5 mins read 05 Apr 2023

Spiral Blue’s Edge One Computer Successfully Commissioned in Orbit

Australian start-up success, Spiral Blue, has announced that Australia’s first Edge computer has successfully completed commissioning in orbit, with the company gearing up to revolutionise the Earth Observation market.

Spiral Blue’s SE-1 computer, integrated with the Satellogic Satellite. Credit: Satellogic (supplied).

Sydney-based space start-up, Spiral Blue, has announced the successful commissioning of its Space Edge One (SE-1) computer, becoming the first of its kind to be operational in space. It’s thought that the technology will revolutionise Earth Observation data processing capabilities, with the small company having received significant funding from the Australian Space Agency to develop the computer. The SE-1 payload was integrated with a Satellogic satellite and launched into Earth orbit in early January (2023) onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. 

What makes Spiral Blue’s SE-1 technology interesting is that it takes satellite data (captured by sensors such as cameras on the satellite), and processes it onboard before beaming it back down to Earth. Traditionally, any raw data is beamed back to Earth and processed by terrestrial-based computers. 

As raw data (like high-resolution images) are large files, the transfer of this data from orbit to space is limited by bandwidth and data transfer capabilities. What Spiral Blue have aimed to do is resolve this, by processing the raw data aboard the satellite, and transferring the smaller, processed file back down to Earth - reducing time, cost and risks. 

“After many years and multiple launches, we’ve finally got operational data back from space for one of our missions,” said Spiral Blue CEO Taofiq Huq. “This is a huge milestone for Spiral Blue as a space company and a validation of the massive effort that our team has put into Space Edge Computing over the years.”

Australia, like much of the world right now, is undergoing drastic changes with regard to climate, and Earth Observation has become a key focus area for many governments and agencies, attempting to measure, and mitigate implications caused by natural disasters. This is one area in that Spiral Blue believes its solutions can assist in these challenges - by providing more efficient Earth Observation services. 

“Australia has a huge land area and a very small population and GDP. This means that ultimately we need smarter and more efficient space technologies in order to monitor and manage our country,” said Huq.

“The SE-1 technology is going to be a key part of that by massively expanding the capacity of Australian satellites. Ultimately customers and users of Earth observation data need insights, and being able to have a satellite that can generate Insights directly without needing to download all of the raw data means that one satellite can do the work of 10 satellites today.”

Additional to the SE-1, Spiral Blue has also successfully demonstrated the first operation of the Xavier NX in space, which provides high performance and low power consumption to Edge computing applications. 

“The Nvidia Xavier NX forms the basis of our Space Edge Computer.,” said Huq. “We use the Nvidia hardware for computing and we also use additional hardware on our computer for external storage as well. We use Nvidia hardware and are upfront in using Nvidia hardware because what matters to us and our customers is having the ability to very easily and rapidly update software onboard satellites in response to changing operational requirements.” 

The Nvidia Jetson nano core, which makes up part of the Space Edge Zero computer. Credit: Nvidia.

As part of their proprietary machine learning applications, which have been optimised for SE-1 computing, Spiral Blue has indicated that this technology and onboard data processing could be beneficial to several Earth Observation applications, such as vessel detection, canopy mapping, water body mapping and determination of fire severity. 

“For fires, the SE-1 enables rapid detection of bushfires in satellite imagery and thus very rapid notifications to fire agencies to be able to respond to fires and put them out before they cause any real damage,” said Huq.

“For floods, we are able to see through gaps in clouds thanks to our onboard cloud detection software and in addition to that provide maps for the extent of floods and which properties are damaged and which are not.”

The company has also been the recipient of $416,000 as part of the Australian Space Agency’s Moon to Mars Supply Chain Capability Improvement Grant in 2021, which helped support the development of the SE-1 and its prototypes. 

Though, with Huq’s ambition fueling his team’s growth, they have no plans of slowing down. “We are of course looking to upgrade our Space Edge Computers, looking to develop more powerful, faster, more rapid response computers.”

“This will form the Space Edge Two, which will in fact have radiation tolerance far greater than the SE-1 to enable our hardware to operate in very hostile environments, even in deep space and on other planets. In addition, we are exploring operating our own satellites in the future and will be raising funding to enable this business opportunity,“ he concluded.