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Flyby, a small enterprise delivering challenging Remote Sensing Solutions

Flyby is an independent Italian SME company, devoted to applied research and innovative technology development in remote sensing. Interdisciplinary background and expertise in various fields allow Flyby to face complex challenges in applied research and to develop innovative products that bring a high added value to the many Institutional and Private customers.

The company conducts two lines of business: the first is represented by the constant involvement in various R&D projects funded by the European Space Agency (ESA), the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the European Commission (EC) and by other regional agencies; the second line consists in selling the commercial products that derive from prototype applications developed in the former R&D projects.

In the following are described two sample experiences of the company:

  • Flyby’s involvement in research project FISHSAT
  • The success story of the product SOLARSAT.

FISHSAT is a project funded by ESA in the framework of IAP program, with Flyby acting as Prime Contractor and UK and Italian SMEs as Subcontractors.

The goal of the project is to define the technical feasibility and the viability of a new integrated system capable to assist fisheries in their fishing and marketing operations and, at the same time, to permit a better control of the fishing activities by the sea authorities.

The second experience regards the success story of Flyby’s product SOLARSAT.

SolarSAT system uses weather satellite data to estimate the productivity of potential solar power plants and to monitor the performance of existing ones. The approach helps to give a faster return on investments in clean solar energy.


Project Objectives:The Project addresses the needs of two main stakeholders: Fisheries and Sea Authorities (enforcement). Fisheries involved so far are those making coastal fishing with small-size boats.Such fleets of relatively small vessels are recognized by the Common Fisheries Policies as the best suited to perform fishing in a sustainable manner, because of their limited impact on the sea environment.

The need for better product traceability, better market prices, lower operational cost and reduction of illegal an unregulated fishing represents therefore a common ground between both stakeholders. FISHSAT can build on this, through an innovative integration of space assets with conventional information and communication technologies.

The FISHSAT feasibility study aims at designing, developing and validating a first basic prototype of a distributed system (onboard & onshore) that provides information services for more efficient, more compliant and more sustainable fishing. The study will also identify the viability (incl. legal, political, financial, technical, operational aspects) and define the business roadmap for the implementation of the FISHSAT system and its associated services towards acceptance and commercialization.


Fisheries need to secure the long term health of fish resources and the livelihoods of the fishermen who depend on them. There is a need for lower cost, e.g. by reducing fuel consumption per catch, better prices for the fish, e.g. by better connection to market demand. Fisheries will benefit from a sustainable use of the sea’s resources, fair competition, and reliable stock estimation and quota setting. Sea Authority aim to effectively enforce law by monitoring fishing activities and by repressing illegal fishing practices.


FISHSAT is conceived as an innovative system for sustainable fishing. FISHSAT will consist essentially in the provision of information services to both fisheries and Sea Authorities by the integration of space, airborne and terrestrial technologies (communication, remote sensing, local sensing). Its services are intended to provide Sea Authorities with a more effective law enforcing capability, while providing fisheries with a tool and service that ease their activities, reduce costs and allow for more profitable sales. An appealing Quality Mark on sustainable fishing is to be defined. The Sea Authorities are currently represented by the Italian Coast Guard, the fisheries by Lega Pesca (IT) and National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO).

The project will study user needs and requirements, design, develop and prototype a system and service, that will be validated through an in-field proof of concept involving fishing boats. A financial and non-financial viability will be performed and a roadmap towards commercial deployment, possibly via an IAP Demonstration Project, will be laid out.

Expected Main Benefits:

In the medium term, FISHSAT aims to:

  • Avoid overfishing in depleted areas
  • Ease the submission of catch reports for legal purposes, thus avoiding errors and penalties
  • Collect proof of illegal practices (for use by the Sea Authority), thus giving compliant vessels a fairer chance
  • Save cost of the Sea Authority patrol boat intervention
    In the longer term, the following benefits are targeted:
  • Reduction of fishing effort per catch
  • Improve catch strategy and market strategy, to better match market demand, obtain better prices and reduce bycatch.
  • Increase of product appeal by introducing a quality mark based on traceability and sustainability data.
  • Reduction of illegal and unregulated fishing due to more effective control by the Sea Authority.

Service Concept:

Support to Fisheries

  • Improve fishing capability.

- Biological and physical sea parameters derived from EO imagery will be used to assess the presence of fish in the permitted areas. The suggestion of most productive zones should contribute to reduce the fishing effort.

  • Improve marketing capability.

- Data on catches will be anticipated to fishery ground centre while vessels are still at sea, in order to setup an early marketing strategy. – A quality mark will be devised based on data acquired during the fishing session. Product traceability will account for both its healthiness and sustainability. Products will be labelled with such a mark.

  • Improve crew safety.

