Why SME’s should get into print

Business Pages of Plymouth Herald newspaper on 25th November 2015

Business Pages of Plymouth Herald on 25th November 2015

“Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does” – Steuart Henderson Britt.

The importance of digital marketing and having a web presence is rammed down the throat of every small business. We all have websites, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages and a myriad of other social media accounts; but what about press releases? Do you use them? Do you know how to issue them?

Until a few weeks ago Pixalytics’s answers to these questions would have been: No, No and No! We’d had people saying we should issue press releases before, but to be honest we weren’t sure we had anything to say, or whether anyone would be interested.

The first press release occurred in 1906 when journalist Ivy Lee suggested that the Pennsylvania Railroad should issue a statement about what had happened following a train accident. They did and the press release was born. Today, pick up any newspaper or trade magazine and you’ll find stories about what large companies are doing issued by marking or communication departments. If you’re a small business like ours, then we are the salespeople, finance team, administration staff and the people who deliver the products and services – of course we’re also the marketing and communication part of the company too! So spending time on press releases means something else gets delayed or doesn’t get done.

In terms of our marketing, we issue a weekly blog and try to Tweet on a regular – well, fairly regular – basis. We also network and market ourselves at meetings and conferences, and we support/sponsor occasional events – have a look at our blog from 12 months ago about us sponsoring a Formula 1 Team. This is about as much as we do; but we recently decided to have a go at getting press coverage.

The first thing we learnt is that businesses of any size can have newsworthy items, and we felt our book and first employee might be of interest. For the book we focussed on getting the article into a trade magazine, and once we’d chosen the magazine we researched the style of news article they published. We then put together a short press release, which was really just a paragraph about our book, found the name of editor and submitted it by email. For the first employee, we contacted our local paper to see if they were interested in doing a story about a growing company. As simple as that, all in all about an hour’s work.

So how did we do? The image at the top is a headline from today’s (Wednesday 25th November) local paper, which has a great double page profile article written by William Telford, Business Editor. The news item about our book is already on the website of the GeoConnexion trade magazine website, and it hopefully will appear in the January print edition too.

Will it generate more business? Will it promote our brand?  Who knows? It will give us publicity and it was fun to do. We’re definitely going to do more in the future.

After our experience here are some tips would we give SME’s thinking about sending out a press release:

  • Target the key newspapers or magazines you would like to get into, don’t send your press release out everywhere.
  • Find out the name of the journalist or editor, and talk to them – remember these people are actually looking for news articles!
  • Research what they are interested in and submit relevant pieces.
  • Include a picture or image.
  • Don’t forget to leverage any publicity using social media!

If you have not sent out a press release before, then give it a go. What have you got to lose?

Shrinking Satellites

Artist's rendition of a satellite - mechanik/123RF Stock Photo

Artist’s rendition of a satellite – mechanik/123RF Stock Photo

Satellites, like Dairy Milk, Mars Bars and Snickers, are getting smaller these days. Factors contributing to this shrinkage include new technology, continued miniaturisation of computing components and increased launch costs – whereas smaller size equals less weight and less weight equals lower costs.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists database at the end of August 2015, the total launch weight of all satellites still in orbit is approximately two and half million kilograms! A sobering thought given that most of these are travelling in excess of seventeen thousand miles per hour! The Guinness Book of Records lists the heaviest commercial satellite as TerreStar-1 that had a launch mass of 6 903.8 kg in 2009; whereas the heaviest payload is the Chandra X-Ray Observatory Telescope that had a weight of 22 753 kg when launched in 1999. Although, it should be noted there are number of large military satellites in space whose launch weight cannot be verified. However, everyone can agree that these satellites are large and heavy!

Smaller satellites have been around since 2000, but it wasn’t until 2013 when 92 smaller satellites were launched in a single year that the numbers became significant. There are a number of categories of small satellites:

  • Minisatellites have a mass of between 100 kg and 500 kg.
  • Microsatellites have a mass between 10 kg and 100 kg.
  • Nanosatellites have a mass between 1 kg and 10 kg.
  • Picosatellites have a mass between 0.1 kg and 1 kg.
  • Femtosatellites have a mass between 10 g and 100 g.

Smaller satellites do have technical challenges. These include shorter overall life, limitations on propulsion and manoeuvring capabilities, less computing power and very low bandwidth communication systems. There have been a number of innovative solutions developed to respond these challenges, for example the UK company Oxford Space Systems have developed deployable structures, such as antennas and solar panels, based on the principles of origami using ‘shape memory’ materials. This has resulted in lighter, simple and cheaper deployable structures, for example, they have a parabolic antenna scalable up to twelve metres.

