Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

Real Time Access To Virtual Earth Observation Network

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - RAVEN (Real Time Access To Virtual Earth Observation Network)

Reporting period: 2017-05-01 to 2017-10-31

Space based Earth Observation (EO) consists of satellites equipped with sophisticated sensors which gather petabytes of data about our planet. This data enables better management of the Earth, our environment and resources. It also plays a key role in delivering timely and strategic information to emergency response and security services.
The EU has the world’s largest and most ambitious EO programme, Copernicus, which is composed of a constellation of Sentinel satellites that work together to give the most complete data set of the planet ever in existence. It is expected to produce in excess of ten petabytes of data each year when fully operational. Combined with in situ EO data and third party satellite EO partner services Copernicus will become the third largest data provider in the world.
One of the main challenges facing current and future EO missions and downstream services relates to the management – i.e. the transport, processing, storage and exploitation – of this ever‐increasing volume of data. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this challenge concerns the transportation of the data from space to ground and to enable a flexible network approach to delivering tailored data sets to end‐users in near real‐time as per request. Particularly time‐sensitive data, such as in emergency response cases, which are often in remote locations cut off from terrestrial communications services.

Radio frequency (RF) communications have been the stalwart of satellite communications from the beginning, but with demand for more bandwidth than RF can provide – and for greater security – things are beginning to change. The European Space Agency’s (ESA) new ScyLight Programme, for example, was created in response to the satellite industry’s demand for the development of technologies for free space optical communications with lasers (Lasercom).
Laser communications are most widely used through a global network of fibre‐optical cables running between cites and across oceans. This infrastructure forms the backbone of our telecoms and data services; without it there would be no internet. However, today’s fibre infrastructure is going to need a serious upgrade in order to meet the challenging data environment of the next decade and beyond. Satellites equipped with optical communications will be key to augmenting the world's capacity for transporting data.

mBryonics is developing an optical satellite network architecture around its reliable and low error rate optical links, enabled by adaptive optic atmospheric mitigated feeder links. Power efficient optical links with adaptive optics allow the use of smaller satellites for high throughput data downlinks. Commercial EO operators are beginning to demonstrate that these smaller satellite platforms, known as CubeSats/NanoSats that are the size of a shoe box, are reaching a level of maturity and sophistication that emphasises the important role these spacecraft will play in the future of EO. Not to mention Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems/High Altitude Pseudo Satellites. We call this optical satellite network architecture and distributed optical ground segment RAVEN: Real-time Access to a Virtual Earth observation Network. RAVEN is an end-to-end system architecture that will enable integration of satellite services into terrestrial applications and future networks, such as the 5G ecosystem.
End-users of EO data are generally not concerned with how the data gets to them. Much the same way users of Satellite-Navigation do not concern themselves with understanding how it works - only that it should reliably get them from point A to point B and in the fastest time possible. The key parameters being requested by end-users for EO services is that the data is 'fresh' and/or that it is a value added product of qualitative data and analyses. For example, analysts monitoring deforestation do not want dozens of images of forests. They want a product that tells them 'this is how many trees have been cut down' in a particular time frame and the location of where it is happening. Value added EO products are now created through computer algorithms and use new tools such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. This process still takes time and so it is therefore critical that every step of the data transport chain in the E.O. eco-system is made to be as efficient and 'intelligent' as possible. This is the main objective of the RAVEN project.

The EO industry is undergoing a significant evolution and revolution, where it is shifting from being a provider of raw data to a provider of quantitative analysis. The former requires a highly trained end user to be able to turn the data into actionable information for a specific use case and the latter democratises access to EO services as well as enable new market verticals and integration into wider information systems and eco-systems. There are strong synergies with the evolution of the location-based services industry. As the industry matures in this direction, access to real-time data from remote sensors becomes increasingly important - data is the fuel for this market and the data supply chain needs to be made as efficient as possible. This becomes an ever more prescient point as the quantity of data collected continues to increase at a significant pace. Integration with the 5G eco-system will also be vital in the evolution of the satellite ground segment.

For further information about mBryonics and why lasercom is coming of age please read our booklet:
The space industry is currently going through something of a renaissance. This has been largely due to a handful of pioneering private startup companies re-writing the rules for space missions, applications and services. Their impact has created a paradigm shift throughout the space industry, which is best summed up by the fact that you can now make a significant return on investment and with a relatively short-term time horizon. This realisation has seen a continued growth in private investment by venture capitalists, angel investors, crowd funding and incumbents and has seen a vibrant start up scene emerge in the U.S Europe and around the world.
Market reports on new and established market sectors in the space and aerospace industry are published frequently - both for upstream and downstream services. The majority of these reports continue to promise strong growth - particularly in the EO and communications sector. However, many of these markets and services are so new to the world and to the industry that it was decided, as a cornerstone to the project, to meet in person with the stakeholders, companies and their customers who are pioneering these new market sectors. The goal was to distil into the project a ground truth of where the market was currently at and where the company believed the market could get to in a realistic time frame. This proved to be one of the most strategic and beneficial decisions of phase 1 of the project. Market reports are a great asset but they only come to life in combination with face to face meetings with the people on the front line.

Phase 1 of the project has established a clear route to market, pricing, total available market, initial customers and strategic partners. The outputs of the project have fed into the preparation of a detailed business plan ensuring mBryonics clearly understands the costs, risks, schedule and revenues. One of the significant benefits of the study has been to evaluate and identify the required industrial base capabilities for the near and short term.
The RAVEN optical architecture aims to be the first end-to-end integrated free space optical communications system to enable a virtualised communication network architecture for new and emerging platforms such as NanoSats, High Altitude Pseudo Satellites and remotely piloted aircraft systems. The main system features:
- Optical Phased Array for feederlinks/downlinks with integrated adaptive optics for mitigating signal fade caused by the atmosphere
- Optical software defined satellite network architecture for large satellite constellations
- Doppler compensated optical links
- Enhanced space-to-ground links with RPAS/HAPS
- Integrated satellite optical phased array for inter-satellite links, feeder links and down links
- Next generation ground stations/teleports

Creating an autonomous, extremely high throughput end-to-end data chain and virtualised satellite network architecture for the EO market as well as enabling the transition from the traditionally large and expensive platforms to the new small and nano satellite platforms should lower the total cost of ownership of EO infrastructure (for both the space and ground segment) and enable the EO industry to develop advanced downstream services for the enduser. This should lead to improved EO value added products and larger uptake of EO products and services.