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Loft Orbital Selected to Develop Next Generation Space-Based Edge Computer for Space Force

Updated: Sep 30, 2021


The explosion in cloud computing and mobile networking that has happened in the past decade, the so-called “Internet of Things” (IoT), is driving changes in how connect devices and share information. Smartphones, cars, game systems, even kitchen appliances are now connected to cloud services as what are called “edge devices.”* Edge devices collect and process locally-relevant information, then share data both with users nearby, and with the cloud to combine that local data with other edge devices to perform global tasks and generate valuable insights.

Now, evolution in connectivity is extending into the space layer, where spacecraft are beginning to act as parts of a growing, connected network rather than bespoke devices. The ability to deploy more, interconnected satellites is driving a need for an architecture to process, analyze, and communicate their data in a timely and actionable way. Enter Loft Orbital Solutions.

Loft is proud to have been selected by the Department of Defense’s AFWERX to help lead this space-based edge computing realization for delivery to the U.S. Space Force. Loft’s edge computer, based on powerful, reprogrammable, proven architectures already in use in terrestrial applications, will be included as a key part of its modular Payload Hub for future Loft satellites. It will enable the use of powerful software and algorithms onboard the spacecraft to process payload and telemetry data. Coupled with wideband intersatellite links, they can also operate as true edge devices, processing their own and other connected satellites’ data. This is fundamentally changing how spacecraft can connect and act as a system rather than individual nodes of an architecture consisting of thousands of diverse devices.

Perhaps the most easily realized use case for space-based edge processing is remote sensing. By hosting advanced algorithms onboard the edge processor alongside a hyperspectral imager, customers can support energy companies monitor emissions at a refinery. Images analyzed onboard can detect emissions from a refinery site and provide that information directly to the energy customer’s cloud.

The data would then be combined with other refinery sensors’ data to adjust equipment to reduce harmful emissions. Currently, raw images must be processed by the customer before being imported into the refinery’s cloud, costing valuable time.

Loft’s edge processor can also allow commercial customers to seamlessly provide sensors’ data to both commercial and government end-users by hosting multiple software algorithms simultaneously. This will allow both commercial and government customers to deploy their unique algorithms to analyze data from a payload before delivering the results to a commercial cloud or government cloud such as Cloud One. It allows customers to regularly upload new software or algorithms to the spacecraft – perhaps adding new functionality such as improved imagery processing.

Loft’s technical approach is built around providing modularity and simplicity to its customers - its Loft’s Payload Hub and now its edge processor addressing hardware and data processing, respectively. By hosting end-user-specific or -provided algorithms onboard, the end-user-ready data can be delivered directly to their clouds quickly and easily. Space is one step closer to simple.

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