“The exploitation of Earth Observation satellites data, as EUMETSAT and Copernicus, has been fundamental for us to develop services able to provide updated weather conditions to pilots of ultralight, general aviation aircrafts and drones, but also to users in the field of alternative energy saving and of the so-called “green environment”. The support received from expert EO organizations for developing our services has been essential and it will still be in the near future”.ANDREA LORENZONI
The need to receive information on weather forecast and various environmental conditions is growing, also due to low-altitude increasing pollution which impacts clouds typology and visibility. These parameters are fundamental above all for pilots of general aviation aircrafts needing to receive updated and reliable weather conditions during air navigation. Earth Observation data can play an important role to compute various weather conditions as cloud composition, thunderstorms, strikes, rain, winds and their combination with other technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence can also help advance processing and analysis of such data.
For this new issue of Progressive meets Society, we have interviewed Andrea Lorenzoni, CEO at SpazioFuturo an innovative start-up offering services for general aviation, space, defence and security. In a short period of time, SpazioFuturo has received appreciation and important recognitions for its services based on satellite data exploitation. Selected among the innovative start-ups to be incubated within the ESA Business Incubation Centre for the innovative approach and great commercial potential of its services, recently SpazioFuturo has been recognized for its EMMA system (European MicroMeteorology for Aircraft) with the Best Maker Award of the Lazio Region at the 2020 edition of the Maker Faire, one of the biggest showcases of innovation and creativity globally.
Andrea Lorenzoni told us more on the journey of SpazioFuturo since its foundation and how Earth Observation data gave and will give a strong push to SpazioFuturo applications and services.
SPAZIOFUTURO is an innovative start up designing breakthrough solutions in the field of aviation, space, security and defence. How did you come up with the idea for SPAZIOFUTURO and how has your journey been so far?
AL: SPAZIOFUTURO was founded in Rome in 2014 as an innovative start-up with the purpose of developing and producing technologically advanced systems for General Aviation, Space, Defence and Security. Our initial idea was to offer a weather service for flight plan and during navigation to Ultralight and General Aviation aircrafts, through a satellite TLC connection, which resulted in our first autonomous research project in the aerospace field GABBIANO. Later on it evolved into EMMA, a service able to provide pilots of Ultralight and General Aviation aircrafts with meteorological data.
Nowadays we mainly focus on research and experimentation for the design of hardware and software products, services and advanced systems in the aerospace and alternative energy sectors using mainly Earth Observation satellites.
An ambitious start-up with an innovative idea which also put the basis for other important services. Can you tell us more about EMMA and the services you provide?
AL: EMMA offers a first solution to European pilots continuously requesting availability of aviation weather forecast data for flight planning and actual weather conditions updating during navigation. The service is specifically fitted for Ultralight flights (high geographical resolution, weather aviation data at various altitudes, etc) through a new airborne satellite modem and antenna, both tailored for this service and METEOSAT data to compute clouds and thunderstorms at various altitudes. In the field of Aviation, we have also developed AvS-Net, a service for meteodata distribution to build- up a national network including secondary airports and certified airfields. We are also active in the environmental monitoring with Green Meteo, an environmental and climate service pointed to national geographical areas to support all initiatives in the fields of alternative energy utilization (solar, wind,etc.), pollution reduction, agriculture precision, energy and water saving. A new service dedicated to the Mediterranean marine area is also under development.
A variety of services for a wide range of users, more specifically which is the target audience of the EMMA System and how are they benefitting from such service?
AL: Aviation weather forecast for flight planning and real-time data updating during air navigation have been always perceived by pilots as an important requirement. Specifically, the meteodata during the aircrafts flight, including approaching and landing phases into airfield and airports, is a very critical parameter, mainly for the safety of VFR (Visual Flight Rules) certified pilots. So, the target audience is mainly composed by pilots of Ultralight, General Aviation Aircrafts, users like gliders, aerostats, parachuting fields, flight schools, aeroclubs and drones. In addition, the need to collect and provide information on the meteorological conditions and various environmental conditions is worldwide growing, also due to low-altitude increasing pollution which impacts clouds typology and visibility.
Speaking of satellite data exploitation, can you tell us more on how you used satellite and how they added value to SPAZIOFUTURO solutions?
AL: The utilization of Earth Observation satellites data, such as EUMETSAT and Copernicus, has been fundamental for us to develop algorithms to compute various weather conditions as cloud composition, thunderstorms, strikes, rain, winds, visibility at those low altitude where the Ultralight and General Aviation pilots usually fly.
Many algorithms already developed, are now becoming applicable to the detection of incoming fog banks, which impacts airport traffic and functionality reducing time spent in the airports, travel time for passengers and goods, landing and take-off time. Furthermore, the detection of volcanic ash, natural dust and smoke is an additional feature. The atmospheric environment and visibility data are certainly suitable for Civil Aviation Authorities, for Airport Operations Management, for Meteorological Agencies. Now we are developing innovative algorithms, using machine learning and artificial intelligence features, to support the incoming worldwide environmental strategy in the fields of alternative energy utilization (solar, wind,etc.), pollution reduction, agriculture precision, energy and water saving.
How cooperation with key players in the space sector facilitated the access to and exploitation of satellite data?
AL: In our project EMMA, the cooperation with the ESA Research and Service Support in Frascati operated by Progressive Systems has been crucial, mainly during the initial phases to receive support and gain confidence with the exploitation of METEOSAT and Copernicus satellite data. We so learned to use extensively the Sentinel parameters for the development of many algorithms as the geolocated total columns of ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and methane, tropospheric columns of ozone, vertical profiles of ozone, geolocated clouds and aerosol information. The opportunity to acquire the support of Institutional Organizations such as ESA, ASI and LAZIO INNOVA for developing our services has been fundamental and it will still be in the near future.
Are you planning to use Earth Observation data for other SPAZIOFUTURO projects in the future?
AL: Yes surely. The evolution of new EUMETSAT satellites and the incoming launch of Copernicus will give a strong push to our existing applications and services, but will also open up new opportunities for satellite-enabled EO applications.
SPAZIOFUTURO has been established in 2014 and has nowadays a multi-year experience in the space sector. For a close, which piece of advice would you give to a young and innovative start up in 2021 that is taking the first steps in the sector and is willing to exploit Earth Observation data for their business?
AL: For young and innovative start-ups the first step to be taken is to acquire knowledge and confidence with satellite Earth Observation signals and to familiarize with the capability of mapping all the information which can be available from satellites. Collaborating with expert partners in the Earth Observation field can be of great help to start understanding how this information coming from space can give an answer to some real global needs.
To learn more about Andrea Lorenzoni
CEO of SPAZIOFUTURO, an innovative start-up since 2014, former manager at the Italian Space Agency (1989-2012) and previously in the Italian Air Force as Technical Coordinator of SICRAL, the national telecommunication satellite for mobile military services. Selected in 1978 as astronaut (payload specialist) candidate for Space Shuttle European SpaceLab flight.
Project Manager of two main Italian space initiatives, Tethered Satellite System (1984-1996), developed as per the bilateral agreement between ASI and NASA and MPLM -MultiPurpose Logistic Module (1996-2012), the Italian Component of the International Space Station (ISS). He also acted as National Representative in various European and International Boards and as Professor of “Ingegneria del volo spaziale abitato” at Scuola di Ingegneria Aerospaziale- La Sapienza University-Rome.