UK's supercomputer nanosatellites to better predict ship movements
Britain has sent two satellites into space that are smaller than a microwave, yet are the smartest ever produced by the UK. On September 28, 2020 at 12:20 pm BST, four Glasgow-built Spire nanosatellites lifted off atop a Russian Soyuz launcher, two of which were equipped with supercomputers and intelligent machine-learning algorithms for tracking shipping across the globe.
If you've ever read The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, you may recall that an important plot point revolves around the merchant Antonio, whose money is all tied up in ships at sea, which sink, leaving him penniless. This illustrates the meaning behind the saying "when my ship comes in," which comes from a time when individuals would invest fortunes in merchant ships that would sail away to the other side of the world and may not be heard from for years – if at all.
Today, thanks to satellites and related technologies, ships and even small yachts can be tracked almost anywhere in the world by a fleet of almost 100 orbiters that allow companies to keep tabs on their assets. However, the system still has a lot of room for improvement and the next generation of satellite technology that will complement the existing fleet is designed to provide hyper-accurate predictions of vessel movements, which will aid in calculating their arrival times at ports to enable better management of docks.
The nanosatellites that will enable such capabilities are a fraction of the size of conventional satellites, yet have all the same functionality and are much smarter.
Built by Spire Global UK and developed under an ESA Pioneer program in partnership with the UK Space Agency, the latest satellites are not only the smartest, but also among the smallest ever made in Britain. The four craft include the supercomputer versions for tracking shipping and two others that will act as relays for sending the collected data to ground stations more directly, speeding up the time of analysis. Because such satellites are smaller and cheaper, they can be launched from British spaceports and large constellations can be put on station for constant, global coverage.
"Scotland’s space sector is very ambitious." says UK Government Minister for Scotland Iain Stewart. "I’m delighted the UK Government has invested £10 million (US$13 million) in this exciting Glasgow-based company. These nanosatellites will join an orbital fleet of over a 100 that predict global trade movements – aiming to make trade predictions hyper-accurate."
Source: UK Space Agency