SpaceChain, a Singapore-based startup known for its blockchain nodes in orbit, is launching a service that combines artificial intelligence (AI) with Earth imagery data. The service, called I-Sat and developed by SpaceChain’s U.S.-based subsidiary SC Solutions, aims to simplify the process of extracting valuable insights from Earth observation data using AI.

I-Sat utilizes natural language processing technology, similar to OpenAI’s ChatGPT, to generate answers to questions posed by users. What sets it apart is its integration of real-time data analytics, enhancing the accuracy and relevance of the answers provided.

Through the application of AI to satellite imagery, I-Sat was able to offer customers valuable insights into vegetation health and soil moisture levels, along with recommendations for enhancing plant health and productivity.

SpaceChain is actively seeking to expand its ecosystem by inviting Earth-imagery providers and application developers to join its platform. The company plans to facilitate payments to these vendors using its blockchain technology, creating a seamless and transparent transaction process. This initiative underscores SpaceChain’s commitment to leveraging blockchain and AI technologies to make Earth observation data more accessible and valuable for a wide range of applications.

SC Solutions, in its efforts to showcase the capabilities of I-Sat, conducted pilot projects centered around paper, pulp, and sugarcane production in Brazil.

For sugarcane plants, the project utilized a combination of optical imagery, synthetic aperture radar imagery, and open-source climate data. These data sources were integrated into a machine-learning model, enabling the accurate prediction of crop yields.

Mining is identified as another promising application for I-Sat, underlining the versatility and potential impact of this technology in various industries and sectors. By harnessing AI and Earth imagery data, I-Sat has the potential to provide actionable insights and recommendations that can lead to more efficient and sustainable operations across a range of domains.

Before shifting its focus to Earth observation and AI, SpaceChain established blockchain payloads in space. It currently operates seven SpaceChain nodes on satellites and the International Space Station, which process, transmit, and store data securely in space.

To develop I-Sat, SC Solutions leveraged partnerships and resources from industry leaders. The company joined Nvidia’s Inception Program and Google for Startups, which provide valuable support and resources to emerging businesses. Additionally, SC Solutions is actively collaborating with satellite imagery providers to enhance its offerings.

The goal of the platform is to simplify access to Earth observation data, making it more accessible to a wider range of users. By adding a layer of analytics and combining data from multiple providers, SpaceChain aims to provide users with valuable insights and explanations.

The generative AI tool used in I-Sat allows for natural language interaction with the platform. Users can pose questions or request information, and the platform’s language model will analyze the query and provide accurate answers along with explanations. This approach enhances the usability and accessibility of Earth observation data, making it a powerful tool for various applications and industries.

The Space Development Agency (SDA) is planning to launch 72 data-transport satellites in 2026, which will be part of the Tranche 2 Transport Layer Beta portion of a United States military mesh network. According to Frank Turner, SDA’s technical director, these satellites will have new and advanced capabilities, including direct-to-weapon communications. This represents a significant step forward in the development of military satellite technology.

The Tranche 2 Beta satellite order worth $1.5 billion was split between Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, both of which had previously been awarded contracts for Tranche 1 Transport Layer satellites. SDA, an organization under the U.S. Space Force, is working on creating a mesh network of military satellites in low Earth orbit known as the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture. This network includes both a data transport layer and a missile-tracking sensor layer.

During the contract award process for Tranche 2 Beta, SDA received six bids. Turner mentioned that the agency would have preferred to involve more vendors, but the complexity of the mission and the specialized requirements, such as the need for advanced radios and waveforms for military tactical communications, limited their options. As a result, the selection of experienced Department of Defense (DoD) contractors was necessary.

SDA has expressed a desire to collaborate with a broader base of prime contractors and avoid favoring incumbents. However, due to the unique and complex nature of the payloads in Tranche 2 Beta, only a few companies in the industry possess the capabilities to meet these specific mission requirements.

