering debates between all the active forces of the sector. Three main topics were addressed during the second day of the event: Services for Agriculture, Transportation & IoT, Space entrepreneurs, and Space Data.
Services to benefit Agriculture, Transportation & IoT
Serving as master of ceremony, Michele Franci, Independent International Space and Telecommunications Consultant, introduced the morning sessions dedicated to space and Earth Observation-based services. “Space-based instruments are collecting more and more data to improve travel, services, agriculture and provide innovative services to various sectors”, he said. “In today’s hyper connected and fast-moving world, the need for monitoring, remote management, data gathering, and transport grow exponentially, and satellite-based systems, in particular SmallSat for Low-Earth orbits, can offer unmatched opportunities”. Following this introduction to the topic, Michele Franci passed the floor to the first speaker of the day.
“Conversation counts”, stated Ian Freeman, External Relations Officer at the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). “It is clear that the future of space is commercial. With the increasing weight of the private sector, the ecosystem of stakeholders has become rich of both existing and emerging space nations. All these stakeholders must have a conversation, notably for working on measures and mechanisms relating to satellite registration and space debris mitigation”, he said. UNOOSA targets part of its efforts on space-derived services for development: “Space can support the achievement of approximately 40% of the UN Sustainable Development Goal and associated targets”, Ian Freeman underlined. The needs that be addressed by space technology or data include disaster management, water management, agriculture, health and medicine, fisheries, natural resources monitoring, and urban planning and cadaster.
For Rob Coneybeer, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Shasta Ventures, the key challenge for space is to dramatically improve autonomous operation via the addition of robotic technologies. “AI and machine learning technologies recently reached a tipping point, leading to all of the self-driving prototypes we see everywhere”, he said, “but we need better autonomous operation than we have today”. To bridge the gap, Rob Coneybeer advocates the use of a technology that allows humans and robots to work together, Supervised Autonomy. Partial teleoperation allows for regular switching between drone and robot functionality, with human oversight and additional IT tools. “The future isn’t “either/or”, he said. “The good news is that we won’t get a sudden reduction in transportation jobs. They will shift to more and more teleoperation tasks, to Supervised Autonomy, over the next few decades. And in the meantime, we will have less highway deaths, better jobs, and better environment protection”, he concluded.
“Why and how should Earth Observation data extend from the scientific area”? This was the question raised by Benjamin Hourte, Technology Director of EarthLab Luxembourg. “We have to adopt a digital entrepreneur mind and consider applications not as software but as assemblies of easy to replace and scalable components”, he said. According to him, we must stop considering Earth Observation data has a value, consider Big Data as a must have asset and not as end-user service, integrate Cognitive Analytics as any classical algorithm, and break the persistent view that agility solves everything. We have to move to an enabler view, consider Big Data as normal capability, ease the creation and use of AI models, and be really agile by adapting to changing situations and needs.
Insights from entrepreneurs in the Space industry
“Our company is a new player in the NewSpace race”, told Alexandre Tisserant, CEO of Kinéis, “but we are the direct inheritors of CLS’s 40 years of experience in geo-location and data collection”. In the 1980s, CLS and CNES – the French space agency – created the ARGOS system, laying the foundations for what would later become IoT. CLS has used the ARGOS satellite system to track hundreds of thousands of connected objects before GPS or Galileo even existed. “Today’s IoT offer is difficult to use, yet the needs exist”, said Alexandre Tisserant. “How do you find a lost container? How do you remotely control the temperature of a container transporting perishable goods? How do you track down a fishing boat in distress? How can a hiker in Nepal share his trip with his friends and family in real time?”, he asked. To address these issues, Kinéis offers a solution for collecting data from all sorts of objects everywhere on the globe, whatever the conditions. Kinéis connectivity draws on a new satellite constellation of 20 nanosatellites equipped with a new tailor-made communication technology for connected objects. The constellation will be in orbit in 2021 and Kinéis plans to connect several million objects around the globe by 2030, becoming a leader in the new space race.
