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ESNAH’s SkyLiberty takes flight following successful ESA Demonstration Project

SME ESNAH followed incubation at ESA BIC Belgium with a highly successful ESA Space Solutions Demonstration project that has seen its SkyLiberty flight navigation service, based on satellite data and communications, achieve operational status.  

25 July 2019 was a record-breaking day. It was the hottest day ever recorded in Belgium, home to SME ESNAH, creator of the SkyLiberty flight navigation service. It was also the busiest flying day ever around the globe, with more than 230,000 aircraft in the sky.

The increasing volume of air traffic poses a number of problems, both in the air and on the ground. The increased risk of in-air collisions results in higher-pressure on-air traffic controllers and more complex and time-pressured operations on the ground for airport operators, aviation companies and freight and cargo operators. For safety and operational effectiveness, all stakeholders need to talk to each other in as close to real time as possible, and have all the information they need to take the right action. 

Yet this is far from the case everywhere in aviation, including flight schools, aircraft rental entities and special operations companies. The same applies to the maritime field. 

Recognising the need to make accurate data accessible in an efficient, reliable and real-time way, ESNAH developed the SkyLiberty service. This relies on an electronic device – the SkyLink – to allow users to access all relevant information, regardless of their geographical location. 

The innovation is SkyLiberty's ability to capture a range of relevant data via a set of sensors – including altitude, position, speed, acceleration, engine data and environmental data – transfer it securely and turn it into useful information for better decision-making. The service also allows the bidirectional exchange of messages between the ground and the aircraft. 

The SkyLink electronic box can connect any type of vehicle using either cellular or satellite phone communications, depending on what is available. This ensures seamless connectivity, no matter how high the aircraft is or its geographical position. The service uses GNSS data for aircraft tracking and the Iridium satellite communications system when cellular services are out of range. 

After having performed an extensive flight test campaign in May 2019, ESA and ESNAH completed the Site Acceptance Test (SAT) project milestone in Italy with a DA40 light aircraft between 20 and 24 January 2020. The purpose was to fully validate to users and prospective customers the final version of the SkyLiberty tracking service, augmented by an innovative navigator solution developed by ESNAH. 

The Site Acceptance Test included tracking when flying over the Alps.  Photo Credit: Arnaud Runge.

During the different challenging legs of the flight, the crew and ESNAH staff on the ground, along with prospective customers, monitored the flight in real time on a dynamic map (live.skyliberty.com) and were able to exchange messages with the crew via the SkyLink system. 

Map of the navigation performed for the Site Acceptance Test (SAT) as displayed by the SkyLiberty tracking application. The red dots represent the messages sent by the pilots. The other points are messages automatically sent by SkyLink: the green dots show when the aircraft's engine was turned on and off, while the orange dots represent information about the aircraft (such as acceleration). Photo credit: ESNAH.

Stefano Dal Mas, Continuing Airworthiness Management Organisation manager at Italian helicopter operator Elifriulia, commented: “The tracking of helicopter flights adds value to air operations but is also often requested for contractual requirements. The SkyLink system is an efficient tool, both for monitoring operations and for improving student pilots. The use of the GSM cellular link with the automatic switch to Iridium satellite communications is an important feature of SkyLink that will save users money”. 

“Overall, the ESNAH system offers good value in terms of quality and cost, benefitting from the fact that the ESNAH developers have direct experience in aviation. The equipment features, together with the customer-oriented approach of ESNAH, indicates a promising future for the system in aircraft operations.”

The SAT project milestone also presented the opportunity for ESNAH to deliver and install the SkyLiberty service at the premises of its first commercial customer, and train the team on how to exploit SkyLiberty to facilitate their operations. 

Search and rescue helicopters, such as those flown by Elifriulia, are among the potential users of the SkyLiberty service. Photo credit: Arnaud Runge.

The validation trial campaign provided confirmation that SkyLiberty fully meets the needs of users and is effective. Sonaca, a Belgian aircraft manufacturer, has announced it will equip all of its new aircraft – the Sonaca 200 – with the SkyLiberty solution. 

ENSAH is now in the process of getting the SkyLink solution certified by aviation authorities. 

 “We’re very proud that our small but growing company has managed to design and bring such an innovative service to the aviation market,” commented Nicolas Hanse, ESNAH’s CEO. 

“The delivery of our first commercial product to a search and rescue organisation while still in the project phase is fantastically rewarding and a sign of trust from the market.” 

Nicolas Hanse, CEO of ESNAH, celebrates delivery of the first commercial SkyLink system.  Photo Credit: Arnaud Runge.

The success of the validation campaign has extended further than the aviation sector, with a number of boat operators expressing their interest. “Throughout the development of SkyLiberty, we had to adapt to market needs. We realised that our products were opening doors for us to domains that we had not initially thought of, such as the air cargo segment, which seems very promising.”

From the initial incubation of the SME at the Belgian ESA Business Incubation Centre (BIC), ESNAH has grown from a three-person company to employing 12 people, with further expansion planned. To achieve this, ESNAH received support from ESA Space Solutions to run a Demonstration project and collect evidence that the space components of the service delivered added value and differentiation compared with the competition.  

Arnaud Runge, SkyLiberty project manager at ESA, who is also a professional pilot, added: “The integration of space assets, such as GNSS data and communications via satellite, have boosted the capabilities of this service. This opens a new world of opportunities for whoever needs to track and interact with an aircraft, a boat or any other vehicle for effective, safe operational purposes. SkyLiberty provides yet more evidence of the power of space data and services in our daily lives.

