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If you can’t fly with Captain Sully…

Satellite monitoring halves the number of bird strikes 

Bird strikes are a significant threat to aviation safety, as well as costing millions in terms of damage and flight disruption.   Image credit: Mike Focus/ShutterstockMany will remember the dramatic moment in January 2009 when US Airways Flight 1549 struck a flock of Canada geese not long after take-off from New York City, with a total loss of engine power. Unable to reach any airport, pilot ‘Sully’ Sullenberger performed a forced landing on the Hudson River, which the National Transport Safety Aviation Board described as “the most successful ditching in aviation history”. All passengers and crew survived. 

Ten years on, aviation stakeholders are acutely aware that bird strikes are on the rise. Increased global passenger traffic, lower noise levels from airplanes and climate changes all affect wildlife behaviours. Danish company, AscendXYZ, has been working with the support of ESA on a novel solution that integrates bird radar with Earth Observation data to tackle this problem. The system is currently in use at Aalborg Airport in Denmark, where it has more than halved the number of annual bird strikes. Many large international airports are monitoring the results of this project, with the prospect of implementing the radar system and related services. 

Wildlife preventive activities to reduce risks 

Airport operators need to monitor and manage many things in order to secure aviation safety. What the current approaches have in common is that they are labour intensive, involve standalone systems, or demand specialised human resources.

Project ‘WAMMO’, which grew out of a previous ESA project using satellite data for obstacle management, adds ground radar data to the system. This brings a real-time element and provides on-line knowledge about the airport surroundings to all stakeholders, including Airport Operators, on-the-ground workers, Civil Aviation Authorities and wildlife management.

Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and multispectral images (enabling detection of things not visible to the naked eye, such as infrared and ultraviolet) help to monitor changes in the ecosystems and landscape, while Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite images monitor the airport’s surroundings and habitats. Satellite navigation (e.g. GPS or Galileo) is used in a tablet-based solution to guide bird controllers to areas with identified bird activity. 

Captain Sully, whose ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ landing has been made into a film with Tom Hanks. Image credit: Shutterstock

Arnaud Runge, Technical Officer of the project at ESA explains:“Changes in bird activity are relayed to wildlife crew and actions taken in the field by the bird controllers are registered with geolocation information. With the radar data we can superimpose changes in bird behaviour on updated satellite images and use this information for analysis.”

Arnaud holds a commercial pilot’s license, which helped him understand what the company were trying to do. He has also experienced a bird strike first-hand and so was ideally positioned to support the project aims.  “The idea was to move from visual observation to real tracking – you have radar on the runway and feed real-time bird activity information to the pilot,” he says. “This is already so successful that it was starting to be sold even before the end of the project. Airline companies are now requiring airports to get equipped as this has an insurance impact.”  

Peter Hemmingsen, CEO of AscendXYZ  says: “By combining the radar tracing of birds with satellite monitoring of the airport surroundings, Ascend offers a new and unique solution for airport wildlife management.

“With analysis of historical radar data, weather forecast and other factors, we can quite accurately predict bird behaviour over the next 9-18 hours. From an operational perspective this means you can now focus staff in high-risk periods. You can relay information to pilots to use in their pre-flight checks. 

 “Radar systems have created a lot of interest; we have created a whole company on the strength of our contracts with ESA. Before ESA we were a three-man company, now we have a strong position in the industry as the technology has been validated through the ESA IAP programme. 

“The Business Applications programme brings a huge amount of value,  owing to the detailed feedback and dialogue with the technical officers at ESA.” 



AscendXYZ Avian Radar System from ascendxyz on Vimeo.

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Innovate in farming with your space robot

From ExoMars rover to farming robot. Image credit:University of Strathclyde

Can your robot help design the future of agriculture? Can it provide smart solutions for weed control and fruit and vegetable harvesting? If it can, then join the Robotics Challenge 2019 and receive support from ESA`s Business Applications & Space Solutions, perhaps even launching your company from an ESA Business incubation Centre. The deadline to apply is 23 April.

Since technology for autonomous machines on farms has become more mature, the Robotics Challenge is putting a focus on robotics in agriculture, with the goal of helping innovative companies to gain visible, long-term success and to grow worldwide through sales and marketing agreements. 

ESA`s Business Applications & Space Solutions programme has joined the Challenge, offering financial and technical business support to start-ups and established companies that are developing robotics solutions by re-purposing space technologies and/or satellite data services. 

Does your solution have the potential we’re looking for? 

If yes, then hurry up and apply before 23 April 2019 and become part of the innovation effort to shape 21st Century agriculture in a sustainable manner. 

