As you may have heard, it gets a little crowded in space, between a thousand satellite constellations à la SpaceX’s Starlink and the millions of bits of space junk collected from decades of launches. But it’s also getting a bit crowded in space surveillance space, with a number of companies vying for observation systems to help satellite and launch operators protect their assets from twirling debris.
One of the newest entrants to the field is Vyoma, a German company that stems from TUM, founded by Christoph Bamann, Luisa Buinhas and Stefan Frey. Vyoma’s goal is to track objects in low Earth orbit (LEO) using a constellation of observation satellites, then use machine learning to automate collision avoidance procedures for customer satellites.
“Of the 1 million objects larger than a centimeter orbiting the Earth today, less than 5% are regularly tracked, according to ESA. That’s why satellite operators fly blindly and the risk of an accidental collision is high,” Frey told MovieUpdates.
At present, LEO monitoring is mainly limited to military operations that monitor larger space debris, about 10 centimeters in diameter. And, given the military source, that data isn’t widely shared, of course. As such, there is a demand for private companies such as Vyoma to develop their own tracking programs, programs that are much more sensitive and can be shared internationally.
While competitors in aerospace like LeoLabs mainly use ground-based observation methods, Vyoma plans to launch its own space-based monitoring system — it wants to get an up-close and personal look at space debris and monitor debris from a small constellation of camera-toting satellites. to hold .
It may seem counterintuitive to monitor space junk by adding more satellites to orbit, but this system has an advantage.
“Moving in space allows us to observe objects up to 30 times a day, covering almost 100% of all dangerous objects of one centimeter and above. The high frequency of observations allows us to make very accurate predictions of the trajectories of debris objects,” Buinhas tells MovieUpdates. “In addition, we can deduce from the images how the objects behave, for example when they tumble, whether they have a uniform rotation, what properties they have, such as dimensions, materials, etc. .”
The satellites have two modes: monitoring and task tracking. In surveillance mode, each satellite will continuously image the environment around it during its orbit – all objects it sees are cataloged in the Vyoma database. In task-oriented tracking mode, one or more satellites will focus on a single object or event and provide real-time data.
Vyoma will then use machine learning to synthesize that data to issue near-instant collision avoidance commands to customers’ satellites.
In that regard, Vyoma competes with Kayhan Space and Slingshot Aerospace, who are also competing to become something of an international air traffic control center for LEO. However, Kayahan and Slingshot Aerospace get their tracking data from multiple sources, while Vyoma’s data is generated internally (well, off-planet). The approach is most similar to that of Scout, who is also planning a satellite network for detecting optical debris.
That said, Vyoma hasn’t launched its satellites yet, so it currently uses external data from partners on the ground to deliver its services. But the company is advancing toward its launch goals.
Last year, Vyoma closed pre-seed and seed rounds (of undisclosed sizes), starting production of its space cameras. It also won the German NewSpace Award and the Weconomy Award, demonstrating its strength in the European market. (Most of the other major players are based in the United States.)
Vyoma hopes to test its image processing procedures in space later this year, with the goal of launching its pilot satellites by the end of 2023.
“Launch costs have fallen dramatically in recent years, leading to a remarkable increase in launches,” said Frey. “The more satellites in space, the more dangerous situations will arise, the more urgent are space traffic management solutions like ours. We want to ensure that the space is also safe for future generations.”