Two UK-built shoebox-sized satellites will launch into space this afternoon to monitor shipping movements from low-Earth orbit
- Two sets nanosatellites will be launched into orbit by Scottish firm Spire Global
- The first pair of satellites will go up on a Russian Soyuz rocket at 12.20 BST today
- The second set of spacecraft will launch on an Indian PSLV rocket on November 1
Two shoebox-sized supercomputer satellites, built in Scotland to monitor shipping movements from low-Earth orbit, are due for launch this afternoon.
Each nanosatellite has an onboard supercomputer with machine learning algorithms that can provide ‘hyper-accurate predictions’ of the locations of boats.
The the so-called ‘Spire’ satellites will calculate their arrival times at ports to help businesses and authorities manage busy docks, the UK Space Agency said.
They will join a fleet of more than 100 objects in low Earth orbit that work together to track the whereabouts of ships and predict global ocean traffic.
Two of the satellites will launch at lunchtime today and another couple will launch on an Indian PSLV rocket on November 1.
The machines will be transported into space on a Soyuz launcher from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia at 12.20pm UK time.
Spire nanosat under construction. Each has an onboard supercomputer with machine learning algorithms that provide predictions of the locations of boats. Two will launch from Russia today
‘Satellites are shrinking in size and growing in ambition,’ said Science Minister Amanda Solloway.
‘A satellite the size of a shoebox may sound like a gimmick, but these nanosatellites are driving a revolution in how we observe planet Earth – with each holding the power and intelligence of a regular satellite.
‘The government is ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of this revolution and the Spire nanosatellites we have backed will help us do just that.’
Spire received more than £6 million in funding from the UK Space Agency to build the nanosatellites.
The devices are designed, built, tested, integrated and assembled by Spire Global staff at the firm’s headquarters in Glasgow.
The spacecraft will join a fleet of more than 100 objects in low Earth orbit that work together to track the whereabouts of ships and predict global ocean traffic
Despite being the size of a shoebox and weighing no more than standard cabin baggage, the nanosatellites have all the functionality of a conventional satellite.
Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said nanosatellites are enormously powerful in what they can do.
The four being launched by Spire Global have been described as ‘supercomputers’ in space with more than a teraflop of processing power.
‘These four Spire satellites are aimed at making trade hyper-accurate, with technology that makes business more cost effective and efficient,’ said Turnock.
‘Scotland’s space sector is booming. Our membership of ESA is benefiting companies across the UK, and we are committed to supporting the space economy in every region.’
Spire Global UK is a satellite-powered data company that provides predictive analysis of global shipping, aviation and weather forecasting.
The two satellites are made by Spire Global UK and are part of a set of four equipped with a machine learning algorithm to estimate the times vessels will arrive in ports
Peter Platzer, chief executive and co-founder of Spire Global said their goal was to help companies and organisations predict ‘what’s next’ and make better decisions.
‘This month we are moving this forward by launching a true super-computer into orbit – 1-2 teraflops – so that we can analyse data right in orbit, using smart algorithms and machine learning,’ Platzer said.
‘This will allow us to get better, smarter and faster analytics to our customers for their business decisions.’
The services have been developed under a European Space Agency (ESA) Pioneer programme, which is a partnership project co-funded by the UK Space Agency.
Artist’s impression of a UK spaceport. The UK Space Agency selected the first vertical launch site in Sutherland on the north coast of Scotland in 2018, which could be ready next year
Elodie Viau, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA, said this was a prime example of the benefits of the Pioneer programme.
Meanwhile, the government is also supporting the development of spaceports across the country, which will allow satellites to be launched from the UK soil for the first time in the coming years.
It’s hoped future nanosatellites could be launched from Sutherland, on the north coast of Scotland, as early as next year, with further sites planned for Cornwall, Glasgow Prestwick and Snowdonia.
Horizontal launch sites have potential in a future UK spaceflight market, which could attract companies from all over the world to invest in Britain.
BRITAIN’S FIRST SPACEPORT WILL SUPPORT 12 ORBITAL LAUNCHES PER YEAR
The UK Space Agency has selected Sutherland, on Scotland’s north coast, as the site for Britain’s first spaceport.
The site is being developed by US aerospace and defence behemoth Lockheed Martin.
It will launch satellites and rockets into space as early as 2021.
The port will boost Scotland’s already burgeoning satellite industry.
Outside of the US, Scotland produces more satellites than any country.
It is hoped the UK will launch an estimated 2,000 satellites by 2030.
The Sutherland project is under pressure from similar bids in Scandinavia.
The first Northern European site to offer commercial launches is set to hold a stake in the global space industry worth billions.