Great opportunity for robot start-ups

As part of Agro Innovation Lab`s activities to push innovation in agriculture, the Robotics Challenge is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs, start-ups and companies working in the robotics field.

Targeting companies with a working prototype robot for the agricultural sector, the goal of the Challenge is to define and implement a technical validation as well as a go-to-market strategy or market expansion concept, based on the company's core competencies and customer needs. 

Agro Innovation Lab offers tailor-made support and precisely those resources that the winner, as a high potential robotics company, is most likely to need.

The test phase will end with a top-class jury selecting two winners, one in weed control and one in fruit and vegetable harvesting.

The winners have prospects for sales cooperation with BayWa and RWA, two of the largest players in the global agricultural sector; and also with the Austrian companies behind the innovation platform Agro Innovation Lab.

Get your ideas boosted by ESA's Business Applications & Space Solutions

ESA BIC Sweden start-up Vultus uses satellite date to improve agriculture. Image credit: Vultus

The winners and potential runners-up will also have the opportunity to tap into the support offered by ESA's Business Applications & Space Solutions programme.

Start-ups with less than 5 years of business operation can apply to the ESA Business Incubation Centre (BIC) in Austria, or to one of the other ESA BICs, to enter a two-year business incubation development booster programme, which is provided at over 60 locations throughout Europe.

In addition to seed funds, the booster programme provides extensive business and technical support to entrepreneurs. The aim is to help realise their ideas, based on the re-purposing of space technologies, systems and patents and/or on developing innovative terrestrial systems and services that utilise satellite services, such as those for Earth observation and location.

All applicants have access to support from ESA Business Applications initiatives.  Motivation, business experience and industry domain expertise are key: but most , we want to hear business ideas that are commercially viable, technically possible and involve either space technology or data.

Zero-equity funding from €60k to €3M+ per activity is potentially available, along with technical and commercial guidance from a personalised ESA consultant and access to ESA Business Applications’ international network of partners.

The Robotics Challenge application dealine is 23 April 2019. 

Learn more about the Agro Innovation Lab Robotics Challenge 2019 with all the business and technical advantages. If you have a smart robot, and you have some innovative ideas on how to automate agriculture, fill in right away the Application Form to join the Challenge.

About ESA’s Business Applications and Space Solutions 

ESA's Business Applications and Space Solutions programme helps European industry in non-space sectors to use space to enhance their products or services in a wide range of domains.

This includes the use of any combination of satellite data, space programme tools and technologies, as well as ESA patents and techniques used for telecommunications, Earth observation, human spaceflight or navigation.

Overall ESA spends €400 million a year on strengthening the competitiveness of European and Canadian companies in the global markets for both satellite communications and downstream applications.

Largest ecosystem in the world for space-related entrepreneurship

As part of ESA's Business Applications and Space Solutions programme, the network of 20 ESA Business Incubation Centres (ESA BICs) is the largest ecosystem in the world for space-related entrepreneurship and has fostered over 750 start-ups throughout Europe.  

Spread over more than 60 cities in 16 countries, the centres and their national partners provide  technical expertise and business-development support to their hosted start-ups. There are currently more than 300 companies in the two-year business incubation development booster programme, with approximately 180 new companies joining each year.

ESA Business Applications and Space Solutions Network

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Maritime surveillance reaps commercial rewards

Mega-ports and ultra-large container ships mean that insurers are highly exposed to risk accumulation (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Irish Space technology company, Skytek, has cemented a multi-million euro partnership with one of the world’s largest insurance brokers, Aon, to provide space-adapted surveillance technology for tracking marine assets in real-time. 

The ‘Next Generation Recognised Maritime Picture’ or NG-RMP involves the integration of diverse, novel and emerging data sources to improve vessel data, and has been developed with the expert backing of the European Space Agency (ESA). 

The rise of mega-ports and a recent sharp increase in vessel capacity has created a greater need to monitor movement and estimate cargo accumulation – now a critical part of risk management for insurance companies. NG-RMP allows for enhanced underwriting and reinsurance programmes by providing live monitoring of insurers’ marine risks and identifying accumulations.

The NG-RMP Project grew out of Skytek’s ESA-supported demonstration project working with the Irish Naval Services (INS). Navies are responsible for monitoring the movements of vessels in coastal waters and checking for any unusual activity. For accurate surveillance, it is necessary to generate a ‘Recognised Maritime Picture’.  This picture has traditionally been achieved by merging information collected from various sources such as radars, warships, patrol aircraft, drones and other control systems.

In 2015 a joint Skytek/ESA demo project developed a ‘Next Generation’ Recognised Maritime Picture system. The system was created in close collaboration with the INS and is now operational – with the aim of enhancing the early detection of suspicious or unusual behaviour by vessels.  NG-RMP improves on previous approaches by combining SAT-AIS data, CCTV footage (available in major ports), and vessel data from port and shipping authorities using advanced algorithms, leading to a more targeted and efficient use of naval and coastguard resources. 