 

ABOUT ESA SPACE SOLUTIONS

ESA Space Solutions is the go-to-place for great business ideas involving space in all areas of society and economy. Our mission is to support entrepreneurs in Europe in the development of business using satellite applications and space technology to improve everyday life.  Our programme is designed to provide multiple entry points such as ESA Business Incubation Centres (ESA BICs), ESA Technology Transfer Brokers, and the ESA Business Applications programme.

Funding typically ranges from 50KEuro to 2MEuro and supports everything from space technology transfer, early stage incubation programs, feasibility studies to large-scale demonstration projects.

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Bike routing app uses space for cyclists

A navigation app that guides people on safer, more enjoyable bike journeys will be launched later this summer as social-distancing measures encourage more cyclists to take to the road.

Developed by London-based company Beeline, it uses space data and crowdsourced information to generate route suggestions, and can be connected to a device fixed onto the bike’s handlebars that provides easy-to-understand prompts.

Keen cyclists Tom Putnam and Mark Jenner founded Beeline in 2015 with the aim of producing an alternative routing service to Google Maps, an app which is designed primarily for car navigation. They already have two navigation devices on the market, Velo and Moto.

With the support of ESA Business Applications under the ESA Space Solutions umbrella, Beeline is now working on an improved routing system to provide people with a better cycling experience, especially in urban areas.

The new app uses GPS to track smartphone location, but also considers sources such as road elevation maps derived from Earth observing satellites, as well as data on cycle infrastructure, accident hotspots and much more.

It combines this with crowdsourced information provided through in-ride feedback from cyclists and then uses an algorithm to determine the most pleasant way of getting from A to B.

The app calculates the best route and gives navigation directions for cyclists

This means the system can learn about the preferences of individual cyclists, so route suggestions can be tailored to their skill and experience level.

By using crowdsourced information, the suitability of routes can also be continually updated as changes occur; for example, in response to new pop-up cycle infrastructure being installed in many cities.

The Bluetooth-linked device then displays information including journey progress, direction prompts, and speed, allowing the cyclist to focus on the road and navigate simultaneously. 

As well as individual cyclists, the app will be used by delivery companies to search for faster, safer routes, and bike share companies to suggest pleasant journeys to their customers.

“As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, people are being encouraged to cycle rather than use crowded public transport. This means in the near future there will be a large increase of new and inexperienced cyclists on the road, especially in cities,” says Tom.

“Although the app is aimed at all experience levels, we are working hard to ensure safer and more pleasant routes are suggested to new cyclists, giving them the confidence to explore using their new mode of transport.”

“Cycling has many benefits for society and our health, and, given the current guidelines put in place to reduce coronavirus transmission, these are now even more important,” says Fausto Vieira, ESA Space Applications Engineer and Technical Officer of the Beeline project.

“ESA is thrilled to support the development of this Beeline technology, which has been demonstrated to provide people with an improved cycling experience when compared to well-known mapping platforms.”

ABOUT ESA SPACE SOLUTIONS

ESA Space Solutions is the go-to-place for great business ideas involving space in all areas of society and economy. Our mission is to support entrepreneurs in Europe in the development of business using satellite applications and space technology to improve everyday life.  Our programme is designed to provide multiple entry points such as ESA Business Incubation Centres (ESA BICs), ESA Technology Transfer Brokers, and the ESA Business Applications programme.

Funding typically ranges from 50KEuro to 2MEuro and supports everything from space technology transfer, early stage incubation programs, feasibility studies to large-scale demonstration projects.

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HeartKinetics develops solution for daily home cardiac monitoring

The COVID-19 pandemic has had serious consequences for people living with cardiovascular disease. Non-urgent and scheduled cardiac consultations have been postponed and patients with acute symptoms are concerned about attending hospital. In future, however, hospital visits for cardiac monitoring could be a thing of the past, thanks to a wearable device based on space research being developed by one of the first companies to be incubated at the ESA Business Incubation Centre (BIC) in Belgium.

There are 121 million people living with cardiovascular disease (CVD) in the US and 49 million in the EU. Congestive heart failure (CHF), which may be caused by coronary artery disease, hypertension or valvular heart disease, among others, is the most common end stage of CVD and represents up to 3% of total healthcare expenditure. Yet currently, patients may only be monitored in hospital a few times a year and in between are left uncertain and anxious. 

What if these patients could easily perform a cardiac function test at home in only two minutes, saving time travelling to the hospital and receiving more frequent analysis? That is the aim of HeartKinetics, which has designed the Kinocardiograph (Kino) to fill this gap.  

There are two Kino prototypes. One is an app that measures myocardial activity through a smartphone’s own motion sensors. HeartKinetics aims to have this available in the Apple and Android stores in July. The second is a medical device consisting of two units, one of which is placed on the chest and the other on the lower back. After an initial calibration by a cardiologist, patients can take measurements at home in under 45 seconds and transmit them for diagnosis via a smartphone or tablet. This provides accurate assessment of both the mechanical and electrical myocardial functions, together with hemodynamic parameters.

The Kino technology enables a patient to monitor myocardial activity at home using either the motion sensors in a smartphone or a device provided by a cardiologist, and transmit the data for diagnosis. The medical device consists of two units that measure mechanical and electrical myocardial functions, together with hemodynamic parameters.

Breakthrough medicine powered by space

The majority of hospital admissions for CHF are re-admissions. Approximately 22% of people discharged from hospital with heart failure are readmitted within 30 days. As a consequence of damage to the heart, the heart loses its ability to pump effectively. 

