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Home / Gadgets / A strange kind of data keeps track of the weather – and the pirate ships

A strange kind of data keeps track of the weather – and the pirate ships



A group of monkeys are called cunning; A group of ferrets is called a business. A group of small satellites is called a constellation. And Spire is the name of a smart company with a constellation of small satellites. More than 60 of its satellites are in orbit, gathering information about the weather, ship movements and air traffic.

In Spiers Boulder's office, a computer in the conference room directs the knowledge of these satellites from outer space into a spacecraft screen.

These sats are not like planetary observers to whom you may be used. In the world of remote sensing – the use of satellites to collect information about the Earth ̵

1; images have long been a priority. But Spire's Smallsats do not look nice: they use broadcasts from ships, airplanes, and other satellites to derive terrestrial conditions as different as the forecasts of tomorrow and the movements of pirate ships. The use of such small satellites to see the Earth in new, non-visual ways will become more important (and valuable) over the next decade. This improves forecasts, makes the shipping industry more efficient and gathers invisible electromagnetic intelligence. Images are likely to be more and more valuable, but these satellites show that there is more on Earth than it seems. Now Earth's inhabitants – meteorologists, miners and even experimental airmen – are trying to figure out what all this data can do for them.

Getting the current weather conditions and future forecasts right is difficult. Small changes – or small mistakes or uncertainties – can lead to completely different results. "The butterfly effect is real," says Nick Allain, head of Spire. Even terrain makes a difference. "If you've removed one of the Flatirons," he says, referring to the sloping boulders that spread across Boulder, "your weather would change."

The Smallsats of Spire aim to gather more data points around the world to help them create global predictions, not just US ones. However, this happens in a somewhat strange way: The company's orbiting sensors receive signals from GPS satellites on the other side of the planet. These signals have gone through part of the atmosphere, causing them to bend. By comparing how the different frequencies bend, Spire can get to know the temperature, pressure and humidity of the atmosphere and feed it into the weather model. It is a method called GPS radio coverage. The satellites are currently collecting about 1,000 GPS signals per day, the tracks of which have crossed the upper reaches of the earth.

The project started with American GPS satellites, but the company added the possibility to use signals from European space to harness the Galileo constellation of the Union. With only one software update, satellites can breathe information from any position and navigation satellite, Allain says, provided they receive the FCC's permission. (Will Spire use data from China's BeiDou network? Allain can "neither confirm nor reject.").

Much of the data included in the weather forecasts is currently from the NOAA. And although the agency already had and will soon have more of their own radio occultation smatsats, they are interested to know if they could buy such data as well. It's as if NASA SpaceX is now paying for some of their launches instead of sending all their own missiles up. NOAA honored Spire and a company called GeoOptics, which uses the same technology and small grants, in 2016 to demonstrate that their data could potentially improve NOAA weather forecasts. The companies had until April 30, 2017 time.

However, the pilot did not go as planned: due to delays in the launch GeoOptics had no satellites in orbit before the end of the test phase. Allain says NOAA is satisfied with the quality of Spire (a statement I was unable to review with NOAA because of the government shutdown), but that "they were somewhat dissatisfied with the amount of data," Spire also had startup delays, therefore she did not have the entire satellite fleet in orbit and could only collect the desired amount of data towards the end of the study. (Today, the satellites collect the same daily total during the NOAA study.)

However, the NOAA launched a second round of stricter and stricter requirements. There were second orders for Spire and GeoOptics (which now have some real satellites) and one for PlanetIQ (which plans not, but also the radio coverage).

NASA has a similar program. Spire has signed a contract there. So does a company called Planet, which operates a huge fleet of satellites that mimic the Earth's entire mass of land every day, and DigitalGlobe, which sells images so high-resolution that you could see a laptop from space.

The only ones seeing potential for the upswing of private small satellites: The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the National Reconnaissance Office, your preferred espionage centers, have the commercial GEOINT activity program. And Spire, together with Ball Aerospace, has already handed over the NGA data on shipping traffic in the far north.

