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Funding innovative space tech to help solve problems on Earth

CASE STUDY: UK SPACE AGENCY FUNDING ENABLES SPRINT TO COLLABORATE WITH UNIVERSITY PROJECTS

SPRINT supports Innovation Voucher space projects to enhance current space tech capabilities

Space tech that could make buildings more energy efficient, reduce the carbon emissions of ships and help preserve important historical sites were among a range of projects that received Government funding through the UK Space Agency.

Working with the UK Space Agency in wave one of the programme, SPRINT supported five main Innovation Voucher projects and seven Mini Innovation Voucher space projects with industry working alongside scientists from the University of Southampton, University of Edinburgh, University of Surrey and the University of Leicester. 

The aims of the projects varied from using AI to detect buried archaeological remains on satellite imagery to using satellite analytics to track the greenhouse gas emissions from shipping fleets. They also included the use of AI to improve the accuracy of clean room monitoring for building critical space industry equipment, integrating satellite images, solar radiation and LiDAR with other data sources to provide organisations with a clear view of a building’s energy performance and supporting Malawian farmers by developing land-classification maps to enable better planning of large-scale agriculture.

Building space solutions to global problems, on UK soil

The SPRINT project collaborations, supported by the UK Space Agency funding, were:  

Absolar Solution Ltd – University of Southampton

UK businesses declaring a climate emergency, lack the means to develop tangible action plans, due to lack of relevant technology. Software developed by Absolar uses LiDAR and satellite images to capture building characteristics and assess feasibility of energy efficiency measures at scale, combining other data sources like EPC and building stock data. The project developed Absolar’s Carbon Action Planning Tool (CAPT) integrates this technology to help organisations understand their energy saving potential and formulate comprehensive carbon action plans on a building-by-building basis at scale; enabling them to become energy efficient, reduce energy costs, and gain green credentials. 

Phil Wu, Absolar Solutions, said: “We were thrilled to have received support from the UK Space Agency and to collaborate with the University of Southampton’s Research Software Engineers. 

“The support and collaboration ultimately meant that organisations benefit from an enhanced step-by-step understanding to achieve net-zero carbon emissions across their property portfolios and save energy costs at the same time.” 

Anchored In – University of Southampton

Project Title: Application to ESA Hospitals of the Future funding

The company and university will work together to enable and support and prepare an application to the ESA-NHS Future Hospital Initiative funding call. The ESA funding is needed to establish a way to use low-temperature plasma sterilisation technology from human space flight on improving the biological safety margin of the hospital environment, including air and water. The project team aims to use the plasma technologies developed for space propulsion and human space flights to enhance the biological safety margin of hospital air through an innovative concept, which is called ‘plasma-assisted air filtration system’. 

ArchAI Ltd – University of Southampton

Knowing where archaeology is located at the earliest planning stages of large construction projects reduces the need for costly and time-consuming iterative manual assessments of archival and field data. ArchAI uses artificial intelligence to automatically detect archaeology from Earth observation data. ArchAI’s automated analysis was integrated into a web application to provide customers with instant insights into this crucial project risk. Access to ArchAI’s technology will lower the cost of construction and ensure that vital historical sites are preserved for future generations.

Iris Kramer, CEO of ArchAI, said: “This project helped us increase the training data of known archaeological sites and validate our AI across the country to detect unknown sites. We also improved our solution on satellite imagery which will help us scale globally.” 

Benefits achieved through the SPRINT support included:

  • Proof of the scalability of Iris Kramer’s PhD research which clearly demonstrated the potential of AI. This is helping with establishing partnerships with key stakeholders in the sector who will help to generate wide support and adoption of the technology
  • Established new collaborations and joint ventures including the National Trust, where a first commercial project has been completed, and the Forestry Commission
  • Using the outcomes of the project to apply for other grants including a successful application to ESA Business Incubation Centre Harwell and also from NESTA, the UK’s innovation agency for social good
  • Hired two consultants on the project, kept one of them on a full-time basis after the project and the other is still brought in for projects

Elestial – University of Surrey

Project Title: Feasibility Study of Orbital Platform and Mission Concept

The space sector is moving toward the New Space era driven by space commercialisation and resource exploitation, where AI robotics will play a central role and be directly responsible for meeting stringent requirements in cost, operability, reusability, and sustainability of long-lived assets in the harsh space environments. ELESTIAL is interested in bringing innovations to space AI robotics, based on their expertise developed from the automotive sector. This project is a feasibility study to help the SME evaluate their existing robotic ‘orbital platform’ concept and assess its design requirements for suitable deployment for various orbital applications such as active debris removal.

Eureco – University of Southampton

Project Title: Vibration and thermal testing for the Eureco EM Bridge technology

The eureco®️ EM-bridge™️ allows the antennas of satellites to deploy in a more frictionless way than conventional deployment mechanisms. This will mitigate wear and tear on the structures and allow them to last longer. It does this by its unique novel planar transmission line coupling elements for use in deployable antenna systems. It is an enabling technology that eliminates coaxial cable and related issues from deployable satellite appendages including Direct Radiating Arrays (DRAs), Array-Fed Reflectors (AFRs) and RF Booms.  

The company anticipates that this enabling technology will be used in nanosatellites, e.g CubeSats, placed in low Earth orbit (LEO) through to large satellites placed in geostationary Earth orbit (GEO).

