Differences Between Optical & Radar Satellite Data

Ankgor Wat, Cambodia. Sentinel-2A image courtesy of ESA.

Ankgor Wat, Cambodia. Sentinel-2A image courtesy of ESA.

The two main types of satellite data are optical and radar used in remote sensing. We’re going to take a closer look at each type using the Ankgor Wat site in Cambodia, which was the location of the competition we ran on last week’s blog as part of World Space Week. We had lots of entries, and thanks to everyone who took part!

Constructed in the 12th Century, Ankgor Wat is a temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world. It lies 5.5 kilometres north of the modern town of Siem Reap and is popular with the remote sensing community due to its distinctive features. The site is surrounded by a 190m-wide moat, forming a 1.5km by 1.3km border around the temples and forested areas.

Optical Image
The picture at the top, which was used for the competition, is an optical image taken by a Multi-Spectral Imager (MSI) carried aboard ESA’s Sentinel-2A satellite. Optical data includes the visible wavebands and therefore can produce images, like this one, which is similar to how the human eye sees the world.

The green square in the centre of the image is the moat surrounding the temple complex; on the east side is Ta Kou Entrance, and the west side is the sandstone causeway which leads to the Angkor Wat gateway. The temples can be clearly seen in the centre of the moat, together with some of the paths through the forest within the complex.

To the south-east are the outskirts of Siem Reap, and the square moat of Angkor Thom can be seen just above the site. To the right are large forested areas and to the left are a variety of fields.
In addition to the three visible bands at 10 m resolution, Sentinel-2A also has:

  • A near-infrared band at 10 m resolution,
  • Six shortwave-infrared bands at 20 m resolution, and
  • Three atmospheric correction bands at 60 m resolution.

Radar Image
As a comparison we’ve produced this image from the twin Sentinel-1 satellites using the C-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) instrument they carry aboard. This has a spatial resolution of 20 m, and so we’ve not zoomed as much as with the optical data; in addition, radar data is noisy which can be distracting.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia. SAR image from Sentinel-1 courtesy of ESA.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia. SAR image from Sentinel-1 courtesy of ESA.

The biggest advantage of radar data over optical data is that it is not affected by weather conditions and can see through clouds, and to some degree vegetation. This coloured Sentinel-1 SAR image is produced by showing the two polarisations (VV and VH i.e. vertical polarisation send for the radar signal and vertical or horizontal receive) alongside a ratio of them as red, green and blue.

Angkor Wat is shown just below centre, with its wide moat, and other archaeological structures surrounding it to the west, north and east. The variety of different landscape features around Angkor Wat show up more clearly in this image. The light pink to the south is the Cambodian city of Siem Reap with roads appearing as lines and an airport visible below the West Baray reservoir, which also dates from the Khmer civilization. The flatter ground that includes fields are purple, and the land with significant tree cover is shown as pale green.

Conclusion
The different types of satellite data have different uses, and different drawbacks. Optical imagery is great if you want to see the world as the human eye does, but radar imagery offers better options when the site can be cloudy and where you want an emphasis on the roughness of the surfaces.

Spinning Python in Green Spaces

2016 map of green spaces in Plymouth, using Sentinel-2 data courtesy of Copernicus/ESA.

2016 map of green spaces in Plymouth, using Sentinel-2 data courtesy of Copernicus/ESA.

As students, we are forever encouraged to find work experience to develop our real-life skills and enhance our CV’s. During the early period of my second year I was thinking about possible work experience for the following summer. Thanks to my University department, I was able to find the Space Placements in INdustry (SPIN) scheme. SPIN has been running for 4 years now, advertising short summer placements at host companies. These provide a basis for which students with degrees involving maths/physics/computer science can get an insight into the thriving space sector. I chose to apply to Pixalytics, and three months later they accepted my application in late March.

Fast forward a few more months and I was on the familiar train down to Plymouth in my home county of Devon. Regardless of your origin, living in a new place never fails to confuse, but with perseverance, I managed to settle in quickly. In the same way I could associate my own knowledge from my degree (such as atmospheric physics, and statistics) to the subject of remote sensing, a topic which I had not previously learnt about. Within a few days I was at work on my own projects learning more on the way.