- Message exchange between shore and fisheries will be possible in case of critical situations. – Support to the respect of fishing regulation. – The onboard system will include an electronic logbook of catches. The mandatory Catches Report will be submitted automatically to the Sea Authority ensuring compliance.
Sea areas where fishing is forbidden will be displayed to boat crew in real time. A warning will be raised in case some illegal activity is initiated in such areas.

Support to Sea Authorities

  • Improve the Sea Authority monitoring capability.

- A SatCom based AIS forwarding system installed on the fishing vessels will let the Sea Authority know also about the position of some boats whose AIS signal would be beyond reach from coast. – Data sensed onboard about e.g. the status of net and line deployment will allow the Sea Authority to know about fishing boat behaviour. Sea temperature and other data for statistic analysis can be collected through the fishing vessels. – Catches data recorded onboard will allow the Sea Authority to know about catch amount and type

  • Improve the Sea Authority capability to fight illegal fishing practices.

-In case some specific illegal practices are initiated by the boat, the Sea Authority would be informed immediately and could rely on the recorded data as a proof of crime.
-An unmanned helicopter UAV, launched from a coast guard vessel could be used to identity an unrecognized boat.

Space added value:

EO satellite data will be used to estimate several sea parameters and to derive meteorological information in support to conventional forecasts. Such data will support the identification of most productive regions, thus allowing a more effective catches strategy.

Satellite communication will be used to complement terrestrial wireless technology in offshore areas, where the latter is not effective.

GNSS – The Global Positioning Systems (possibly the future Galileo system) will be used to track vessels and to collect the geo-references for catches traceability.

FishSat service concept

Current Status:

The project has kicked off in September 2011 and is currently in the stage of detailed interaction with the users to map user needs and requirements.

SOLARSAT: Flyby’s SolarSAT system uses weather satellite data to estimate the productivity of potential solar power plants and to monitor the performance of existing ones. The approach helps to give a faster return on investments in clean solar energy.

Background Project. Making the EO satellite information available to photovoltaic plant design & monitoring is a result of the ENVISOLAR project, funded by ESA within the framework of its Earth Observation Market Development Programme and supported by the German Space Agency DLR. ENVISOLAR project gave birth to a suite of commercial products whose brand is ‘SolarSAT’. ESA’s technology transfer broker D’Appolonia then helped Sonepar Immobiliare e Servizi (SIS) S.p.A., an Italian distributor of photovoltaic (PV) plants, to integrate Flyby’s SolarSAT solution in their systems, with successful result for several plants in Italy.

Market needs

Since solar power is one of the cleanest methods of energy production, the worldwide interest has pushed the research and development of innovative tools capable of improving the reliability and efficiency of plant design and monitoring. EO satellite imagery represent one powerful source of data to assess the amount of solar energy reaching the earth and hence the PV panels.

PV Plant design

Most people willing to setup a photovoltaic plant in a specific locality have this main concern: how long will it take to return from the investment? Of course this depends mainly on two factors: the solar energy typically available for that locality and the plant efficiency in exploiting it. The latter factor can be described by modelling the plant in terms of cells technology, panel orientation w.r.t. the sun, efficiency of the various components, etc. Instead, the typical local solar energy, depending also on meteorological conditions, is not so straightforward to obtain, unless dedicated in-situ measurement campaigns have been performed during several years, which is unlikely to have happened in most cases.

PV Plant monitoring

Photovoltaic plants do not always operate optimally due to accidents like malfunctions affecting some plant parts or environmental events that degrade the collection of light (e.g. panel shadowing, panel coverage by dust, snow, leaves, etc.). Getting production data by logging to the inverters does not always allow to detect a malfunction (e.g. a broken panel). Also the plant system cannot recognize by itself the occurrence of any environmental drawback. Generally speaking, the only easy way to assess that some trouble is affecting the energy production is to compare it with the producible energy. The most common way to calculate the producible energy is to measure it by means of a separate system of local sensor, typically made of irradiance, wind and temperature sensors. Apart from their cost, local sensors require maintenance (e.g. calibration). Moreover, irradiance sensors may be subject to same environmental drawbacks affecting solar cells.

The proposed Solution

The amount of solar energy reaching the earth (i.e. the irradiance) can be calculated by feeding EO data into an algorithm that takes into account the interaction between solar light and atmosphere, soil and sea. One of such algorithms was developed by Flyby and is applied to available EO data, i.e. data that are collected directly at Flyby’s premises, via a satellite link. Irradiances of areas whose EO data are not directly available to Flyby are supplied to Flyby by major European institutions through commercial agreements.

Both historical irradiances and current irradiances are exploited: the former are used to define the energy typically available for the location, by averaging data along 10 or 20 years; the latter are used to define the reference producible energy to which the actual production must be compared.

Upon Envisolar project completion in 2007, Flyby came up with a solution where weather information from satellites is used first to plan investments in future installations and then to check if the solar cells in a photovoltaic plant are working well and producing the expected amount of electricity.