Tyvak specializes in spacecraft development, launch services and on-orbit operations. “We deliver small satellites for critical missions across a variety of applications in LEO, GEO and beyond Earth orbit, and vehicle classes, including nanosatellites and microsatellites”, explained Marco Villa, CEO of Tyvak International. Tyvak provides end-to-end, cost effective space systems using agile aerospace processes. “We collaborate closely with our customers and leverage a lean infrastructure to develop and manufacture advanced satellite systems”, said Marco Villa. The company has a proven track record of 203 small satellites launched worldwide, 24,000 square feet of ISO 8 clean room, 10,000 square feet of precision manufacturing, and more than 74 missions enabled.
“Midstream oil, gas and utilities companies have limited monitoring over their assets”, said Omar Qaise, CEO and Founder of OQ Technology. This is due to the limited availability of communication infrastructure in remote areas, high cost of deploying communication links, and high-power requirement of traditional wireless networks. OQ Technology helps solve these issues though a global constellation of low-cost nano-satellites. “Our connectivity hubs allow to cover large areas, offering customers wide visibility of their assets and the possibility to communicate with their sensors and actuators in near real-time”, explained Omar Qaise. OQ’s turn-key solution is scalable and the platform gives access to a multitude of data dimensions ranging from sensor data, remote sensing data, earth imagery and even social media to extract the maximum value required for business decision-making.
Before the lunch break, David Goldsmith took the stage for an inspiring and passionate session aptly titled Project Moon Hut – Accelerating the Earth-Space Ecosystem and the Promise of Hope for Earth’s Future. A Consultant, coach and entrepreneur, David Goldsmith is also the author of “Paid to Think: A Leader Toolkit for Redefining Your Future”, in which he presents new perspectives to leaders and managers, replacing the so-called traditional leadership techniques.
Big Data and the business of Space data
The afternoon sessions were placed under the moderation of Olivier Lemaire, Partner at EY. He recalled how Luxembourg had succeeded in adapting to changing economies during the past decades, from agriculture to steel, finance, digital and now space. “In the last five years”, he said, “the country has been able to create a real ecosystem around the space industry”. Data extracted from space activities are essential for industries as diverse as farming, maritime transportation and real estate but also for strategic areas such as electricity, oil and gas.
Olivier Lemaire then handed the floor to Arthur Sauzay, space policy expert at Institut Montaigne. He is the author of a report for Institut Montaigne published in December 2017 called Space: Will Europe strike back? “If data had mass, Earth would be a black hole”, he joked, meaning that, for transporting worldwide the gigantic quantities of data produced and collected on Earth, we needed to use the increased capabilities offered by space systems. But soon, a large portion of the data will originate from space itself. “What is the situation today?”, he asked. “The two main trends in the space business are Internet constellations and Earth Observation”. But Internet satellite networks are still facing technical issues, regulation problems need to be addressed and business models must still be defined. As regards EO, services are still offered by a small number of operators financed by governments and public means. Efforts must be made to open the EO activity to the private sector.
Marc Serres, CEO of the Luxembourg Space Agency, firstly reviewed the missions and objectives of the LSA, emphasizing on the development of the Luxembourg space ecosystem and synergies with businesses and organizations outside the space sector. Marc Serres has also announced the creation of the LSA Data Center. The LSA Data Center has been created to support businesses in Luxembourg with reliable, fast and intuitive access to data streams from the European Copernicus Earth Observation programme. “This initiative of the LSA is just a first step to facilitate access to space data with the aim to stimulate new services provided by Luxembourg as a hub for commercial space in Europe”, said Marc Serres. The LSA Data Center provides users with search and download access to a fully indexed and referenced, real-time geo-catalogue, set up with products from the Copernicus Sentinel 1 and 2 satellite constellations. This information is provided on a full, free and open access basis.
“As new satellites are launched for lower prices”, said Rani Hellerman, VP of International Business at RBC Signals, “dramatic changes are happening in the space segment, but the ground infrastructure to handle the load of these constellations doesn’t exist at scale today”. To meet this need, RBC Signals offers Multi-Mission Ground Segment-as-a-Service. A multi-mission ground segment is where the capacity of any ground system is leveraged to support the missions of numerous operators and operational spacecrafts rather than serving just one individual mission. For developing a network of ground stations and providing real-time access to satellites in Low Earth Orbit, RBC aggregates the unused capacity of existing satellite ground stations around the world. “We have 65 antennas in the network today in more than 40 locations, with more joining every month”, added Rani Hellerman. “In addition, we build our own antennas for core services to meet custom requirements and deliver the highest service level possible.”
