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Digitising the minefield – the MIDAS touch

Satellite technology could change the landscape of landmine clearance – saving countless lives

 Land mines do not just kill and maim, they create long-term issues in communities such as medical costs, unemployment and loss of land. Photo credit: Shutterstock

 

Approximately 2,000 people are killed or injured by landmines every month according to the UN. But clearance operations are notoriously complex and risky – it’s estimated that one deminer is killed and two injured for every 5000 successfully removed mines. Cobham Antenna Systems has been working with ESA Business Applications on a set of tools using space-based assets and Virtual Reality to improve demining operations, with potentially far-reaching humanitarian consequences. 

‘MIDAS’ or Mine and IED (Improvised Explosive Device) Detection Augmented by Satellite is an Integrated Application Project developed by the UK arm of Cobham Antenna Systems. MIDAS includes  a number of innovative product lines using Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and Earth Observation imagery. These products aim to digitise demining in a way that improves efficiency as well providing unparalleled access to the actual process in real time.

Demining – a delicate operation

Mine clearance has always been a painstakingly slow and expensive process heavily reliant on large numbers of skilled operators with handheld detection systems. With MIDAS training is enhanced by using a risk-free fully immersive Virtual Reality (VR) environment, in which the student uses a VR headset and a real detector which is tracked in 3D and modelled in real time in the virtual environment.

But the jewel in MIDAS’s crown is a software tool that captures the ‘physical nature’ of the minefield on a map using common systems such as Bing maps, augmented using Earth Observation imagery. This tool captures the shape and boundaries of the minefield, and by using the detector tracking hardware, shows the live location of each mine detector in the operation to an accuracy of 3cm. The tracking hardware can also be used on robotic, vehicular or drone-based sensing systems. 

 

GNSS satellites are used to accurately track mine detectors in real-time, display the tracked location data on maps overlaid with satellite imagery and then send data back from remote locations using satellite communications equipment.

 

Also under development is the ‘Amulet system’ using a small Unmanned Air System (UAS) to deploy a Ground Penetrating Radar sensor. Amulet makes a map of the minefield as it operates, reporting in real time. The system is deployed remotely – critically removing the human from harm’s way. It can also search minefields that are otherwise inaccessible by road, for example due to flooding or landslide.

“MIDAS represents a real leap in the evolution of mine clearance. The tools are more efficient, lower cost, more auditable – not to mention the impact of the safer, humanitarian angle,” says Roberta Mugellisi Dow, Senior System and Data Systems Engineer, European Space Agency.

Paul Curtis, IED Product Manager at Cobham Antenna Systems adds: “This innovative new technology will yield a higher rate of land release for a fixed clearance budget. Through electronic mapping and reporting, through more timely and cost effective training, and by automation of search where there is value to do so; we can achieve a quicker return of land to vital local needs including farming and industry, to help mine affected countries return to a stable and prosperous state.”

 

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Space takes centre stage as 2018 is declared ‘Czech Space Year’

Space was embraced as the subject of celebration in the Czech Republic this year, with the European Space Agency (ESA) helping to flag up the nation’s footprint in the cosmos in a week of intense space-related events. 

ESA’s Business Incubation Centre (BIC) co-organised events rolled out across Prague and in Brno’s state-of-the art observatory and planetarium (above) Picture: Shutterstock

Several space anniversaries demanded to be observed in 2018 – the most historic being 40 years since cosmonaut Vladimír Remek became the first Czech in space. Magion 1, the first Czech satellite was launched into orbit just a few months later. It was also the time to celebrate the country’s first ten years as members of ESA. To commemorate these milestones the Ministry of Transport, along with the Business and Investment Development Agency Czech Invest, declared 2018 as Czech Space Year.

A national space year proved to be the perfect way to celebrate past achievements and future space endeavours, both in the Czech Republic and more generally across different member states.

From hackathon to high-level conferences 

Czech Space Week captured the imagination of the nation. Photo credit: Prague ESA BIC

Czech Space Year culminated in a series of events, including a hackathon, start-up and high-level conferences, a space industry day, job fair, sci-fi concert and movie screening –all rolled out between the 9-18 November during Czech Space Week.