That brings us to ships. Allain indicates a flat earth covered with colored triangles that mark the locations of the boats. They gather along shores, scatter across the open sea and stream across the country's rivers. Everyone represents a ship equipped with an "AIS" beacon that sends out information about who it is, where it's going and how fast it is. International law requires that certain commercial vessels, passenger ships and those carrying dangerous cargo have the system on board. As a rule, captains must leave the device switched on during navigation and before docking. While the receivers on the ground can not see these shipments when ships cross the sea, satellites can do that. And Spire is not the only one doing this. Others, such as ExactEarth and OrbComm, have already established themselves.

Still, there are problems that Spire hopes will be well-suited to solve. For example: pirates. The first thing a pirate will do is turn off the AIS. However, since Spire's satellites have a number of positions for each ship, "and then it was there and then it was there," the company knows its last location with reasonable accuracy. Someone can send those coordinates to the partner's satellites, who could then find him-possibly if he steals a shipment of televisions. In addition, AIS signals are sometimes maimed, especially in crowded areas such as the South China Sea where shipments interfere with each other. A ship's pass could be passed as "SS FUNXX12AA! ~", Or a ship might say, "I'm near Australia, okay, now a bit further from Australia, but now in the Arctic."

teleport, "says Allain. (Or was that it?) Machine learning algorithms could help sort out these encrypted messages.

The Spire aircraft tracking function is essentially a copy of the AIS system, but this program is still running high, with the first satellite launched in late 2018. Nevertheless, Allain switches to an airplane-plastered earth – green, red, yellow, and orange symbols that look like flying autumn leaves. Click on one and you will be informed who it is and what it is intended to do.

And interested parties can combine their own data with Spire – like the mining company that wants to know when it's weather-beaten to pull its workers more precisely and predictably than its current method: a spotter that says, "See these clouds dark out. "Or like the (undisclosed) supersonic jet maker, who is interested in predicting when and where clouds could absorb their sonic boom, so it may be able to fly faster over populated areas.

Spire has received approximately $ 140 million in investment and smaller government contracts to help it. The first large, large dollar receiver in a given sector offers a monopolistic advantage. "Most [venture capitalists] would never invest in another company if they invest in a particular industry," says Sumanta Pal, an analyst with consulting firm Northern Sky Research. "They would never invest in a competitor."

But to whom much is given is much needed. And companies like Spire and Planet, which have invested around 183 million dollars, have much to show. Planet makes pretty pictures that speak fluently for themselves. However, if you have crazy non-image data, the conversation can be more difficult. "There seems to be more and more obstacles and roadblocks, and customers' belief that your data is valuable is a longer one," says Dallas Kasaboski of Northern Sky.

According to the latest issue of Northern Sky's satellite-based Earth Observation Report, the market for non-imaging satellites could rise to nearly $ 255 million by 2027. Much of this (much more than today) may be based on analysis and analysis Interpretation rather than raw data, a shift that is currently widespread in the more traditional area of ​​satellite imagery. However, these analysts believe the market will only account for four percent of Earth observation revenue in eight years. And in those years, most likely, all World Watch companies will merge, buy each other, buy, sell themselves, or simply die. This type of consolidation has already begun and probably more will come. "We all like to say, 'Not everyone will fly,' says Kasaboski.

But Spire employees are optimistic, even though they need to explain the radio coverage more often than they would like, with a model sitting in the corner of the conference room the company's small firm on one surface, fake solar systems sticking out of the body, eight of the company's satellites were launched from Russia on December 27, 2018.

This is old hat after the company has made many starts "We do not have starters," Allain says, "because of the inevitable and sometimes long delays, we do not have to buy perishable food."

Nobody wants a party filled with wieners and canned peas an ambience – "Party like the Apocalypse," as Allain says the office does not need.


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