An effort related to that described in the preceding article focuses on developing a spaceborne processing platform for fast and accurate onboard classification of image data, a critical part of modern satellite image processing. The approach again has been to exploit the versatility of recently developed hybrid Virtex-4FX field-programmable gate array (FPGA) to run diverse science applications on embedded processors while taking advantage of the reconfigurable hardware resources of the FPGAs. In this case, the FPGA serves as a coprocessor that implements legacy C-language support-vector-machine (SVM) image-classification algorithms to detect and identify natural phenomena such as flooding, volcanic eruptions, and sea-ice break-up. The FPGA provides hardware acceleration for increased onboard processing capability than previously demonstrated in software.
The original C-language program — demonstrated on an imaging instrument aboard the Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite — implements a linear-kernel SVM algorithm for classifying parts of the images as snow, water, ice, land, or cloud or unclassified. Current onboard processors, such as on EO-1, have limited computing power, extremely limited active storage capability and are no longer considered state-of-the-art. Using commercially available software that translates C-language programs into hardware description language (HDL) files, the legacy C-language program, and two newly formulated programs for a more capable expanded-linear-kernel and a more accurate polynomial-kernel SVM algorithm, have been implemented in the Virtex-4FX FPGA. In tests, the FPGA implementations have exhibited significant speedups over conventional software implementations running on general-purpose hardware.