Airbus Intelligence Airbus Zephyr News

Airbus leveraging partnerships, investments to deliver greater ground truth

François Lombard, senior vice president and head of intelligence for Airbus Defense and Space. Credit: Airbus

This text initially appeared within the Oct. eight, 2018 difficulty of SpaceNews journal.

In August, Airbus Intelligence, a key participant within the international geospatial business, introduced its Zephyr high-altitude drone set a world report, remaining aloft for almost 26 days whereas gathering high-resolution imagery of Arizona. Airbus is investing closely in Zephyr and Pléiades Neo, a constellation of 4 high-resolution electro-optical satellites, to improve its Earth imagery, knowledge and purposes portfolio.

François Lombard, who took the helm at Airbus Intelligence in early 2017, is encouraging this kind of innovation and partnerships like those shaped lately with Earth remark constellation operator Planet and Orbital Perception, a geospatial analytics firm. Lombard spoke with SpaceNews correspondent Debra Werner in September on the World Satellite tv for pc Enterprise Week convention in Paris.

François Lombard, senior vice president and head of intelligence for Airbus Defense and Space. Credit: AirbusFrançois Lombard, senior vice chairman and head of intelligence for Airbus Protection and Area. Credit score: Airbus

You’ve introduced partnerships just lately. Why?

We all the time shaped a variety of partnerships, small and large ones, however it’s accelerating. It’s getting extra essential to get the correct strategic companions onboard. There’s a variety of funding and new gamers within the business. That’s one thing we’d like to embrace. We’d like to decide the companions that assist us to proceed to develop and develop our merchandise.

In June, Airbus introduced a partnership with Planet. Why did you type that?

I joined Airbus Intelligence final yr and I began discussions with a number of corporations at the moment. I picked Planet as a really complementary participant as a result of they’ve totally different sorts of sensors and a special geographic place. There was a great match between the groups. We aren’t overlapping an excessive amount of. If we package deal our gives appropriately, it may be an enchancment for the purchasers.

In July, an Airbus-led consortium together with Planet gained a contract to present high-resolution imagery of Europe for the European Fee and European Area Company’s Copernicus Program. What is going to you deliver?

We’re working along with Planet and some different companions to package deal our totally different capabilities for the purchasers. Each two years, we’ll present full protection of Europe at very excessive decision. One of many challenges is to get a homogeneous and cloud-free map of Europe in a really brief timeframe. For this, you want each very high-quality sensors but in addition you want lots of revisits to get this map proper. Right here, enjoying with an enormous constellation, even when the decision is decrease, on prime of what we will already supply makes the product match into the specs.

How does Planet allow you to supply this high-resolution dataset?

In some areas, you’ll settle for decrease decision cloud-free imagery fairly than having nothing. Typically it is just 10 % of the answer however that makes the distinction in having the ability to deliver a full product with a degree of perfection we couldn’t attain if we have been alone. On the identical aspect, they alone couldn’t supply a package deal that might match the decision. The match between the 2 corporations is sweet. I hope we’ll replicate this type of supply very quickly.

Do you’ve got different new companions?

We signed a structural settlement partnership with Orbital Perception. The thought is to complement our gives with their analytics. Orbital Perception advantages as a result of they get extra entry to our knowledge. We construct bridges between our database and their instruments. We’ll combine their analytics for our clients on our OneAtlas platform.

This can be a massive strategic partnership the consequence of exhausting work during the last 12 months to get the associate proper and to get the partnership proper within the particulars.

Airbus has such breadth. Why does it want companions?

I’m making an attempt struggle this notion that we might do every part. Sure, we might if we needed. However are you able to be world-class on each small step of the worth chain? I’ve some doubt, or at the least it’ll take extra time. By means of this type of partnership, you’ll be able to go quicker and you may disrupt some elements of the market. We might do it alone however it goes quicker and higher if we do it this manner.

On this particular phase, the geospatial phase, Airbus has been investing some huge cash and energy for 2 years. It can proceed over the subsequent years. We’re creating a big set of latest techniques.

What new methods?

Final yr, we introduced Pléiades Neo, 4 very high-resolution satellites we’ll begin to launch in 2020. That was an enormous step for us to make this funding. We’re making every part new, all of the applied sciences from the analytics to the cloud-based options.

If you say absolutely personal, do you imply Airbus is the one investor?

That is simply Airbus cash. It’s a follow-on for us of the 2 Pléiades satellites we now have presently, that are working very properly. It’s our workhorse to a sure extent. We determined to make investments 100 % Airbus cash on the subsequent era: 4 satellites, monumental capability and taking place to 30-centimeter decision. As we speak Pléiades merchandise are within the 50- to 70-centimeter vary. There is just one comparable product available on the market at 30 centimeters from our competitor DigitalGlobe.

Is radar an essential a part of your corporation?

It has been an important half particularly for america. At present, we’ve got three satellites. We’ve TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X and a Spanish associate (Hisdesat) launched a 3rd (PAZ) originally of this yr. The three satellites can be operated in a constellation.

