Earth observation is expanding into new markets

6 mins read

Markets for Earth observation data and associated services are growing and evolving. While government remains the major customer for satellite imagery, there is a trend of the market expanding into larger industries.

“You have insurance, hedge funds, farming. For AIS and geospatial intelligence, it’s in everything,” Gabe Dominocielo, Umbra co-founder and president, said during an Oct. 6 panel discussion at the Satellite Innovation conference in Mountain View, California.

“You open up Uber and look at a map. If you get an insurance policy, there is an interferometric image of the flood zone to understand exactly what your insurance premium would be. You just don’t know it,” Dominocielo says, adding that he sees this expanding as the cost of data becomes lower.

Greater awareness of and access to satellite imagery is opening new opportunities for firms involved in satellite ownership and operation and downstream. But this also poses new questions in terms of processing, handling and storing data and beyond.

Shay Har-Noy, general manager of aviation at Spire, a space-based flight and weather data provider, says concentrating on the customer provides a path forward, rather than focusing on the technology side. Firms involved in shipping, insurance, economic analysis and cargo are all now using space data to better understand operational decision-making.

On the same day as the panel Euroconsult released a report expecting the market for Earth-observation data and value-added services to reach $7.5 billion by 2030.

Supply chain is another sector seeing growth, especially with the supply shocks stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, says James Crawford, chairman of Orbital Insight. Being able to track all of an entity’s suppliers has become a major issue, says Crawford, with ensuring sustainability, traceability but also minimizing supply shocks becoming big concerns.

The flood of data is aslos posing new challenges for the government, says Crawford, which now has more imagery than they have people to look at it.

“Lots of work on the government side is on leveraging AI properly to automate a lot of the detection,” says Crawford, noting that this role historically involved people looking at the images, going back to the days of satellites dropping buckets of film back to Earth.

This transition is being helped and made possible by developments in the deep learning space. Ryan Lewis, practice manager for AI/ML at Amazon Web Services, says a lot of initial work was based on identifying objects in images, like cats, but has evolved into all sorts of data types, from mapping to climate research. “And that has happened literally in just a six or seven-year span.”

Nina Soleng, head of communications at Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), says decisions on storing all of this data also need to be considered. “We see this in our oil spill detection service. We detect something we think to be oil, we have the AIS information of the vessel, then the coast guard goes out and can verify it. And then it might be two years later that they want that data for a court case.”

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