The week was co-organised by the Czech ESA Business Incubation Centre (BIC) and took place across multiple venues in Prague and Brno. Events were aimed at and attracted the full spectrum of stakeholders – from national and international policy makers, key industry players to students and general space enthusiasts – with the only precondition for participation being a fascination for all things space.

A high-level conference attended by ESA Director General Jan Woerner summarised the Republic’s first ten years as a member of ESA, featuring presentations and an evaluation of the country’s participation in space projects. There was also acknowledgement of successful technologies and missions in which it would have been difficult for Czech firms and scientists to participate without the involvement of ESA.

Industry Day held for the first time in the Czech Republic

The annual trade fair ‘Industry Day’ was held in Brno’s spectacular Observatory and Planetarium – which houses an interactive Exploratorium with extra-terrestrial rocks and fossils. ESA Business Applications presented on the potential of space-enabled business applications in the Czech Republic – across fields such as intelligent transport, autonomous mobility and regional development mobility. The Industry Day was comprised of sessions with start-ups, SMEs and big multinational businesses as well as exhibitions stands and dedicated one-to-one meetings.

Czech projects supported by ESA Business Applications programme so far include:

  • Dromas DP – a demonstration project on agricultural crop monitoring and assessment driven by satellites
  • SIS-SREM – a demonstration project on safety and information systems for ski resorts in emerging markets
  • AUDROS – a feasibility study on autonomous drone services in the CBRNe operations.

Marek Aldorf of Czech Invest said: “Czech Space Week 2018 clearly showed how the space industry is growing in the Czech Republic. As ESA BIC Prague we are proud that our start-ups are creating practical uses for space technologies and already applying them to the market, as we demonstrated during the Czech Space Industry day.”

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DeFROST – decoding THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Imagine if you knew before strapping on your skis that there was a risk of an avalanche? Or if a real-time alert showed there was so little snow that it might be safer to switch to mountain biking?     

In the Swiss Alps alone there are more than 2500 accidents per year (Photo: Shutterstock)

Pilot users and intrepid explorers have been test-driving DeFROST, a satellite-driven solution for safer outdoor adventures, developed by young Lausanne-based start-up, WeGAW, supported under ESA’s Business Applications programme. The success of the pilot study has now spawned a crowdfunding initiative to take it to the next development level.

One billion people are involved in outdoor activities worldwide, with 690 million of them regularly seeking information about the conditions and location of the activity.

DeFROST is a centralised platform for terrain condition and information sharing, which looks at specific issues such as snow cover, avalanche, snow depth data as well as other locally-logged problems; substantially reducing the risk of outdoor accidents. 

WeGAW complements ground data with satellite data to keep both digital outdoors platforms and tourist offices abreast of the prevailing conditions. Accurate daily information and risk alerts on the status of the region’s terrain and trails are directly accessible. Popular Swiss tourist destinations such as Davos-Klosters, (which hosts the World Economic Forum), and Saas-Fee are already pilot users.

Traditionally, the only way of gathering data has been to send a safety team on foot to the field or cover the area with helicopters. DeFROST allows tourist offices to make informed decisions and offer the best – and safest – of services to their visitors in almost real-time.  The tourist ‘seasons’ can also be maximised with winter sports prolonged or summer sports started earlier, tailored to the actual conditions.

With outstanding feedback from the pilot phase, WeGAW are now taking DeFROST to the next stage using crowdfunding company Seedrs.

CEO Ion Padilla says: “We are very excited to be moving to the demonstration phase of this project. Our ambition is to become global as soon as possible to serve our international clients. We are now looking for investors to complement the ESA funding and join us in our mission to transform outdoor adventure.”

CTO and co-founder Daniel Meppiel says: "We envisioned DeFROST as a tool to obtain higher quality terrain conditions data at a much lower cost. Our pilot customers, like FATMAP or Saas-Fee, can leverage it to reduce the risk of accidents outdoors."

