This summer, the brightest space start-ups spent time evolving their business plans and go-to-market strategies based on mentorship from industry veterans. The second class of Maxar‘s TechStars Starburst Space Accelerator Program have participated in Demo Day and presented their products and services to a virtual audience of investors, mentors and industry leaders.
The start-ups this year spanned the space industry, from manufacturers of high-pressure composites for propellant and pressurized tanks, to experts in remote sensing synthetic data generation. Maxar’s mentoring efforts focused on cohorts whose products and services align most closely with the company’s expertise in Earth Intelligence. The technologies focused on artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML), augmented reality and synthetic 3D environments, and, of course, high-resolution and high-revisit Earth imaging. Here’s a look at the four start-ups that Maxar mentored:
To have effective AI/ML models for sifting through vast amounts of geospatial intelligence (GEOINT), data scientists need a deep stack of training data for the models to learn from. It can be difficult to create these training data sets when some of the items for detection are rarely seen. This is where Bifrost comes in: they produce synthetic 3D training data that can accurately depict a wide range of objects and occurrences in satellite imagery.
Maxar chose to mentor Bifrost because the company saw the potential in this start-up’s technology to build AI/ML object detection models for Maxar’s next-generation WorldView Legion satellites. Synthetic training data has the potential to help our customers be “WorldView Legion-ready” when the satellites are launched in 2021.
SATIM provides decision makers with intelligence derived from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery. SAR allows for all-weather, day-night monitoring, and object detection and recognition capabilities. SATIM’s innovative software platform for interferometric processing enables detection of vertical movements of infrastructure with millimeter-level precision. SATIM also provides AI-trained SAR models for recognition of almost any man-made feature without the need for manual data labeling. Maxar believes SATIM can unlock the potential of SAR and AI in many different applications including transportation, maritime and defense.
The vRotors platform applied to remote drone operations offers a compelling view into the potential for human-machine collaboration in synthetic 3D environments. The Maxar mentors were encouraged by the velocity with which vRotors was able to “deploy” our Vricon 3D content into their remote flying environment, demonstrating the enormous potential for remote drone operations to leverage high-accuracy Maxar content in conjunction with real-time sensor data. This unlocks potentially valuable mission use cases in low-visibility and GPS-denied environments. We share the enthusiasm of the vRotors team and look forward to the future application of their technology that conceivably could operate to rehearse remote space operations from ground, space station and moon or Mars outposts.
More of Maxar’s customers are considering the benefits of representing their physical assets within a 3D environment as a living digital twin, increasing the demand for the most-current, high-resolution satellite imagery to provide context for how and why these assets are being impacted by external forces. This demand is greatest across the dense urban areas where 90% of Earth’s population live and work.
This is one reason Maxar decided to mentor the team at Urban Sky, a start-up that uses low-cost, stratospheric balloons to collect wide-area, sub-10 cm imagery. Maxar believes Urban Sky’s capabilities represent a compelling way to augment Maxar’s satellite-based imagery collections over these fast-changing urban environments.
Mentorship continues beyond the program
Maxar continues to support the cohorts the company mentored during last year’s program. Pixxel recently announced a seed investment of $5 million for a constellation of Earth Observation smallsats that will allow global coverage every 24 hours. Pixxel’s cutting-edge AI platform will pull data layers from this daily imagery for use in the agriculture, oil and gas and forestry markets. The first Pixxel satellite will launch in November 2020, followed by a second one next year.
All mentors at Maxar met virtually and mingled with this year’s 10 cohorts; their enthusiasm was inspiring. Maxar is proud to see this new talent introduce innovative capabilities that will push the bounds of space exploration.