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Business Intelligence with Satellite Technology

Business Intelligence with Satellite Technology

The ability to utilize the opportunities and advantages of gathering data at the edge of space is becoming more accessible and affordable. Founded by ex-NASA scientists, Planet Labs,  emerged out of a NASA proof-of-concept that a smartphone could power a low orbit satellite system, and has since launched over 130 satellites collecting high resolution and timely multispectral images of nearly the entire planet, every day.

One criticism, voiced by Emory Stagmer, is that though the concept pushes engineers to think outside the box, efforts would be better spent by engineering  “a CubeSat sized core set of avionics built to big satellite standards. The overall cost only increases a small percentage, but the reliability jumps by an order of magnitude.”

What costs are we talking about? A standard satellite in 2010 cost $850 million to get up in the air, and weighed nearly three and a half tons. The Genesis satellite, which was considered a low-cost satellite, still ran at $164 million.  The PhoneSats – $7,000.

His observation is correct, and as more companies rely on information from low earth orbit (LEO), and more companies enter this data industry, the quality of satellites will increase, as well as their onboard capabilities and orbit time. And (hopefully), the cost will gradually and continually decrease.

The opportunities made possible by high resolution imaging, captured more frequently, are many and continually being applied and discovered. There are many companies that rely on geographic information systems, which allow users to analyze and visualize data to understand changes, relationships, concentrations, movement, and patterns. Among the many uses are visibility into construction sites from a distance, seeing delivery and movement of materials, changes in the landscape, placement of resources, and progress. Satellite Imagining Corporation, like Planet Labs, points out the other areas where this technology can have a tremendous impact, including energy, business intelligence, agriculture, finance, defense and security, resource management, mapping, tourism, and the environment.

Testing their TreeTAG application in the field, Earth Observation is utilizing orbital technologies to run their supply chain traceability system to tackle issues in the forestry industry and market. Though the application relies largely on global positioning systems (GPS and GLONASS), verification of activities and species identification relies on satellite imaging. TreeTAG monitors the supply chain of legal logging activities to ensuring sustainable land management, but also provides early detection of illegal activity, allowing enforcement agencies to act quickly and while the activity is taking place, rather than catching the activity after the fact.

“These technologies aren’t new. We work with the people on the ground to understand their workflow, and then build an application to suit their needs, while utilizing cutting edge technology to close the security gaps,”  says founder, Andrew Dudley. “Technology can significantly help people doing things right to get into the legal marketplace, and raise the barrier of entry for the bad guys.”

Global Forestry Watch, also supported by World Resources Institute, is using imagery from government-sponsored satellites to improve visibility into forests. Using this data they hope to help nations around the world understand deforestation and its causes.

Silicon Valley is expected to invest over  $700 million in the industry this year, with an additional $1 billion expected to go into SpaceX. Jess Bezos has his own satellite company, and Elon Musk, Google, and even Virgin have entered the space race, with both unique and sometimes overlapping opportunities. The barrier has lowered, and the possibilities that await with greater quality and more frequent access to earth observation data are just beginning to be realized.

It’s not a new horizon, but the information that comes from it has become more accessible. From a commercial standpoint, visibility allows for timely decision making. From a conservation standpoint, it is creating greater opportunities to address the issues that impact our planet the most.

 

James Watson

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