Technical issues are not the only challenges for small satellites, the regularity framework has not yet adapted to the changing market. As we’ve discussed previously, within the UK the Outer Space Act 1986 details the regulations for satellite launches. These are based around large satellites, and are not at all favourable to small satellites. The UK Space Agency recently issued a series of recommendations on how the regulatory approach might be tailored for smaller satellites.

Smaller satellites offer a more flexible, and cheaper, way of getting sensors and experiments into space. While this is great for smaller companies and educational institutes; commercial organisations are also taking advantage of this new trend. It will be interesting to see if the trend for smaller satellites continues to grow or, like mobile phones, the miniaturisation ceases and they get bigger again!

Stellar Space Careers

ESA astronaut Tim Peake, tests his NASA spacesuit, at NASA's Johnson Space Center, USA. Image courtesy of NASA.

ESA astronaut Tim Peake, tests his NASA spacesuit, at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, USA.
Image courtesy of NASA.

The UK space industry will get a publicity boost in the next month, as astronaut British Tim Peake goes into space on a five-month mission at the International Space Station (ISS). Being an astronaut is something many children dream about, although as less than six hundred people have ever gone into space it is a challenge to achieve. Working in the space industry on the other hand is something within the reach of everyone.

The space industry, often referred to as the space economy, includes space related services ranging from the manufacturing of spacecraft, satellites, ground stations and launch vehicles; through space-enabled applications such as broadcasting, navigation equipment and satellite phones; to user value-added applications such as Earth Observation (EO), meteorological services and broadband. The industry is worth £11.8 Bn to the UK economy and it’s growing at rate of just under nine percent per annum. It directly supports around 37,000 jobs, and indirectly another 100,000.

The shining star of the industry – irrespective of how much we promote EO scientists – will always be the astronauts. Tim will be the second British astronaut into space; our first, Helen Sharman, went up 1991. He was selected as a European Space Agency astronaut in 2009 and was chosen for his ISS mission in 2013. The next step is a launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in Kazakstan, in December.

Although we’ve said becoming an astronaut was difficult, it is not impossible. This week people were encouraged to apply to NASA to become an astronaut. Before you all rush off to send in your application, there are a few requirements:

  • You have to be a US citizen.
  • They are looking for pilots, engineers, scientists and medical doctors.
  • You’ll have to pass a long-duration spaceflight physical test.

If you want to become an astronaut, or indeed work in the space economy, education in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) subjects is crucial. Last week, at the Von Braun Symposium in America, they called for more STEM education and internships to encourage the next generation of the space workforce.

The European Space Education Resource Office in the UK (ERESO-UK) aims to promote the use of space to enhance and support STEM teaching, and they have set up a number of projects surrounding Tim’s mission and they are encouraging school participation. These include the EO Detective Competition to win a photograph from space during Tim’s mission, the Space to Earth challenge encouraging students to run, swim, cycle, climb, dance or exercise the 400 km distance from the Earth to the ISS and there are grants for innovative projects linked to Tim’s mission. The full details of all the projects can be found here.

The space economy is a wide and varied sector, it offers opportunities for anyone who wants to get involved. If you, or someone you know, is considering their first, or a change of, career, then go and whisper space in their ear. You never know, one of them may become an astronaut in the future!

Pixalytics is growing!

Practical Handbook of Remote Sensing CoverThe last week has seen two significant firsts for Pixalytics!

  • Our first book, Practical Handbook of Remote Sensing, has gone on presale!
  • Our first full time employee joined the company!

Right at the outset of establishing Pixalytics, we put down the DNA of the company we wanted to develop. Science is at the heart of Pixalytics, and we use our scientific knowledge to undertake research and development, provide products and services and to promote the scientific education and knowledge.

As part of that educational strand, we’ve written a book this year. It’s a book Sam has wanted to write for a long time, and takes people without any prior knowledge through the basic principles and science of remote sensing, gives them practical skills to undertake basic remote sensing at home and demonstrates the various applications where remote sensing can be used.

Sam quickly recognised that if she was going to write a general how-to book, she needed someone who knew nothing about the subject, which is where I came in. So together we co-wrote the book combining Sam’s 20 years of experience with my non-expert perspective of navigating through remote sensing for the first time. I have proof-read, tested and applied everything in the book; and so if I can learn remote sensing from it, anyone can!!