Evaluating the prognosis of heart failure usually requires trained healthcare professionals and costly equipment. Today, more than ever, we need new ways to monitor patients remotely when they are discharged from the hospital, in particular providing telemonitoring of cardiac mechanical and electrical function.

Many everyday products have been inspired by R&D innovations from space agencies around the world, with space spin-offs particularly prevalent in the health and medicine sector. HeartKinetics has developed its Kino solution using over 10 years of research on astronaut cardiac function and its deconditioning in microgravity. 

Far away from a trained cardiologist, astronauts require automated and easy-to-operate tools that provide an accurate overview of their cardiac function. For the cardiologist, it is essential to access assessments of both the heart’s electrical/rhythm function, which is typically done with an electrocardiogram (ECG), and the mechanical function, which usually done with echocardiography. Although there are many ECG wearables, there is no such solution for the mechanical function assessment of the heart. The Kino was developed to fill this gap and HeartKinetics is now incubated at ESA BIC Belgium to further develop its strategy to bring the Kino to market.

Life-saving technology

The Kino is a non-invasive telemonitoring solution based on a calibrated measurement of the kinetic energy of the cardiac contraction in linear and angular dimensions. The Kino smartphone solution uses the smartphone’s accelerometers and gyroscopes sensors which, when placed on the chest, can record myocardial contraction efforts and rhythm. The Kinocardiograph portable device allows both local and global mechanical cardiac activity assessment, together with a regular ECG. 

Kino shares information about a patient’s cardiac health status with all members of the multidisciplinary medical team to optimise follow-up, especially after worsening heart failure. 

The Kinocardiograph device has already been used in clinical trials in the Netherlands and Belgium. Now, in response to the new challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, HeartKinetics has accelerated its development plan, including implementing essential security technology from Swiss company PrYv to ensure data privacy and security. A pilot study will start in July 2020, with over 500 patients in Belgium and the Netherlands using the smartphone app to help healthcare teams maintain their regular care offering in the difficult context of lockdown, while clinical teams will trial the medical device prototype at cardio consultations. 

In 2017, HeartKinetics won the European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA) Inventor Award, with other recognition including selection for the Alpha programme at WebSummit 2019. Organisations including YesDok, Tessan, Bodyo, Altericare and Doctoranytime have all expressed an interest in Kino as a solution that could revolutionise cardiac function telediagnostics.  

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About ESA Space Solutions

ESA Space Solutions is the go-to-place for great business ideas involving space in all areas of society and economy. Our mission is to support entrepreneurs in Europe in the development of business using satellite applications and space technology to improve everyday life. 

Our programme is designed to provide multiple entry points such as ESA Business Incubation Centres (ESA BICs), ESA Technology Broker Network, and ESA Business Applications programme. Funding typically ranges from 50KEuro to 2MEuro and supports everything from space technology transfer, early stage incubation programs, feasibility studies to large-scale demonstration projects.

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Finnish start-up Aurora powers the small satellite sector

The explosive growth of small and micro satellites is fuelling a burgeoning miniature spacecraft subsystem industry. Among those successfully fulfilling this need is start-up Aurora Propulsion Technologies, currently based at ESA’s Business Incubation Centre at Espoo in Finland where it is pioneering vital new component designs. 

The boom in small satellites is being made possible by the ready availability of components such as modular satellite frames, on-board computers and power systems. Next in line now are the propulsion and attitude adjustment modules. 

One of the pioneers in this micro propulsion and attitude control industry is Finnish start-up Aurora Propulsion Technologies. Aurora is an early entrant in the Finnish space ecosystem that is being driven by the national “New Space Economy” programme, placing it among a small group of companies that are responsible for the current buzz around space in Finland. 

Aurora Propulsion Technologies makes electric micro-tether-based Plasma Brakes. The Plasma Brake induces an electric field around itself to cause a drag from the ambient plasma in low Earth orbit. This drag can be used to slow down and deorbit a satellite at the end of its useful life.

Riding the power-train

Aurora provides the whole power-train for satellites, from steering to engines and brakes. This includes attitude and orbit manoeuvring thrusters and multi-thruster modules, as well as their control systems. Aurora’s Plasma Brake modules can be used for the end-of-life deorbiting of a satellite, even if the satellite experiences a total system failure. 

In future, the ambient plasma-based tether system used in the Plasma Brake will be developed into a solar electric sail, enabling interplanetary and deep-space missions for small – even cube – satellites, as they will have no need for any propellant.

Opening space to more businesses

The key requirements in the small satellite industry are low weight, small volume and low power consumption. These in combination enable smaller, lighter satellites to support bigger missions, all of which gives satellite builders better opportunities for access to space.

Both micro-thrusters and attitude and orbital control systems (AOCS), as supplied by Aurora, are crucial elements in enabling fast and cost-effective business missions to be performed using small satellites, right down to sub-cube size. 

 “Our customers are looking to use their satellites to prove or implement their business in space. Our ability to address their key needs and our mass-customisable platforms allow us to do it in a fraction of the time it took in the past,” says Aurora’s CEO Roope Takala.

Building a unicorn from tiny components

In start-up company incubation, companies that have the drive and a business idea to potentially grow into a 100 million euro business are referred to as unicorns. Since its launch, ESA BIC Finland has attracted a complementary and active group of potential unicorns into its incubator in Espoo. In a significant step towards that goal, Aurora has an In-Orbit-Demonstration (IoD) mission for its Plasma Brakes, thrusters and AOCS planned for December 2020. The Aurora team is now looking for partners to join the ride to the stars with them. 

