Evolution of Coastal Zones

Lost Lake Area of Louisiana, USA. Landsat 5 image from 1985 on left, Landsat 8 from 2015 on right. Data courtesy of NASA/USGS.

Lost Lake Area of Louisiana, USA. Landsat 5 image from 1985 on left, Landsat 8 from 2015 on right. Data courtesy of NASA/USGS.

Coastal zones are the place where the sea and the land meet, and they’ve played a massive role in the life of Pixalytics. From a personal standpoint we’re based, and live, in Plymouth on the south-west coast and anyone who saw the Dawlish railway tracks swinging in midair eighteen months ago will know how these areas can affect our transport links. In addition, Sam’s PhD was focussed on the ‘Remote Sensing of Suspend Sediment in the Humber Estuary’, and so Pixalytics has effectively been grown from a coastal zone!

Last week the BBC carried a report highlighting the erosion of the Louisiana coastal wetlands; in particular, it noted that more than an area the size of a football pitch was disappearing every hour. This statistic caught our attention, and our next steps were obvious! We downloaded two images of the Lafourche Bayou in Louisiana; the first was a Landsat 5 image acquired on the 31st August 1985, and the second was a Landsat 8 image acquired twenty years later on the 02nd August 2015.

Mouth of Atchafalya River, Louisiana, USA. Landsat 5 image on left from 1985, Landsat 8 image from 2015 on right. Data courtesy of NASA/USGS.

Mouth of Atchafalya River, Louisiana, USA. Landsat 5 image on left from 1985, Landsat 8 image from 2015 on right. Data courtesy of NASA/USGS.

The image at the top of the blog shows the area around the Lost Lake, in the bottom left hand corner, just off the coast of Louisiana; with the 1985 image on the left, and the 2015 image on the right. The loss of land, described in the BBC report, can be seen in the northern portion of the image with a lot more water visible. However, the image on the right shows the mouth of the Atchafalya River in Louisiana; again, the 1985 image is on the left. Coastal evolution is again clearly visible, but this time there are islands that have risen from the water.

Swamplands, like in Louisiana, aren’t the only coastal zones changing. In 2011, the United Nations Environmental Programme estimated that over the last 40 years Jamaica’s Negril beaches have experienced average beach erosion of between 0.5 m and 1 m per year. Another coastal zone in decline are mangroves and wetland forests; a 2007 report noted that the areal extent of mangrove forests had declined by between 35 % and 86 % over the last quarter half century (Duke et al. 2007).

Coastal zones have social, economic and environmental importance as they attract both human settlements and economic activity; however, they are also particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change and their evolution will have impacts on the human, flora and fauna populations of those areas. So when you’re next at the coast have a good look around; the view in front of you may never be seen again!

Interpretation is the Key to Remote Sensing

Landsat 8 Image, acquired on 19 May 2014. Data courtesy of NASA/USGS.

Landsat 8 Image, acquired on 19 May 2014. Data courtesy of NASA/USGS.

Landsat 8 Image, acquired on 20th May 2015. Data courtesy of NASA/USGS.

Landsat 8 Image, acquired on 20th May 2015. Data courtesy of NASA/USGS.

Remote sensing just produces pretty satellite images doesn’t it? Whilst remote sensing can produce fantastic looking images, the interpretation of the imagery is important. Take the two images at the top of the blog, both are from South America and were acquired by Landsat 8; although they were taken on different days.

In the centre of each image is a white landscape feature; the question is, what are the features and are they the same thing? White colour patches on satellite images can represent a number of things. It could indicate a snow or ice feature like a glacier, or sunglint off the ocean or other body of water, it could be fog or simply be showing that there were clouds on the day that the image was acquired.

The top image with the white feature along its length is the Perito Moreno Glacier, located in the Santa Cruz Province of Argentina. It is a 250 square kilometre glacial formation that’s 30 km in length, and interestingly it is one of three Patagonian glaciers that is currently growing.

The second image is a completely different type of landscape feature, although it might be familiar to remote sensing experts! It shows the world’s largest salt flat known as Salar de Uyuni, which is located in the Daniel Campos Province in southwest Bolivia. It has a salt crust a few metres thick over a pool of brine. It’s an extremely flat area, with the altitude varying less than one meter over its 10,582 square kilometres; the flatness of the surface is used to calibrate altimeters on Earth observation satellites.