The book uses open source software as we wanted it to be as accessible as possible, and will be supported by a website offering news, updates, a learning forum and further exercises for people who’ve bought the book.

The book, Practical Handbook of Remote Sensing, is published by CRC Press of the Taylor & Francis Group. It went on pre-sale last week, and the actual paper copies are due to be shipped later this month. If you are interested you can order a copy here, or if you have any questions, please get in touch.

The second first for us is that we now have a full time employee, Dr Louisa Reynolds! Up until now Pixalytics has just been Sam and I, we’ve had the occasional short-term Erasmus student, PhD student, MSc placements and work experience people along the way, but not a full time employee. We’ve steadily grown the business over the last few years and we’ve reached the point where Sam no longer has enough hours in the day to do the work we have; although, Sam might say we reached that point a little while ago!

Hence, on Monday Louisa joined Pixalytics as an Earth Observation Scientist and brings with her strong skills in remote sensing, image processing, astrophysics, atmospheric and ocean physics. She will be providing support to Sam on all aspects of our Earth Observation and remote sensing work. This will significantly increase the capacity and capability of the company, which will hopefully lead to exciting new work in the future.

Overall, these are both major milestones for us and we’re delighted to welcome both Louisa and the Practical Handbook of Remote Sensing to Pixalytics.

Keynote Speaking at the 9th Irish Earth Observation Symposium

Entrance to the venue for the 9th Irish Earth Observation Symposium

Entrance to the venue for the 9th Irish Earth Observation Symposium, Galway

I spent last week with the 9th Irish Earth Observation Symposium at the Ryan Institute, National University of Ireland in Galway, where I was delighted to be giving a keynote presentation.

The trip started with a novelty for me as I could fly from Exeter, rather than a London airport, which meant a short drive from home and a much smaller and calmer pre-flight environment.

Arriving the day before the symposium began, I had an opportunity to walk around the engaging city of Galway. This is something I often do before presentation, as it allows me to bring a sense of place to my talks and influences the overall emphasis I give.

The symposium began on damp autumnal morning, where the Atlantic drizzle gave a salty tang to the air. We began with a welcome from Colin Brown, Director of the Ryan Institute, followed by agriculture and forestry talks focusing on classifying small management units within managed forests, identifying high natural value farmland and large forest resource assessments. This session reminded me of the importance of finding the right data source and technique for the specific task, as assessments based on individual pixels are very different to those based on collections of objects.

After coffee, I gave my keynote focusing on growth and opportunities within the European space industry. The Copernicus missions are presenting a once in a generation opportunity for remote sensing and Earth observation companies, and I talked about how SME’s, like Pixalytics, can take advantage of this through the development of products and services. It was great to give have a longer presentation, which allows more thought development than the more usual 15 minute conference presentations. It seemed to go down well, judging by the number of people who came up to talk to me throughout the rest of the symposium.

There were talks before lunch on econometric approaches for analysing time-series data, deep scattering layers in the ocean and monitoring land cover at a national scale. After lunch the second keynote, by Martin Gade from the University of Hamburg, gave an in-depth introduction to the use of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) for coastal applications including mapping intertidal areas for shellfish and the underlying archaeology. The rest of the afternoon focused on multi-sensor airborne data acquisition, passive gamma ray detection from low level flying within the Tellus programme, the application of neural networks, coastal time-series analysis and the coastal thematic exploitation platform funded by the European Space Agency. A very tasty and enjoyable Symposium Dinner rounded off the day.

The second morning was a much sunnier affair allowing Galway to show off its beautiful architectural and landscapes, and I took the photo at the top of the blog; which is the door of our venue. I was lucky to get a clear shot as the symposium coincided with graduation ceremonies and this was a very popular photographic backdrop! We began the day with air and climate talks including the use of ground and satellite based remote sensing to track pollution layers within the atmosphere. There was also a reminder of the importance of engaging with downstream users when developing services; staying focussed on customer needs is something we passionately believe in at Pixalytics.

After coffee we had marine presentations looking at improving hydrodynamic models through the assimilation of ground based radar data and the tracking of vessels using SAR and the Automatic Identification Systems (AIS). The day then concluded on landcover, focussing on getting the most out of the PROBA-V mission by creating 100m resolution products, mapping upland vegetation, and extracting non-seasonal changes from time-series. All three of these landcover talks gave me ideas to ponder.

I really enjoyed my two days in Galway, and was very grateful for an invitation to give one of the keynotes. I met a lot of new people and gained many insights to think about, all of which I will be following up. I hope to see more of Ireland in the future.

