SkyWatch Awarded Innovative Solutions Canada AI and Big Data Analytics Contract

Landsat image of agricultural land in Egypt. Credit: USGS/NASA.

Waterloo based SkyWatch was awarded a $156k contract from the Innovative Solutions Canada program via the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

The contract stems from the CSA’s Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Analytics for Advanced Autonomous Space Systems challenge managed through ISED’s Innovative Solutions Canada program.

The Innovative Solutions Canada program has replaced the former Build in Canada Innovation Program. The program is designed so that the government is the first customer of new innovative products. The product must be of use to government and have the potential to make it to market.

According to the CSA, the challenge SkyWatch is trying to meet “is to apply artificial intelligence and big data analytics to bring tangible advancements in the operation and utilization of space assets in support of government operations, public safety, public health and discovery.”

In the case of this challenge, SkyWatch will have access to a variety of data repositories including the following from which to work from;

  • Government of Canada Open Data Portal;
  • National Earth Observation Data Framework Catalogue (NEODF);
  • NASA Open Data Portal;
  • Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC);
  • Minor Planet Centre;
  • USGS Landsat Global Archive;
  • Copernicus Open Access Hub.

The CSA lists the following as part of their desired outcomes and considerations;

  • Improved coordination and efficiency in task planning, for example, to minimize redundancy between disparate missions imaging the same targets (which can even cause interference in the case of active sensing);
  • Improved identification of and recovery from anomalies, hazards or performance degradation by discovering new information in mission telemetry. Such discovery could lead to new techniques/calibration and to maintain/improve performance and extend mission duration. In the case of the International Space Station (ISS), this could include taking advantage of its many cameras to draw knowledge on the state of the ISS structure over time and/or insights into the surrounding environment and potential shielding strategies;
  • Learning subtle new phenomenon to enable autonomous prediction of natural or man-made disasters, which could allow Earth observation platforms to transition from reactionary imaging in response to crises to new services in predicting and preventing disasters, (including fires, floods, disease outbreak, space weather events, etc.);
  • Enhancing space exploration by combining data and applying relevant new techniques to the datasets from the variety of telescopes and sensors looking into space, or observing other celestial bodies, to contribute to new discoveries and an improved understanding of processes relevant to space exploration or astronomy;
  • Other discoveries not envisioned above, but enabled by applying new techniques to the wealth and depth of available space-based data.

In a press release James Slifierz, CEO of SkyWatch said “SkyWatch’s team of engineers has been working successfully for many years now at combining data from multiple Earth observation missions to help a variety of companies and organizations derive new insights from these datasets. We look forward to continuing our close relationship with the Canadian Space Agency on this important new project that would enable the agency to better utilize their fleet of imaging satellites.”

The challenge seems well suited to SkyWatch who won the global NASA Space Apps competition in 2014 by creating an application that aggregated readily available NASA astronomy from multiple missions.

The company has since pivoted from astronomy data to Earth observation data and launched their EarthCache platform. In February of 2018, SkyWatch announced the completion of a $4 million seed round of financing.

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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