What Does the Future Look Like Beyond the Democratization of Satellite Data?【Consider the Future of Earth Together with Serika Ito #6】

Even we call “Space Development”, there are various purposes, technologies, and missions.

In this series, we consider the current situation and the future of space development together with our Cheif Dream Officer(CDO), Serika Ito.

Our guest this time is Thomas VanMatre, who is in charge of business development at Satellogic, a leading company involved in the earth observation business. We discussed how satellite data can contribute to society.

Satellogic’s Challenge: Three Sensors on One Satellite

©Chuya Koyama/KODANSHA

Serika: Hi Thomas, nice to meet you, I often see Satellogic in the news. You are an Argentinean company, right?

Thomas VanMatre of Satellogic

Mr. Thomas: Nice to meet you, Serika! We, Satellogic, are a company that aims to democratize satellite data- to make it easy to use for everyone, not only governments but also individuals. We are a global company with offices across Argentina, Uruguay, the U.S., Spain, and the Netherlands.

Serika: I see. You are active on a global scale! I heard that on April 1st, you launched a satellite on SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

Thomas: Yes, we successfully launched five satellites, bringing the total number of satellites in space to 22. We are planning to launch up to 12 additional satellites by the end of this year.

Serika: So that brings the total to 30+ satellites by the end of the year! By the way, what kind of satellites do you operate?

Thomas: Our satellites have three imaging sensors: “multispectral”, “hyperspectral”, and “full-motion video”.

Serika: Do you have all three of these features in one satellite?

Thomas: Yes! Conventionally, one sensor is usually mounted on one satellite. But if we mount multiple sensors on one satellite, it enables us to acquire different types of data at the same time, which expands the range of information that can be analyzed and obtained. This was unprecedented, so we decided to give it a shot!

Detecting Greenhouse Gas Leaks with Satellite Data

Serika: You mentioned that Satellogic aims to “democratize” satellite data. In the process of democratization, are there any particular areas where you consider making a particular contribution to society?

Thomas: Not only Satellogic, but the earth observation industry as a whole, I think we are making a significant contribution to the monitoring of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.

Serika: Since efforts to achieve carbon neutrality are accelerating around the world, it seems that monitoring climate change and greenhouse gas emissions will be increasing demand!

Thomas: The need for greenhouse gas leak detection is likely to increase in the future. It is believed that leakage of methane and sulfur oxides from factories and pipelines can be detected through data analysis. Hyperspectral sensors are able to detect rust formed by iron oxidation and may be able to analyze signs of greenhouse gas leaks.

Serika: At the ”WARP STATION Conference Vol.1” held in October 2021, an official in charge of waterway maintenance at the Water and Waste Water Bureau of Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, spoke about leak detection using satellite data. He mentioned that it is difficult to inspect all the managed areas with limited manpower and budget.

Infrastructure monitoring using satellite data. Tasks are costs and lack of human resources [WARP STATION Conference Vol.1 Report 2]

If we can utilize satellite data for factories and pipelines, we’ll be able to inspect them more frequently, which will likely reduce the amount of greenhouse gas leakage!

Thomas: Yes, that’s right. What is important to us in terms of sustainability is accessibility- how many people have access to the added value of satellite data. We would like to contribute to the realization of a sustainable society by providing satellite data and solutions for the general public as well

What Hyperspectral x Medical can do

Serika: Guests who have appeared in this series of articles have mentioned that real-time satellite data downloads would be more useful for business and social contribution. Are there any technical innovations that you are working on?

Thomas: Yes. For example, we utilize a ground station network, which includes AWS Ground Station and KSAT sites across the globe, to reduce latency for expedited processing and delivery.

As the number of satellites in space has increased and data can be acquired more frequently, demand has subsequently increased.

Serika: What are the advantages of utilizing inter-satellite links and optical communications instead of building more ground stations?

Thomas: The cost of building a ground station won’t decrease significantly, but the cost of launching a satellite will decrease.If the cost of launching further decreases, inter-satellite links and optical communications may become more effective and cost-effective for the satellite data business. If there is potential, we should take up the challenge!

Image of ground station

The shift from building more ground stations to reduce latency to utilizing inter-satellite links and optical communications is similar to the shift from writing a letter to contacting someone to using e-mail or Facebook messenger.

Serika: I see. That’s easy to understand! What do you think you will be able to do when you are able to download large amounts of data faster?

Thomas: Access to move-up-to-data will enhance monitoring at scale. This is useful for a variety of applications such as energy, urban development, public safety, logistics, and environmental conservation. Many decision-makers need a better understanding of how the world is changing around them. High-resolution earth observation data collected by companies like Satellogic enable analysts to detect the change, identify objects, monitor ground conditions, and post-event damage.

Now let me ask Serika a question of my own! What would you like to do when you are able to download data acquired by hyperspectral sensors to the ground in real-time?

Serika: Yes …

Thomas: I heard that you were a doctor before the astronaut. What if, for example, there was a solution that could map satellite data to infectious disease data?

©Chuya Koyama/KODANSHA

Serika: If we analyze the relationship between environmental information and health hazards, we could predict infectious disease outbreaks! In fact, it has been pointed out that waterweeds growing in Lake Victoria in Africa may carry cholera bacteria, and research is underway to estimate the area of waterweeds growing based on satellite data from JAXA’s Advanced Land Observing Satellite “Daichi” to investigate the relationship between the number of cholera patients and other epidemiological data.

Also, JAXA, NASA, and ESA(European Space Agency) were jointly holding a hackathon on new coronavirus infections using satellite data, weren’t they?

If we can use hyperspectral sensors, there will be more environmental information can be acquired, which will broaden the scope of analysis. Hyperspectral data could lead to medical and public health solutions that could save many lives and promote health!

The sixth guest in the series of conversations with Astronaus Serika was Thomas VanMatre, who is in charge of business development at Satellogic. He mentioned areas where satellite data is expected to be used, such as monitoring greenhouse gas emissions and analysis related to medical care and public health. Technologies thought to be of the future may be realized in the not-too-distant future with the acceleration of space development.

In the next session, Astronaut Serika and WARPSPACE CTO Nagata will discuss “extraterrestrial life”.

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We are startup company started as a project in University of Tsukuba, 2011. We will provide the optical telecommunication service with LEO Sat operator by 2023.

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WARPSPACE Inc.

WARPSPACE Inc.

We are startup company started as a project in University of Tsukuba, 2011. We will provide the optical telecommunication service with LEO Sat operator by 2023.

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