Supporting Intelligence Communities: Australia ONI and Spire Partner to Develop Experimental AI-Powered CubeSat

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The Australian Office of National Intelligence (ONI) partnered with Spire to develop and deploy a CubeSat with advanced machine learning capabilities

ONI was formally established on December 20, 2018 after the passage of the Office of National Intelligence Act in November 2018. The office’s role is to “ensure Australia has an agile, integrated intelligence enterprise” to meet the country’s evolving security challenges. ONI ensures the National Intelligence Community’s talent is equipped with the best technologies. 

Spire supported ONI’s commitment to innovation by supplying best-in-class emerging technologies for the office’s first experimental satellite with machine learning capabilities.

NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY SATELLITE (NICSAT) PROGRAM

The Australian National Intelligence Community launched the NICSAT program to experiment with commercial satellite technologies, including the on-board application of advanced machine learning capabilities on CubeSats. Corporations, governments, and other organizations require increasingly advanced systems and processes to efficiently understand the large influx of data sent to Earth. AI-assisted on-board processing of space sensor data allows operators to unburden ground stations and other infrastructure and focus resources on analyzing mission critical information. Spire’s satellites can autonomously prioritize downloads, direct sensors, and provide actionable insights.

Following contract signature in March 2020, Spire and ONI (Australia’s Office of National Intelligence) began work on the NICSAT Satellite Djara (pronounced Jar-ra). Djara was named as a tribute and homage to the Ngunnawal (pronounced nuh-nuh-wol) indigenous Australian people who inhabit the Ngunnawal nation in which the Australian capital Canberra (itself a derivative of the Ngunnawal word for ‘meeting place’ – kamberri) is located. Djara is a Ngunnawal word for ‘stars’.

The close collaboration between Spire and ONI – together with the LEMUR satellite’s extensive spaceflight heritage – saw the rapid development of Djara from concept to launch in just 6 months, and to full operation in just 9 months. 


Machine Learning is the Mission

The mission focus of Djara is to conduct experiments with systems that enable the on-orbit collection and analysis of data including commercially available sensors and technologies such as Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) and Machine Learning systems on a chip. 

 


Solution – Intelligence On Orbit

The Spire and ONI solution collects and processes data on orbit and then leverages Spire’s cloud infrastructure to downlink, further process, and analyze the data. The partnership builds on Spire’s experience in the design, build, testing, and operation of 3U CubeSats as well as its extensive ground station network, licenses, and legal approvals.

 

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3U CubeSat

Spire contributed satellite operations and space systems engineering expertise, designing, developing, and manufacturing a 3U satellite and payload.

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Global Ground Network

29 ground stations dispersed globally and store-and-forward concept enhances the value of the  data,  providing  sufficient data distribution, latency, and volume.

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Data Processing & Delivery

Spire uses our cloud-based storage and computing infrastructure to process the measurements, and provide access to end-users through easy-to-use APIs

Results – Changing the Game of Space Data Collection and Analysis

On October 5, 2020, Djara arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) in a Cygnus Capsule launched on an Antares rocket as part of an ISS resupply mission. Djara was deployed by the ISS Astronauts from a NanoRacks satellite dispenser on November 5. The Djara Satellite is operating successfully and conducting on-orbit experiments.

While Djara is not an operational capability, it will provide the Australian National Intelligence Community the ability to explore the potential applications of commercially available small satellite systems.

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