Lemur-2 Nanosatellite Constellation of Spire Global
The Lemur-2 nanosatellites are part of of a remote sensing commercial satellite constellation of Spire Global Inc., San Francisco, CA, that provides global ship tracking and weather monitoring. The satellites in this investigation are deployed from both the ISS (International Space Station) and the visiting space vehicle, demonstrating the technology at a range of altitude bands. 1) 2)
Some background: Spire Global, Inc.,previously called Nanosatisfi, is an American private company specializing in data gathered from a network of small satellites. Spire Global was founded in 2012 and opened offices in San Francisco. The company later opened offices in Glasgow (UK), Singapore, and in Boulder, CO. The company was founded to create Ardusat, a crowd-funded satellite, which was launched on August 3, 2013. 3) 4)
The company was founded to create ArduSat, a crowd-funded satellite, which was launched on August 3, 2013. The company’s first three Ardusat satellites were named after a portmanteau of Arduino, the technology on which they were based, and satellite. In August 2014, it was announced that Ardusat was spun out of Spire and would focus on educational technology.
Spire Global inaugurated the Lemur project in 2014 with the launch of the Lemur-1 prototype satellite atop a Soyuz Rocket. The primary purpose for that mission was to demonstrate the satellite platform and support systems, not the operational payloads. In place of the meteorological & ship-tracking equipment, Lemur-1 featured a pair of Earth-observation payloads, a medium-resolution color camera and a low-resolution infrared imaging system.
Lemur-2 was inaugurated in 2015 with the launch of four satellites atop an Indian PSLV launcher, introducing the STRATOS and SENSE instruments. Over the course of the program, Spire Global plans to implement incremental improvements of the satellites and add more sensors. The next generation of Lemurs, debuting around 2018, will feature an ADS-B terminal for tracking of aircraft on a global scale.
• March 6, 2017: Ball Aerospace and Spire Global, Inc. are collaborating on a program on behalf of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) to improve MDA (Maritime Domain Awareness) in the Arctic. Together, Ball and Spire are developing a data collection and analysis platform that monitors maritime traffic in the Arctic, which will enable improved awareness of vessel activity and behaviors. 5)
- “Ball and Spire’s collaboration demonstrates our abilities to seamlessly deliver to NGA relevant and actionable information critical to security, safety, the economy and the environment,” said Debra Facktor Lepore, Ball Aerospace’s vice president and general manager, strategic operations and commercial aerospace business unit. “For more than 30 years, Ball has delivered data analysis software and systems expertise to the United States Government, and the synergies with Spire will result in commercial solutions that continue to drive maximum effectiveness and affordability for our customers.”
- In association with NGA, Ball and Spire will leverage two existing commercial capabilities to create accurate, near real-time pictures of maritime activity in the Arctic. Spire’s constellation of nanosatellites capture Automatic Identification System (AIS) vessel tracking data over the most remote parts of the globe. The AIS data is then ingested into Ball’s cloud-based data analytics architecture and fused with other commercial Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) data to yield detailed profiles of vessel activity and establish benchmarks in vessel behavior.
- “This project will provide extraordinary insight into vessel traffic in the Arctic. Due to the remote nature of that region, Spire’s nanosatellites are an excellent way of generating Arctic maritime data with both fast revisit time and low latency,” said Peter Platzer, CEO of Spire. “Through the combination of our commercial nanosatellite constellation and Ball’s extensive experience in data exploitation and analytics, we expect to provide NGA with substantial improvements in Maritime Domain Awareness.”
- NGA ensures safety of navigation in the air and on the seas by maintaining the most current information and highest quality services for U.S. military forces and global transport networks. With ship traffic through Arctic routes projected to grow 250 percent by 2025 due to melting polar ice, the collaboration between Ball and Spire addresses a critical gap in monitoring maritime vessel patterns.
• September 2017: Spire Global’s LEMUR-2 constellation. Spire Global is in the process of deploying a 175-satellite constellation in the 400-600 km altitude range comprised of 3U CubeSats. 6)
Figure 1: Lemur satellites in the Clean Room (image credit: Spire Global)
Spire Global is a data and analytics company that collects data from space to solve problems on Earth. Owning and operating one of the largest satellite constellations in the world, Spire identifies, tracks, and predicts the movement of the world's resources and weather systems so that businesses and governments can make smart decisions.
The CubeSats in this investigation are built by Spire, a small satellite communications company dedicated to expanding data collection from space. Spire’s many small satellites provide near-real-time information from anywhere on Earth, enabling more accurate weather forecasts, shipping data and other information. By launching from the ISS, Spire can deploy several small satellites at once, lowering cost and improving access to space. Each Lemur-2 nanosatellite has a mass of ~4.6 kg.
The Lemur-2 satellites carry two payloads: STRATOS GPS radio occultation meteorology payload and the SENSE AIS payload for ship tracking.