About ESA Space Solutions

ESA Space Solutions is the go-to-place for great business ideas involving space in all areas of society and economy. Our mission is to support entrepreneurs in Europe in the development of business using satellite applications and space technology to improve everyday life.  Our programme is designed to provide multiple entry points such as ESA Business Incubation Centres (ESA BICs), ESA Technology Transfer Brokers, and the ESA Business Applications programme.

Funding typically ranges from 50KEuro to 2MEuro and supports everything from space technology transfer, early stage incubation programs, feasibility studies to large-scale demonstration projects.

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ESA Space Solutions at the heart of the fight against COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing widespread and varied issues in every country of the world. ESA has been successfully addressing some of the challenges caused by the COVID19 outbreak through various initiatives.

Initiatives for funding of projects to tackle COVID-19

ESA has promoted and encouraged the use of space technologies and know-how in healthcare and education for many years. In response to the global pandemic, ESA Business Applications as part of ESA Space Solutions has issued three initiatives in the healthcare and education domain to address the short-term emergency, while more are planned to support Industry in the path to COVID-19 recovery. 

The first initiative issued in March was entitled “Space in Response to COVID-19 Outbreak” and invited companies to submit ideas for Demonstration Projects developing and piloting space-based applications. Issued in cooperation with the Italian Minister for Technological Innovation and Digitalization (MID), this initiative aimed to receive proposals offering concrete solutions to rapidly support the healthcare or education sectors which are heavily impacted by the nature of this sanitary crisis. Italy, which was the first European country to be significantly affected, will host trials with local users (e.g. hospital, general practitioners, schools). Despite a short deadline, more than 120 outline proposals were received and assessed. In total, companies from 16 countries responded to the call. The Italian Space Agency (ASI) offered a funding envelope of €10 million to support the best projects.

A second initiative was issued in mid-April based on the requirements of the National Health System (NHS) in the United Kingdom (UK). The UK Space Agency (UKSA) made available £2.6 million of funding for space-enabled solutions to strengthen the response to the pandemic of the UK’s NHS. This initiative invites companies to submit proposals for Demonstration Projects addressing NHS requirements and to be piloted with healthcare stakeholders in the UK. It is open for six months, until November 15th. 

The third initiative is calling for Demonstration Projects focusing on pre-operational, space-based services in the healthcare and education sectors, to be demonstrated anywhere in Europe. Like for the other initiatives, the targeted services will be integrated and deployed quickly to alleviate the negative impacts caused by COVID-19, and help improve readiness for any future outbreaks. In this case, the initiative is open to organisations from any of the 22 Member States, with examples of possible applications described on the Space Based Services-Applications Addressing COVID-19 Outbreak web page. To know more about this funding call, please join the upcoming webinar scheduled for 15:00 CEST on 28 May 2020. 

ESA-supported activities have a direct impact

Besides the dedicated initiatives mentioned above, some of the projects previously or currently funded by ESA Space Solutions making use of space assets have contributed to address the needs of the healthcare and other users communities to the COVID-19 outbreak.

In Italy, for example, ESA is funding a COVID-19 mission to the Piemonte region to perform health screening using B-LiFE, a transportable bio-lab developed with ESA support. This will help local health authorities to screen key actors (e.g. medical staff, blue forces, firefighters), remotely monitor the status of the pandemic and tailor treatments to individual patients. The B-LiFE lab (Biological Light Fieldable Laboratory for Emergencies) was developed by scientists at the University of Louvain in Belgium and successfully used during the Ebola outbreak in Guinea in 2014 to 2015. 

In Spain, emergency responders are using two Tempus Pro telemedicine devices on loan from ESA to triage and treat patients in Barcelona. Originally developed as telemedicine devices for commercial airlines, the units were then upgraded to be used by medical professionals, for instance to support the work of Air Ambulances in the UK. ESA Business Applications supported all these demonstration projects. The devices are now being used by Catalonia’s emergency medical service to check vital parameters and transmit these to medical colleagues via phone or a secure satellite link for diagnosis. 

Meanwhile, a French ultrasound system is proving its value in allowing imaging for remote diagnosis across a range of disciplines during the pandemic. The Melody system, designed by AdEchoTech with project and financial support from ESA (TESSA - Tele-Echography System for ESA), allows an assistant to hold the device against the patient and then the ultrasound expert, who may be located anywhere, can move the probe around in real-time using a joystick. This minimises the risk of contamination for everyone, particularly those who require isolation, and reduces the need to travel, alleviating the workload of imaging experts. 

Apps prove their value during pandemic

Many apps on mobile devices have shown their positive impact especially for relieving the impact of isolation and supporting individual behaviour during this pandemic.

The Urban Sustainable Development Lab in the UK is currently carrying out a multi-city trial of its Care View app, co-funded by ESA Business Applications. The web app allows vetted public and third sector professionals to access a secure heatmap of their area showing streets (not individual houses) where external signs indicate seclusion or other unmet needs. The team is now offering a 4-months free subscription to a small number of cities for use during the pandemic.

The newest addition to the ESA-funded portfolio comes from Lanterne, a start-up company supported by ESA through the ESA Business Incubation Centre UK, which has devised a free app to help people observe social distancing. The Crowdless app, developed in just 3 days, uses satellite data and artificial intelligence to identify where people are congregating, allowing users to check whether their destination is becoming crowded and alter their plans accordingly.

Speed is of the essence

Lanterne isn’t the only company to move fast in response to the pandemic. From 9 to 12 April 2020, more than 12,000 people from over 100 countries took part in the Global Hack, organised by Garage48, a start-up hackathon series supported by ESA’s Business Incubation Centre in Estonia, which focused on ideas for the current crisis and ongoing resilience. The hackathon was won by SunCrafter, a German start-up that has repurposed solar cells to build a unit to disinfect hands.