Norbert Huebner, Head of Feasibility Studies, European Space Agency comments: "With DeFROST the use of Satellite Earth Observation for the determination of snow cover is pushed to the limits. The inclusion of local, crowd-sourced information clearly shows the added value of merging various data sources and will provide the service a unique selling point. The DeFROST feasibility study has also motivated the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) to refine their current avalanche prediction zoning and to provide for the first time data access to a commercial service. With these, DeFROST certainly has a good starting point for the further development of the targeted services." 

He adds: “The tourism business is one that is growing year after year and enabling companies with access to space information to participate to this market domain is certainly in our interest. ” 

Daily snow cover is measured (at 30 metres spatial resolution) by combining and processing near real-time satellite data (Photo credit: WeGAW)

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ESA, EDSO and ENTSO-E announce cooperation agreement

Using satellite technology to optimise the power grid

How can satellite applications support the European power grid and its evolution? Answering this question is the goal of a new cooperation agreement, kicked off today, between the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Network of Transmission System Operators (ENTSO-E) and the European Distribution System Operators Association (EDSO). Their cooperation will be realized through the ESA Business Applications programme, which supports the development of new services that make use of data from space assets for the benefit of a wide range of communities - in this case the European power system operators.

Satellite applications can support power networks in many areas, including: asset management; two‐way communication between smart meters and grid operators; prediction of consumption or generation peaks; developing Internet of Things services for smart homes and electric vehicles; and the use of virtual power plants. 

Laurent Schmitt, Secretary General of ENTSO-E, observed that, “There are opportunities to enhance real-time grid management through using available space technologies. This cooperation will identify business cases where both sectors can support each other and deliver benefits for the European consumer. A key example is to ensure secure and reliable data exchange between European TSOs in case of failure of other communication channels, like in the event of cybersecurity incidents”.

Roberto Zangrandi, Secretary General of EDSO, added that, “The future of grids is based on the development of technology and applications that allow integration of renewable generation into distribution grids and for active consumers to manage energy responsibly. Collaboration with ESA for innovation within a series of DSO defined topics will enable electric industry development of new models and tools that improve the design, operation and maintenance of grids in a safer and reliable way for both operators and customers”.  

Nick Appleyard, Head of ESA’s Business Applications Department, commented that, “Observations from satellites allow us to predict weather patterns and renewable energy production; and communication by satellite also allows operators to keep the grid network balanced as supply and demand fluctuate. ESA wants to support the industry to refine these methods and broaden out from individual trials, making the resulting knowledge available to the entire European network of transmission system operators. This new cooperation will greatly aid our aim of maximizing the social and economic benefits that can be achieved through more rapid and widespread adoption”.

As part of this cooperation, ESA will launch a tender before end 2018, with the objective of investigating the technical feasibility and economic viability of space-based applications for smart grids, and of defining a roadmap for services implementation and demonstration.

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ThermCERT: turning up the heat on fuel poverty

Astrosat demonstrating the first ThermCERT prototype. Photograph: E.ON

Energy supplier E.ON has been working with the European Space Agency and Earth observation specialist Astrosat to develop ThermCERT, a thermal efficiency reporting tool to pinpoint where energy-efficiency measures are needed most across the UK. The system could turn out to be a game-changer for reducing energy costs and improving efficiency, especially when it comes to heat loss in vulnerable homes. 

What is fuel poverty? 

Households with above-average energy costs whose income falls below the official poverty line once they’ve paid their energy bills are considered to be in ‘fuel poverty’. The UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy estimates that England had about 2.55 million such households in 2016.

Addressing this issue can be challenging, however, as at-risk households are not always easy to identify. Traditional energy efficiency monitoring programmes rely on door-knocking or bulk mailings to contact customers and identify their needs. 

Empowered by Space

ThermCERT could transform the way energy efficiency is mapped in the future.  Using a combination of satellite and Earth based data,  ThermCERT understands the demographics of cities and communities, from social vulnerability to the quality of the built structures. The local area insights are described at the same granularity all over the UK and help deliver improvements to the households that are most affected. 

 

 

This innovative tool is set to pack a powerful socio-economic punch by: improving housing condition and insulation, increasing energy efficiency, and reducing energy costs. The software can also be applied to other critical health and environmental issues such as air quality, traffic congestion and carbon emissions. 

Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark said: “This government-backed technology could boldly go where no technician in a van has gone before, with the potential to pinpoint households in fuel poverty or those at risk”. 

Fraser Hamilton, Chief Operating Officer at Astrosat: “We’ve applied our technical knowledge to E.ON’s wealth of experience with local authorities and ESA’s space acumen to create something truly unique that will add real value to the UK energy market.”

Michael Lewis, E.ON’s UK Chief Executive, said: “Delivered on the doorstep but driven by big data gathered from Earth orbit, our work with Astrosat, in collaboration with ESA, is about using the almost endless possibilities of space to deliver real benefits on the ground.”  

Nick Appleyard, Head of the Downstream Business Applications Department at the European Space Agency, added: “Our Business Applications programme is dedicated to supporting space-enhanced services with two objectives: to generate growth for the industrial partners, and to benefit society at large. ThermCERT checks both of these boxes. We have a two-pronged approach to supporting the green energy revolution. Initiatives like ThermCERT show how space assets can help to reduce costs and improve energy efficiency in existing neighbourhoods. In parallel, we are open to proposals for space services that help to create Green Neighbourhoods by improving their initial design.”

 

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CosmiCapital venture fund to boost New Space ecosystem in Europe

Olivier Dubuisson, Antoine Seillan and Magali Vaissiere at the signature

Following the signing of a Letter of Intent in Toulouse on 13 November, ESA, CNES and CapDecisif Management will give some of the most promising European space-powered ventures the chance to gain improved access to venture capital in France.

CosmiCapital reflects a trend that has become a priority for a growing number of ESA Member States. The creation of partnerships between industry, government and academia is key to exploiting the fast-growing ecosystem of “New Space” companies that have a focus on rapid innovation, new business models and new applications of space technologies. This trend has led to an agreement between ESA and CosmiCapital to link companies that are involved in the ESA Business Applications programme with new sources of finance. companies the chance to gain improved access to venture capital. The CosmiCapital fund, launched by the French Space Agency CNES in May 2018 and managed by CapDecisif Management, aims to raise €100m to invest in European start-ups and to start operations in Q2 2019.

Olivier Dubuisson, Managing Partner at CapDecisif Management, pointed out that, “The market for space enabled start-ups is extremely promising. Several leading market studies show that the global space economy is expected to grow 3 to 8 fold in the next 20 years.” He added that in this context, “ESA and CNES provide unparalleled access to the space ecosystem for innovative space-related projects across Europe.”

Antoine Seillan, CNES’s Director of Finance, emphasized that, “If France is a strategic place to start a space venture fund, then this new partnership is a first step for the CosmiCapital European expansion that CNES is supporting. With a privileged access to the best space start-ups across Europe and the technical and financial backing of best-in-class partners, CosmiCapital will be the best venture capital partner of the European New Space ecosystem.”

Magali Vaissiere, ESA’s Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications, added another perspective. “Increasingly we see the development of a virtuous circle, where companies that partner with ESA increase their attractiveness to private investors. In this way, we leverage public funding to enable an increase in overall European R&D investment. Our commercially oriented applications projects now typically attract equal investment from ESA, industry and private third party investors: and we anticipate that CosmiCapital will reinforce this picture.”

Nick Appleyard, ESA’s Head of Downstream Business Applications, observed that, “Our analysis of over 200 projects has shown that when ESA investment stimulates follow-on funding by a private third party, the returns increase considerably, resulting in 75% more revenue and 145% more jobs.”

All companies that have contracted projects with ESA’s commercial applications programmes may be considered for support from the CosmiCapital fund, subject to prior discussion with ESA.

For more information about CosmiCapital see https://cosmicapital.com

 

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Official Launch of the ESA Business Applications Ambassador Network in the UK

ESA Business Applications UK Ambassadors

Tuesday 30th October 2018 at UKSA, Swindon

An expanded network of five new Regional Ambassadors for ESA Business Applications is now established across the UK, in response to an increase in demand for ‘Ambassadorial’ support services.

Since the inception of ESA Business Applications ten years ago, the UK has maintained an “Ambassador Platform” to promote engagement by industry and research organisations.  This has proved so effective that the network is being expanded to include five Regional Ambassadors in the UK, with an overall coordinator based at ESA’s UK site in Harwell (ECSAT), supported by a dedicated Business Developer.