Better data on where ships are located benefits consumers and private industry. Improved ocean monitoring enables shipping companies to plan more efficiently; allows insurance companies to understand risks and fault; and assists coast guards in policing territorial waters and preventing piracy and illegal fishing. The satellites in NanoRacks-LEMUR-2 also dramatically increase the amount of raw weather data available for forecasts, improving weather prediction around the globe.
NanoRacks CubeSats are delivered to the ISS already integrated within a NRCSD (NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer). A crew member transfers each NRCSD from the launch vehicle to the JEM/Kibo (Japanese Experiment Module). Visual inspection for damage to each NRCSD is performed. When CubeSat deployment operations begin, the NRCSDs are unpacked, mounted on the JAXA MPEP (Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform) and placed on the JEM/Kibo airlock slide table for transfer outside the ISS. A crew member operates the JRMS (JEM Remote Manipulating System) – to grapple and position for deployment. CubeSats are deployed when JAXA ground controllers command a specific NRCSD. 17)
Figure 2: A NanoRacks-LEMUR-2 3U CubeSat is being loaded into the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer (image credit: Spire Global)
ISS orbit: Near-circular orbit, altitude of ~400 km, inclination = 51.6º, period ~ 92 minutes.
Figure 3: Artist's rendition of a deployed Lemur-2 nanosatellite (image credit: Spire Global)
The Spire CubeSats feature 3-axis attitude control/knowledge via Spire ADCS.
RF communications are provided via UHF and S-band.
Contracts from NOAA for commercial data purchase:
• In September 2016, NOAA made its first two awards under the Commercial Weather Data Pilot program created by Congress last year. The winners are Spire Global of San Francisco with the Lemur constellation and GeoOptics of Pasadena, CA with the CICERO constellation, both of which will provide radio occultation data to NOAA for evaluation to determine whether commercial data can be incorporated into NOAA’s numerical weather models. 18) 19)
- Congress provided $3 million to NOAA in the FY2016 Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations act (Division B of the FY2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act) for the pilot program. It required NOAA to enter into at least one pilot project through an open competitive process to purchase, evaluate and calibrate commercial weather data and to submit a report on how it would implement the project. NOAA publicly released that report in April.
- The idea originated in the House-passed Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act (H.R. 1561) sponsored by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK). Bridenstine chairs the Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee and also serves on the House Armed Services Committee. He led efforts to include a provision in the pending FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act for DOD to create a similar program.
- Under the contracts, the two companies will provide GNSS radio occultation data to NOAA by April 30, 2017 to demonstrate data quality and potential value to NOAA’s weather forecasts and warnings. NOAA/NESDIS (National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service) will assess the data through the end of FY2017 and issue a report in early FY2018. The contract award amounts were $370,000 for Spire and $695,000 for GeoOptics.
- NOAA already uses GPS radio occultation (GPO-RO) data in its forecasts. The data are acquired by the six-satellite Formosat/COSMIC constellation, a joint program with Taiwan. NOAA is requesting funds for a COSMIC-2 follow-on.
• Prior to the NOAA contract, Spire already built commercial demand for its services from other customers. In addition to other weather agencies, Peter Platzer, CEO of Spire Global, said there are multiple markets beyond just government that have an interest in limiting the economic impact of extreme weather events by using space-based observations. 20)
- “Our customers are organizations that are highly knowledgeable in the weather space that have the capability to run numerical weather prediction models, and hence have the skill to consume GPS-RO data. There are significantly more private organizations and nongovernmental organizations that actually have this capability than we were aware of,” said Platzer.
- Spire presented the world’s first commercially collected and processed GPS-RO profiles this year at the IROWG (International Radio Occultation Working Group) conference. Platzer said the company was able to demonstrate that a commercial company could collect GPS-RO profiles and perform the necessary processing to convert them to atmospheric profiles. While highlighting that this feat was something many doubted could be done commercially, Platzer quickly adds that Spire relied heavily on government-supported research from NOAA, NASA, the Alfred Wegener Institute, the DLR, and others.
• While GeoOptics and Spire Global were awarded this first contract by NOAA, another company, PlanetiQ of Boulder, CO, also has plans to launch weather satellites in early 2018.
• November 23, 2020: NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) awarded its first contracts Nov. 20 to purchase GPS-RO (Radio Occultation) data from commercial satellite operators GeoOptics and Spire Global. 21)
- The Nov. 20 awards are the culmination of years of work by both companies to develop, manufacture and operate satellites to gather atmospheric temperature, pressure and water vapor observations to feed into operational weather forecasts.
- The two-year indefinite delivery-indefinite quantity contracts awarded to GeoOptics and Spire Global have a total ceiling of $23 million. On Nov. 20, NOAA also awarded initial task orders to both companies but did not reveal the value of those orders.
- Since 2016, NOAA has scrutinized radio occultation data provided by private companies through the Commercial Weather Data Pilot. In June, the agency issued a report that concluded, “the commercial sector is capable of providing the quality of data needed to help support NOAA’s operational weather forecasting needs.”