Omar Valdes, Market Development Officer at the European GNSS Agency (GSA), then took the floor to demonstrate the value of Galileo as a multipurpose source of space-generated Big Data. Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) is a source of valuable space generated data that can benefit from the technologies associated to Big Data and computing. “Galileo in particular can be valuable to making such solutions more secure by improving the quality and reliability of the collected data”, said Omar Valdes. Big Data-related GNSS applications that can be improved by using Galileo include location-based services (smartphones producing geo-tagged pictures, Augmented Reality games), IoT, Road (fleet tracking, connected vehicles in general), time stamping of financial transactions and scientific applications.
Olivier Lemaire then introduced the next speaker, Dr Jason Maroothynaden, a Business Broker from ESA’s Business Applications Team, a division that provides ESA’s support for the commercialization of satellite applications and space-using industry. He told the public that ESA was not only involved in space research and technology. The agency is also a partner, broker, mediator, facilitator and enabler for the industry. “From international transport to rural education, ESA Business Applications have enabled data from satellites to transform businesses on Earth. We have already invested €200m in launching innovative services in over 500 businesses”, said Jason Maroothynaden. “Partnerships with selected investors and lenders leverages more finance into ESA-supported companies and ensures successful commercialization”, he added.
Stéphane Chéchin, Global Account Executive Space at Atos, went to the stage to present the activities of the company in various initiatives founded on satellite-based data, including soil deformation measurement for the oil & gas industry, optimization of irrigation management for agriculture, and land reserve monitoring for local communities. On the other hand, Atos has activated last year its new Earth Observation platform Mundi Web Services. Atos created the Mundi platform, on behalf of ESA and the European Commission, to combine real-time geo data from Copernicus with data from multiple sources and turned it into an information platform for companies in sectors such as manufacturing, insurance, utilities, agriculture, forestry, urbanism and emergency services. The platform gives access to 7 Petabytes of on-line data – 15 Terabytes of fresh data are added daily – to more than 750 registered users.
The next presentation was given by Rafael Jorda Siquier, Founder and CEO of OpenCosmos, a company seeking for delivering effective satellite-based solutions for global challenges. OpenCosmos was founded in 2015 and, one year later, the company sold over 700 qbcans (can-sized satellites) to teach students all over Europe how to build satellites. “Our first satellite, the qbee, was successfully built in under six months and was launched on an Atlas 5 rocket in 2017”, told Rafael Jorda Siquier. The same year, OpenCosmos was contracted by ESA as a space mission provider and was selected in 2018 by the UKSA and The Satellite Applications Catapult for the In-Orbit Demonstration programme. “By using specially developed cloud software, beeApp, together with our modular hardware and standardized interfaces, beeKit, we are able to help address challenges in the fields of agriculture, food supply chain or transportation optimization that can be solved using satellite technologies”, summarized Rafael Jorda Siquier.
The last speaker of the conference was Carlos Lopez-Martinez, Head of Remote Sensing and Natural Resources Modelling Group at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST). “Society is nowadays facing unprecedented challenges for food and water security, ecosystem sustainability and resilience to major natural disasters”, said Carlos Lopez-Martinez. “Remote Sensing and Earth Observations are necessary not only to monitor, to report and to model the climate change and to address these great societal challenges, but also to contribute to their solution”, he added. The vision of the Remote Sensing and Natural Resources Modelling group is to conduct and to offer research and innovation of excellence, while contributing to the Luxembourg and European economies, the environment sustainability and the human welfare. This contribution is centered on the combination and exploitation of remote sensing information obtained by multiple and complementary sensors installed on spaceborne and airborne platforms, together with in-situ monitoring. “Our research projects are used in areas such as natural disasters like floods and droughts, precision agriculture, land surface processes, vegetation water cycle, and maritime transportation”, he concluded.
Photos: Dominique Gaul