The need for more and better imaging data will be the major driver behind a “healthy” $17 billion market for remote-sensing satellites over the next 10 years, according to a study by Forecast International.
Specializing in the aerospace and defense sectors, analysts at the US-based company say that 108 new remote-sensing satellites will be produced between now and 2021, driving a market projected at $17 billion US.
While military and government customers remain the primary users of that imagery, the commercial sector is — as with aerospace in general — set to play an increasingly important role, says William Ostrove, author of the report.
The study notes how satellite imagery has come to the fore in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The success of space-based imagery accentuated the necessity of these systems in establishing situational awareness on the battlefield,” Ostrove says.
Many applications for satellite imagery
That imagery is also playing an important role in meteorological observations, urban planning, agriculture, disaster relief, and documentation of humanitarian issues. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project, for instance, has used satellite imagery for remote documentation of human rights violations. (See "Light on Human Rights" in SPIE Professional.)
Recent studies by the AAAS team include satellite-based assessment of damage to 24 villages in Tskhinvali, Georgia, during the conflict that broke out between Georgia and neighboring Russia in August 2008. That study found obvious craters from munitions and tracks from the presumed movement of military vehicles. Other satellite imaging studies have shown obliterated villages in Darfur, part of what is now South Sudan, and destroyed areas in Zimbabwe and Kyrgyzstan.
One of the most difficult aspects of documenting the impact of conflicts in isolated parts of the word is to count the number of people affected, largely because a single person would be represented by a solitary pixel in a typical satellite image, which is collected with a Cassegrain telescope from several hundred kilometers above the Earth.
At SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing (DSS) in Baltimore (USA) in April, a European team described a new method of counting people from space that uses a wider range of spectral bands now available via the WorldView-2 satellite, part of the DigitalGlobe remote sensing constellation.
Read more on sensor research at DSS and and crisis mapping in this issue.
New technologies, more satellites
Key system integrators in the remote-sensing-satellite industry include Europe’s EADS Astrium and Thales Alenia Space; Lockheed Martin and Ball Corp. in the United States; and Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric.
“The opportunities for manufacturers will increase as remote-sensing applications and demand rises,” Ostrove reports. “However, maintaining a competitive edge will require upgrading satellites with the latest technology, expanding constellations, and replacing older satellites.”
This spring, DigitalGlobe revealed details of one of the new remote-sensing platforms, in the form of its WorldView-3 satellite, scheduled for launch in 2014. In addition to offering 0.31-meter-resolution panchromatic and eight-band multispectral imagery, it has been licensed by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to collect eight-band shortwave infrared data.
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