- NOAA has a target of acquiring 20,000 soundings per day, Steve Volz, NOAA assistant administrator for satellite and information services, said in January at the American Meteorological Society’s conference in Boston. A significant portion of the data are likely to come from the six satellites that make up the second U.S.-Taiwan Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate (COSMIC) constellation launched in 2019.
Figure 4: The ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts) created this Forecast Sensitivity Observation Impact chart, which notes the relative importance of various datasets in reducing forecast errors. The light blue line shows the declining impact of airborne sensors as air travel declined during the COVID-19 pandemic. The orange line shows the growing importance of radio occultation data with the addition of data from the second Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate in March and Spire Global data in May (image credit: ECMWF)
- Spire Global operates a constellation of more than 100 Lemur CubeSats with multiple sensors to track ships at sea, an aircraft in flight in addition to obtaining atmospheric data by noting how signals from global navigation satellites like GPS travel through the atmosphere.
- “We are pleased that NOAA has selected Spire for the operational procurement of radio occultation,” Keith Johnson, Spire Global vice president and general manager – federal, told SpaceNews by email. “Our missions are synergistic and we look forward to a long and happy partnership. We believe this represents both an amazing third-party validation as it deeply illustrates the kind of collaboration that is possible between public and private institutions to support such a critical service for people and businesses around the world.”
- GeoOptics focuses exclusively on weather data with a smaller constellation of CubeSats called CICERO (Community Initiative for Cellular Earth Remote Observation) that are roughly twice the size of Lemurs. GeoOptics does not publicly discuss the size of its constellation.
- “GeoOptics is very pleased and excited about our new contract with NOAA,” GeoOptics CEO Conrad Lautenbacher told SpaceNews by email. “We look forward to providing top-of-the-line radio occultation data for use in National Weather Service forecasts.”
- During the Commercial Weather Data Pilot, NOAA evaluated data from 12 Lemurs and two CICEROs.
• On 28 September 2020 (11:20 UTC), four Lemur-2 nanosatellites (3U CubeSats) of Spire Global, San Francisco, were launched as secondary payloads from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome site 43/4 in Russia on a Soyuz-2.1b/Fregat vehicle. 22)
- The Glaswegian-built nanosatellite joins a fleet of about 100 objects in low Earth orbit that help to predict the movement of the world’s resources, so that businesses and governments can make informed decisions.
- The satellites have been built by Spire Global UK, a satellite-powered data company that provides predictive analysis for global shipping, aviation and weather forecasting.
- These services have been developed thanks to the UK Space Agency under the ESA Pioneer Partnership Project.
- Spire uses automatic identification systems aboard ships to track their whereabouts on the oceans. Its network picks up the identity, position, course and speed of each vessel.
- Thanks to embarked intelligent machine-learning algorithms, it can predict vessel locations and the ship’s estimated time of arrival at port, enabling port authorities to manage busy docks safely and market traders to price the goods carried aboard.
- Spire staff design and build all the subsystems, and integrate and test the whole spacecraft in the company’s Glasgow headquarters.
- Two of the four Spire nanosatellites have an onboard supercomputer and intelligent machine-learning algorithms that can provide hyper-accurate predictions of the locations of boats, track their whereabouts and calculate their arrival times at ports, allowing port businesses and authorities to manage busy docks safely. Two further Spire satellites launched alongside them, both of which will be used to forge inter-satellite links. These connections allow satellites to act as relays, sending data to one another and down to ground stations, which cuts the time between data collection and its delivery. - Made by Spire Global UK, the nanosatellites, which are some of the smartest satellites ever built in the UK, are backed by over £10 million of investment from the UK Space Agency. 23)
Figure 5: Spire's machine-learning capable nanosatellite (image credit: ESA)
• September 11, 2019: Spire Global unveiled Spire Forecast Sept. 11, a product designed to provide the maritime industry with detailed information on atmospheric conditions including global sea surface temperatures, ocean currents, wave heights, surface winds and air temperature. 24)
- Spire Forecast is the first product from the Spire Weather business unit.
- “We created Spire Weather to augment and support the global weather prediction industry, from the private sector to government organizations who provide daily predictive weather information to global businesses and the world,” John Lusk, general manager for Spire’s commercial business units, said in a statement.
- Founded in 2012, Spire gathers weather data in addition to tracking ships and aircraft with a fleet of more than 70 CubeSats in low Earth orbit.
- Since its inception, Spire has focused on radio occultation, measuring atmospheric temperature, pressure and water vapor by observing the impact of those variables on radio waves. Spire announced on 9 September that its constellation collects 5,000 daily radio occultation profiles.
- “Spire is working to create new tools to aid in this joint effort to illuminate the Earth,” Alexander “Sandy” McDonald, Spire Weather director, said in a statement. McDonald served previously as director of the NOAA's (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s) Earth System Research Laboratory.