My first task was an informal investigation into Open data that Plymouth City Council (PCC) has recently uploaded onto the web. PCC are looking for ways to create and support innovative business ideas that could potentially use open data. Given their background, Pixalytics could see the potential in developing this. I used the PCC’s green space, nature reserve and neighbourhood open data sets and found a way to calculate areas of green space in Plymouth using Landsat/Sentinel 2 satellite data to provide a comparison.

Sentinel-2 Image of Plymouth from 2016. Data courtesy of Copernicus/ESA.

Sentinel-2 Image of Plymouth from 2016. Data courtesy of Copernicus/ESA.

There were a few challenges to overcome in using the multiple PCC data sets as they had different coordinate reference systems, which needed to be consistent to be used in GIS software. For example, the Nature Reserves data set was partly in WGS84 and partly in OSGB 1936. Green space is in WGS 84 and the neighbourhood boundaries are in OSGB 1936. This meant that after importing these data sets in GIS software, they wouldn’t line up. Also, the green space data set didn’t include landmarks such as the disused Plymouth City airport, and large areas around Derriford Hospital and Ernsettle. Using GIS software I then went on to find a way to classify and calculate areas of green space within the Plymouth city boundary. The Sentinel-2 which can be seen above, has a higher spatial resolution and allowed me to include front and back gardens.

My green space map for 2016 created from Sentinel 2 data is the most accurate, and gives a total area of green space within the Plymouth neighbourhood boundary of 43 square kilometres, compared with 28 square kilometres that PCC have designated within their dataset. There are some obvious explainable differences, but it would be interesting to explore this deeper.

My second project was to write computer code for the processing and mosaicking of Landsat Imagery. Pixalytics is developing products where the user can select an area of interest from a global map, and these can cause difficult if the area crosses multiple images. My work was to make these images as continuous as possible, accounting for the differences in radiances.

I ended up developing a Python package, some of whose functions include obtaining the WRS path and row from an inputted Latitude and Longitude, correcting for the difference in radiances, and clipping and merging multiple images. There is also code that helps reduce the visual impact of clouds on individual images by using the quality band of the Landsat 8 product. This project took up most of my time, however I don’t think readers would appreciate, yet alone read a 500 line python script, so this has been left out.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Andrew and Samantha for giving me an insight into this niche, and potentially lucrative area of science as it has given me some direction and motivation for the last year of my degree. I hope I’ve provided some useful input to Pixalytics (even if it is just giving Samantha a very long winded Python lesson), because they certainly have done with me!

 

Blog written by:
Miles Lemmer, SPIN Summer Placement student.
BSc. Environmental Physics, University of Reading.

Pixalytics Four Year Celebration!

Sutichak Yachaingham / 123 Stock Photo

Sutichak Yachaingham / 123 Stock Photo

The start of June marked the four-year anniversary of Pixalytics! We’d not realised that the time of year had come around again until Sam started receiving messages via her LinkedIn profile. A lot of small business owners are like us, busy working with their head down and they forget to look up and celebrate their successes and milestones.

So, although we had to be prompted to look up, we’re going to celebrate our milestone of Pixalytics thriving – or maybe surviving – for four years!

The last twelve months have been really successful for us, with the main highlights:

  • Doubling our company turnover.
  • Appointing our first additional full-time employee.
  • Having our book, Practical Handbook of Remote Sensing, published and being sold.
  • Winning a Space for Smarter Government Programme contract.
  • Expanding our EO products and services into AgriTech & flood mapping.
  • Being short-listed for the Plymouth Herald Small Business of the Year Award.
  • Being short-listed for the European Association of Remote Sensing Companies (EARSC) European EO Services Company Award.
  • Hosting two ERASMUS placements and other work experience students.

We wrote a blog last June identifying what we were hoping to achieve in the coming twelve months. The key things were developing our customer base, products, and services together with employing someone else full time. Those aims were definitely achieved!

Well, that’s enough of the celebrating! Like any other small business we’re much more interested in what’s in our future, than our past. We’ve still got plenty of challenges ahead:

  • Doubling our turnover was a big leap, and this year we’ve got to maintain that level and ideally grow more.
  • Despite having additional hands in the business, we still have more ideas than capacity. Some of the ideas we had last year have been taken forward by other companies, before we’ve had the chance to get around to them! We wish them success and will be watching with interest to see how they develop.
  • Marketing is hard work. None of us at Pixalytics are marketing experts, and it’s clear to us the difficulty of competing with firms who have sales and marketing teams promoting themselves at conferences and events. Our current approach is a combination of social media, and picking the events to attend. Both Sam and I are promoting Pixalytics this week, and then it’s back to the office next week to welcome our summer Space Placements in Industry (SPIN) student.