ESA Space Solutions

ESA Space Solutions is the umbrella for ESA Business Applications, ESA Business Incubation and ESA Technology Brokers, and is a complete solution for newcomers, start-ups and industries to develop sustainable businesses and applications, and to utilise technologies from space for everyday life. 

Please visit our website.

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Across the whole World we are asking new questions

A word from the Head of ESA Space Solutions, Nick Appleyard

We are revisiting our priorities. What in our lives is most important to us? Which services do we really need? Which can we manage without? What do we value in our relationships with our families, our neighbours, our jobs? What is the role of technology in our home, school and work lives? How reliable and universal is our access to it?

We have also realised our effect on our environment, by seeing the dramatic change when that influence is removed even for a short time. And we have paid close attention to vulnerabilities in the systems that we rely on to keep us healthy, comfortable and productive.

We are looking for new answers. Solutions that are resilient, which mix local and global, and which balance the economy with our social needs and with the environment.

Air pollution (nitrogen dioxide) on January 1 and March 11, 2020. Data from Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite.

This happens at a time when space technology is becoming available to us all on a day to day basis. Three quarters of us have a smartphone in our pockets – we carry a satellite receiver with us throughout the day. Images from space show what is happening around us. Signals from satellites locate us and connect us, whenever we can see the sky. 

Space is a resource for everyday businesses. Start-up companies can now launch their own spacecraft! But you don’t need to be a space company to make use of all this technology. Satellites can guide decisions, enable automation, monitor, connect and inform, whatever we are doing. Even the International Space Station is now available for non-space businesses to use!

The European Space Agency (ESA) is Europe’s gateway to space. Its mission is to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

That’s you. That’s us. Space can help to answer your questions. Let us help you. 

You’ll find us at ESA Space Solutions

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Space Technology lights up developing countries

Over 300 million people in India do not have access to electricity according to the International Energy Agency.  (Image credit: Thesamphotography/Shutterstock)

Global electrification rates are steadily increasing, but a staggering 1.1 billion people live in darkness once the sun has gone down. ‘Space for microgrids in developing countries’, is an initiative launched by ESA Space Solutions and the India Energy Storage Alliance (IESA) that aims to exploit satellite data to optimise the impact of microgrids electrification projects for rural or ‘off-grid’ communities.

“Modern energy services are important in ensuring a satisfactory quality of life for people and promoting economic development, as well as issues such as security, climate change, food production, and strengthening economies while protecting ecosystems.” United Nations Foundations

Microgrids are distributed systems for load generation and localised distribution network. They can be an important and more cost-effective alternative to the extension of the main electric grid. 

 Microgrids are increasingly being deployed in the rural areas of emerging and developing countries to help increase access to energy services.

Many developing countries, however, have been unable to make the financial commitment to rural electrification – even though this is seen as critical in enabling the development path. 

Decentralising microgrids by leveraging space data

The ESA Space Solutions and IESA collaboration began with an open competitive tender for feasibility studies to assess the technical and economic viability of deploying services (based on satellite communications, earth observation data, and other space assets). These services were to support the planning and decentralised management of microgrids in India – as well as in other developing countries. 

As result of this tender, three parallel contracts were awarded. 

During the feasibility study, requirements from Indian microgrid stakeholders gathered by IESA were provided to the consortia who then proposed tailored space-based services.

Space technology reduces the investment risk 

Indian travel poster with Mowgli  ‘master of the jungle’ from Kipling’s The Jungle Book. “We strongly believe that project MOWGLI will bring benefit to the Indian community, providing support in deciding where, how and what kind of microgrid is effective to be installed.” Ciro Lanzetta, i-EM (Image: Alaver/Shutterstock)According to Cristiano Cialone, Technical Officer at ESA, the use of Earth observation data can help to improve the design of microgrids by looking closely at the socio-economic factors of a specific area. Satellite communication is also relevant to support remote monitoring of microgrids located in rural areas,  increasing monitoring efficiency, improved system performance and longer system life. 

“Using satellite-derived information about site suitability leads to better decision-making by reducing project risks as well as the average project cost,” Cristiano Cialone, Technical Officer at ESA

Ready to roll: Roadmaps towards services demonstration 

Having successfully assessed the technical feasibility and economic viability of the service solutions, the three consortia worked with IESA to hone their respective roadmaps for implementation of the operational services. 

“The feasibility study resulted in a positive conclusion on two value propositions delivered through services based on a combination of earth observation, satellite communications and energy modelling. The next step for Space4Microgrids is a demonstration project that will include microgrid planners and operators as users (launching customers) with potential participants Mlinda and Global Himalaya Expeditions,” Steven Braakman, NEO (NL) 

“Working with ESA and IESA helped us to better understand market requirements and fine-tune Village Data Analytics’ technical solution; which we are now bringing to market. We are excited to announce that we have received significant private investment that allows us to plan a demonstration project with VIDA” says Dr. Tobias Engelmeier, Founder of TFE Energy. “The combination of high tech, provided by ESA, and deep, in-country market knowledge provided by IESA, is essential to future development and the achievement of the sustainable development goals.” 

Ciro Lanzetta, Chief Technical Officer of i-EM said: “In the last few months, i-EM has engaged with relevant potential stakeholders – from both private and institutional domains – who are interested in the demonstration phase and potential commercial development.