Remote sensing produces images, and these can be freely sourced from places such as NASA’s Landsat archive or the EU’s Copernicus programme; or images can be purchased from a variety of commercial providers. However getting an image is only the starting point, you need to ensure that you know what you are looking at. This is where the skill in remote sensing, whether it is in the interpretation of the actual image or in the application of scientific theory to create new data derived from the image data.

Remote sensing experts often prefer to work with the data underlying images rather than the images themselves; whereas, novices often work with the images. It’s important to realise that imagery can require interpretation and to not simply accept the face value of what is on the image.

Landscape Features Visible From Space

Eye of the Sahara from Landsat 8 on 7th July 2015. Data courtesy of NASA/USGS.

Eye of the Sahara from Landsat 8 on 7th July 2015.
Data courtesy of NASA/USGS.

One of my favourite facts growing up was that the Great Wall of China was the only manmade feature visible from space. Of course, I now know that everything about that statement was wrong, and it is not a fact at all!

Firstly, it is actually very difficult to see the Great Wall of China from space due to the narrowness of the wall and the pixel size of satellites. For example, Landsat has a pixel size of 30 m meaning that it is impossible to distinguish anything smaller than 30 m and features need to be significantly larger to be visible. The astronauts astronauts Chris Hadfield from Canada and China’s Yang Liwei, both said they could not see the Great Wall with the naked eye when orbiting the Earth. US astronaut Leroy Chiao took a picture of the Great Wall from the window of the International Space Station in 2004; however, even this needed to be magnified to be able to see the Great Wall. Sadly, the other side of my childhood fact is also untrue; there are a number of manmade features that can be seen from space, including the Great Pyramids at Giza, the greenhouses of Almeria in Spain and Palm Tree Island in Dubai.

There are, of course, also many natural features visible from space. From the obvious Great Barrier Reef, Uluru (also known as Ayres Rock) and the Grand Canyon; to the more unusual and less well known features such as the Eye of the Sahara, which is the image at the top of the blog. I become aware of the Eye of Sahara, also known as the Richat, through a recent New Scientist article. It’s a 40 kilometre wide series of concentric rings of rocks of different ages, located in the Sahara Desert near Ouadene in Mauritania.

It’s not known precisely how this feature was created, nor why it is so circular; however, it is an interesting anomaly visible from space. The concept of exploring unusual Earth features seen from space is the basis of a new television series due to begin on Discovery UK at the end of this month. The series, Into The Unknown, will see presenter Ed Stafford travel to unusual and unexplained landscape features that have been spotted from satellites.

Who says there is nothing left to discover on Earth? Start scouring your satellite pictures; you never know what you might discover!

Four Ways Flexibility Can Be Your Company’s Core Competence

Business flexibility, Copyright: bloomua / 123RF Stock Photo

Copyright: bloomua / 123RF Stock Photo

Flexibility can be a core competence for small businesses, if they can effectively exploit it. This involves being flexible in all areas, within the principles, values and aims of your business. Zig Ziglar, an author and motivational speaker, summed this up with his quote ‘Be firm on principle, but flexible on method’. Four great ways you can exploit this core competence are:

Product/Service Flexibility
Larger businesses often create and sell a specific set of standard products to their customers. As a small business, you can adapt, modify and tailor your products and services specifically to the individual customers needs. This bespoke approach may take a little more resources, but showing this attention to detail is repaid through happy customers and further work. We believe in providing bespoke solutions to our customers, and find the process of trying to ensure that they get the remote sensing product/service that best suits their needs an exciting and rewarding challenge.

Supplier Flexibility
Don’t assume you have to do everything in the business, outsource wherever possible. This allows you to focus on the things that only you can do to grow the business; i.e., you don’t need to be your company’s accountant, web designer, marketing expert, etc. Richard Branson said ‘Everything in your business can be outsourced … if you’re not emotionally attached to doing it’, and the final part of that quote is critical. Outsource the work, not the control; it’s your business and you need to ensure your outsourcing delivers what you want. This can be difficult where you have clear opinions of what you want to achieve; and you need to work with organisations who share your ethos and vision.

Similarly, don’t tie yourself into long term contracts; unless you’re sure it is right for your business. Being based on the Plymouth Science Park, one of things we like is that moving offices is relatively easy. We moved last week from the second floor to a larger ground floor office. We’re looking to recruit a web developer internship, and so we need more space. We’ve not needed so much space for the last eighteen months, so why pay for it?