Aon’s new consultancy is based on NG-RMP – where real-time satellite tracking will allow insurers and reinsurers to visualise the precise location of their insured risks, alongside crucial vessel and cargo information. 

Dr Sarah Bourke, CEO at Skytek, said:

“The ability to take vast amounts of earth observation and space-based data and create tailored insurance products was inconceivable only a couple of years ago. These new products now open up an exciting future for deeper risk insights within the marine re/insurance world and beyond. Aon and Skytek are already developing transparent algorithms to determine cargo exposures at ports in real-time, using the latest earth observation technology alongside the latest AI and Machine Learning techniques.”

“This is a ‘double win”, explains Piera Di Vito, the project’s Technical Officer at ESA: “The success of this system has now found a large customer interested in marine information and therefore a commercial application. It’s very rewarding to see a practical application of science to the insurance industry – and in turn support ship and cargo owners globally to have confidence in the protection of their assets.”

Aon is one of the largest insurance brokers in the world based on revenue and the Aon group employs 50,000 people in 120 countries.

Skytek is one of Ireland’s leading space technology companies. The firm’s International Procedure Viewer (iPV) system has been used on the International Space Station for over 10 years. 



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DroSecMa – dealing with hostile drones

The sheer number of drones now in operation creates growing issues worldwide. Airports, theme parks, skyscrapers and Super Bowls are just some of the places where hostile or ‘stray’ drones can wreak havoc.

Invasion of the Drones: An exponential increase in capability and reduced costs have made drones a truly disruptive technology (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The Gatwick incident at the end of 2018, which rescheduled Christmas for 140 000 passengers and saw 1000 flights cancelled, might have been avoided, had the airport been equipped with an integrated detection system such as escCUAS™, developed as part of the European Space Agency’s ‘DroSecMa’ project. DroSecMa uses a combination of space assets, terrestrial systems and integrated best in class sensor/software technology to deliver a solution specifically tailored to each customer’s needs. 

DroSecMa is a project led by esc Aerospace GmbH, supported and co-funded by the German Aerospace Center (DLR). It provides state-of-the-art drone technologies for enhanced surveillance and inspection. 

“Drones, like a lot of technologies, are a mixed blessing”, says Fausto Vieira, Technical Officer at ESA. “With them, we can fly/transport things to remote places and access areas that are dangerous to human beings – providing huge benefits in many sectors, from agriculture to tourism. But this technology can also be abused.” 

The recent increase in drones has created a heightened need for drone detection. “Just a couple of years ago, there were only around 5-8 companies providing drone detection systems,” says Lars Weimer, COO of esc Aerospace GmbH. “Now there are more than 300 companies worldwide providing some kind of drone detection and/or mitigation capability … The issue is that no supplier has a system that does the trick in all cases.”  

“In Gatwick’s case, the system only had the capacity to detect drones from a single manufacturer, the market leader – which covers 70-80 per cent of the market. It couldn’t detect the other 20-30 per cent of drones from other manufacturers or drones that had been modified or custom built,” he adds.  “It’s said that 100 per cent detection is not possible, but with DroSecMa we can significantly improve detection to 90 per cent or higher.”

DroSecMA can track one drone and still detect others in the area (Image Credit: esc Aerospace)

DroSecMa uses a mix of different sensors and sensor fusion technologies: “This enables the system to detect a greater number of drones from different manufacturers,” says Weimer. “Because the drones at Gatwick were not of the type that the system could recognise, the operators had to rely on visual sightings before finally bringing in a military system. DroSecMa can detect a greater variety of drones more reliably, can track the drone, and in many cases, identify the position of the pilot.” 

Vieira adds: “Patrol and surveillance drones equipped with satellite communication, provide data and communication links in areas where no other networks are available, or where there is insufficient bandwidth.  GNSS provides position data for localisation of intruding drones or guidance of surveillance/inspection.”

ESA and esc Aerospace GmbH are now looking at incorporating advanced ‘counter-measures’ to not only detect but also mitigate potential threats. DroSecMa already offers jamming and spoofing technologies. But counter-measures face technical as well as regulatory challenges, since they need to be defined in a legal framework that can adapt to a very dynamic technological landscape.

 “I’m very happy with the collaboration between esc Aerospace and ESA, says Weimer; “our open dialogue provides support, contacts, and context. This brings a different perspective, which helps to shape our technical innovations and focuses us on real-world customer needs. We have hired more personnel and, after just one year, have sold three systems with sale value in the six figure range – this is a fantastic result. And…within one month of the Gatwick incident, we had everyone calling!”  