Earth Observation goes Back to the Future

Typhoon Atsani over the Pacific Ocean on 25 August 2015. Image from Himawari-8. Copyright 2015 EUMETSAT.

Typhoon Atsani over the Pacific Ocean on 25 August 2015. Image from Himawari-8. Copyright 2015 EUMETSAT.

Today is Back to the Future Day! Or more precisely, October 21st 2015 is the date that Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel back to in the second of the Back to the Future (BTTF) films. We’ve seen a few recent articles comparing the imagined 2015 with the actual year, and we decided this week’s blog will examine how Earth observation technology compares to the film’s predictions.

You might be reading this thinking you don’t remember any Earth observation data in the BTTF film? Well that is not strictly true! Whilst there might not have been any reference to pure satellite remote sensing such as Landsat, precision weather forecasting was present.

After arriving in 2015 in the film, Marty doesn’t want to get out of the DeLorean as it is pouring with rain. Doc looks at his watch and tells Marty to wait for five seconds, at which point the rain stops and the sun comes out. Now admittedly, getting such precision timing from a watch is stretching reality a bit, but we’re not that far away. In terms of the device, an Apple Watch with a weather forecasting app is the most obvious equivalent. Although, all smartphones have weather apps and are not that dissimilar; interestingly, the development of mobile technology was something completely missed by BTTF.

On the accuracy of the predictions, regular readers of this blog will know we are Formula One fans and we even sponsored a car last year. On the commentary of those races you will hear the teams using their rain radar maps to give their drivers weather updates such as ‘rain is predicted in ten minutes, it will last five minutes and expected to be heavy’. Accurate predictions are getting closer, although it may be some time until we know the second the rain will stop.

The other major link to Earth observation within the film is the examples of drone technology. The first example is the use of ‘hovercams’ to provide video of breaking news events; whilst again this is something not widely used by news agencies, the concept of using drones to take videos or collect data is something that is very much used within the remote sensing community. There is a second example with the shot of a drone walking a dog, and it looks very similar to drones currently being used. Not quite sure that a drone could walk a dog yet though, despite the videos on the internet!

However, the potential for drones to become more commonplace was recognised this week by the US Transport Secretary who called for a national register and drones and owners. The number of drones flown by the general population is expected to grow rapidly. It’s likely that some form of development of the legal or regulatory framework will occur to ensure these are operated in a manner that does not undermine safety and privacy.

Earth observation and remote sensing technology was part of the 1989 BTTF film. If we look forward 26 years from today to 2041, anyone want to predict what will be the rising technology in remote sensing? Tweet us your ideas!

El Niño causing Coral Bleaching

Variations in Pacific Ocean sea surface height compared to a long term average for the 2015 and 1997/98 El Niño events. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Variations in Pacific Ocean sea surface height compared to a long term average for the 2015 and 1997/98 El Niño events. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Coral reefs are currently undergoing their third worldwide bleaching event linked to the El Niño effect in the last 20 years, and scientists fear this one could be the worst.

El Niño is the warm phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation and is associated with a band of warm water that develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific. This means waters in the Pacific Ocean are nutrient-poor, and are accompanied by high air pressure in the western Pacific and low air pressure in the eastern Pacific. This causes disruption to weather patterns worldwide including: droughts in Indonesia and Australia, and altering the path of the atmospheric jet stream over America.

Coral reefs cover less than 1% of the earth’s surface, but are some of the most valuable, diverse and vulnerable ecosystems on the planet. Reef building corals thrive in water temperatures between 73° and 84° Fahrenheit, but struggle outside of this range. Climate change is providing a challenge, and when you add on a warming effect like El Niño, the danger for coral reef ecosystems is clear. Worldwide coral bleaching events have occurred in 1997/98 and 2009/10, both of which were El Nino years; and the fear is that this year’s event, which will extend into 2016, could be significant.

Warmer water stresses the coral causing them to expel the photosynthetic algae, called zooxanthellae, living in their tissues. This turns them completely white, hence the term bleaching. Although this does not kill the coral immediately, it does put them at greater risk of dying. For example, half the coral reefs in the Caribbean were lost following a local bleaching event in 2005 – a weak El Niño year.

