Create a 3D Map of the Earth with LiDAR from Space! Interview with an Australian Startup Founder About his Ambition [Space Brothers Collab #27]

Warpspace Inc.
6 min readMar 14, 2024

“Space development” describes a wide range of developments and their objectives. In this series, we will contemplate the present and future of space development with Astronaut Serika Ito, who has been appointed Chief Dream Officer of Warpspace.

In this 27th article, we welcome Mr. Taofiq Huq, founder and CEO of Vidi Astra, an Australian startup company that plans to build a constellation of LiDAR-equipped satellites, to discuss the potential of LiDAR-equipped satellites and their applications.

S-Booster 2023 competition led to the founding of the company

Serika: We heard that you won the “Asia Oceania Prize at S-Booster 2023”, a space-based business idea contest held in Tokyo in 2023. What kind of business does Vidi Astra engage in?

Taofiq: Vidi Astra was founded in December 2023 with the aim of providing data to help combat global-scale challenges such as climate change and natural disasters.

I have been interested in space since I was a child, but Australia did not have a full-fledged space industry like the United States or Japan. So I thought about what options there were to get involved in space and came up with the idea of founding the space startup, Spiral Blue, which I founded in 2017.

In fact, I participated in S-Booster 2023 with a team from Spiral Blue and proposed the idea of “Enabling 3D virtual replicas of the Earth with LiDAR satellites.

Spiral Blue is a company that operates and sells edge computers for space applications. As of March 2024, Spiral Blue has launched 8 space-edge computers, with at least 2 more set to launch in 2024. We have worked on projects with the Australian Space Agency and the Department of Defense.

Spiral Blue believes that it should continue to focus on the edge computer business for space applications, so the LiDAR satellite business that won the S-Booster 2023 award was spun out and a new company was founded, named “Vidi Astra”! We now have five employees, including part-time members, and Vidi Astra utilizes Spiral Blue’s technology, and some of Spiral Blue’s shareholders also participate as shareholders in Vidi Astra.

Serika: So that’s how Vidi Astra was founded!

What is a LiDAR satellite that can measure the height and shape of trees and construction objects?

Serika: What is the type of sensor called LiDAR that will be installed in the Vidi Astra satellites?

Taofiq: LiDAR is a sensor that can measure the distance to an object and its shape with high precision by emitting a laser and measuring the distance from the time it takes for the laser to bounce back. LiDAR mounted on a satellite can measure the height of trees and construction objects by emitting a laser beam from space onto the ground surface. Compared to optical and SAR satellites of similar size, LiDAR satellites can, for example, measure 3D maps about 10 times more accurately and forest biomass about 3 times more accurately.

We first turned our attention to LiDAR when we were helping a client with Spiral Blue manage approximately 100,000 square kilometers of land in Australia, and we were considering which sensors would be best to use.

When we first told clients about LiDAR satellites, the response was usually, “That’s impossible,” or “Can you really do that from space?” laughing. I think that’s why we are able to get the client’s attention.

Serika: I see. How does Vidi Astra plan to utilize LiDAR satellites, and what is the “3D virtual replica” that you proposed in S-Booster 2023?

Taofiq: First of all, Vidi Astra’s vision is to create a 3D map of the solar system, including planets and asteroids. In the future, we would like to make maps of the outer solar system as well. To achieve this, we decided to start by making a 3D map of the Earth, where we live.

Serika: Creating a 3D map of the Earth is interesting! What kind of services do you plan to offer your clients?

Taofiq: One is the monitoring of carbon sequestration by forests for carbon credits; LiDAR satellites can measure from the top of the tree to the ground. So we can accurately measure carbon sequestration by area.

We are aiming for a resolution of 5 meters horizontally and 30 cm vertically for LiDAR satellites. The first satellite is scheduled to be launched around 2027, and if we build a constellation of 20 satellites, we will be able to measure the entire planet every year. We can also measure specific locations at a higher frequency if requested by the client.

Democratizing LiDAR satellites with technology that cuts power consumption significantly

Serika: There have been cases of LiDAR satellites being launched by space agencies, but launches by private companies seem to be rare; what hurdles do you see in the development and launch of LiDAR satellites?

Taofiq: The biggest challenge with LiDAR satellites is that they always require a huge amount of power. Like SAR satellites, which emit radio waves to the earth’s surface and observe the surface from their reflections, LiDAR satellites consume a lot of power.

We have developed and are in the process of applying for a patent for a technology that will reduce power consumption by almost 10 times over the life of the satellite. We are grateful to S-Booster 2023 for providing the funding for the patent application.

Ten years ago, LiDAR was expected to be introduced into self-driving cars. At the time, however, LiDAR was still very expensive, and some people thought it was impossible to install in ordinary cars. Recently, however, the price of LiDAR has dropped to about one-tenth, and it is even being used in iPhones and robot vacuum cleaners.

Serika: The range of applications for LiDAR is expanding; is there anything you would like to challenge yourself with LiDAR satellite technology?

Taofiq: It would definitely be interesting if we could survey objects like Oumuamua (an interstellar object discovered in 2017)! At the time, everyone said that Oumuamua looked like an alien spacecraft.

(Image of Oumuamua credit: European Southern Observatory/M. Kornmesser)

Aside from the future, the Moon’s surface will still be the focus of attention in the coming years. In particular, there are increasing plans to send probes near the lunar South Pole, where water may exist in icy conditions, but there are many mountains and rocks, and accurate maps are needed to land safely. The area around the lunar South Pole is too dark to be mapped by optical satellites. So I hope we can use our LiDAR satellite to create a lunar map.

Serika: So LiDAR satellites are expected to play an important role in lunar exploration! Lastly, Mr. Taofiq, please tell us why you think space exploration is necessary.

Taofiq: Just as people had different reasons for aiming for new continents during the Age of Discovery, the motivation to go to space will differ from person to person. In my case, I am aiming for space because I believe that there is nothing more exciting than a future where humans fly around in space. In space, there is the possibility of finding other life forms and new resources. Space is an opportunity to develop human civilization as a whole. I hope that in the future we will be able to move all our industries to space and keep the earth as a garden.

Serika: Thank you very much, Taofiq!

Our guest for the 27th in our series of conversations with Astronaut Serika was Taofiq Huq, founder and CEO of Vidi Astra.

In the next installment, we will interview Shinichi Sobue, Project Manager of the Earth Observation Satellite “Daichi-2” at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), about “SAR data utilization x Disaster response/management”. Stay tuned!.



Warpspace Inc.

Warpspace develops “WarpHub InterSat”, an optical inter-satellite data relay service. We will realize this service for LEO Sat operators by 2025.