SaraniaSat Wins $5M NASA InVEST Contract for Hyperspectral Thermal Imager

Member of Colorado Springs’ Catalyst Accelerator inaugural cohort is first to win government contract.

A photograph of the Moon taken from the International Space Station. The photograph was taken by European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst and posted as today's NASA Image of the Day. (Image source: NASA)

SaraniaSat, an aerospace start-up in Los Angeles, won a three-year, $5.1 million NASA In-Space Validation of Earth Science Technologies (InVEST) contract to test and advance the company’s Hyperspectral Thermal Imager (HyTI), being touted as a unique, disruptive technology for hyperspectral remote sensing, a technology also known as imaging spectroscopy used to detect and identify minerals, vegetation, and manmade materials.

SaraniaSat’s HyTI is one of three proposals selected for funding from among 25 received in response to NASA’s solicitation for the In-Space Validation of Earth Science Technologies (InVEST) program element A.49 of ROSES (Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences) 2017, supporting the Earth Science Division (Solicitation NNH17ZDA001N). Read more: NASA invests in aerospace start-up, university projects on CubeSat platform

Dr. Tom George, SaraniaSat CEO/co-founder and a former NASA scientist, serves as principal investigator of the Hyperspectral Thermal Imager (HyTI) space mission funded by NASA. SaraniaSat is one of six companies that participated in Colorado Springs’ Catalyst Accelerator inaugural cohort and the first cohort member to win a much-coveted government contract, officials say.

The Catalyst Accelerator is a defense and national security industry accelerator, headquartered on the Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation in Colorado Springs, Colo. The accelerator’s mission is to promote technology advancement for the warfighter and guide technology transfer from the government to the commercial market and vice versa. Its inaugural cohort, in which SaraniaSat and George took part, pursued solutions to terrestrial weather problems from January to April of 2018. The next cohort will be working on positioning, navigation and timing, GPS alternative technologies, and is slated to arrive on campus in September 2018.

SaraniaSat’s HyTI technologies that will be space validated for the first time via LEO flight are:

  • Hyperspectral Imager
  • TIR Imager Focal Plane
  • High-Performance Onboard Computing

SaraniaSat performs hyperspectral remote sensing, collecting imagery of the land surface using unmanned aircraft systems  (UAS ) or drones, other aircraft, and satellites. This information is then analyzed according to the needs of the clients, such as the agricultural industry, which looks for early detection of drought, lack of nutrients, fungal and insect infestations, changes in soil conditions, and other actionable information needed to maintain the health and well-being of vast acres of crops. These early warning signs are buried in a mass of hyperspectral imagery data continuously created in the process of monitoring large land surfaces.

Handling this kind of Big Data  is a challenge for satellites , which rely on radio waves of limited bandwidth to transmit data to earth. SaraniaSat’s unique solution – which is both a hardware and a software solution – includes processing all this data onboard the satellite using a supercomputer and transmitting the highest-priority, actionable output to Earth first, making hyperspectral remote sensing truly feasible for many verticals, including the military, who can use it to track both assets and enemy activities from space.

“Catalyst was literally a catalyst, because without them we would never have been able to submit this proposal,” George says. “You know how they say, ‘It takes a village?’ It definitely took a village to get this proposal right. There are so many ‘I’s to dot and ‘T’s to cross; any mistakes and the government rejects it outright. We could handle writing the technical part of the proposal, but there was so much else!

“Catalyst Accelerator offered us many great resources: PTAC [Procurement Technical Assistance Center] generated the very valuable compliance matrix, and SBDC-Boulder [Small Business Development Center, Boulder, Colorado] helped us in several ways, including funding for professional assistance in producing the financial budget documents. We could not have done it without the full support of everyone!” George adds.

SaraniaSat Inc.’s winning proposal describes the following objectives and benefits:

Design, build, assemble, test, and fly a 6U CubeSat Low Earth Orbital (LEO) demonstration of HyTI (Hyperspectral Thermal Imager) as a “pathfinder” enabling the next generation of high spatial, spectral and temporal resolution thermal infrared (TIR) imagery acquisition from LEO. Monitoring Global Hydrological Cycles and Water Resources, and developing a detailed understanding of the movement, distribution and availability of water and its variability over time and space is a critical need for NASA’s Decadal Strategy for Earth Observation from Space.

An associated need is the measurement of land surface dynamics by monitoring the continuous variability of land surface temperature (LST). While LEO hyperspectral TIR observations will enable detailed measurements of both hydrological and LST variability, the focus will be on enabling agricultural remote sensing.

HyTI will be designed to investigate the following global food and water security issues:

  1. Mapping both irrigated and rainfed cropland areas;
  2. Determining crop water use (actual evapotranspiration (ET)) of major world crops
  3. Establishing crop water productivity ("crop per drop") of major world crops.

SaraniaSat Inc. is a small company acquiring and processing advanced, high spatial and temporal resolution, hyperspectral remote-sensing imagery for multiple business verticals, including precision agriculture, environmental monitoring, forestry, water resource monitoring, weather prediction, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).

SaraniaSat's data analytics capabilities include rapid decimation of Hyperspectral "Big Data," Weak Signal Detection in high Background Clutter environments, and Actionable Information generation through Sensor Fusion. In 2017, SaraniaSat Inc. successfully completed an aircraft and drone remote-sensing campaign in the mid-western United States during the corn and soybean crop cycle for a "Big 6" Global Agricultural Company. SaraniaSat's near-term roadmap calls for the design and implementation of a Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) constellation of satellites acquiring high spatial and temporal resolution, Hyperspectral Remote-Sensing Imagery.

Additional companies involved in the inaugural cohort include: Adaptive Systems LLC in Colorado Springs, Colo.; Advanced Radar Company (ARC) in Boulder, Colo.; Guidestar Optical Systems Inc. in Longmont, Colo.; Koolock Inc. at Moffett Field, Calif.; and XplotraX in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Catalyst Accelerator has partnered with the Center for Technology, Research, and Commercialization (C-TRAC), Colorado Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) in the Boulder and Pikes Peak regions, Colorado Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) and Colorado Springs SCORE to provide a robust, mentor-driven curriculum for accelerator teams.

Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation is a research and development campus focused in aerospace, space, and defense technology headquartered in downtown Colorado Springs, Colo. The vision of Catalyst Campus is to create an economic development “cluster” to expand the aerospace and defense industrial base in Southern Colorado through a collaborative infrastructure platform that supports entrepreneurs and small businesses. This cluster environment stimulates economic growth and accelerates the development of new companies; promotes industry innovators, entrepreneurs, and start-ups; supports business training and workforce development; offers access to an applied research and development laboratory; and provides business development, support services and venture capital investment to accelerate innovation and the commercialization of technologies.

Courtney E. Howard  is editorial director and content strategist at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group. Contact her by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..