By Peter J. Brown
Much development in the satellite remote sensing industry has occurred since the 1990s and new government and commercial applications continue to emerge on the arena. Today, all eyes are on the satellites, the next-generation sensors and imagers, and the steady progression of new software tools which are making satellite imagery easier to access and more useful in the process.
"Satellite imagery is compelling, informative and beautiful, and as resolution increases, the potential uses increase too," says Allen Carroll, chief cartographer at the National Geographic Society. "Making imagery more easily accessible and affordable to a broader--non-specialist audience--is a goal that the industry should aggressively pursue. It is still more difficult and expensive to find and acquire than we would like."
Is satellite imagery easy to use? Not terribly, admits Carroll who points out that the combination in a single presentation of satellite imagery and cartography --specifically imagery and elevation data -- to create oblique and dimensional effects can be a challenge in particular.
"Often the result is a map that is hard to read and an image that's ruined by the map detail atop it," says Carroll, who prefers to publish an image and do a separate map, but space limitations often prevent this. "It is not an easy process and difficulties often arise with the workflow involved, but the results can be spectacular."
Data fusion has the imagery industry abuzz as more products are emerging which bond imagery from satellites together with imagery from other sources including very high resolution photography taken by aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). At Seattle-based Incident Tactics, for example, simulation and assessment tools for emergency readiness and response training are taking shape.
"Acquiring data from satellites, video sources, audio sources and animated segments allows us to model, rotate, reorient, destruct and reform shapes, patterns and waves in ways that mimic the mind's eye," says Incident Tactics CEO John Mitchell. "Our distance measurements and response time calculations are frequently created or verified using satellite imagery and aerial photographs."
Global satellite imagery-related revenues will grow to $6 billion by 2012, according to research funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, published early last year.
One market adding to this growth is disaster recovery. Dexterity and the ability to be on site quickly are increasingly important for both government and commercial customers when responding to emergency situations. When the Space Shuttle Columbia crashed in the U.S. Southwest, for example, Space Imaging immediately lit up their Ikonos satellite, which was of great benefit to both FEMA and NASA.
"We rapidly identified the Shuttle glide path and started collecting data on an ad hoc basis. We were able to feed imagery for debris field mapping to the FEMA disaster response team in its command trailer in Texas within six hours," says Howard Klayman, director of customer service/channel partner operations at Colorado-based Space Imaging Inc.