- “We are offering global organizations and in particular the national [meteorology] centers like NOAA a way to vastly improve weather forecasts for public safety,” McDonald said.
- Spire is developing information products for specific industries and market segments. Spire announced the creation in February of its Spire Maritime business unit. Spire announced an agreement in August to share data and develop products alongside Concirrus, a London-based insurance analytics company.
• August 14, 2019: Spire Global and Kleos Space S. A. of Luxemburg are combing forces to combine Spire AIS data with KLEOS RF data to create a new shared capability to bring safety at sea. 25)
- Kleos and Spire have entered into an agreement to cooperate on creating enhanced tools for maritime safety. The effort will support and augment tools for governments, maritime agencies, and all organizations with strategic interest in detecting dark vessels.
- The two companies, both with operations in Luxembourg, will introduce the new product offering in Q4 of this year — Spire data will now include with Kleos’ RF Reconnaissance data products, which are available on the site in three levels — Guardian RF, Guardian LOCATE and Guardian UDT — and can be pre-ordered by registered users on a monthly or annual basis. Spire will deliver proprietary AIS data to the RF data Kleos providers in these situations where AIS is undetected.
- This partnership represents the first time that AIS provider and RF Satellite provider have signed an agreement where these datasets can be easily integrated. And the first time two New Space organizations based in Luxembourg have partnered up to strengthen safety at sea.
- John Lusk, GM, Spire Maritime, said that the company shares a desire to illuminate parts of the world, just as Kleos does — the firm continue to partner with the most innovative industry experts to create new access to highly relevant datasets for customers worldwide. Spire Global's reputation for valuable data is due to the company's large constellation of fully owned and operated satellites that offer data and analytics for parts of the world where collecting data is notoriously difficult. The company recently created Spire Maritime, which closed out 2018 with 160% year-over-year revenue growth. The new effort is pushing the Satellite AIS maritime segment forward with unique innovations in product creation.
• July 5, 2019: The latest ESA Partnership Projects mission has launched two tiny supercomputing nanosatellites, namely Lemur-2 3U CubeSats (100 series) of Spire Global, aboard a Soyuz rocket from Vostochny in Russia. 26)
- The parallel supercomputing scalable devices, aboard the lightweight 3U CubeSats of Spire Global can be programmed to both receive and process data while in orbit. This enables them to select high-quality data and immediately transfer it to Earth.
- Their owner, Spire Global, specializes in using continuous global monitoring to track aircraft, ships and weather patterns using a large constellation of 80 nanosatellites that report to a global network of ground stations.
- The two new satellites, developed under ESA’s Pioneer program, were designed, built and tested at Spire Global’s factory in Glasgow, with support from the UK Space Agency. - They were launched aboard a Soyuz-2.1b/FregatM vehicle with the Meteor-M2-2 primary mission on 5 July 2019.
- Peter Platzer, chief executive of Spire Global, said: “We see these parallel supercomputing scalable satellites as being extremely important for the next phase of Earth observation applications for the benefit of all mankind. Just one of our small satellites can collect over a terabyte of data per day, which would be prohibitive to download. It has to be analyzed in orbit so that true insights can be delivered to customers directly and in a timely fashion. A hurricane does not wait for a download window. It is exciting to see ESA's continued support and focus on deploying these necessary data analytics and capabilities.”
- Khalil Kably, pioneer program manager at ESA, said: “The whole idea of the Pioneer program is to give European and Canadian industries access to space, rapidly and at low cost. - As soon as they have an innovative idea, such as supercomputing by Spire here, we want them to be able to try it in orbit. It’s the ability to go from a new idea to market very quickly, through in-orbit validation.”
• June 6, 2019: German launch services provider Exolaunch is providing launch services and mission management for eight Spire Global satellites scheduled for liftoff July 5 on a Russian Soyuz rocket, the two companies said June 6. 27)
- Spire launched its 100th satellite in April to supply weather data in addition to tracking ships and aircraft. Spire has relied on Exolaunch to arrange launches and oversee integration for dozens of its triple CubeSats since the two companies began working together in 2016.
- The eight new satellites slated for launch in July are meant to refresh Spire’s constellation.
- “EXOLAUNCH is one of our most trusted launch partners and we look forward to continuing this successful relationship,” Jenny Barna, Spire launch director, said in a statement. “They bring extensive launch expertise, best-in-class deployment hardware and a great team supporting every aspect of the launch campaign.”
- In addition to arranging launches, Exolaunch has developed its own line of deployers and separation systems for CubeSats and microsatellites. Exolaunch began integrating Spire’s eight new CubeSats with deployers in late May at Spire’s office in Glasgow, Scotland.
- “Now the team is heading to the launch site to get ready for the final integration with the launch vehicle,” Jeanne Medvedeva, Exolaunch launch services commercial director, said by email.
