SkyWatch’s TerraStream Adds Edge Computing for EO Satellite Operators

File photo: Skywatch Introduces New EarthCache-X. Credit: SkyWatch.

Waterloo-based SkyWatch TerraStream service is expanding into edge computing. They announced the new service, TerraStream Edge, at the recent Amazon Web Services re:Invent conference.

The service is aimed at providing significant cost savings to Earth Observation (EO) satellite operators, using what they described as “a suite of embedded edge computing software modules for on-orbit satellite computing platforms.” 

As detailed in our earlier coverage of SkyWatch, they provide two different but related services aimed at connecting satellite operators with terrestrial data seekers. Their “EarthCache” application allows customers and their systems to access a wide variety of satellite imagery from different satellite imagery providers. EarthCache gets requests from customers through an API or through SkyWatch’s own EarthCache console, forwards the request, and then either provides available imagery or tasks a satellite with getting it. 

Their recent service, EarthCache-X, expanded the available offerings to include new data types like Synthetic Aperture Radar, Digital Elevation Models, and even aerial imagery through a specific set of premium partners like ICEYE, Capella Space, and Satellogic. 

TerraStream, in turn, is aimed at satellite operators looking to bring their imagery to market. Using a specific payload, it can forward requests for imagery to the satellite operator, arrange the tasking, retrieve the information, and pass it along to “a robust ecosystem of integrated technologies and services across all aspects of satellite operations.”  A representative at Skywatch, in an email exchange with SpaceQ, described it as “Shopify for satellites.” 

In that exchange, the representative went on to explain that “TerraStream Edge expands on that proposition,” where the suite of “image processing software modules” mentioned in their release enables operators to “pre-process data before it gets sent down to Earth.” That ensures that downlink time and bandwidth is not wasted on “cloudy data that nobody is ever going to pay for.” 

In other words, it culls unneeded and unusable data in orbit, and lets operators only send actually-monetizable data through expensive downlinks down to Earth. 

Satellite imagery data tends to be huge, especially when you start integrating innovative techniques like multispectral or hyperspectral imagery. Transmission bandwidth to and from satellites is therefore often at a premium, especially for smallsat constellations with small antennas

Reducing that bandwidth usage is, according to SkyWatch’s release, estimated to “reduce operational costs for satellite operators by up to 70%.” If these claims bear out, this could be a dramatic cost savings for satellite operators. 

For their part, SkyWatch’s source said that the process hadn’t been easy. Calling it a “significant change,” they said that “we’ve had to port our software to run on embedded on-orbit computers, test the performance (we are currently in lab testing on the Unibap platform), and then work with our operator partners to deploy the software on their spacecraft.”  But they also believe it will be worthwhile. SkyWatch said that “edge computing is a transformational technology concept that has been late to arrive to the satellite industry,” adding that “as competition in EO increases…it is critical that Operators optimize their unit economics.” 

SkyWatch also said that, considering “today’s macroeconomic climate,” operators will be facing an investment environment that demands “rapid and predictable investment returns.” Companies in that environment will need every advantage they can get, and that includes ensuring that they don’t “waste time and money downlinking unsellable data.” These cost savings would help operators ensure “competitive pricing and a sustainable cost structure.”

SkyWatch Chief Product Officer David Proulx said to SpaceQ that “our goal is to streamline the remote-sensing data supply chain, to make this data more accessible and economical for all.” And in a statement, SkyWatch Chief Technology Officer Joel Cumming said that “we believe driving down the operational costs in Earth observation will improve profitability for satellite operators and improve fulfillment for data consumers.”

TerraStream Edge, according to SkyWatch, “will be made available to satellite operators via SkyWatch’s TerraStream platform in 2023.”

About Craig Bamford

Craig started writing for SpaceQ in 2017 as their space culture reporter, shifting to Canadian business and startup reporting in 2019. He is a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, and has a Master's Degree in International Security from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. He lives in Toronto.

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