“ESA support was extremely important in engaging with Indian players, making it easier for us to better understand the needs and requirements – and then to show the added value of our services to all stakeholders. We also realised the necessity of working in close cooperation with local entities to ensure the success of the activity.” Ciro Lanzetta, CTO, i-EM

A Nilgiri mountain village by night (Image credit: Madragada Verde/Shutterstock)

Steven Braakman, Business Developer of NEO found the collaboration really useful in strengthening existing relations with the Indian market: “Liaising with IESA was a real head start. The best feedback on requirements was gathered during meetings and via direct contact with stakeholders already involved in other microgrid projects in India. ESA’s financial support was clearly an important element in the overall success.”

Rita Rinaldo, Head of the Institutional Project Section at ESA, added: 

“We are enthusiastic about supporting companies in ESA Member States to reach out to export markets demonstrating the benefits of Space in support of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). The collaboration with India Energy Storage Alliance and other international institutions are excellent examples of how this goal is achieved by enabling innovation solution providers to develop and show-case their solutions to the engaged user communities. This is one of the core objectives that we have set for the ESA Business Applications and Space Solutions programme”. 

India as a trailblazer in microgrids

As a pioneer of rural microgrids since the 1990s, India has made significant progress towards achieving energy access for all. “IESA is grateful to the European Space Agency for partnering to help improve microgrids in India through role of space-based tools and satellite data. We are confident that energy storage and microgrids have the potential to transform not just India’s electric grid in next the 5-10 years, but also to help advance energy access challenges around the globe.” Dr Rahul Walawalkar, President, IESA.

 “We are thrilled by the level of interest shown by global users and potential customers supporting demonstration and operational roll-out of these space-enabled services. This feedback is testament to the key role that space technology can play in supporting microgrid deployment and maintenance; as well as helping to deliver rural electrification at scale.”  Davide Coppola, ESA

About ESA Space Solutions

ESA Space Solutions is the go-to-place for great business ideas involving space in all areas of society and economy. Our mission is to support entrepreneurs in Europe in the development of business using satellite applications and space technology to improve everyday life.  Our programme is designed to provide multiple entry points such as ESA Business Incubation Centres (ESA BICs), ESA Technology Transfer Brokers, and the ESA Business Applications programme.

Funding typically ranges from 50KEuro to 2MEuro and supports everything from space technology transfer, early stage incubation programs, feasibility studies to large-scale demonstration projects.

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Imaging technology: A bridge between space and medicine

Performance is crucial for technology in many fields, including space and medicine. So, when advances are made in imaging technology for space, it presents opportunities for applications in the medical field, and vice versa. Belgian SME Caeleste has been at the forefront of this evolution in recent years, to the benefit of both sectors.

Verhaert, ESA Technology Transfer Network Broker, has worked with Caeleste since 2014, initially publishing a Technology Description of Caeleste’s work on the ESA Space Solutions database. Verheart later supported Caeleste in its successful submission to take part in an ESA Demonstrator Project, initiated by the Technology Transfer and Patent Office, in which Caeleste derived and tested a specific radiation hardness pixel and sensor for a client, based on its work for space applications. 

The expertise Caeleste gained from engaging in multiple ESA projects significantly contributed to the company’s competence and enabled the team to apply their new-found knowledge in a variety of innovative medical applications.

Space technology for medical applications

Caeleste specialises in the custom design and manufacturing of Complementary Metal–Oxide–Semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors. CMOS is an onboard, battery powered semiconductor chip that stores information. One area Caeleste has focused on is the development of “radiation hard” pixels for such sensors driven by the needs of space missions and medical X-rays. They are also used in particle physics applications including particle detectors. Space and medical applications now each account for around one-third of the company’s activities. Its partners are world-class leaders in their respective domains, such as top tier medical companies and space agencies including the European Southern Observatory (ESO), ESA and others outside of Europe.

Space can be considered as ‘empty’ or effectively a deep vacuum, but it is not a benign environment. Instead, it is permeated with high-energy electromagnetic and particle radiation. This radiation is harmful to humans and also destroys electronic devices, due to either ‘total dose’ or ‘single event’ effects. 

Caeleste has developed a way of designing electronics to be resilient to the effects of such radiation, known as ‘rad-hard’. Following many cycles of innovation, its image sensors and readout integrated circuit (ROIC) designs have been proven in space missions and are now being deployed in the medical domain.

X-rays are used in the most common forms of medical imaging, including dentistry. Working with Carestream Dental, Caeleste developed a new generation of X-ray sensors for 3D reconstruction in dental imaging, a process known as computed tomography. 

Unlike regular cameras, no lenses are used in X-ray imaging. Consequently, the size of an image sensor must match the size of the target area, in this case the lower jaw area of the patient. Caeleste’s IP and experience in the space domain made it possible to produce wafer scale devices of this size with a high production yield and simultaneous rad-hardness.

No lenses are used in X-ray imaging, so the size of an image sensor must match the size of the target area, which in dentistry is the patient’s jaw area. Caeleste’s experience in the space domain enabled it to produce rad-hard wafer scale devices of this size with a high production yield. CREDIT: Caeleste


In another collaboration, Caeleste’s expertise in low noise charge sensing circuits, originally acquired in the development of deep cryogenic ROICs for long wavelength infrared imaging, led it to work with Californian medical technology start-up Paradromics. The collaboration led to a fundamental shift in the field of brain computer interfaces with the development of a sensor that allows electrodes to be implanted into the brain at higher density than previously possible without causing thermal damage to the neural tissue. In addition, the sensor successfully deals with an extremely challenging noise requirement to be able to read the neuron potentials. 