We flew two of the satellites very shut collectively to generate a Knowledge Elevation Mannequin of the world’s whole landmass, WorldDEM, which is the highest quality you will get. We began delivering it in 2016. We have now now delivered the complete program, which is getting used within the U.S. for the Nationwide Geospatial-Intelligence Company. It’s the identical in Europe and allied nations. It’s the full globe in a 3D mannequin. There’s increasingly business utilization of this type of product. We deliver derivatives to corporations that use it as a part of their geospatial instruments and merchandise. It’s totally different from the optical market as a result of right here we deliver merchandise fairly than getting a name and delivering a picture.

Airbus is developing four high-resolution imaging satellites that will comprise the Pléiades Neo constellation it intends to start launching in 2020. The satellites will offer 30-centimeter resolution imagery. Only DigitalGlobe currently offers such detailed satellite imagery commercially. Credit: AirbusAirbus is creating 4 high-resolution imaging satellites that may comprise the Pléiades Neo constellation it intends to begin launching in 2020. The satellites will supply 30-centimeter decision imagery. Solely DigitalGlobe presently gives such detailed satellite tv for pc imagery commercially. Credit score: Airbus

Do you additionally deliver radar photographs?

We deliver satellite tv for pc photographs from the radar, which might be very fascinating in instances when you’ve clouds. Whenever you can’t get good optical knowledge, the radar is nice. And it brings you much more knowledge than an optical picture for maritime and protection purposes, for instance.

The radar enterprise sounds robust.

It’s. It’s smaller in measurement than the optical enterprise. It’s much less mature. We began optical 32 years in the past. We flew our first radar satellite tv for pc in 2007.

With radar, relying on the mode you will get totally different sorts of data. You’ll be able to measure actions of the Earth, even a couple of centimeters or millimeters in some situations. We provide entry to a complete satellite tv for pc constellation, made up of radar and optical sensors, with entry to third-party sensors. Our buyer will get a one-stop store. He can, for example, purchase a Direct Receiving Station and get entry to all of the capabilities he wants.

What’s your plan for Zephyr?

We name it a pseudo-satellite. We put a digital camera on it to make pictures that are very complementary to what we get from satellites as a result of it’s persistent imagery. We will monitor a medium-size metropolis with one Zephyr. This summer time within the U.S., we made a world report on flying the drone with out touchdown for nearly 26 days. We took hundreds of images from the drone at greater than 20 kilometers altitude, above air visitors. We hope this type of innovation will convey some disruptions within the providers we provide.

We additionally proceed to spend money on the whole lot on the ground associated to the processing, cloud-based options and digital platform to be sure all this knowledge is made out there in a simple approach. Straightforward to stream, straightforward to obtain, straightforward to have entry to the complete archives and straightforward to use for machine studying and analytics.

Is that ease mandatory as a result of new geospatial knowledge clients don’t have geospatial experience?

The variety of customers is growing and the extra customers we get, the much less they’re within the scientific parts of the geospatial business. A few of them want entry to info in our photographs with out touching the picture itself. We’re already delivering to hundreds of consumers. Perhaps in a couple of years, will probably be a whole lot of hundreds. That is what we’d like to put together for.

The second facet is machine studying and synthetic intelligence. If you need to leverage that, you want to put the info in a selected context with a sure depth of archives. It will encourage small corporations creating their very own purposes. We’d like to prepare for that.

Zephyr S, Airbus’ high-altitude pseudo-satellite, departed Arizona on its maiden flight July 11. It flew for nearly 26 days without refueling or landing, surpassing the flight endurance record of 14 days set by Zephyr 7 in 2010. Credit: AirbusZephyr S, Airbus’ high-altitude pseudo-satellite, departed Arizona on its maiden flight July 11. It flew for almost 26 days with out refueling or touchdown, surpassing the flight endurance report of 14 days set by Zephyr 7 in 2010. Credit score: Airbus

Small corporations typically want radar knowledge to practice their algorithms. You might have plenty of knowledge.

Sure. It’s true. We’d like to discover a means to make it extra out there. It’s simpler with optical knowledge as a result of the pictures are extra comparable. For radar, you want to determine which mode you employ. When you’ve got totally different pictures with totally different modes, you can’t do any studying on that. And there are fewer radar satellites on the planet than there are optical satellites. That’s why you see startups making an attempt to disrupt this market by bringing extra revisit, extra knowledge to the analytics corporations.

What do you consider Artificial Aperture Radar (SAR) on small satellites?

There are a variety of corporations making an attempt to push their small SAR ideas. I see some which are profitable. For some others, we’re a bit extra uncertain whether or not it really works both technically or commercially. We’re watching that very rigorously. I can’t point out names however I feel there are a number of corporations doing a very nice job that may work with us as nicely. We will discover this match collectively for the good thing about the purchasers: extra revisits including to our very beautiful larger decision presents. This can ramp up. The U.S. is among the most fascinating markets for that.

Are you targeted on different innovation?

Sure. Within the software world, we’re persevering with to make investments the place we will make the distinction for the purchasers. The secret is to create an ecosystem the place you deliver companions. It may be very small companions. You give them the proper entry. They develop the fitting purposes. And also you profit from it. Right here, my strategy is analogous to what Apple did with the App Retailer.