- On the upcoming launch, the Soyuz rocket upper stage is expected to drop off satellites in three different sun synchronous orbits, releasing the primary payload, Russia’s Meteor M2 weather satellite, at an altitude of 830 kilometers, microsatellites at 580 kilometers and CubeSats including Spire’s Lemurs at 530 kilometers.
- “As a data and analytics company that collects unique data from space to solve real problems on Earth, while managing one of the largest satellite constellations in the world, Spire has exceedingly high standards,” Medvedeva said in a statement. “Exolaunch is proud to be a key partner facilitating the ongoing success of the constellation launch.”
- Exolaunch is integrating 35 small satellites on the July Soyuz flight. Exolaunch planned to handle even more satellites but some CubeSats were not ready. Customers “needed more time to finish their satellites or to coordinate frequencies with the International Telecommunication Union,” Medvedeva said by email. “We were flexible with the back-up launch options.”
Figure 6: Spire Global has worked with many of the world's launch providers and sent satellites into orbit from five countries while building its constellation for weather monitoring and ship and aircraft tracking. This graphic notes missions when Spire hit significant milestones. It also shows the relative scale of the respective launch vehicles (image credit: Makena Fetzer/Spire Global)
• May 1, 2019: Spire Global, one of the world's largest space to cloud analytics companies, today announced they will provide Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) data for BAE System’s GXP® software. BAE Systems will include Spire’s data in its Geospatial eXploitation Products™ (GXP) software solutions, which offer advanced geospatial intelligence through an unrivaled capacity for the discovery, exploitation, and dissemination of mission-critical geospatial data. 28)
- BAE Systems and Spire will integrate their industry leading technologies to offer an integrated solution that delivers a deeper, more accurate geospatial intelligence capability via GXP’s software tools.
- "I am so excited about our collaboration with GXP. As the leader in geospatial solutions, BAE Systems’ GXP Xplorer® platform can now provide its customers with the Spire data set to help meet its critical missions,” said Keith Johnson, VP and GM Spire Federal. “This new relationship creates a set of previously unavailable tools that can now be used as a unique daily resource.”
- Spire has become an industry standard in the commercial aerospace sector and operates one of the largest constellations of private nanosatellites and ground station networks in the world. The company has launched several new strategic partnerships this year, including deals with NASA, ESA and key global players in the weather, maritime and aviation sectors.
• April 5, 2019: Spire Global, which just launched its 100th satellite to space aboard an Indian rocket, has a strong vision to fuel the young firm. It wants to help its customers — ships on the high seas, workers in remote construction areas, insurance companies trying to make risk assessments — deal with the uncertainty from climate change. 29)
- It's a big vision for a company with under 200 employees, but Spire works to achieve this through multi-purpose satellites. Its competitors, Spire CEO Peter Platzer said, focus on optical imagery. It's possible to take images with a small-satellite constellation, but the challenge is, better-resolution images usually require bigger lenses. As he put it: "To increase the resolution to count the cars [on a highway], you can't do this with more satellites — you need a bigger satellite. Then to read the license plate on the car, you need an even bigger satellite."
- So that's why Spire focuses on using radio frequency signals to cover the Earth. Right now it has 76 satellites on orbit and can cover virtually the entire globe, pole to pole — which is a big deal as the north opens up more to exploration and industry. And as they add more satellites to the constellation, they will track even more. So it's not size that matters, but quantity. "If you want to track aircraft every hour, you can't do that with a bigger satellite," he explains. "You just need more satellites. It's a geometry problem. The value of the data increases with the number of sensors."
Figure 7: A Spire satellite undergoes testing in a room optimized to check for radiofrequency interference (image credit: Spire Global)
- Spire started off with institutional investment and rapidly raised Series A, B and C rounds since its founding in 2013. (It's illegal to disclose whether the company plans another round of funding, Platzer explained.) Since the company is privately held, it can only disclose a portion of its balance sheet. Platzer explained that revenues are "well into the eight-figure range", and growing year-over-year in triple digits.
- In the maritime business alone, customers have doubled quarter-over-quarter. "It's really picking up speed," he said, adding that strong growth is also seen for weather forecasting.
Figure 8: A worldwide representation of the signals that Spire Global satellites are tracking (image credit: Spire Global)
• November 21, 2018: ESA and Spire are pleased to announce the opportunity to freely access, up to March 2019, through the Third Party Mission program, 6 different samples of global Spire satellite data. The data collected by Spire has a diverse range of applications, from analysis of global trade patterns and commodity flows to aircraft routing to weather forecasting. The data also provides interesting research opportunities on topics as varied as ocean currents and GNSS-based planetary boundary layer height. 30)
- ESA promotes this opportunity as a data familiarization phase before the potential formal integration into the Third Party Mission program of the ESA Earthnet activities.
- The data will be accessible directly via the Spire delivery system.