Satellite data has provided a valuable source of data to monitor the changes in coral reefs. For example, the French Centre National d’etudes Spatiales (CNES) and the USA’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), began a mission in 1987 to monitor global ocean changes including measuring sea height by radar altimetry. It began with the TOPEX/Poseidon mission launched in 1992, which provided major data on the way the El Niño effect operated. This was followed Jason-1, launched in 2001, and Jason-2 in 2008. The value of this type of data to monitoring effects like El Niño can be seen at the top of the blog that shows side by side the variations in the Pacific Ocean sea surface height compared to a long term average for the 2015 El Niño and the strong event of 1997/98, with data collected by TOPEX/Poseidon for 1997 and the OSTM/Jason-2 for 2015. Further images and animations from NASA/JPL-Caltech can be found here.

Coral reef ecosystems are a source of food, protection against coastal erosion and provide spawning and nursing grounds for fish. They also provide jobs through fishing and tourism, and are estimated to contribute $29.8 billion to the global economy every year. However, scientists estimate that between 40 and 50% of corals worldwide have been destroyed or lost in the last 50 years. They expect this decline to continue, which could have significant consequences to the human and marine populations that are dependent on them.

Remote Sensing and Agriculture in Italy

Poster from the Game Changing Technologies in Agriculture Event in Milan on 1st October 2015

Poster from the Game Changing Technologies in Agriculture Event in Milan on 1st October 2015

Last week I was in Italy talking all things remote sensing and agriculture. At the start of the week I was in Rome with the European Space Agency (ESA) discussing the Sentinel-2 performance, before catching the train north to Milan on the Wednesday evening for a series of UK Trade and Industry events focused on technology in the agricultural industry (AgriTech).

Thursday’s event was titled ‘Game Changing Technologies in Agriculture’, and was held in what looked like a large greenhouse in the grounds of Villa Necchi. We began the day with a welcome from the UK’s Ambassador to Italy, which was followed by talks from those working most directly in the agriculture industry. It was fascinating to hear some of the facts and see how much of a technological revolution has been occurring within this field. This is being driven by both the world population’s increased need for food – a 60% increase in demand by 2020 – and the corresponding need for businesses to increase their productivity. An overriding theme was the need to be more robust to, or better understand, the environment, including protection food production from both the weather and pests to reduce wastage.

After coffee we moved onto the provision of technological solutions, and there were a couple talks about how both drone and satellite remote sensing could benefit agriculture. My favourite other talks included the fitting of accelerometer collars on cows to collect data about their move movements more effectively, and the use of robot mechanical hands to perform repetitive tasks.

The afternoon expanded into synthetic biology, nanotechnology and technologies to reduce energy requirements or produce it more sustainably. Refrigeration is an important technology for the developing world, allowing a reduction in the current 40% post-harvest food wastage, but needs to be undertaken efficiently; the engines powering the refrigeration units on lorries produce much more pollution than the lorry engines themselves. This was followed by an interactive session where UK innovation centres had ‘stands’ that were used as discussions points on issues such as crops, horticulture, livestock, aquaculture, satellite technologies and big data. The day concluded with talks by Williams Advanced Engineering (associated with the Williams Formula One team) and IBM on how technologies are crossing from one sector to another.

On Friday, whilst it rained heavily in Milan, I spent the morning at the first Sainsbury’s Italian supplier conference. It was interesting to see how a large company is defining, and following, its strategies that include a focus on simplification; both for the supply chain and what the customer experiences. In the afternoon we had an escorted visit around the Milan Expo 2015. This is a six month exhibition which began in May and runs to the end of October and has the theme of Feeding the planet, energy for life’; it has exhibititors from over 140 countries and an exhibition area of 1.1 million square metres; although I didn’t explore all it! The UK exhibit was a beehive structure and wildflower meadow that was connected back to a real beehive in UK.

It was an interesting week and gave me lots of food for thought on how we can further develop the AgriTech services Pixalytics offers.

How Many Earth Observation Satellites in Orbit in 2015?

Artist's rendition of a satellite - mechanik/123RF Stock Photo

Artist’s rendition of a satellite – mechanik/123RF Stock Photo

Following last week’s blog on the number of satellites orbiting the Earth, this week we’re focussing on Earth observation (EO) satellites. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists database, there were 333 active EO satellites on the 31st August 2015.

Examining these numbers further, reveals almost half have a purpose defined as providing optical imaging, with meteorological satellites account for another 13% and 10% providing radar imaging. There is also a small group with the generic purpose of Earth Science; however, more interestingly is the category of Electric Intelligence. Over 20% of EO satellites have this category, and these satellites have exclusively Military users; there are four countries with these satellites, the USA has the most followed by China, then Russia and France. Who knows what exactly they do?