During the phase of planning new photovoltaic installation Flyby’s SolarSAT PV-Planner allows customers to design their PV plants using a simulation tool that exploits historical satellite irradiances for any given location. It estimates the potential of the electricity production and helps identifying the optimal size and position of the solar panels, information needed for the economic analysis and evaluation of a new installation.

PV plant daily power (simulated Vs. measured) The SolarSAT PV-controller tool is the other Flyby satellite-based solution for monitoring remotely the status and efficiency of PV plants. It retrieves the working status, monitors the produced energy and compares it with the expected one (producible energy), which derives from the available solar radiation at any given moment. Such radiation can be derived from either satellite data or from irradiance sensors installed at the plant. If there is a misalignment between the two producible energies or if the actual produced energy is very different from them, the system sends an alarm to the plant owner so that maintenance can be arranged.

The actual produced energy is read from the plant inverter(s) by a SolarSAT datalogger which can also read the irradiance sensors if any. All acquired data are sent by the datalogger via GPRS wireless link to the central station, where they are processed and displayed on the customer web pages.

The attractiveness of the system

Starting from the prototypal achievements of the ENVISOLAR project, two products have been developed and refined: the ‘PV-Planner’, a simulator tool allowing the design of a PV plant, and the PV-Controller, a monitoring tool allowing the production check of existing plants. Such products are now steadily present in the market and are especially appreciated by companies managing big PV plants or plant farms.PV-Planner attracts new customers by proposing a solution for the potential PV plant, with technical and economic aspects fully characterized.PV-Controller allows a reduction of the PV plant management cost (consisting typically of 1% of plant full cost each year) by giving an early warning on malfunctions and drawbacks and thus allowing a prompt intervention, so that the maximum productivity is not significantly reduced SolarSAT irradiance sensor mounted at solar panel

Plant design

satellite based lower cost (satellite imagery are acquired systematically and are multipurpose), wide area coverage, historical data retrievable for any zone no HW waste to dispose of lower accuracy (relative error: down to 8% with clear sky, up to 18% with cloudy sky) accuracy degraded by cloud presence (atmospheric modelling issues)
sensor based higher accuracy (5% relative error), accuracy not affected by cloud presence higher cost (setup of measurement campaign), punctual coverage, historical data come only from past measurement campaigns (if any) sensor HW waste disposal required

Plant monitoring

satellite based lower system cost (0.5% of 50kW plant cost), no maintenance required (e.g. satellite sensor calibration performed by satellite owner), no HW waste to dispose of lower accuracy (relative error: down to 8% with clear sky, up to 18% with cloudy sky), lower sampling rate, accuracy degraded by cloud presence (atmospheric modelling issues)
sensor based higher accuracy (5% relative error), higher sampling rate, accuracy not affected by cloud presence higher system cost (0.7% of 50kW plant cost), sensor maintenance required (e.g. calibration, cleaning), light sensor affected by same problems as solar cells (e.g. dust, snow), sensor HW waste disposal required

Accuracy: little difference between the two systems in clear sky conditions. Satellite system is more competitive if applied to areas characterised by such condition.
Area coverage: satellite system allows worldwide coverage and continuous, so it is the only way to get irradiance maps of any area and for any past period of time.
Availability: satellite acquisition rate, though less than that achievable by a sensor, is quite enough for design and monitoring purposes
Cost: satellite imagery yearly subscription becomes cheaper than the cost of N sensor packages, as soon as N = 33 (assuming Sensor_Package_Cost=300€, Satellite_yearly_subscription = 10 k€). Maintenance costs should be also included: they account for ¼ of sensor cost each three year.
Maintenance: no HW to maintain when exploiting satellite data. Instead local sensors require calibration and cleaning.
Environment friendliness: both systems have no impact on the environment when in use
Sustainability: plant design requires no HW at plant. Plant monitoring requires only a small datalogger to get produced energy. So there is little or no HW waste disposal when system expires. Data retrieval from the datalogger is normally done automatically via GPRS link, otherwise data can be stored in the datalogger and downloaded manually.

The successful Results

After a development phase, with the participation of the Italian energy leader Enel, the SolarSAT PV-Controller system has been installed on several photovoltaic plants in Italy (for example on a 59 KW plant in Rome, on a 49 KW plant in Milan and on a 26 KW plant near Messina).

SolarSat is currently a commercial Product that operates in all Europe and in the southern Mediterranean area.
In all sites a higher production resulted, as malfunctions have been located and corrected faster with the system.

Contact Information
PhD. Eng. Andrea Masini, Remote Sensing Department
Flyby s.r.l. via Puini,97-int 26/26A, 57128 Livorno, Italy
Tel: (+39) 0586-505016 | Fax: (+39) 0586-502770 | Mobile phone: (+39) 329-9175587

Eomag!28_Flyby (Italy) (Winter 2011-2012).pdf