Applications that use space data and services are one of the most exciting areas of the space ecosystem. Many of the companies are Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) that have seen the opportunities space data and services bring to enhance their products and deliver something that makes them stand out from the crowd.  The UK is the largest contributor to this element of ESA’s programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES). The Ambassadors are working with companies and individuals to develop their business ideas using space data and services, and to support their initial application into the programme.

Increased demand for this support has prompted the decision to greatly expand the team. Five regional ambassadors, each with a geographical area of responsibility, will be coordinated by long-standing Ambassador Ian Downey, working in collaboration with a Business Developer who will provide support to companies developing their business case. This team of experts has considerable experience of working in the UK Space Sector and with different business sectors. As a result they are ideally positioned to support the creation of new space-powered business applications across the country.

The launch of the new-look UK Ambassador Network was announced at the UK Space Agency offices in Swindon on 30th October 2018, on the occasion of the inaugural meeting of the UKSA Satellite Applications Industry Advisory Group. 

To contact your UK Regional Ambassadors and see how you can benefit from the #ApplicationOfSpace click here.

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ESA welcomes Seraphim Space Camp start-ups

On 16th of October, ESA hosted a presentation & workshop session for the ten start-ups that are part of the Space Camp’s Second Accelerator programme. 

Seraphim Space Camp’s second cohort of start-ups at ECSAT – ESA’s facility in the UK. Picture credit: Claudia Mendzil

 

Backed by the world’s only SpaceTech Venture Fund, Seraphim Capital’s Space Camp programme is dedicated to the rapidly growing SpaceTech start-up sector. Following a first successful cohort, ten new start-ups were chosen for the nine-week intensive programme, to accelerate the commercial viability of their project and validate their technology readiness.

With a focus on preparing their final pitches, the companies spent last Tuesday visiting ESA and the Satellite Applications Catapult at Harwell Campus. The day was kicked off by Jason Maroothynaden, Business Broker at ESA, and was followed by talks from key speakers from ESA and UK Space Agency covering such topics as:   

  • ESA’s role in bringing space technology down to Earth; the current state of the Space Industry; future trends in space; ESA’s programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES); and
  • How to collaborate with the UK Space Agency.

The day continued with 1:1 sessions where the start-ups got the chance to speak in-depth about how they might be able to work with, and be supported by, ESA and the UK Space Agency.

In the afternoon, the companies made their way across the campus to the Satellite Applications Catapult where they had the opportunity of seeing demonstrations of the kind of applications that the organisation supports, followed by further sessions delving into potential collaborations with the Catapult. 

What’s next? 

On 20th of November 2018, the Space Camp start-ups have been invited to Inmarsat’s Headquarters in London for their Investor Day, to mark the end of the nine-week programme. The pitching sessions will be a great opportunity to connect with a wider network of investors and corporate partners including ESA, Dentons, Rolls-Royce, Cyient, Inmarsat, Airbus, SSTL, Telespazio, UK Space Agency, Capital Enterprise and the Satellite Applications Catapult. 

If you are a Space Camp Partner, a potential investor or a member of the press and would like to register for the event, click here

About Seraphim Capital

Seraphim Space is a £70m venture fund launched in 2016 focused on the fusion of terrestrial technology and space applications. It is backed by smart capital from leading space companies, with support from ESA and the UK Space Agency.

The fund invests in both downstream & upstream opportunities, along with technologies that rely on satellite data such as drones and the Internet of Things, or which have potential space applications such as artificial intelligence, robotics and nanomaterials. 

About ESA Business Applications

As part of ESA’s programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems, ESA Business Applications empowers new commercial service developments through zero-equity funding and support to businesses, in the areas of technology, project management, partnership building and investment readiness.

Since the programme’s inception in 2008, ESA Business Applications has invested more than €200M in over 500 business ideas, addressing markets in industries worldwide. Funding typically ranges from 60kEuro to 2MEuro and supports everything from early stage feasibility studies to large-scale demonstration projects. 

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