• October 04, 2018: NASA has launched a pilot program to evaluate how Earth science data from commercial small-satellite constellations could supplement observations from the agency’s fleet of orbiting Earth science missions. On 28 September, the agency awarded sole-source contracts to acquire test data sets from three private sector organizations. 31)
- NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington issued blanket purchase agreements for the “Private Sector Small Constellation Satellite Data Product Pilot” program. Under these agreements, the agency purchases data sets and related products based on observations derived from Earth-orbiting, small-satellite constellations designed and operated by non-governmental entities.
- “This pilot program is an innovative and efficient way for us to acquire, examine, and evaluate a wide range of private sector Earth observation data,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division. “As our very capable NASA research satellite fleet ages and more small satellites are launched by private industry, there are opportunities to leverage the strengths of each into even more complete climate data sets.”
- NASA will provide the test data products to NASA-funded researchers, who will examine whether the data help advance the agency’s science and applications development goals. The pilot program is designed to determine whether these private sector observations and associated products offer a cost-effective means to augment or complement the suite of Earth observations acquired directly by NASA, other U.S. government agencies, and international partners.
- The contracts were awarded to:
1) DigitalGlobe, a Maxar Technologies company headquartered in Westminster, Colorado, has five very high-resolution Earth imaging satellites (GeoEye-1, WorldView-1, WorldView-2, WorldView-3, WorldView-4) capable of collecting 30 cm resolution imagery.
2) Planet, headquartered in San Francisco, has three satellite constellations (SkySat, Dove, RapidEye) with more than 150 satellites supplying imagery and derived products over the entire Earth at medium and high resolution with high repeat frequencies.
3) SPIRE Global, headquartered in San Francisco, operates a constellation of over 60 Lemur 3U CubeSats collecting radio occultation soundings, aircraft location information and ship reports. GPS radio occultation measurements can be used to sound the atmosphere for temperature, water vapor, and atmospheric pressure.
- These contracts represent the first time that NASA has engaged with commercial small-satellite constellation operators to purchase their data for scientific evaluation. They establish a way for NASA to acquire and examine the data products during the next 12 months. Each contract includes an option for NASA to extend the agreement for an additional four years, for a total value of up to $7 million for each of the three agreements.
- To be considered for participation in this pilot program, companies had to demonstrate they were currently operating a small satellite constellation of no fewer than three satellites in non-geostationary orbit and producing consistent global coverage. Companies also were asked to supply a comprehensive catalog of their data, describing areal coverage, data latency, pricing, and other factors.
- NASA uses the vantage point of space to understand and explore our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. The agency’s observations of Earth’s complex natural environment are critical to understanding how our planet’s natural resources and climate are changing now and could change in the future.
• September 20, 2018: NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) awarded more than $8 million in contracts this week to three companies in the second round of a commercial satellite weather data pilot program. 32)
- In the Sept. 17 announcement, NOAA said it was issuing contracts to GeoOptics, PlanetIQ and Spire to provide GPS radio occultation weather data from satellites currently in orbit or planned for launch in the coming months. That technique measures the refraction of GPS signals as they pass through the atmosphere and are received by the companies’ satellites, which can provide temperature and pressure profiles to support weather forecasting models.
- The awards represent round two of NOAA’s Commercial Weather Data Pilot program, an effort by the agency to experiment with buying data from commercial providers to determine its usefulness, as well as to examine various technical and programmatic issues with such data buys.
- “These contracts represent another step toward bringing commercial sector innovation to NOAA’s mission of delivering life-saving weather forecasts and warnings,” said Karen St. Germain, director of the Office of Systems Architecture and Advanced Planning for NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, in a statement. “By collaboratively testing commercial sector capabilities and new business models, we continue to optimize the impact of our observations and reduce costs for taxpayers.”
- In round one of the program, NOAA awarded contracts valued at a little more than $1 million in September 2016 to GeoOptics and Spire. However, GeoOptics was not able to provide any data because its first satellites had not launched before the window for providing data under the contract closed in April 2017.
- GeoOptics, which received a $3.44 million contract in round two of the program, now has at least two of its Cicero satellites in orbit, launched as secondary payloads on Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle missions in June 2017 and January 2018. A third awaits launch on a Rocket Lab Electron mission now scheduled for November after a series of technical issues with the rocket. Three others were launched on a Soyuz in July 2017, but are believed to be among the several satellites on that mission that failed after reaching orbit.
- “We look forward to working with NOAA to demonstrate the power of GeoOptics’ CICERO constellation to deliver reliable, high-quality data for weather forecasting,” said Conrad Lautenbacher, chief executive of GeoOptics and a former NOAA administrator, in a statement.
- Spire, which did provide data to NOAA under its earlier contract, received the smallest of the three awards, at $1.425 million. However, Spire Chief Executive Peter Platzer said he was not concerned about the size of the contract.