Employee Flexibility
Traditional employment methods are recruitment through adverts and everyone working together in one office; technology has changed what’s possible for companies, but the traditional approach is also still hugely prevalent. Sam’s worldwide reputation in remote sensing means we’re often contacted by people who want to work with us, and so our recruitment often occurs via people approaching us. This results in placements and internships that are as valuable as conventional employees.

Equally, we don’t necessarily require everyone to be sat in an office all week. We’re happy for people to work from home, or other locations, if that is more suitable to what they’re doing. In our experience, wherever possible, it’s best for us all to be in the office at least once a week to ensure we’re thinking on the same wavelength. Otherwise, we tend to communicate by email and Skype.

Flexibility of Approach
Whilst being trusted Earth observation experts is Pixalytics overarching company objective, we’re also committed to promoting education and training. As part of this we’ve written a book, The Practical Handbook of Remote Sensing, which is due to be published towards the end of this year. This has taken a significant amount of effort, although getting a first draft out in 9 months is also quick for this genre. Will it bring us any work? We’ve got no idea. However, we do know it will promote, educate and inform people about remote sensing that will in turn support the overall values and aims of our company.

These are four ways we use flexibility to develop our core competence. How are you exploiting flexibility in your business?

First Small Steps in Remote Sensing

The International Space Station is seen in silhouette as it transits the moon at roughly five miles per second, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015, Woodford, VA.  Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The International Space Station is seen in silhouette as it transits the moon at roughly five miles per second, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015, Woodford, VA. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

It’s not often you get given the opportunity to travel, live in an exciting new city and get an incredible internship all in one. So when I heard about the Erasmus+ Programme I applied right away! I wanted to gain more experience in remote sensing.

When I was little I had a very big poster of the moon surface hung on my wall, it had so much detail and I would stare at it every night before I went to bed. After my parents bought my first computer, I started to search for more images of the moon and other planets and I was impressed by the complexity of what I found. This was the beginning of my fascination with remote sensing. When it came to choosing my career path, it was not hard. I knew what I wanted to become and now it sounds, and feels, right to call myself a Geomatics Engineer.

I’m currently studying two undergraduate degrees in Surveying, and Civil Engineering; but it was still hard to find an Erasmus work placement for remote sensing. I managed to find the Pixalytics Ltd with my teacher’s help, as he had previously met Dr Samantha Lavender.

After finding a place to do your internship the rest is should be easy, but not for United Kingdom. Getting my work permit from British Council was a really challenging process, and took me exactly three months. Despite doing everything right, getting responses to my emails for sponsorship was hard. It was the most awful part of the process for me, because there was nothing I could do except wait. Finally, after a lot of patience my visa arrived and I was on my way to Plymouth!

The last issue, and some people’s main concern, is getting accommodation. I did not find it hard to find a place to stay because most of the students were out of town. With a basic search on the internet I found a flat in four days, it is based a few hundred metres from the centre of Plymouth and close to the bus route to Pixalytics.

I thought I had read and traveled enough to be prepared when I stepped off the plane in London, but it was still a shock standing alone with my suitcase and hearing all the British accents around me. At first, it was difficult to adapt to the language as the accents are sometimes hard to understand. But once I’d grasped the pronunciation, I believe I’m improving every week.

Working at Pixalytics will be my first internship experience, and I am so grateful to Samantha Lavender for giving me this opportunity. Working abroad will be a memory and lesson in itself but I hope to also I hope to enhance my discipline and knowledge as well as applying my existing engineering and personal skills.

Getting my internship was a long, difficult and exhausting process, but I realized that it’s totally worth it as soon as I got to Plymouth, If anyone is thinking of applying to the Erasmus+ programme, I would totally recommend it!

Blog by Selin Cakaloglu, Erasmus+ Intern at Pixalytics

Reprocessing Data Challenges of Producing A Time Series

August 2009 Monthly Chlorophyll-a Composite; data courtesy of the ESA Ocean Colour Climate Change Initiative project

August 2009 Monthly Chlorophyll-a Composite; data courtesy of the ESA Ocean Colour Climate Change Initiative project

Being able to look back at how our planet has evolved over time, is one of the greatest assets of satellite remote sensing. With Landsat, you have a forty year archive to examine changes in land use and land cover. For in situ (ground based) monitoring, this is something that’s only available for a few locations, and you’ll only have data for the location you’re measuring. Landsat’s continuous archive is an amazing resource, and it is hoped that the European Union’s Copernicus programme will develop another comprehensive archive. So with all of this data, producing a time series analysis is easy isn’t it?

