Little Place Labs: keeping an eye on space and earth

With many elements of our modern world revolving around extraterrestrial components, such as satellites, the importance of such technologies cannot be underestimated. We rely on them for information they provide to us on Earth, but also for insights into the devices themselves.

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Little Place Labs is a software company specialising in providing near-real-time space analytics for both ground and space-based applications. Bosco Lai, the CEO, co-founded Little Place Labs with Gaurav Bajaj and some early team members after meeting during an Executive MBA at the University of Oxford. “We come from different backgrounds and domains but are at the stage of our careers where we want to build something that we are passionate about and can make a positive change and impact,” said Lai. “To us, space is such an exciting domain to be in, and our ultimate purpose is to build solutions that can help solve the world’s biggest problems.”

The concept emerged from the ever-increasing use of satellites. Almost ten thousand satellites collect terabytes of data every day. However, a typical constraint is that this data must first be downlinked from space to ground before being processed into useful insights. Downlinking this large amount of data is costly and slow, causing delays of hours or days before users receive their data and insights. This is what Little Place Labs aims to improve upon.


Bosco Lai, CEO and Co-Founder of Little Place Labs

Using a satellite constellation, Little Place Labs can capture imagery of the Earth from above and deploy advanced machine learning algorithms on the constellations themselves, meaning data can be processed before it is sent. These algorithms are custom-designed to process and analyse various data types in real-time, from optical and infrared imaging for wildfire detection to synthetic aperture radar data for vessel tracking in the future.

As Lai explains: “When data is captured by the sensors on satellites, it is in what we call raw form, or simply raw data. We first need to process them into pre-processed data before feeding it into any AI/ML models. Our approach depends on the data type and sensor type. Once the data is pre-processed, it is model ready and can be fed into our AI/ML models to generate useful alerts or insights - this is what users can utilise to take action. The alerts and insights are much more precise and smaller in size allowing us to send them back to Earth much cheaper and more quickly.”

This processing of data before transmission means a smaller package is sent, thus insights can be delivered to users in as little as seven minutes. All this information then ends up on the platform for the end user.

The speed enables users to take real action from the insights that the satellites collect. Whether that would be forestry agencies detecting the beginning of a forest fire and sending out teams to begin controlling the spread, or analysing changes and detecting anomalies in patterns-of-life for sensitive areas that could inform security services of a disturbance.

But where Little Place Labs expands on this Earth observation of other companies is by offering monitoring of the satellites themselves. As mentioned, there are almost ten thousand satellites orbiting Earth and providing services for everyone from telecoms companies to the military. And the process of building them, and then getting them into space, isn’t exactly cheap, so ensuring they remain operational as long as possible is thus imperative. Through its Space Domain Awareness, Little Place Labs can inform satellite operators about incoming debris or space junk (particularly pertinent in today’s new satellite and space race); optimise paths for the assets in real-time and automate routing and collision avoidance, and even alert users of any environmental factors like space storms so measures can be taken. What’s more, it can detect onboard issues of the satellites too, revealing anomalies in payloads, giving diagnostic causes for operational failures to take timely action; trigger response protocols and create a self-sustaining space system all the while offering this health data on a user dashboard.


Little Place Labs has found a way to enter the expensive area of space as a startup: through a software approach. “Instead of building our own satellites which requires a significant amount of CAPEX and initial investment, we partner with satellite companies and focus on developing and using Edge computing AI software solutions,” says Lai. “Just like Marc Andreessen said in 2011 that ‘Software is eating the world’, we believe that the time is near that space is no longer just a hardware play, and we are entering an era of software-driven capabilities that are scalable and accessible.”

Yet, despite this software approach, space startups still come with their challenges: “The space industry, compared to other sectors, has a longer lead time to scale and build compared to other sectors,” explains Lai. “We often have to spend more time educating investors and prospective end users of the potential this service and technology can bring. Equally, the funding environment has become more challenging since 2022.”

These difficulties do not mean there have been no triumphs, however. Since its founding in 2022, the startup has won Deloitte’s Gravity Challenge; been an awardee of a US Air Force research contract related to rapid surveillance capabilities using space-based processing, and demonstrated its product in space and ran the software successfully on one of its partners’ satellites in orbit, showcasing a 98% reduction of data downlink. If that’s not a proof of concept, then I don’t know what is.


The future looks bright for Little Place Labs. Better hardware and infrastructures becoming available – chips, radiation-hardened tech, inter-satellite communication links - give its software more chances to provide even better insights, and the focus on the growing problem of space debris among space agencies like the US Space Force means its service has some real utility for big clients.

In the next six to 12 months, Lai explains the company will be focusing on commercialisation of its products in the areas of disaster detection, maritime surveillance - including illegal fishing, oil spills, and vessel tracking - and monitoring of assets for trading banks and insurance companies. From 12 to 18 months, the focus is to build out the team and solutions.

Lofty goals for the startup Little Place Labs, yet it highlights that whatever the future holds, the sky is the limit for scaling up this startup.