Solutions of this type cannot be purchased off the shelf but instead need to be developed by a team with the expertise and confidence to pursue challenging goals. This is where craftsmanship and passion for finding technological solutions were crucial for the project’s success.

Caeleste worked with Californian medical technology startup Paradromics on the development of a sensor that allows electrodes to be implanted into the brain at higher density than previously possible without causing thermal damage to the neural tissue. CREDIT: Shutterstock

Providing solutions from a system-based perspective

Sensors have to be designed to complement the overall system. Often that system benefits from being optimised as its design impacts the amount and nature of image processing, on-chip, within the system and downstream. Design choices will need to take account of any operational requirements such as low noise, low power, high speed and/or high or cryogenic temperatures. Caeleste’s know-how and IP enables it to balance these requirements and design sensors for a variety of medical applications such as ophthalmology, dental and mammographic imaging. 

About the Technology Transfer and Patent Office

The TTPO's funding for demonstration activities aim at proving the relevance of transferring a given technology or know-how into the non-space context, reducing the technical risk and confirming the market opportunity. An annual open call invites the submission of proposals from industry for Feasibility Studies, Proof of Concepts and Demonstrators. These have been designed as a funnel of activities, de-risking the activities on a step-by-step basis. More information can be found here.

About ESA Space Solutions

ESA Space Solutions is the go-to-place for great business ideas involving space in all areas of society and economy. Our mission is to support entrepreneurs in Europe in the development of business using satellite applications and space technology to improve everyday life. Funding typically ranges from 50KEuro to 2MEuro and supports everything from early stage incubation programs, feasibility studies to large-scale demonstration projects.

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Telemedicine on the frontline in Spain

Space technology is in action in Barcelona, Spain, as emergency responders employ two ESA-supplied telemedicine devices to triage and treat urgent patients. 

Offering ultrasound, laryngoscopy and electrocardiogram among other features, the Tempus Pro devices allow operators to quickly check a patient’s vital parameters such as heartrate, blood pressure, respiration rate and temperature, before transmitting these to medical colleagues elsewhere. This can be done via a secure satellite link or phone network such as 4G.

 

Tempus Pro aids emergency teams in Spain

 

In its first version, Tempus Pro was designed as a telemedicine device for commercial airlines. It has been further supported by ESA to become a dual-use, lightweight, all-in-one monitor with telemedicine capabilities for healthcare professionals. 

The two Tempus devices currently on loan to Catalonia’s emergency medical service Sistema d’Emergències Mèdiques (SEM), are used by doctors at ESA’s European Astronaut Centre (EAC) to assess and communicate the condition of astronauts when they return to Earth. They are already being praised for simplicity and connectivity by emergency responders in Barcelona. 

Increased care through remote expertise

Spain is one of the countries hardest hit by the current COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of writing, 47 755 cases of coronavirus had been recorded in Catalonia alone, putting additional pressure on emergency teams. 

ESA flight surgeon Sergi Vaquer Araujo and medical projects engineer Roger Huerta Lluch say loaning the devices to SEM for the duration of the COVID-19 response was an easy decision. After a successful training, carried out remotely from ESA’s European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, they are pleased to see Tempus Pro in action where it is needed most. 

 

Teams in Barcelona, Spain, carry out Tempus Pro training

 

Health check for Thomas Pesquet using Tempus Pro

 

Blood pressure cuff being used with Tempus Pro

 

“The two Tempus devices have been deployed in what are known as intermediate ambulances,” Sergi explains. “Each of these ambulances is staffed by a nurse and a paramedic who receive medical support from an intensive care specialist remotely. The addition of Tempus enables these teams to take care of the most severe patients and deliver a higher level of care without having to have a doctor there.”  

This is supported by ESA instrumentation engineer Arnaud Runge who supervised the development of Tempus Pro by UK-based Remote Diagnostic Technologies (RDT) under ESA’s Business Applications programme.

“RDT has reported an increase of orders throughout the COVID-19 crisis with many citing the ability to deliver senior expertise remotely, without doctors being limited to one vehicle or directly exposed to the COVID-19 environment, as instrumental in their response. Space is proving again its importance in our daily life” he adds.

Tempus Pro in action

Registered nurse specialising in emergency and critical care Borja Violant Gomez is part of the SEM team now working with Tempus in Barcelona. For him, its benefits are threefold: simplicity, operability and connectivity. 

 

Tempus Pro allows voice communications between user and remote medical personnel

 

“We always say that in emergencies, the small details can make the biggest difference,” Borja says. “Performing a tracheal intubation in a surgery room is very different to carrying out the same procedure in a crashed car with a trapped victim, for example. Any simplification and reduction in the weight in size of essential medical equipment allows for better care in hostile environments.”  

Borja also commends the device’s intuitive interface, as easy to learn and operate: “our daily work often involves buying time until we can get a diagnosis and treatment. Due to the critical nature of our patients, any time we can save increases a patient’s chance of survival. In the case of a heart attack, an early and clear electrocardiogram is essential to providing the best care and Tempus allows us to do this.”

A truly European effort

The Tempus Pro devices are on loan to SEM for an initial three-month period, during which time they will be evaluated by the emergency medical service’s professional team. 

Though the current need was not deemed as urgent as in Spain, ESA is also exploring the potential for Tempus Pro devices to be used in Cologne, Germany – home to the European Astronaut Centre.   

It is an action supported by the city’s vice mayor Ralf Heinen who says, “In these difficult times, any support through medical equipment is valuable. I am therefore pleased that the EAC was able to help our twin city Barcelona, which was particularly hard hit by the Corona pandemic. This is the very best of European solidarity in action."