Well, it’s not quite that simple. There are the basic issues of different missions having different sensors, and so you need to know whether you’re comparing like with like. Although data continuity has been a strong element of Landsat, the sensors on Landsat 8 are very different to those on Landsat 1. Couple this with various positional, projection and datum corrections, and you have lots of things to think about to produce an accurate time series. However, once you’ve sorted all of these out and you’ve got your data downloaded, then everything is great isn’t it?

Well, not necessarily; you’ve still got to consider data archive reprocessing. The Space Agencies, who maintain this data, regularly reprocess satellite datasets. This means that the data you downloaded two years ago, isn’t necessarily the same data that could be downloaded today.

We faced this issue recently as NASA completed the reprocessing of the MODIS Aqua data, which began in 2014. The data from the MODIS Aqua satellite has been reprocessed seven times, whilst its twin, Terra, has been reprocessed three times.

Reprocessing the data can include changes to some, or all, of the following:

  • Update of the instrument calibration, to take account of current knowledge about sensor degradation and radiometric performance.
  • Appyling new knowledge, in terms of atmospheric correction and/or derived product algorithms.
  • Changes to parallel datasets that are used as inputs to the processing; for example, the meteorological conditions are used to aid the atmospheric correction.

Occasionally, they also change the output file format the data is provided in; and this is what has caught us out. The MODIS output file format has changed from HDF4 to NetCDF4 with the reason being that NetCDF is a more efficient, sustainable, extendable and interoperable data file format. A change we’ve known about for a long time, as it resulted from community input, but until you get the new files you can’t check and update your software.

We tend to use a lot of Open Source software, enabling our clients to carry on working with remote sensing products without having to invest in expensive software. The challenge is that it takes software provider time to catch up with the format changes. Hence, the software is unable to load the new files or the data is incorrectly read e.g., comes in upside down. Sometimes large changes, mean you may have to alter your approach and/or software.

Reprocessing is important, as it improves the overall quality of the data, but you do need to keep on top what is happening with the data to ensure that you are comparing like with like when you analyse a time series.

New Horizons for Remote Sensing

This image of Pluto from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was received on July 13, and has been combined with lower-resolution colour information from the Ralph instrument. Credits: NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI.

This image of Pluto from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was received on July 13, and has been combined with lower-resolution colour information from the Ralph instrument. Credits: NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI.

You can’t have failed to have seen the amazing images of Pluto taken by the New Horizon spacecraft over the last week. What you may not have thought about, is that these images are taken using remote sensing technology.

Remote sensing, particularly when referred to as Earth observation, is thought of as a scientific field focussed on looking at our planet – we often use this in our own marketing! However, the simplest definition of remote sensing is being able to know what an object is without being in physical contact with it (inspired by Sabins 1978). Although the Earth is the most obvious example, European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission to comet 67P highlighted, remote sensing can go extra-terrestrial, or in this case interplanetary!

New Horizons has seven scientific instruments: three optical, two plasma, a dust sensor and a radio science receiver/radiometer. The three optical instruments are:

  • Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) that’s a panchromatic high magnification imager, which at its closest approach will have a pixel size of approximately 50 m.
  • Ralph is a visible and infrared imager and spectrometer that has three panchromatic and four colour imagers within its Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera, which takes images twice a day; it has a pixel size of around 250 m. In addition, Ralph has a Linear Ealon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA) that’s an infrared spectrometer with 1.25 – 2.50 micron wavelengths, which will produce thermal maps of Pluto.
  • Alice is an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer with 1 024 spectral channels at 32 spatial locations along its rectangular field of view. It analyses the composition and structure of Pluto’s atmosphere, by measuring either ultraviolet emissions or absorption of sunlight by the atmosphere. A basic version of Alice is also onboard Rosetta.

The image at the top of the blog, which was first shown around the world last week, was taken in black and white by LORRI, but has been combined with lower resolution colour information from the Ralph instrument – a technique call image fusion.

The remaining scientific instruments are:

  • REX (Radio Science EXperiment): measures atmospheric temperature and pressure.
  • SWAP (Solar Wind Around Pluto): studying Pluto’s interaction with solar winds.
  • PEPSSI (Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation): a directional energetic particle spectrometer, measuring the density, composition, and nature of particles escaping Pluto’s atmosphere.
  • SDC (Student Dust Counter): built and operated by students of the University of Colorado, it measures the concentration of space dust in the solar system.