Plastron UK – University of Southampton

Project Title: Plastron UK Satellite processing cleanroom CFD

The Plastron satellite processing facility is a specialist clean area where satellite assembly and testing takes place. The air in the facility must be filtered constantly to ensure there are no particles in the air which could damage satellite electronics or cause systems to malfunction. This project will use computer modelling to demonstrate that the air filtration system is good enough to keep the air sufficiently clean for all types of satellite assembly and testing.

Redshift Associates Ltd – University of Leicester

This SPRINT application proposed the development of analytics to facilitate monitoring of shipping fleet carbon emissions with a new approach to establish emission audits of shipping fleets and their individual vessels. 

The project supported a considerable broadening of the business case for exploitation of analytics solutions for ports and harbours (that SPRINT has already contributed to in an earlier project) to coastal and international waters.

New approaches to data reduction and statistical trend analysis were adopted to reduce the high processing time inherently associated with large AIS shipping datasets and shipping inventories that this project used. Creation of statistical profiles and fast algorithms of ship and fleet operations, together with extensive use of core data from the public domain and open-source software could substantially reduce processing time and data costs and enable customised pollution and carbon audits to be undertaken for shipping fleet operator clients at affordable costs. 

Professor Alan Wells, Founder of Redshift Associates Ltd, said: “Redshift is all about releasing the untapped potential of satellite data through the power of innovative analytics. 

“In collaboration with the University of Leicester, we used archived and real time satellite data to better determine carbon and air pollution emissions from shipping and aimed to become an accredited information source for the shipping industry in support of its low carbon shipping strategies.” 

Benefits achieved as a result of the SPRINT project

  • £57,000 of new business generated from commercial clients in 2020-21
  • Received €200,000 of European Space Agency funding for the Clean Air Clean Harbour Energy (CACHE 22) project
  • On the back of SPRINT and the Belfast study, Redshift is currently an invited partner in three large scale industry led proposals around the themes of low emission and zero-carbon initiatives in the maritime sector  
  • Belfast Harbour study offers major contribution to CACHE 22
  • Recruitment of two new associates to support CACHE 22 project
  • A student on the University’s MSc in Data Analysis for Business Intelligence has set up his own business following his involvement in the SPRINT project which formed a significant part of the work in his first year of operation

Sylvera – University of Edinburgh

Project Title: Monitoring soil carbon stocks from space

A space-based technology for monitoring soil carbon stocks from space for verifiable carbon offsets.

Tactical Space Systems – University of Edinburgh

Project Title: Analysis of Satellite Signal Data Received in the Scottish Highlands from the Iridium & Inmarsat Networks 

The SPRINT project work entails academic analysis of existing signal propagation and data transmission rate measurements which monitored Network Rail connectivity along the main rail routes within the Scottish Highlands. In particular, L-band satellite transmission data received is to be analysed by the University of Edinburgh, from a robust academic viewpoint, whilst providing further insight into the propagation particularities of the satellite systems and identifying other opportunities for future connectivity solutions. This will lead to stochastic propagation predictions for said satellite communication networks. This data analysis is important when designing and modelling future space telecommunication systems for rail systems.

Trade in Space – University of Edinburgh

Trade in Space and Geospace Agricultural provided data and resources to the University of Edinburgh to support the generation of a land use classification map of key production regions of Malawi.

This is a vital tool that can enable effective planning of large-scale agriculture in the region, following the model set by the ‘Jacoma Estates’ mega-farm in the area, which has already provided productivity improving micro-financing, and a route to market for over 5,000 Malawian small-holder farmers.

Robin Sampson, CEO of Trade in Space, said: “SPRINT and the UK Space Agency gave us a fantastic opportunity to create the tools to achieve real positive impact on sustainable agricultural productivity in Malawi. 

“We were also excited to continue to work with strategic partners Geospace Agricultural and the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh.” 

Treewise (Lincs) – University of Leicester

Project Title: Project Clear Space 

This project will build on the company’s market leading expertise in vegetation risk management by adding the capability to assess the risk of wildfires and potential damage to the built environment and associated biosphere. Its aim is to enable infrastructure management organisations to optimise vegetation management activities to reduce fires and the associated impact on biodiversity; insurers to offer the coverage, at the fairest price, that their customers need; and to better inform consumers of the risks so as to be able to choose the appropriate insurance and manage fire prevention requirements for their properties and communities more effectively.

XCAM – University of Leicester

Following successful trials of a prototype sensor, XCAM is working with ESA to develop a flight-ready solution that monitors particulate contamination on payloads during and shortly after launch, under General Support Technology Programme funding.

Cleanrooms protect space borne equipment from contamination during assembly, but vibrations and shocks during launch may shake up residues in the fairing that can seriously affect how the payload operates. The solution provides data to demonstrate whether or not precious cargos – such as Earth-observing satellites – stay clean on their way into space. XCAM’s sensor keeps track of contamination remotely and continuously after fairing closure and during the early launch phases, to provide continuous measurements in real-time.

This project provided the foundations for the 2nd generation of the monitor that includes a machine learning derived solution to address a key challenge with the improvement and extension of techniques classifying the type and geometry of more complex contamination particles, and deployment using a local processing solution to overcome data downlink bandwidth constraints in sensor launch applications and provide a standalone version for ground based clean rooms as requested by its customers.

Karen Holland, CEO of XCAM, said: “We were delighted to be involved in this SPRINT project with Convolutional Neural Network experts at the University of Leicester. 

“This project helped to develop the processing capabilities of our particulate monitor, creating a next generation instrument, whilst increasing XCAM’s skills in the area of neural network development.” 

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