Two UK-built shoebox-sized supercomputer satellites set for lift-off

Two shoebox-sized supercomputer satellites, built in Scotland to monitor shipping movements from low-Earth orbit, are due for launch this afternoon.

Each nanosatellite has an onboard supercomputer with machine learning algorithms that can provide 'hyper-accurate predictions' of the locations of boats.

The the so-called 'Spire' satellites will calculate their arrival times at ports to help businesses and authorities manage busy docks, the UK Space Agency said.

They will join a fleet of more than 100 objects in low Earth orbit that work together to track the whereabouts of ships and predict global ocean traffic. 

Two of the satellites will launch at lunchtime today and another couple will launch on an Indian PSLV rocket on November 1.

The machines will be transported into space on a Soyuz launcher from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia at 12.20pm UK time. 

Spire nanosat under construction. Each has an onboard supercomputer with machine learning algorithms that provide predictions of the locations of boats. Two will launch from Russia today

Spire nanosat under construction. Each has an onboard supercomputer with machine learning algorithms that provide predictions of the locations of boats. Two will launch from Russia today

'Satellites are shrinking in size and growing in ambition,' said Science Minister Amanda Solloway.

'A satellite the size of a shoebox may sound like a gimmick, but these nanosatellites are driving a revolution in how we observe planet Earth – with each holding the power and intelligence of a regular satellite.

'The government is ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of this revolution and the Spire nanosatellites we have backed will help us do just that.'

Spire received more than £6 million in funding from the UK Space Agency to build the nanosatellites. 

The devices are designed, built, tested, integrated and assembled by Spire Global staff at the firm's headquarters in Glasgow. 

The spacecraft will join a fleet of more than 100 objects in low Earth orbit that work together to track the whereabouts of ships and predict global ocean traffic

The spacecraft will join a fleet of more than 100 objects in low Earth orbit that work together to track the whereabouts of ships and predict global ocean traffic

Despite being the size of a shoebox and weighing no more than standard cabin baggage, the nanosatellites have all the functionality of a conventional satellite. 

Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said nanosatellites are enormously powerful in what they can do.

The four being launched by Spire Global have been described as 'supercomputers' in space with more than a teraflop of processing power.  

'These four Spire satellites are aimed at making trade hyper-accurate, with technology that makes business more cost effective and efficient,' said Turnock.

'Scotland's space sector

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