The pictures produced by the instruments on New Horizons are fantastic. However, with extra-terrestrial remote sensing the travel time involved is significant; New Horizons was launched on the 19 January 2006 and Rosetta on the 2 March 2004. This means the technology onboard is a decade old, although they were cutting edge instruments at launch and so the lag is probably not ten years, but it is behind what we can do now. For example, QuickBird-2 has a pixel size of 0.61 – 0.72 m. However, improved spatial resolution is not only dependent on the technology. The high speed flyby of Pluto meant sensors only had a short amount of time to take the images, and so the focus needed to be the whole planet, or specific areas, in high resolution detail. There is also the problem of bandwidth, and the difficulty in transferring large amounts of data back to Earth.

Remote sensing is a fast moving field of science, technological advances and innovative ideas for data that mean exciting discoveries happen regularly. Last week’s UK Space Conference gave an insight into what’s happening next. Make sure you’re onboard!

 

Pixalytics blog with contributions from Davydh Tretheway.

2015 UK Space Conference Lifts Off

Uk Space 2015We’re at the UK Space Conference 2015 in Liverpool, and exhibiting! The opening day of the conference has been interesting, exciting and bookended by astronauts. The conference’s plenary session began with an upbeat assessment of the UK space industry, and the progress being made on the UK Space Growth Strategy of delivering a £40 bn sector by 2030; we’re currently at £11.8 bn. The plenary also had a presentation from Helen Sharman, Britain’s first astronaut; and the day ended with Tim Peake, Britain’s next astronaut, phoning into the conference from his preparations in Baikonur.

The European Space Agency’s new Director General, Prof Johann-Dietrich Woerner, gave a very inspiring presentation that put space at the heart of society, politics, science and technology and highlighted the need for new ambitions, disruptive technologies and a village on the far side of the moon! Other interesting presentations included Aleksandra Mir & Alice Sharp who explored the collaborations between art and space. Stuart Armstrong from the fantastically named ‘Future of Humanity Institute’ explained how we could colonise the universe, using natural resources from the planet Mercury. Stuart Marsh, from the Nottingham Geospatial Institute, described using a greater range of persistent features (rather than just urban and rocky features as previously used) to provide more complete maps of ground movement from InSAR. A thought provoking session on the use of Earth Observation data within Climate Services took place on day two, particularly on the need to start developing information products, rather than simply providing data and images.

The exhibition has also been positive. We’ve had good conversations with new people, reconnected with some old friends and given talks to groups of schoolchildren who attended as part of the conference’s Outreach / Education Programme.

Pixalytics stand at UK Space Conference

Pixalytics stand at UK Space Conference

At our first exhibition earlier this year, we published ten top tips for first time exhibitors; now we’d like to add an eleventh – Make sure you know whether or not you have a stand? We are not kidding! We’d reserved exhibition space within the Small Business Hub, which included a cocktail table, two stools and space for one pull-up banner. The plan looked like we were all on one big stand with tables distributed throughout; however, when we turned up yesterday we had our own stand complete with walls! This was a surprise to us, and all the other Small Business Hub exhibitors. The surprise was followed by creative thinking, a shopping trip and then we Blue Peter’d our stand! You can judge the results in the picture on the right.

The conference was great, and can’t wait until 2017!

4 Things We’re Doing Differently for our 2nd Exhibition

Pixalytics-show preview imageNext week the UK Space Conference 2015 takes place in Liverpool, and Pixalytics is exhibiting! Regular blog readers will know we recently undertook our first foray into exhibiting at Geo-Business 2015, and we learnt a huge amount. Second time around we’re doing things slightly differently:

Different Type of Exhibition – The UK Space Conference has a full programme of speakers, and is complemented by the exhibition; whereas Geo-Business was focussed around the exhibition and was complemented by a conference programme. This difference means the UK Space Conference exhibition will be visited mostly during coffee breaks and lunch. There will of course be people around not attending particular sessions, but on the whole it will be quieter during the conference programme. The question is how many people will take time out from eating and drinking to visit the exhibition?

Different Exhibiting Space – At our first exhibition we hired a space, and then had to fill it. This time we’re part of the Small Business Hub within the exhibition, and alongside a number of other small companies we’ll have a cocktail table, a pair of stools and space for one pull up banner. The lack of space is compensated by the fact it’s a much more cost effective way to exhibit. Obviously, there will be less to attract people’s attention to us, so how much of a footfall will we get in the hub?

