6 mins read 21 Feb 2022

Project Rainbow Python awarded grant to develop in space image processing

Sydney-based space company, Spiral Blue, along with  Esper Satellite Imagery and Dandelions have been awarded funding from the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre, as part of their commercialisation fund. 

Combining Esper’s hyperspectral imaging sensors and Spiral Blue’s Space Edge Computing, Project Rainbow Python is looking to develop space infrastructure to improve access to EO imaging. Credit: Spiral Blue.

Space Edge Computing company, Spiral Blue, have announced they have been awarded the latest round of co-investment from the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) for Project Rainbow Python, in collaboration with Esper Satellite Imagery and Dandelions.  

The funding will support the commercialisation of Project Rainbow Python, an in-space imaging and processing system that aims to bring down the cost of Earth Observation (EO) image processing as well as increasing access to EO images. This round of investment granted Spiral Blue a total project commitment of \$2.97 million, with \$578,000 from AMGC’s Commercialisation Fund.

The Rainbow Python project aims to reduce the load on satellite data streams, by processing hyperspectral images onboard the satellite, therefore allowing only the information that is required to be sent back to Earth post-processing, rather than the costly process of transmitting large files from orbit to ground stations. 

Hyperspectral imaging covers a wide range of wavelengths allowing users and data scientists to look at the world in greater detail than just using the visual range. Currently, many satellites send down vast amounts of data that then needs to be analysed with the useful data separated from the data that is not required. Spiral Blue’s Space Edge Computing technology aims to negate the need for this, meaning that only the required information is transmitted. 

Rainbow Python is powered by Spiral Blue’s Space Edge Computing technology and Esper’s hyperspectral imagers and will be launched together in two hosted payload missions over the coming twelve months. 

The AMGC’s commercialisation fund looks to support companies to take their ideas and products to the next level. The fund, which has allocated almost all of its \$30 million allowances, aims to support the manufacturing of innovative products in Australia. 

“This grant accelerates our roadmap for bringing Rainbow Python and associated technologies to maturity, helping ensure we are able to do our part for the Australian space industry and other Australian sectors which benefit from accessible hyperspectral data,” said Spiral Blue CEO Taofiq Huq.  

Australian Start-Up Ecosystem

The Spiral Blue Space Edge Computer. Spiral Blue, Esper, and Dandelions have collaborated to change the way Earth observation images are processed. Credit: Spiral Blue. 

The collaboration between Spiral Blue, Esper, and Dandelions, who are developing and testing new materials onboard the missions and assisting Spiral Blue and Esper with simulations expertise, is indicative of the collaborative nature of the current Australian space ecosystem.   

According to Huq, it is the ecosystem that Australia needs to really leverage to become internationally competitive in the space technology domain. “It’s not about trying to do everything but trying to do the little parts as best we can and then bringing that together,” he said. 

UNSW Sydney and Saber Astronautics are also supporting the project with UNSW Sydney providing testing facilities and access to space systems engineering expertise and Saber Astronautics providing missions operations and pre-launch engineering support.

The two separate payloads will be launched onboard Space Machines Company’s, Optimus platform and with Florida-based reusable satellite company Modularity Space, who have announced their first two launches are planned for next year. 

Spiral Blue was one of the first recipients of the Australian Space Agency’s Moon to Mars Supply Chain Capability Improvement Grant, a grant which supports the Australian space industry to build capacity to deliver products and services into domestic and/or international space industry supply chains that could support Moon to Mars activities. This grant is supporting the development of Spiral Blue’s Space Edge Services platform.

According to Huq, Spiral Blue are looking to develop a complete space-based infrastructure that would allow easy access to EO imaging for a wide range of users, which would lead to industrial efficiencies and a reduction in environmental impacts.

Hyperspectral Imaging for better resource management

Spaceborne imaging systems have a wide range of uses including tracking of illegal fishing vessels. Being able to respond to these kinds of activities wouldn’t be possible with many current image distribution methods. Credit: Spiral Blue.

Continuing improvements in the capability of hyperspectral imaging systems has led to a huge increase in the data available, which in turn has led to discoveries about how the Earth is changing and how resources can be managed going forward. However, this data is not always easy to access and can come with time delays and huge costs. 

According to Huq, the imaging system developed by Esper will be able to compose images of up to 90 spectral bands which will be able to provide data for all kinds of applications.  

“Industries such as mining can use it for prospecting, or they can use it after they start mining to start monitoring environmental impacts in detail. In agriculture, you can use it to forecast crop yields, monitor crop health as you go through a season or look at environmental impacts with runoff and these sorts of things. These are just two of the industries that can use [this information], it's useful stuff, so that's why there's a lot of interest,” added Huq. 

Another potential use for this type of information is in the detection of illegal fishing activities, where not only do you need to be able to cover large areas of the Earth, you need timely access to the images. This is where many traditional methods of sourcing satellite images fall down. 

“There are applications we are looking at, such as detecting illegal fishing and you know several days have passed by the time you have gotten pictures of a little fishing boat. It's obviously way too late,” said Huq. 

Spiral Blue is also working with another Sydney-based start-up Arlula, to help facilitate better access to EO images. Arlula, who recently announced they are partnering with LatConnect 60, share similar goals to Spiral Blue, by working towards making EO more accessible and cost-effective. 

For Spiral Blue, it is about getting space heritage and then being able to leverage off that going forward. Earlier this year, the company launched a payload onboard SpaceX’s transporter rideshare mission, utilising SatRevolution’s Swift satellite BUS. The time between now and their next launch will see the company continuing to test and develop their hardware and continue to develop the software to manage the amounts of data hyperspectral imagers create.