European Space Agency | 12 Dec 2019
5 min read
First Earth observation satellite with AI ready for launch
The two CubeSats, each about the size of a shoebox, will collect data, which will be made available through the Copernicus Land and Marine Environment services, using state-of-the-art dual microwave and hyperspectral optical instruments. They also carry a set of intersatellite communication technology experiments.
To demonstrate the potential of artificial intelligence in space, ESA has been working with partners to develop ɸ-Sat to take the mission to the next level.
During ɸ-week, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Josef Aschbacher, said, “We see that there is huge interest in ɸ-Sat and thanks to our partners, it is ready to be launched.
“We live in exciting times, the pace at which digital technology is developing coupled with the wealth of satellite information being delivered and, indeed, the growing demand for such data, means there are many opportunities to make a step change for the future of Earth observation.
“And, with ɸ-Sat – Europe’s first artificial intelligence in space – we are going to do just this.”
The hyperspectral camera on one of the CubeSats will collect an enormous number of images of Earth, some of which will not be suitable for use because of cloud cover. To avoid downlinking these less than perfect images back to Earth, the ɸ-Sat artificial intelligence chip will filter them out so that only usable data are returned.
Marco Esposito, from cosine Remote Sensing, the company that led the development of the artificial intelligence algorithm, explained, “While compact, the instrument – which covers the visible and near infrared with hyperspectral capability, enhanced with bands in the thermal infrared – is very powerful and will acquire terabytes of data that can be used to monitor vegetation changes and to assess water quality, for example.
“However, generating this amount of data actually poses a problem, as the data have to be handled efficiently so that they can reach the users in a timely manner. With ɸ-Sat we have effectively given the instrument its own brain, which processes the data onboard to detect clouds in the images.
“This not only ensures better quality data, but makes the delivery much more efficient.”
Published by ESA – read it here