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Satellite image processing gives sight to visually impaired

A collaboration between British AI company GiveVision and Austrian company Catalysts has resulted in life-changing improvements to headset technology for visually impaired people, thanks to image processing technology used on ESA space projects including Sentinel-3.

Hundreds of visually impaired people in the UK are now able to see clearly again using augmented reality headsets, thanks to expertise gained through high performance processing of satellite imagery. The latest headsets from GiveVision were significantly enhanced thanks to an introduction to Austrian company Catalysts made through ESA Space Solutions network.

Catalysts, which is now part of IT service company Cloudflight, has worked on several ESA space projects including Sentinel-3. The skills and knowledge it shared with GiveVision resulted in a new version of its low vision aids that has been described by users as “amazing” and “life-changing”. 

 

Maisy lost most of her vision around six years ago. At the Hay Festival in the UK, she was given the opportunity to use the SightPlus headset for the first time. Image credit: Tricia Yourkevich/BBC

 

Maisy lost most of her vision around six years ago due to a brain tumour. At the Hay Festival in the UK, she was given the opportunity to use the SightPlus headset for the first time in front of a live audience during an interview with the BBC. 

SightPlus enables people who have lost the central portion of their vision, due to conditions such as macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy, to see in near real time. It does this by processing incoming images and projecting the augmented feed onto the working part of their retinas. The solution, which can be adjusted by the user, works at multiple focal lengths and replaces magnifier-style options that only work at close distances. It also works for people with conditions affecting the whole visual field, including albinism and optic neuritis.

 

The SightPlus device is designed to help with a range of day-to-day tasks, including reading, which is often very difficult, if not impossible, for people with degenerative eye conditions.

 

Turning functional into usable

By early 2018, the team at GiveVision had developed a fully working version of its augmented reality headset, based on a smartphone. The next stage was to reduce both the processing time and the load on the processor, in order to significantly reduce lag and heat output and increase the battery life.

It was at this point that GiveVision was introduced to Catalysts through ESA’s Technology Broker Network in the UK and Austria, as part of the ESA Space Solutions network. 

“GiveVision had a very clear technical challenge that they wanted to overcome,” says Helen Rogerson from the Science and Technology Facilities Council, ESA Space Solutions UK broker. “That’s exactly what we aim to help resolve with the ESA Technology Broker Network. I directed them to ESA’s Space Solutions portfolio where they identified a technology offering what they needed. Our Austrian broker Brimatech then put them in touch with Catalysts.”

“The broker involvement at this stage was critical,” explains Stan Karpenko, GiveVision’s CEO. 

“Our users need to receive the augmented video feed as if they’re looking at it with their own eyes, so there needs to be no lag. We were struggling to do this and to reduce the load on the smartphone’s chips. Catalysts, who we found through the Space Solutions programme, optimised the code so well that we now run our advanced vision processing algorithms at a fraction of the speed.”  

 

Minimising time lag is vital to make augmented reality headsets comfortable to use, including for activities such as watching television.

 

From space to sight 

The development by Catalysts was funded by ESA’s Technology Transfer and Patent Office through its proof of concepts call. 

 

“We analysed and optimised the core algorithms using know-how taken directly from our work on space projects, including the CAWA project,” notes Alessio Montuoro at Catalysts. 

CAWA is the Advanced Clouds, Aerosols and Water Vapour Products for Sentinel-3/OCLI. Led by Catalysts, the CAWA consortium is developing and improving algorithms related to atmospheric measurements. The company’s skills and know-how relating to high performance image processing are also used in Earth observation (EO) projects covering crop and wetland monitoring.

“With something like SightPlus, a high number of frames per second gives the image smoothness, low latency helps avoid nausea, and consistency in processing removes variability in the image quality,” explains Montuoro.

“Despite the relatively short project time, we managed to reduce the image processing times from 250-450ms per image to around 50ms, which is far more usable. Our work also cut down the heat that’s generated, which makes the headset more comfortable to wear, and has extended the battery life.”

Providing privacy and independence 

Over 400 people in the UK are now living with the enhanced SightPlus device. People using earlier versions can now see more, and see it more clearly. Others for whom the original version was too weak can now use SightPlus: this will benefit many potential users whose sight will continue to degenerate, because the upgraded version will provide a solution for longer.

 

SightPlus can be used by people of all ages and has been extensively tested.

 

SightPlus works at multiple focal lengths and replaces magnifier-style options that only work at close distances.

 

Globally, there are over 191 million people suffering from moderate and severe untreatable sight loss. The substantial performance enhancements from Catalysts’ work will support GiveVision’s aim of developing a headset that looks as close as possible to a pair of spectacles, rather than being based on a smartphone. This design approach augments the natural field of view without blocking any peripheral vision, and will be lighter and more comfortable; all of which should help to significantly increase the rate of user adoption of SightPlus. 

About the Technology Transfer and Patent Office

The TTPO's funding for demonstration activities aim at proving the relevance of transferring a given technology or know-how into the non-space context, reducing the technical risk and confirming the market opportunity. An annual open call invites the submission of proposals from industry for Feasibility Studies, Proof of Concepts and Demonstrators. These have been designed as a funnel of activities, de-risking the activities on a step-by-step basis. Please see here for more information. 

About ESA Space Solutions

ESA Space Solutions is the go-to-place for great business ideas involving space in all areas of society and economy. Our mission is to support entrepreneurs in Europe in the development of business using satellite applications and space technology to improve everyday life. Funding typically ranges from 50KEuro to 2MEuro and supports everything from early stage incubation programs, feasibility studies to large-scale demonstration projects.

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