Different Type of Attendee – All delegates have to pay to attend the UK Space Conference. In theory, the attendees will definitely want to be at the conference and will have clear links to the space industry; whereas with free entry exhibitions there is sometimes more of the ‘it could be interesting and lets have a look’ approach – we’re not knocking this, as we’ve used it a number of times ourselves. However, when money has to be paid out it lends a certain focus to attending. It will be interesting to see if this changes the quantity, or quality, of potential business leads visiting our stand.

Taking Less Promotional Material – One thing we learnt from our first experience was that we took too much promotional material, and we ended up bringing the majority back. The one advantage of over buying is that we already have promotional materials for this conference. We’ve had to design, and buy, a pull up banner, which is something new, otherwise we’ll only be taking the items we believe we’ll use.

There are a lot of different flavours of exhibitions. If you go to the industry focussed conferences you’re likely to be surrounded by competitors, if you go to customer focussed ones will they be interested in your products and if you go to niche exhibitions it may only be relevant to one part of your business. As a small company new to exhibiting, how do you know which one is right for you?

We’re finding this out by using the scientific process of experimentation; we’re trying two different conferences this year and will compare what we think they have achieved for us. Next year we may do something different again, until we find out what works best.

If you’re up at the UK Space Conference next week, pop into the Small Business Hub in the centre of the exhibition hall and say hello!

Why the Current Internet Satellite Space Race Matters?

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

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

The starting gun fired some time ago on the race to create a global satellite internet network. Last week OneWeb, backed by the Virgin Group and Qualcomm, stretched its legs with the announcement of a $500 million investment from companies including Airbus and Coke-Cola. The project intends to create a network of 648 microsatellites providing global high-speed internet and telephony services, to ensure everywhere on the planet has access. It’s planned these will be launched in batches, starting in 2017 with go live in 2019.

However, OneWeb isn’t the only runner in this race. Elon Musk’s Space X company, backed by Google, also has plans for a 4 000 strong internet satellite network; testing is due to begin in 2016 and current plans have it reaching full capacity around 2030.

These two developments could signal a change of pace in the satellite industry, as they will both be using mass produced satellites. Although neither project has realised the specifications for their microsatellites, some details are available. Both networks will be in Low Earth Orbits of around 1100 to 1200 km, weights will also be similar with OneWeb’s at 150 kg and Space X’s slightly more at around 200 kg. The microsatellite size is expected to be around half a square metre – although little has been announced about this to date; Airbus was recently awarded the build contract for OneWeb. Both constellations plan to use the microwave frequency Ku band, although Space X has also indicated interest in the Ka band.

Apart from mass production, the other element of these networks worth thinking about is the sheer quantity of satellites involved. The United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs recorded 239 satellites launched last year, and this was the greatest number ever launched in a single year. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists last satellite database, from 31 January 2015, there are current 1 265 satellites in orbit around the Earth. Therefore, if both of these projects cross the finish line, they will more than quadruple the current number of satellites.

More objects in space increases the likelihood of potential collisions and impacts, and increases the potential space junk and debris in the atmosphere – although, OneWeb has already announced plans for deorbiting its satellites at end of life. This increase of objects in LEO does bring to mind the Kessler Syndrome hypothesized by Donald Kessler in 1978. He proposed a scenario where the density of objects in LEO is so great that the debris from a single collision between two objects would set off a cascade of subsequent collisions so great, that it would prevent any further spacecraft from passing through the LEO area; as explored in the 2013 film Gravity. This level of satellite concentration will need careful managing and monitoring.

In terms of Earth observation, the satellites will probably cause minimal impact. Due to their size, they will show up as rogue pixels on very high-resolution images, but wouldn’t register on the coarser resolution of systems such as Landsat. In terms of frequency bands, the Ku band isn’t generally used for Earth observation; although the altimeter, ALTIKA, onboard the joint French and Indian SARAL mission does operate at the Ka band and any use of that band by the Space X project will be worth watching. This isn’t the first time Earth observation has had to fight its corner for bandwidth, there is an ongoing battle with mobile data companies for use of these microwave frequencies that could also be used for wireless data transmission.

The internet satellite space race is an event that must be watched, it will change the satellite and telecommunication industries; and has the potential to change fundamentally what orbits the Earth.