Our key target for the end of this year is to release an innovate series of automated Earth observation products and services that we can sell to clients across the world – we started to describe this journey here. We know we’ll be competing with companies much bigger than us and we know it’s not going to be easy, and to revisit the Samuel Beckett quote we used last year:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

It still holds true for how we run our company. We try things. We fail. We succeed. We learn. We try new things.

We’re looking forward to what the next twelve months, or four years, have in store.

Four Step Countdown to a Book Launch

Book Launch EventRegular readers will know that we wrote our first book last year, ‘Practical Handbook of Remote Sensing’, and on Thursday, 11th February, Pixalytics is holding its first book launch event! We’ve organised it ourselves, and so we thought it might be helpful to give you our four tips for running your own event.

Four: Location, Location, Location
Where to hold the launch? We have a small office and it was not feasible to have it here, so we needed a venue. We thought about hiring rooms in hotels, bookshops or conference centres, but they didn’t feel right. It was then we thought of Plymouth Athenaeum, a local organisation interested in the promotion of the Arts, Literature, Science and Technology – as we’ve got a book on science and technology this seemed ideal!!

The Athenaeum building is in the centre of Plymouth, it was opened in 1961 after the original 1819 building was destroyed in the 1941 Plymouth Blitz. The venue has a lecture theatre, library and lounge which were perfect for what we wanted; it’s also got an actual theatre, but we decided that was a bit beyond us!

We met Owen Ryles, the Acting Honorary General Secretary, who was fantastic in sorting out the arrangements. We had a venue!

Three: Marketing & Publicity
Now we needed awareness. We needed marketing and publicity! We started tweeting about our event, and were delighted to get a lot of likes and retweets. We are really grateful to all our Twitter friends who got involved. The local newspaper, Plymouth Herald, ran an article. Our flyer was also circulated/promoted by other organisations, and we need to thank people at Hydrographic Society UK, Marine Learning Alliance, Plymouth Athenaeum, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth Science Park and Plymouth University who were all great.

Our event has been promoted around the Plymouth area, but also as far away as Australia and USA. We’ve definitely raised awareness!

Two: Freebies
Getting bums on seats. With lots of people knowing about the event, we need to get them out of the house on what looks like being a chilly and damp February evening. So we decided to give away some freebies! The event will have:

  • Free entry
  • Free raffle to win a copy of the book will be drawn on the night.
  • Free postcards, leaflets and pens on remote sensing and Pixalytics.
  • Free refreshments – tea, coffee, biscuits and cakes.

One: Know Your Audience
Who is coming? As our event is free to attend, we don’t know who is coming or even how many! We’ve promoted it to the scientific/student community who know Sam, the local writing community who know me, the business community who know Pixalytics and those linked to the Athenaeum. It is potentially a varied cross section of an audience.

We decided to start the event with a bit about what remote sensing is, and how you can do it yourself. Sam will then use a lot of images to show the different things you can find out with remote sensing and we’ll end the first part of the evening with a discussion on what it was like to write a book together – the positive, the challenges and how close we came to divorce!

After that we’ll move to the lounge where there will be a small exhibition of remote sensing images, the book, refreshments and we’ll draw the raffle. Hopefully there will be something for everyone here.

This is the journey to our first book launch. However, there are still things we don’t know:

  • Will we remember to take everything?
  • Will the weather be horrible?
  • Are people interested in remote sensing?
  • Will anyone turn up?

We’ll tell you the answers next week!

Update After The Book Launch

To answer the questions we posed:

  • We remembered everything apart from the pineapple! (It was part of an audience participation event demonstrating the principles of remote sensing, too complicated to go into!)
  • The weather was not too bad.
  • Yes they are – given the amount of people who came up to us after the demonstration to ask questions and tell us how much they enjoyed the evening.
  • Yes! About 45 people were are the event which was great for us!

We had a great night and even managed to sell copies of the book! We found some interesting information about Plymouth Athenaeum and its links to the Royal Society, got some interest from local students and even had the local paper in attendance taking pictures!