Of the 333 active EO satellites, 290 are in low earth orbits, 34 in geostationary orbits and 9 are in an elliptical orbit. The oldest EO satellite still operational is the Satélite de Coleta de Dados (SCD) 1 which was launched in 1993; it’s a Brazilian satellite providing environmental data. Unsurprisingly, over half the active EO satellites were launched in the last five years, although this does include Planet Lab’s twenty-eight strong Flock-1 constellation launched in 2014 and 2015, they provide imagery with a spatial resolution between 3 and 5 m.

Picking up on the launch sites we looked at last week. The most popular launch site for EO satellites is the Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California, followed by the two Chinese sites of Taiyuan Launch Centre and Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre. The top five is completed with the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and Cape Canaveral in Florida; although it is worth noting that 22 of Flock-1 constellation were launched from the International Space Station.

In terms of numerical supremacy, the USA controls 34% of all EO satellites, China is next with 21% and then Japan with 6.3%. The UK is listed as controlling only 1 satellite, DMCii’s wide imaging DMC-2 satellite; although, we’ve also participated in 8 of the listed European Space Agency (ESA) EO satellites.

In terms of the future, we’re expecting both Jason-3 and Sentinel-3A to be launched later this year. 2016 could see a variety of launches including ESA’s Sentinel-1B and 2B, cloud, aerosol and radiation mission Earthcare and the ADM-Aeolus Wind satellite; DigitalGlobe’s commercial Worldview 4 satellite that will have a panchromatic resolution of 30 cm and multispectral resolution of 1.20 m; and Japan’s Advanced Land Observing Satellite, ALOS-3.

As we often say, it’s an exciting time to be part of Earth observation! Why not get involved?

How many satellites are orbiting the Earth in 2015?

Image courtesy of ESA Note: The debris field shown in the image is an artist's impression based on actual data. However, the debris objects are shown at an exaggerated size to make them visible at the scale shown

Image courtesy of ESA
Note: The debris field shown in the image is an artist’s impression based on actual data. However, the debris objects are shown at an exaggerated size to make them visible at the scale shown

A satellite can be defined as an artificial body placed in orbit around a planet in order to collect information, or for communication. The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) monitors, and maintains a searchable database of, objects launched into space. According to UNOOSA, at the end of August 2015, there were 4 077 satellites orbiting the Earth, which equates to 56.63% of all satellites ever launched.

Of the satellites no longer in orbit, 1 329 have been recovered, 1 539 decayed and 175 deorbited; and interestingly given the definition above, 47 are on the Moon, 15 on Venus, 13 on Mars and 1 on the asteroid EROS. Last year also saw more launches than any other year in history with 239, by the end of August this year we’d only had 106 launches.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) details the currently active satellites through their database, and they note that at the end of August 2015, of the 4,077 satellites in orbit only 1,305 are active. This means there is currently 2 772 pieces of junk metal circling above your head!

So what are the thirteen hundred active satellites actually doing? According to the UCS over 50% of these satellites have a purpose described as communications. The secondary biggest purpose is Earth observation with 26% of active satellites, 333 in total, and we’ll look at these in more detail next week. The next largest category is technology demonstration with 141 satellites, followed by navigation with 91 satellites and finally the remaining 5% of satellites have a purpose described as space science.

Commercial users account for 52% of the satellites, followed by Governments with 30%, 27% have military users and 8% are civilian users. The percentages total more than one hundred percent as some satellites have for multiple purposes. The civil users are mostly Universities or other academic institutes that have launched their own satellites.

The USA is biggest operator of active satellites with over 500, followed by China and then Russia. The UK is listed as the operator on only 40 satellites, although we also have a share in the 26 European Space Agency (ESA) ones.

An interesting point is the most popular launch sites for satellites. The Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia has launched the most satellites in history, over 2,000. This is followed by Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with 1,500, with this site being famous for launching both Sputnik 1 and Yuri Gagarin’s first manned space flight in Vostock 1. After this are the American sites of Cape Canaveral, Florida and the Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California, followed by the ESA launch site of French Guiana.

The UK currently doesn’t feature anywhere on the list, but the first steps to changing this are underway. The UK Government is planning to have a spaceport established in this country by 2018; with three sites in Scotland short-listed together with Newquay in Cornwall, which is an exciting prospect for Pixalytics as we are both based in south-west. The initial focus is likely to be sub-orbital flights, but who knows what could be launched in time.

When you next look up into the sky, remember that there are over four thousand hunks of metal shooting around the Earth at speeds of many thousands of the kilometres an hour high above the clouds!