Four Startups from around the World Took the Stage. What Geospatial Information Technologies are NATO Officials Interested in? 「DGI 2022」 Report
Space exploration has grown as many countries have invested large amounts of money in space exploration for national security purposes. In recent years, it is becoming mainstream in the private sector of the space industry to mature its technology and penetrate the civilian market with active purchases from the governments.
Earth observation technology, which has seen significant development by the private sector in recent years, also plays an important role in security. Satellite data and analytical tools for remotely monitoring areas of interest are indispensable to security officials.
WARPSPACE CSO Hirokazu Mori, who attended the 「Defence Geospatial Intelligence 2022」 (DGI), which gathered attention from national security professionals from the United States and the United Kingdom, summarizes the scene at the event and the topics discussed.
What is Defence Geospatial Intelligence?
DGI is an annual conference held in London that specializes in geospatial information. WARPSPACE attended for the first time to network with key players in the UK as well.
This year’s attendees numbered about 300, of whom about 60% were people working with geospatial information in security-related organizations, especially senior and managerial-level personnel. Others were suppliers of satellite imagery, including well-known companies such as Planet, and Maxar Technologies. According to the organizer, there are usually a few participants from Japan every year.
Several sessions were held simultaneously over the three days from February 7 to 9, discussing a variety of topics. Of particular interest was Scott Simmons, Chief Standards Officer of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), who spoke on “How to Work with Your Partners to Best Leverage New and Emerging Trends in Standards and Interoperability”.
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)
It is an intelligence agency under the U.S. Department of Defense. It collects geospatial information such as maps, aerial imagery, and satellite images, and provides it to relevant departments and agencies.
Satellite data formats are becoming increasingly standardized, but methods for image correction and analysis are disparate. By opening this up to organizations related to security that have many years of expertise, and by standardizing metadata, it will become easier for users to use. Furthermore, Mr. Simmons said that the correction and analysis of satellite images will become more automated.
Pitches by 4 startups
This year, the focus seemed to be on technologies related to satellite data monitoring, influenced by the international situation.
Four early-stage start-ups took the stage to present their pitches: Cognitive Space, Encord, Pixxel, and WARPSPACE.
The stage started with Cognitive Space and Encord, which offers software services.
Cognitive Space provides software that automatically controls the position and altitude of each satellite in the constellation, allowing the satellite constellation to be optimized and increasing the opportunities for imaging.
CEO Scott Herman was previously CTO of BlackSky, which provides satellite imagery to NGA in the U.S., seeming to have huge credibility in the industry.
Encord was founded by a well-known engineer at Google who was researching satellite image analysis using deep learning. The company provides a service that automatically detects vehicles by analyzing satellite images.
Until recently, the impression of Hirokazu was that deep learning was being used in the IT industry, whereas it was lagging in satellite image analysis. Now it seemed to have caught up quickly in the last couple of years.
Those were companies that caught more attention from the crowd, in the end, providing withing software eligible to showing demos of their services in their pitches, giving a clear visual image of what they do.
A hyperspectral camera enables monitoring of any season
Next was Pixxel, a company planning to build a constellation of satellites equipped with hyperspectral cameras. The strength of Pixxel’s satellite imagery is its cost-effectiveness. Since it is an Indian company, its cost-effectiveness may be due to its lower labor costs compared to the U.S. and the U.K.
The reason why security officials are interested in hyperspectral cameras is that they can monitor areas even with deep snow.
Snowfall means that clouds cover the sky for a long period, and optical satellites, which use imaging like photography, cannot observe the ground surface. Also, even if the sky is clear, it is impossible to see what it looks like under the falling snow. Furthermore, when snow accumulates and the ground surface loses its elevation, the strengths of SAR satellites cannot be fully utilized.
On the other hand, hyperspectral cameras can acquire data at fine wavelengths, making them effective for observations in areas where there is a lot of snow. There are also various analysis methods using deep learning, so their use is likely to increase in the future.
WARPSPACE then introduced its plans for a service in which three satellites will be launched into Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) in a pitch to provide communications to observation satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). After the pitch, we received questions about the specific schedule for the service launch and security aspects of the service, giving us the impression of an increased interest in the service.
Reflections on DGI
DGI 2022 was strongly influenced by international affairs. With such pressing security issues facing the governments and security officials who attended the conference, it is perhaps noteworthy that the private sector has come to the forefront of the conference’s attention.
First, the private sector is now capable of providing technology and information with a level of accuracy previously available only to governments and security officials. Furthermore, the fact that private companies have access to sophisticated information means that access to such information may be extended from a few stakeholders to a wider audience.
In fact, in recent years, in areas with high risks to send in reporters, there has been a move toward the media using satellite imagery to monitor the situation and report the situation in that area. There is also an accelerating trend toward providing satellite imagery to the private sector free of charge, as is the case with Copernicus overseas and Tellus in Japan.
These trends seem to be like the process of technologies that have been researched and developed for defense and security purposes, such as the Internet, and how these technologies have penetrated society as a whole. WARPSPACE will continue to follow how space development progresses and how each contributes to society.
WARPSPACE aims to be the first in the world to realize an optical inter-satellite link service.
If this service becomes operational, earth observation companies will be able to bring down more imaging data to the ground in speed. This will enable a deeper and more immediate analysis of satellite imagery than ever before, contributing not only to national security, but also to disaster prevention, logistics, agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. We will put more effort into the development of such services and will participate in various exhibitions and events to introduce our capabilities.