- “We are definitely celebrating winning yet another contract from NOAA,” he said Sept. 20. “Since Spire is the only company that has successfully delivered to NOAA already, I think NOAA decided they didn’t need as long a performance period from us and instead needed to focus the second test more heavily on unproven companies.”
- PlanetIQ, the newcomer to the program, also received the largest award, at $3.5 million. The Golden, Colorado-based company has yet to launch any satellites, even as its website states that it plans to have “12 microsatellites on orbit by early 2018.”
Figure 9: GPS radio occultation data, which can refine weather forecast models, is the subject of a second round of a NOAA commercial weather data pilot program image credit: UCAR)
- PlanetIQ, the newcomer to the program, also received the largest award, at $3.5 million. The Golden, Colorado-based company has yet to launch any satellites, even as its website states that it plans to have “12 microsatellites on orbit by early 2018.”
- Steve Joanis, chief executive of PlanetIQ, said Sept. 19 that the company plans to launch its first two satellites in the first or second quarter of 2019. He did not state when the company expected to have its full constellation in orbit, or its size.
- Under the new contracts, the companies will deliver data through July 2019, with new “additional operational considerations” regarding the delivery of the data. The agency plans to complete its assessment of the data received and produce a final report by the spring of 2020.
• January 10, 2018: Spire Global, the San Francisco-based company that operates 48 GPS radio occultation CubeSats, could provide a persistent view of about 97 percent of Earth with a constellation of 150 satellites, said Alexander “Sandy” MacDonald, Spire’s global validation model director. 33)
- “It would be like a global GEO satellite and there are huge implications of that,” MacDonald, former director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, said Jan. 9 at the American Meteorological Society meeting here. 34)
- Spire is not alone in seeing the value of GPS radio occultation. NOAA and Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology are preparing to launch six Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate (COSMIC) 2A satellites this year on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. GeoOptics of Pasadena, California, is another startup working to establish a constellation of GPS radio occultation satellites.
- A constellation of 100 to 200 radio occultation satellites, which provide detailed observations of atmospheric temperature and moisture, could be used in conjunction with geostationary weather satellites like NOAA’s GOES-16 (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-16) to dramatically improve the accuracy and spatial resolution of global weather prediction models, MacDonald said.
- Spire is building one satellite per week in its factory in Scotland, but could produce its three-unit CubeSats more quickly. “I think we could turn them out at two or three or five per week,” MacDonald said.
- Spire also is expanding its ground network. The company has 27 ground stations operating and is pushing to increase that number to 50 because the added ground stations will allow the firm to provide customers with data no more than 30 minutes old, MacDonald said.
- In addition to using its spacecraft for meteorology, Spire’s CubeSats carry Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) payloads for aircraft tracking and Automatic Identification System (AIS) payloads for maritime tracking. “We collect about 10 million ship reports a day,” MacDonald said.
Sensor complement (STRATOS, SENSE, ADS-B)
About 1U free space is available on each satellite for a hosted payload.
Figure 10: Spire's current PNT (Positioning, Navigation, and Timing) Payloads (image credit: Spire Global)
STRATOS is the Spire GNSS receiver for remote sensing & precision orbit determination:
• Performs POD (Precise Orbit Determination) using the zenith L1, L2 antenna
• Performs radio occultation (RO) on high-gain, side-mounted L1, L2 antennas
• Currently enables atmospheric & ionospheric remote sensing
• Applications: weather model assimilation of RO, space weather monitoring, ionosphere corrections for navigation, thermospheric density (POD)
• Currently modifying STRATOS for passive bistatic radar (GNSS-R) applications.
STRATOS makes use of GPS occultation measurements to determine temperature, pressure and humidity profiles of Earth’s atmosphere for application in operational meteorology. The instrument consists of GPS receivers to track the signals of several MEO satellites and measure the time delay and bend angle of signals that travel through the atmosphere located in the line of sight of the two spacecraft. These phase delay measurements due to refraction by the atmosphere can be made from the satellite altitude to very close to the surface leading to precise information on the properties of the atmosphere at an accurate vertical resolution. 35)
Figure 11: STRATOS receiver for GNSS-RO CONOPS (image credit: Spire Global)
Figure 12: Spire science GNSS-RO processing (image credit: Spire Global)
GNSS-RO Radio Occultation) observables
• RO observables
- L1a: GNSS L1/L2 signal excess phases
- L1b: bending angle
- L1c: refractivity profiles
- L2: “dry” temperature, pressure (~6-70 km, although climatology dominates above ~50 km), “wet” temperature, pressure, water vapor pressure (< 6 km)
• Vertical sounding resolution: ~100 m
• Along-track resolution: ~200 km
• Across-track resolution: ~1 km
• Accuracy: ~0.5 K
• Assimilation of bending angle improves weather forecasts
• GNSS phase measurement = no drift, no calibration, no inter-instrument biases, no inter-constellation biases = inherent climate quality
• Globally distributed measurements over ocean/land/poles
• Spire collected its first RO data in June 2016 (first commercial RO)
• Collecting both rising & setting occultations
• Capable of collecting signals from GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS now; BDS in 2019
• Full in-house science processing system and customer API
• Operationally delivering RO and TEC data to multiple customers.
