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Infrared satellite data measures thermal output in maritime applications


Project aims to help maritime organisations improve the management of their energy consumption and industrial processes as well as support their surveillance needs.

Satellite Vu is a specialist in Earth observation technology and services. It monitors the temperature of any building on the planet in near real time to determine valuable insights into economic activity, energy efficiency and carbon footprint.

The company is also involved in water resource monitoring – mainly for effluent discharge detection and monitoring.

This supports decision-making around the world in building efficiency, sustainable finance, the energy industry, monitoring economic activity, natural disaster response, plastic detection and cleanup, and maritime security.

Delivering expertise for analysis of MWIR data

Satellite Vu was looking to capture airborne data to enable it to evaluate the capabilities of high resolution, space borne Medium Wave InfraRed (MWIR) data for measuring the thermal output of structures. To facilitate this major infrared satellite data project, Satellite Vu signed up to SPRINT to collaborate with the University of Surrey.

The project flew an MWIR camera on an airplane to collect data from areas of the Solent and surrounding maritime areas including boat/shipyards and marinas, simulating the data that would be captured from a space-based sensor.

SSTL Satellite showing infra red zoon capabilities


The University of Surrey provided Satellite Vu with advanced analysis techniques to process and validate the acquired imagery to show potential commercial maritime applications. These focused on the advantages that MWIR might have over Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data for small boat detection.

The project aimed to help maritime organisations to improve the management of their energy consumption and industrial processes as well as support their surveillance needs.

Satellite Vu has procured its first satellite from Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) for launch in early 2023, with the launch of a further six satellites starting in 2024 to position the company as the first global commercial satellite platform to offer high resolution MWIR data.

Outcomes of the SPRINT project included:

  • During the SPRINT project, Satellite Vu attracted £3.6 million in seed funding in a funding round led by Seraphim Capital. The investment round will be used to launch the world’s first satellite constellation capable of imaging the thermal footprint of any building on the planet every 1-2 hours.
    • According to Simon Tucker, VP of Business Development at Satellite Vu: “SPRINT definitely supported the impression to the investor that we can work with academic partners and organise complex projects. The use case being investigated was of interest to the funders.”

  • With consortium Partners: Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd and KISPE, Satellite Vu was awarded £999,698 UK Space Agency National Space Innovation Programme (NSIP) funding to ‘develop and launch the world’s first small satellite that will deliver high-quality thermal video and thermal still imagery of the Earth, initiating the design, build and integration of the infrared camera’.
    • Simon Tucker explains: “Being able to work with the University of Surrey on this project definitely supported the case that Satellite Vu can run projects. The demonstration of use cases already being underway with real data definitely helped.”

  • The SPRINT project has led to an academic/government/commercial partnership as part of the Forth Environmental Resilience Array (Forth-ERA), aimed at creating a living laboratory and providing environmental data and analytics for the Forth Valley region.

  • The satellites and applications development has also been supported with a European Space Agency (ESA) General Support Technology Programme (GSTP) grant.
    • Simon Tucker adds: “We have a GSTP running and near completion and some of the goals from this GSTP were directly guided by lessons learnt from the SPRINT project.”

  • Following the SPRINT project, the company has also raised £15 million private investment to ramp up plans to launch seven thermal and infrared imaging satellites into space, providing real-time data on how green every building on the planet is.

Traction for new investment and commercialisation opportunities

Tobias Reinicke, Chief Technology Officer at Global Satellite Vu said: “We are focused on the new insights that thermal Earth observation can bring to global challenges including climate change and managing the environment. With this SPRINT project, we were looking at the feasibility of using our data to more accurately detect heat in buildings, with a particular focus on maritime activity around ports.

“The expertise of the University of Surrey enabled us to test the MWIR data with a view to sourcing space borne data from satellites in the near future. This allows us to help organisations make economic and environmental savings by analysing which structures, buildings, warehouses or factories are wasting energy.

“The work provided a validation that the approach Satellite Vu and the University of Surrey took could be used as a template for subsequent commercial demonstrations. Since the project, Satellite Vu has collected over 125 hours’ worth of aerial campaign data across multiple different customer markets.

“It was also a positive message to share with our investors; that we have evaluated SAR against our data considering it is the main comparison when it comes to day and night acquisition. Being able to say that we have an advantage in some respect to SAR at detecting items like maritime assets (i.e. where they are small, near shoreline infrastructure or in rough seas), provided us with some good validation.”

Simon Tucker, VP of Business Development at Satellite Vu added: “Although we hadn’t worked with the University previously, the interaction was very good during the project and their data analysis expertise has helped us to refine our internal processing capabilities which are now far superior.

“The SPRINT project has created a template that can be used for other Proof of Concepts (POCs), enabling us to try out different use cases for the thermal dataset.

“The thermal dataset has provided us with real market traction and unlocked a host of new opportunities, as is shown by the significant investment interest and commercial potential to roll-out new projects.”

Simon Tucker, Vice President of Business Development at Satellite Vu

Bringing a real maritime focus

Dr Raffaella Guida, Head of the Remote Sensing Applications research group at the University of Surrey’s Surrey Space Centre (SSC) commented: “Despite not working in this particular sector previously, our university group was able to bring a real maritime focus on the surveillance aspects of earth observation thermal data. It was absolutely key to the project that we applied proven image processing techniques to the available datasets at that higher resolution.

“Our expertise provided Satellite Vu with insight on the quality of the MWIR data as well as validating their user case before launching the sensor on a space platform.”

Dr Raffaella Guida, University of Surrey

Read The Comparison of High-Resolution Airborne MWIR Data with SAR and AIS for Ship Detection pre-print paper.

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