Earth observation: Planetek will develop the In-Orbit Space Lab for ASI

Earth observation: Planetek will develop the In-Orbit Space Lab for ASI

A low earth orbit laboratory will test innovative workflows for Earth observation. Financed by PNRR funds, the In-Orbit Space Lab will be developed by Planetek Italia, D-Orbit and AIKO, to support the activities of the Italian Space Agency (ASI).

The Italian Space Agency (ASI) will use PNRR funding for Earth Observation projects: the empowerment of the Matera Space Centre and the development of an orbital laboratory called In-Orbit Space Lab. The aim is to offer support for the development of Earth observation with tools and services suitable for research, but also for the experimental development of applications that are accessible to both expert users and new players.

"In-Orbit Space Lab" is a distributed laboratory that includes a space segment, initially consisting of a low-orbit satellite equipped with observation instruments and a processing environment capable of dynamically loading and executing algorithms and neural networks developed on the ground, and a development environment that will be installed at the Space Centre in Matera. Users of the laboratory will be able to access Earth observation instruments, on-board high-performance computers, and services and applications already available as building blocks, which can also be distributed on different in orbit platforms.

In-Orbit Space Lab' is ASI's first 'multi-purpose' system, reconfigurable during its operational life and capable of demonstrating scenarios based on real-time data processing directly on board. The information will thus be processed, possibly integrated with navigation, telecommunication and positioning data and services, also with the help of Artificial Intelligence technologies, and made immediately expendable on the ground, satisfying the increasingly current user demand for rapid and direct access to information that is truly useful in users' workflows.

The In-Orbit Space Lab will be developed by the Temporary Grouping of Companies formed by Planetek Italia (Prime), D-Orbit, and AIKO.

Planetek Italia will be in charge of the overall integration of the entire system and the development of the software ecosystem, including an innovative Space App Store, which will guarantee true integration between ground and on-board systems, thus supporting a seamless multi-directional flow of data and information.
D-Orbit will be responsible for the construction and launch of the ION satellite platform that will provide the orbital infrastructure required for data capture, on-board processing and development environment.
AIKO will take care of the advanced automation of the mission, through its on-board software products for payload data processing and orchestration of the various applications running on board the platform.

"The In-Orbit Space Lab programme represents a great opportunity for research, development and immediate in-orbit demonstration of new Earth Observation mission operational concepts and totally innovative downstream applications," declares Cristoforo Abbattista, Head of Planetek Italia's SpaceStream Strategic Business Unit. "In fact, In-Orbit Space Lab lays its foundations in the ability to enable Earth Observation application services where space assets (Upstream) and terrestrial assets (Downstream) no longer have a clear separation, but work in unison in what we call Spacestream. This is made possible by the presence of a Space App Store, whose applications can process Earth observation data, its derivatives and all ancillary data in the best place to meet the needs of end users".

The Space Lab will therefore provide an opportunity to rethink the processes for producing information useful to end users, reducing time-to-market, and supporting the sustainability of commercial operators and technology providers.

"This project is a fundamental building block for the construction of an orbiting edge computing infrastructure, which will enable a significant step towards the effective exploitation and democratisation of data from space missions," said Stefano Antonetti, VP Business Development and Institutional Sales at D-Orbit. "Our ION Satellite Carrier was designed from the outset to be a key element of this infrastructure, and we are proud to work alongside our industrial partners and the Italian Space Agency, which in particular has shown vision and courage in undertaking this innovative mission."

Moreover, with a view to the future, 'In-Orbit Space Lab' lays the foundations for the creation of co-operating satellites and satellite constellations, both in terms of sharing data and computing resources and services directly in orbit, thanks to inter-satellite links.

"The integration of our products into this innovative mission is a demonstration of how there is tremendous value in developing and launching highly automated space missions," said Paolo Madonia, product manager for AIKO. "AIKO's vision is of a future with fully autonomous satellites in orbit, able to select and send to the ground only relevant and useful data acquired during space missions, and capable of requiring increasingly less complex ground operations."