Figure 13: Spire GNSS-RO sampling characteristics (image credit: Spire Global)
Figure 14: Sample data of the STRATOS instrument (image credit: Spire Global)
STRATOS GNSS Ionospheric Data
• Slant TEC (Total Electron Content) and S4 scintillation is collected along with RO
• Available globally, unlike land-based GNSS ionosphere measurements
• Applications include space weather monitoring, GNSS augmentation (real-time corrections).
STRATOS Ionosphere Measurements
• Top-side ionospheric information can be derived from dual frequency GNSS signals
- Slant TEC (Total Electron Content)
- Scintillation events
- Electron density profiles
• Spire currently processes over 750,000 TEC samples each day
• Expected growth to 16M TEC with 60 STRATOS payloads
- In data-denied areas
- And with low-latency
• Assimilation into upper atmospheric models for improved space weather forecasting predictions.
STRATOS GNSS Bistatic Radar (GNSS-R)
Passive bistatic radar using GNSS signals that estimates Earth surface properties through the radar scattering cross-section or delay observable.
Figure 15: GNSS passive bistatic radar (image credit: Spire Global)
SENSE: Each Lemur is also equipped with SENSETM, a receiver for AIS (Automatic Identification System) signal reception from ships at sea, providing worldwide tracking for maritime safety. AIS is used by sea vessels that send and receive VHF messages containing identification, position, course and speed information to allow the monitoring of vessel movements and collision avoidance as well as alerting in the event of sudden speed changes.
• AIS is globally used by maritime vessels to broadcast position information over VHF radio channels (162 MHz)
• Traditionally terrestrial tracking near ports, but satellite-AIS (S-AIS) is now used to track vessels world-wide from space
• Spire’s first commercial payload was an AIS receiver and each satellite carries this payload
• S-AIS product known as “Spire Sense”.
Maritime Domain Awareness. A Complete Understanding of Global Shipping:
• Financial Services
- Accurate pulse of worlds commodity markets
- Port operations and supply chain optimization
• Fleet Management
- Fuel optimization, ETA , digital navigation, alert
• Oil & Gas
- Monitoring & insight into the off-shore market
- Monitor protected areas / polar monitoring
- Piracy identification and ship routing
- Monitoring, identifying anomalies in EEZ zones
• Illegal Fishing
- Extend surveillance, correlate with SAR images
• Search & Rescue
- Pinpoint vessels in distress / identify nearby vessels to assist.
ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast)
Spire announced a second generation series of nanosatellites to be launched from 2018 onwards, which will also feature ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) payloads to track airplanes (Ref. 35). 36)
• Provides aircraft’s position from GNSS (or inertial for older installations)
• Velocity, callsign, status
• Versions 0, 1 and 2 (DO-260/ED-102)
• Required in US by 2020 (DO-260B)
1090ES (1090 MHz extended squitter)
• Part of Mode-S secondary radar standard
• 112 bits (8 type/capability, 24 address,24 CRC, 56 ADS-B)
• Full position in two messages (odd/even)
• Average rate 5.2 messages per second
• Lower and upper antenna alternation
• Uniform distribution in time.
ADS-B will soon be required by most countries around the world
• Already required in HongKong, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Taiwan (2017), Australia (2017), and many more
• North American and Europe will require ADS-B Out by 2020
Figure 16: The Spire flywheel (image credit: Spire Global)
Every application reinforces all other applications
• The business behind each payload and innovation carries forward to building the next payload
- AIS led the way for weather payload
- Weather combined with AIS produces additional unique innovation
- ADS-B makes use of AIS by sharing radio
• Satellite bus supports multiple payloads at the same time
• Additional payloads (GNSS-RO, GNSS-R, High Performance Computing, etc.) all supported by the flywheel effect
Spire ADS-B Constellation
• 4 active ADS-B satellites (as of Nov. 2018)
• Four segment antenna with tilted main beam
• State of the art software-defined ADS-B/AIS receiver
• ARM Cortex-9 / Xilinx Zynq 7000
• Yocto Linux
• ADS-B demodulation in FPGA
• Messages decoding and processing in CPU
• Peak capacity 7500 messages per minute per satellite
• Antenna footprint 2.5 million km2
• Many ADS-B capable satellites to be launched in coming months
Figure 17: Location of antennas (GNSS-RO, ADS-B and POD) on the Spire Global CubeSat (image credit: Spire Global)
Figure 18: Spire GNSS-RO observing geometry (image credit: Spire Global)
Figure 19: Spire single satellite ADS-B results. Data collection over recent 11 days, 1 hour per day: > 750K messages and > 250K positions (image credit: Spire Global)
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The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (firstname.lastname@example.org).