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Revolutionising the way that we understand the planet

CASE STUDY: ORBITAL MICRO SYSTEMS AND UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH

How OMS has collaborated with the University of Edinburgh to analyse advanced weather data from the first payload to be launched out of Scotland

Orbital Micro Systems (OMS) specialises in the development and delivery of technology and data for space applications. With broad expertise in applied science, weather science and earth observation, instrumentation development, data science, space operations, and programme delivery, OMS is positioned to deliver innovation to many areas of the aerospace sector.

With the support of the University of Edinburgh and other Scottish partners, OMS is driving Scotland’s space sector forward after launching a satellite designed to avert natural disasters and cut down on travel chaos.

Launch of GEMS satellite

OMS has collaborated with SPRINT partner, the University of Edinburgh, on the major GEMS programme to launch the first commercial weather imaging satellite and capture advanced weather data.

OMS will be deploying a constellation of passive microwave sensor (MWR) satellites over the coming years and joined with Clyde Space in Glasgow and the Data Lab at the University of Edinburgh to launch the Global Environmental Monitoring System (GEMS) satellite. GEMS will measure the Earth’s atmosphere and although the data would overwhelm most computers, the University’s Bayes Centre has the facilities to turn it into useful applications.

GEMS started collecting data in July 2019. Eventually the array will give global coverage of atmospheric brightness temperature at an improved temporal resolution compared to currently available products.

Pioneering development of miniaturised MWR satellite

The overarching aim of the OMS constellation is to provide near real-time measurements of cloud distribution in the Earth’s atmosphere. Contemporary weather forecasts and commercial weather-based services rely on MWR observations that are typically four to six hours old by the time they have been measured from space and filtered through numerical weather models. The satellites which facilitate these measurements, such as the Met OP satellites utilised by the EUMETSAT are extremely large and expensive to design, build and operate – with an average build cost of £300 million.

In contrast, GEMS is the first-ever miniaturised MWR deployed on a nanosatellite platform. The low development and operational costs of miniaturised MWR enables the ability to deploy a constellation of nanosatellites, which would be able to provide unique global MWR observations with just a 15-minute latency period. This order of magnitude advance in temporal and spatial resolution of forecast data and the incorporation of such data into an operational numerical weather model will enhance the accuracy of weather forecasts and commercial weather-based services.

A breakthrough in Earth observation

Data received from OMS’ IOD-1 GEMS satellite, deployed from the International Space Station in July 2019, has proven the commercial viability of the company’s advanced earth observation platform. OMS’s miniaturised passive microwave radiometer onboard the satellite outmatched the best available microwave and infrared views of weather structures on earth, showing excellent clarity and detail not previously possible.

The GEMS programme will ultimately incorporate 48 CubeSats equipped with observation instruments operating in low earth orbit to gather low-latency atmospheric weather data at eight altitudes. When fully complemented, the global revisit rate will be near 15 minutes.

When combined with spatial resolution of 16 km compared with the 25 km spot provided by the FY-3C satellite, the more frequent observations will enable true nowcasting of weather events with levels of detail such as the ability to discern hail from rain, precipitation density within hurricanes and other storms, and will improve the ability to plan for, and react to, critical weather events.

ICED provides the data platform

OMS has also opened the International Center for Earth Data (ICED) in the Bayes Centre at the University of Edinburgh. A collaborative project between OMS, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Colorado at Boulder, ICED is a commercial and market-sustainable data fusion software platform that leverages the latest in data science and cloud services to gather, process and deliver Earth observation data from public and commercial sources for researchers, governments and commercial enterprises around the world.

The data generated from ICED will result in highly reliable, frequent weather and environmental information. This will enable near real-time monitoring and improved weather forecasts for sectors such as insurance, agriculture, aviation, and shipping, empowering governments, businesses, and consumers to make timely decisions that increase safety and ensure economic viability.

A unique relationship with University of Edinburgh

Dave Gallaher, Chief Operating Officer and Data Scientist at OMS said: “The GEMS satellite is in orbit and we’re rolling in datasets from commercial and government sectors. It was the first payload to be launched out of Scotland and we’re working with the University of Edinburgh to devise values and algorithmic models and establish how we can continue to evolve the connection of raw data from the satellite.

“As well as setting up ICED at the University, we’ve also committed to locating OMS offices there. The relationship with the University of Edinburgh is unique as we’re engaging with university staff as part of our staff. Students can work for OMS while they’re at the University, gaining direct, hand-on experience of the space sector and we’ve also hired post-degree students.”

Validating data key to success

A key activity in ensuring the viability of GEMS is to have a highly respected third party validate and prove the worth of the MWR data in numerical weather prediction models, which are essential to modern weather forecasting. The Data Lab (a Scottish Funding Council Innovation Centre) funded academics at the University of Edinburgh to conduct a preliminary data validation for the necessary groundwork to support a larger application to work with the Met Office on a full validation project.

Validated MRW data will secure a world-leading position for OMS and will also add significant extra value to complementary satellite Earth observation datasets to be incorporated into the ICED at the Bayes Centre in The University of Edinburgh.

Stuart Simmons, Business Development Manager at the University of Edinburgh commented: “In partnership with OMS, Edinburgh is developing new artificial intelligence (AI) applications to extract value from the OMS GEMS-1 raw data stream and also to support data fusion techniques with other satellite and ground-based sensor data. We feel that AI and data fusion is the cutting edge and is an active field of research for a number of academics in geosciences.”

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