The Tranche 2 Transport Layer Beta satellites are designed to integrate with radios using Ultra High Frequency (UHF) and S-band frequencies, which are essential for military and intelligence operations in the field. Additionally, each satellite is equipped with an Integrated Broadcast Service (IBS) payload. IBS is a legacy Department of Defense (DoD) network used to transmit tactical and strategic intelligence as well as targeting data from various sources. Typically, IBS payloads operate from geosynchronous satellites like the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), which was developed by Lockheed Martin.

However, the challenge for the Transport Layer, according to Frank Turner of SDA, is to provide the same IBS service from low Earth orbit, which has never been attempted before. This is a complex task that involves developing the necessary technology and infrastructure to facilitate these communications from satellites in low Earth orbit, rather than the traditional geosynchronous orbit. Turner emphasized that this is a significant and challenging endeavor.

The primary goal of these capabilities is to fulfill the requirements and requests of the warfighter. They are looking for direct-to-weapon connectivity that can enable real-time engagements and communication with various assets in the field.

Furthermore, the Beta satellites will be tasked with establishing what Turner described as “extremely difficult” contacts with aircraft and missiles in flight. This indicates that the mission involves not only providing data connectivity but also facilitating real-time, dynamic communication and coordination with moving targets in the sky, adding an additional layer of complexity to the mission.

The Space Development Agency (SDA) is taking a commercial-like approach to build the Department of Defense’s (DoD) mesh network. This approach involves collaborating with a broad array of suppliers specializing in small satellites and laser communications terminals. SDA aims to create a flexible and diverse ecosystem of partners to meet its evolving satellite communication needs.

Frank Turner explained that the decision to choose two incumbent providers for Tranche 2 Beta was not taken lightly and was the result of extensive deliberation. SDA’s preference is to expand its supplier base and work with a wider range of contractors in the future.

SDA is actively engaging in discussions with military leaders to determine the necessary capabilities for Tranche 3 of the Transport Layer. This indicates the agency’s commitment to continually adapting and enhancing its satellite network to meet evolving defense requirements.

Currently, SDA is preparing for the launch of its second batch of Tranche 0 satellites and plans to commence launching 126 Tranche 1 satellites in September 2024. These Tranche 1 satellites will be equipped with inter-satellite optical links and are considered the infrastructure of the network. Tranche 2, which follows, will enable the network to support advanced communications capabilities, marking a significant milestone in SDA’s mission to create a robust and effective satellite communication system for the DoD.

SkyWatch, a satellite data distribution company headquartered in Ontario, Canada, has introduced a novel imagery product that combines both radar and optical images. SkyWatch operates the EarthCache platform, providing customers with access to commercial satellite data. The company has recognized a growing demand for integrated imagery that merges visually appealing optical satellite pictures with data from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites, which have the ability to capture images at night and through cloud cover.

David Proulx, Chief Product Officer at SkyWatch, emphasized that, at any given moment, a significant portion of the Earth’s surface faces atmospheric conditions that challenge or even prevent optical satellite image capture.

This new service offered by SkyWatch enables EarthCache customers to obtain a SAR image of the same area they are interested in from their optical capture and then overlay this data. SAR’s advantage lies in its capability to capture images under all weather conditions, making it invaluable for monitoring and responding to critical events when traditional optical satellite imagery is hindered by cloudy or adverse weather conditions.

In addition to its new imaging product, SkyWatch has revealed that it is now offering synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data from Umbra which is a startup headquartered in Santa Barbara, California, which operates a constellation of six radar satellites.

James Slifierz, CEO of SkyWatch, highlighted that Umbra’s inclusion in their virtual constellation, which already comprises over 400 satellites, further enhances their ability to assist customers in solving intricate challenges within the Earth observation domain.

Joe Morrison, Vice President of Commercial Experience at Umbra, praised SkyWatch for being among the pioneers in advancing the Earth observation industry into the modern era by adopting a web-based, API-first tasking approach. This approach makes it more accessible and efficient for users to request and obtain specific satellite data for their needs.

