Galaxia Mission Systems receives a unique software-defined Earth observation contract (2023)

Halifax-based Galaxia Mission Systems recently received a $1.7 million award from CSA's Space Technology Development Program (STDP) for "the first software-defined Earth observation (EO) platform."

The contract is for a demonstration of its Möbius Constellation, which CSA describes as a "software-defined Earth observation platform" and Galaxy as "Space-Based Sensors as a Service" (SSaS). However, the real goal of Galaxy is to provide computing power in space based on the kind of familiar Earth hardware that powers modern artificial intelligence, and to create the tools and environments that make these platforms available to governments and small businesses.

In an interview with SpaceQ, founder and CEO Arad Gharagozli talked about the company and the award.

Dalhousie i LORIS

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Like many Canadian space startups, Galaxia began as a university space organization. Gharagozli went to Dalhousie and while studying electrical engineering, his interest in space led him to found the "Dalhousie Space Systems Laboratory". The lab joined Canada's CubeSat program and in 2018 received a $200,000 grant to design and build the CubeSat:Reconnaissance satellite for imaging in low orbit, or LORIS, which was intended to test new satellite frame materials and battery storage technology, and had multispectral imaging capabilities.

After graduating, he continued to lead the mission, so Arad founded Galaxia in 2020 to continue working on the LORIS project. Arad said that "we've done a lot of R&D... [and] a lot of assembly, integration and testing at Galaxia," completing LORIS in 2021. Once LORIS was complete, Gharagozli and Galaxia could switch to their focus right now: space computers.

Galaxy and space computing

Gharagozli said the company's goal is to "reimagine how computing is done in space." They want to focus on "developing computers that break away from traditional satellite computers...establishing critical aspects, but we wanted to make computers that are somewhat developer-friendly." Gharagozli used the analogy of the iPhone, where developers don't have to worry about programming "from scratch," but instead have tools and layers of software that allow them to focus on building an app that can use satellite computers to solve problems and accumulate the necessary information. Gharagozli said they want to "allow people of any experience who have great ideas for the space to come and play on this court."

Like Apple, Galaxy produces its own standardized hardware to allow users to enjoy this security. When asked if they are more of a "software" or "hardware" company, Gharagozli said that they are definitely more of a hardware company, specifically "a hardware-focused company with software solutions." Two of its current products, ARM-based "Firefly" CPUs and NVIDIA-based "Raven" GPUs, are sold as standalone hardware, but Gharagozli explained that they have "a software layer on top of the... boards which puts the computer at the heart of the satellite and lets you design everything around it." He said it "makes satellite design a very elegant process that it wasn't before."

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Combined with Earth observation payloads such as Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) or multispectral and hyperspectral cameras, this will allow users to do as much computation on the satellite itself as possible before having to send the information back to Earth for further processing. And with the software layer that Galaxia provides to interface with the hardware, they also aim to make building those space programs and applications as easy as possible.

Gharagozli was particularly encouraged when talking about his NVIDIA-based GPU hardware. Since GPU-based artificial intelligence and satellite-based edge computing are key innovation spaces right now, mixing the two creates many opportunities. Gharagozli said he is "very impressed with what [NVIDIA] has built in terms of their development environment," and thinks their "JetPack" SDK (Software Development Kit) and healthy and growing community are worth the effort. . "Our users are not sitting around waiting for Galaxia to give them something. You can go and find an additional library that makes your parallel computing 10 times faster because someone else created it and you can import it.”

Galaxia is an NVIDIA partner, Gharagozli said, and they are working with NVIDIA to adapt their roadmap to NVIDIA's offerings. They focus on issues such as power consumption, parallel load balancing between connected satellites, and in particular radiation mitigation, as well as adding layers of software and what he described as a "virtualized environment". He said they are particularly useful for machine vision; that they are "very good at being able to simultaneously process images or image streams". This will benefit your Earth observation clients.

Mobius constellation

Galaxia recently received $1.7 million from CSASTDPtake a demonstration of your Möbius constellation into space. According tohis release(PDF), this initial launch will feature a pair of satellites that "will take two years to build and one year to test," with a launch scheduled for sometime in 2025.

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Built and operated by Galaxia, Möbius will be the first satellite constellation developed in Atlantic Canada. Gharagozli noted that Galaxia is "the only satellite manufacturer east of Montreal" and said it will "give software developers access to build applications and run them on the satellite." Unlike your existing user-owned hardware, the Möbius capability will be available to anyone who builds an app for it. The goal is to make opportunities as easy and accessible as possible; Galaxia will manage satellite assignments and payloads, load sharing between satellites within the constellation and overall mission management, so customers can focus solely on their applications. Gharagozli said the goal is to have small teams of three people that can take advantage of space computing and sensors.

The initial focus is Earth observation; CSA called Möbius "a software-defined Earth observation platform" that "will host a number of powerful and versatile space-based sensors on a common approach basis." Their marketing materials for Constellation refer to it as "Spatial Sensor System as a Service (SSaS)". But while Möbius will include a multispectral camera, and Gharagozli admits that "many of our applications are Earth observation," he believes there are other applications.

He pointed to a company focused on blockchain applications, which is exploring space solutions, as they are interested in whether satellite computing can add an extra layer of security for their offline, terrestrial applications as a whole. . He is also interested in space-based "Line of Sight" computing, where IoT devices on remote critical infrastructures can be directly monitored and controlled by satellite applications within line of sight, without the potentially long delay caused by data transmission to and from ground computers.

Gharagozli is excited about non-EO apps like this, saying that "they're running a hackathon, our goal is at the end of the summer, to open the doors and tell people this is here."

Even with the EO applications, Gharagozli made it clear that "we are not developing the tools, other than the specific ship detection tool we are working on...the spacecraft applications are being designed by our partners." He returned to Apple again, saying that Apple developers know the capabilities of the device and the development environment they work in, so they can create apps to take advantage of those capabilities without needing to know every detail of how the phone works. Möbius is supposed to work the same way, where data flow and computing power are "provided to our developers in an easy-to-use software package."

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Developers don't even have to worry about where the satellites are or what they're looking at; the constellation itself, when ready, will be able to manage requests and provide data where it is needed on a first-come, first-served basis, with a special level of priority access for government and defense clients. Galaxia funds its platform by claiming a percentage of development license revenue, as well as a per-minute fee. He said it would "operate similarly to Amazon."

In a statement, Gharagozli said his goal is to "achieve historic progress for the global space industry while bringing high-tech industries, jobs and opportunities to Atlantic Canada."

A growing galaxy in Atlantic Canada

Regarding working in Atlantic Canada and Galaxy's status as a startup in general, Gharagozli was very positive. Gharaghozli and Galaxia were part of Emera ideaHUB, whose founding director is Margaret Palmerhe said thatGharagozli has "developed an innovative technology with enormous market potential."

Gharagozli said the company is doing well, thanks to some "small pockets of grants" at the start, from this new $1.7 million STDP contract, and from some other ocean and marine business related to its Atlantic Canada location. The company grew to 13 people, mostly engineers, most of them people who worked on the LORAS mission. He said he was happy to work with these people and that "it was a dream" to be able to attract them. He said that "everyone really enjoys their work" and the projects they are involved in.

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When asked about fundraising beyond these grants and contracts, Gharagozli said "we are not diluted at all." They are still wholly owned by Halifax, and Gharagozli is the sole founder. He said they are "seeing strong demand from various sectors" which means a shorter path to sustainability and profitability.

They plan to start the funding round "in mid-to-late summer," but their track record gives them confidence that they can "raise the value of the company without getting in too early."


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