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Primomiglio SGR and ESA Business Application to boost New Space ecosystem

On 6th of February Primomiglio SGR and ESA signed a Letter of Intent aimed at improving access to venture capital for promising European Companies in Italy and across Europe.

Signature of the Letter of Intention between ESA and Primomiglio SGR (Astra Ventures). Standing, from left to right: Nick Appleyard, Head of Downstream Applications, ESA Lorenzo Scatena,  Managing Director, Fondazione E. Amaldi, Elia Montanari, Head of Controlling at Downstream Applications, ESA. Sitting, from left to right: Magali Vaissiere, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications, Gianluca Dettori, Chairman, Primomiglio SGR (Astra Ventures).


Primomiglio SGR is the management firm behind “Astra Ventures”, the first Italian Venture fund focused on Space technologies and applications in partnership with Fondazione E. Amaldi and the Italian Space Agency, ASI.

With “Astra Ventures”, Italy joins the group of ESA Member States willing to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the fast-growing “New Space” ecosystem, with a focus on rapid innovation, new business models and novel applications of space technology. “Astra Ventures”, backed by ASI as cornerstone investor, is currently raising €80m and intends to start operations in Q2 2019.

“We are really excited about the partnership with ESA,“ said Gianluca Dettori, Chairman of Primomiglio SGR, “…we are working together with our advisor Fondazione E. Amaldi to start operating our dedicated space fund by this year. This partnership allows us to start operating in this sector with our current investment operations.”

ESA was also very positive on the partnership with Astra Ventures. Magali Vaissiere, ESA’s Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications stated,  “Today’s event illustrates how much further our partnership models have progressed. Our commercially oriented applications projects now attract equal investment from ESA, industry and private third party investors: we anticipate that “Astra Ventures” will reinforce this picture.”

“Space industry is changing. For the first time in history, even small companies can build and launch their own spacecraft with the help of private investment, and generate commercial returns from customers,”  added Nick Appleyard, ESA’s Head of Downstream Business Applications. “With the public investment and the expertise that ESA can add, we can work in partnership to energise innovation and economic returns.”

About Primomiglio SGR:

Primomiglio is an Italian based investment company focused on early stage technology venture capital. It is currently operating with Barcamper Ventures’ seed to early stage fund, focused on digital technology.

About E. Amaldi Foundation:

Edoardo Amaldi Foundation (F.E.A.), aims to promote and support scientific research in order to offer a new way to better understand applied research and to transfer technology. The E. Amaldi Foundation takes the aerospace sector as a fundamental tool for Italian economic growth and as a source of innovation for the improvement of competitiveness, productivity and employment.

About ESA Business Applications

ESA’s programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES), transforms research and development investment into commercial products that benefit our daily lives.

As the core applications programme within ARTES, ESA Business Applications is the mark of the best European ventures powered by Space. ESA Business Applications focuses on the development of space applications and services that exploit 50 years of investment in space by ESA, in addition to space technologies developed by other agencies and organisations.

ESA Business Applications and ARTES programmes currently oversee more than 500 projects across healthtech, fintech, agritech and many other commercial sectors.

Further information on ARTES Applications can be found at:

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Industrial Opportunity in Secure Satcom for Safety and Security

In response to growing challenges and opportunities in the realm of safety and security, ESA is proposing an evolution of its support to related European industrial efforts and EU initiatives.

The new Announcement of Industrial Opportunity is part of ESA’s overall programme for Secure Satcom for Safety and Security, known simply as “4S”. ESA aims to consolidate and increase its efforts under a new 4S ARTES thematic framework, inviting Outline Proposals that exploit synergies between the existing ARTES elements such as Core Competitiveness, Business Applications and Partner Programmes.

ESA’s approach is to use dialogue with industry to support the preparation of consolidated 4S proposals for ESA Space19+ (the next ESA Conference at Ministerial level, to be held in Seville in November this year).

Magali Vaissiere, ESA Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications, commented that, “ESA considers secure Satcom to be an attractive and growing market opportunity. This announcement addresses activities covering the full lifecycle of innovation, from preparatory R&D and product development to infrastructure projects, services and downstream development. ESA expects industry to define its own priorities in line with its own business plans, which may include opportunities emerging with EU GOVSATCOM.”

The deadline for industry to submit a Notice of Intent to ESA is 8th March 2019. This will be followed by an ESA-Industry workshop in Bucharest on 4th April, after which the deadline for submitting Outline Proposals will be 10th May.

Click here to watch the ESA 4S video

Secure SatCom for emergency responders: a rapidly expanding market. Right hand picture credit:  RDT

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