Dish Network has submitted a request to utilize the 12 GHz spectrum for fixed terrestrial broadband services within the United States. This comes on the heels of regulatory authorities rejecting Dish Network’s previous proposal for mobile services in the same spectrum band due to concerns about potential interference with other satellite operators.

Dish’s pursuit of fixed broadband services in this spectrum range is driven by the belief that providing services to stationary locations, rather than to mobile customers, would substantially reduce the risk of interference with other users of the same spectrum. Jeff Blum, Dish’s Executive Vice President of External and Legislative Affairs, highlighted that the predictability of fixed locations simplifies coordination and sharing efforts, in contrast to the dynamic nature of mobile users.

This endeavor is part of Dish Network’s larger strategic plan, and it involves collaborating with RS Access, a spectrum holding company. Together, they aim to upgrade their existing licenses in the 12 GHz band to offer terrestrial 5G services, contributing to the evolving landscape of connectivity and communication.

Originally, Dish Network had intended to use frequencies spanning from 12.2 to 12.7 GHz, which fall within the Ku-band, for a high-power, two-way mobile service that would support its expanding wireless network across the United States. However, concerns arose from satellite operators such as SpaceX’s Starlink and OneWeb, who use these frequencies for user terminal connections in their satellite broadband networks. These operators voiced worries about potential disruption to their services if Dish’s mobile service plan proceeded.

In response to these concerns and recognizing the challenges associated with sharing frequencies in a mobile context, Dish Network has shifted its focus to fixed terrestrial broadband services in the same spectrum. This shift reflects the company’s commitment to finding a viable solution that minimizes interference while still harnessing the benefits of the 12 GHz spectrum for delivering efficient and reliable broadband connectivity to customers across the United States.

Dish Network’s competitor in satellite broadcasting, DirecTV, primarily owned by U.S. telecommunications giant AT&T, has also voiced concerns that millions of its customers would face significant detrimental interference if Dish Network’s mobile service proposal were to proceed.

Both Dish Network and DirecTV currently utilize frequencies within the spectrum band for delivering linear television programming to their customers.

Dish Network, alongside RS Access and other participants of the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition, had initially contended that mobile services could coexist harmoniously with other users of the spectrum. However, despite these claims and numerous interference studies, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made the decision in May to reject their mobile service plan.

In response, the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition submitted a formal regulatory filing to the FCC on August 9. This filing advocates for an alternative approach, suggesting that the FCC should consider opening up the frequencies ranging from 12.2 to 12.7 GHz for the provision of high-powered, two-way fixed broadband services instead. This new approach aims to address the concerns raised by various stakeholders while still harnessing the potential of the 12 GHz spectrum for delivering enhanced broadband connectivity services.

In addition to the discussions surrounding the 12.2-12.7 GHz spectrum, the FCC has proposed the potential for flexible terrestrial wireless usage in the adjacent 12.7-13.25 GHz spectrum range.

The proposal to allocate more than 1,000 MHz of spectrum spanning from 12.2 GHz to 13.25 GHz for terrestrial communications holds the promise of positioning the United States as a frontrunner in global 5G competitiveness. The coalition supporting this initiative emphasized the potential for the U.S. to surpass international rivals, including China, and regain a leadership role in the advancement of 5G technology.

While Dish Network currently does not offer fixed broadband services, its affiliated company, EchoStar, does provide such services through a constellation of geostationary satellites. Notably, Dish Network and EchoStar recently unveiled plans to merge their operations, aiming to integrate their terrestrial and space-based connectivity solutions.

Despite the discourse surrounding these developments, representatives from SpaceX, OneWeb, and DirecTV have not provided official statements or comments concerning their intentions to deliver high-powered, two-way fixed broadband services within the 12 GHz spectrum band.