ESA title

Sports Event Live Photography

  • ACTIVITYDemonstration Project
  • STATUSCompleted
  • THEMATIC AREAMedia, Culture and Sport

Objectives of the service

Launched in May 2021, the ESA Demonstration Project “Live Sports Event Photography” has achieved growing success throughout the 2021 UK and European Mass Participation Sporting Events season.

The technology has been effectively deployed at major events organised by the London Marathon Events Company, Human Race, Castle Race Series, and OSB Events at a broad range of marathon running, triathlon, swimming and cycling events.

The technology has been proven to greatly increase the Speed, Accuracy and Quality by which photographs are delivered during an event, maximising customer enjoyment, engagement and ultimately driving a step-change in revenue for both the Prime Contractor, AWOL, and event clients.

Since the launch of the project, AWOL has delivered over 3.2 million sports photos between 5-10 seconds of them being taken, at a vastly improved level of quality and accuracy of tagging, to a record number of participants. 

New to 2022, the service has also been “miniaturised” by AWOL, and can now be deployed from a smartphone, making it highly scalable.

The service focuses on the core principles of delivering world-class photography:


Getting the perfect shot is everything - capturing a memento that means something to each runner is a must: AWOL will live quality control, apply adjustments, and can serve larger images to the user than ever before.


Capturing the event “buzz” and the urge to buy / share and possess the photo is critical: Next-gen hardware coupled with Satellite Comms means images will be available almost instantly.


Accurate tagging and presentation of a varied photo bundle to each participant is crucial. Combining Satellite time and location data with AWOL’s existing facial/character recognition, and smart notifications system means users will get exactly what they want to make their experience “out of this world”.

Users and their needs

Ultimately this service is now used by event participants and their families, friends and supporters across the world, via the Event Organisers bringing AWOL (or one of its partners) in to take photos.

Event participants have normally trained hard, invested time and money, and are looking to get a return on that investment, having taken part for any number of reasons.

User needs are simple:

  1. High-quality photos

  2. Delivered quickly

  3. In a way that’s easy to engage with

  4. At a decent price

This is contrasted against an industry that is used to delivering relatively low-quality images, too slowly, in a complex way that confuses people and ultimately costs too much. AWOL’s service aims to tackle all of these objectives by bringing this industry up to speed.

Service/ system concept

What has AWOL done? 

AWOL has brought to bear the power of Space to deliver real-time, location-tagged and quality-controlled photos to Sports Event Participants and Supporters, delivered directly to the users’ smartphone or other device.

Course Map

In simple terms, photographers positioned around a running, cycling, or even swimming course are connected through their smartphone, via satellite, to our service. As the athlete passes, the photographer takes a photo and once received at AWOL, it is quality controlled, processed, tagged to the user and sent as “push” notifications, emails or SMS alerts to all who “follow” that athlete:

Space Added Value

This service combines the following key space assets:

Satellite Communications:

Whether it is from busy marathon finish line (where mobile signal will be patchy) or from the top of a mountain (where signal will be non-existent) sending a high volume of data consistently from anywhere in the world is critical, and satcom makes this possible.

AWOL has fully adopted Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite comms, having piloted with SpaceX Starlink, and is actively seeking opportunities to use other systems.

GNSS (Time and Location):

If a photo knows where and when it was taken, this opens up a world of possibilities with regards to “tagging” – i.e. attributing a photo to the athletes that appear in it, meaning that users will have an array of choices in terms of how they find and engage with their photos.

Both Space Assets result in a steady stream of high-quality photos with rich metadata arriving at AWOL’s cloud service – “AWOL AIR”. Cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning algorithms scan combine this space data with image characteristics, to create a network that “learns” constantly, resulting in the best image tagging system ever built.

Current Status

Mission Success!

The project started in September 2020, with rapid progress being made across hardware testing, system and software design, prior to developing and luanching the service to be tested at a series of Pilot Events:

  1. Project started! 1st Sept 2020

  2. 11 Pilot Events delivered, including Marathon, Triathlon and Swimming events, aiming to stress test each part of the system, culminating in large scale deployments

  3. Project reviews including the Baseline Design Review, Critical Design Review, and the Factory Acceptance Test were successfully completed virtually, with regular updates on the Pilot Events being given to ESA. 



Prime Contractor(s)

Status Date

Updated: 22 September 2022