All in all, it was very enjoyable, and tiring, evening!

 

Footprints in Remote Sensing

Plymouth Sound on 25th July 2014 from Landsat 8: Image courtesy of USGS/NASA Landsat

Plymouth Sound on 25th July 2014 from Landsat 8: Image courtesy of USGS/NASA Landsat

I’ve just finished my summer with Pixalytics! As I wrote a blog when I first arrived, I thought it would be nice symmetry to finish my ERASMUS+ placement with a second one.

When I started my internship, I had very little real-world experience. I was really excited and really nervous, but this internship has been a huge eye opener for me. I spent the first week understanding and reviewing the practicals within Pixalytics’ forthcoming book ‘The Practical Handbook of Remote Sensing’ to check for any errors prior to publication, which gave me a good understanding of the basics of remote sensing.

Over the next few weeks I applied my new knowledge to finding and downloading Landsat data for a commercial client. I then downloaded additional Landsat datasats and compared them to altimetry datasets to look for patterns between the two sources for the NovaSAR project. My other main job was processing Landsat 8 data to create a UK-wide vegetation mosaic. This needed cloud free images which is really difficult because the weather in UK is always cloudy, even in summer!

Plymouth is a deeply captivating city with astonishingly magnificent views and landscapes. You get the urban city, fantastic scenery and all around Plymouth are nice beaches, cities and the Dartmoor National Park which is always worth a visit. It’s a safe quiet place where everything is so close together that you can walk everywhere. The people are generally friendly and warm-hearted, and the experience of living in the Plymouth for two months has helped me to gain a more fluent level of English and a better understanding of the British culture – I now know why they constantly talk about the weather!

Overall, I’ve learnt a lot from the internship including practical skills that I will be able to carry with me to my next position. Needless to say, I will miss Pixalytics and Plymouth very dearly, and I’m thankful for the chance to work and live there. ERASMUS+ is an great opportunity that everyone should try to be part of, and I totally recommend going abroad because is an experience that stays with you to rest of your life.

Bye Plymouth, Bye Pixalytics!

Selin

Blog by Selin Cakaloglu, Erasmus+ Intern at Pixalytics

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?

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!

Ten Top Tips for First Time Exhibitors

Pixalytics promotional postcards

Pixalytics promotional postcards

This is the last blog in our quartet covering our first experience of exhibiting; and today we’re going cover the top tips we wish we’d known before arriving at the exhibition.

  1. Know your sizes: We had a 2m by 2m exhibition stand and in addition, we’d bought a furniture package and hired a TV. When we arrived on build day, the furniture and TV stand took up so much space we wondered if we’d get in the stand let alone any potential customers! It looked like we had bought far too much equipment for your stand.
  2. Don’t start stand building too early: We knew our stand would not take hours to build, but wanted to give ourselves plenty of time. Stand building began at 8.00am, and when we arrived at 10.00am the venue was full of construction workers, power tools galore and metal bars that looked like they should be on a bridge somewhere! Just getting to our stand was an obstacle course, so we had a look around Islington in the morning and came back to a quieter exhibition venue in the afternoon.
  3. Have back up plans – We had a stand design in our heads, but it started to unravel immediately. The furniture was bigger than anticipated – see tip one! The stand walls weren’t fixed, they flexed; this meant we could not get enough pressure on the solid canvases to lock the Velcro strips, which were the recommended attachment method. Hence, our canvases would not stay up. (During the exhibition, we saw other exhibitors had attached things by using hooks over the stand walls, giving us a future construction method).After a bit of brainstorming, we used our furniture as display stands instead! It was not our original plan, but worked.
  4. Take a bag of useful items – Having items such as scissors, tape, stapler, bulldog clips, etc, made brainstorming and changing our plans (see tip 3) easier as we had options. For example, we used bulldog clips to hold up our flag bunting.
  5. Movie, not PowerPoint – The hired TV took a memory stick, but only displayed pictures or movies, and not the PowerPoint presentation we’d prepared. We converted the presentation overnight, but needed a little bit of help from the onsite TV people to put it on continuous loop.
  6. Don’t beat yourself up – From previous blogs, you’ll know we’re a small company doing an economical stand, and we were concerned how it would compare with the big companies. Our stand was different, and it looked like no other at the exhibition. It did generate a lot of talk. Our flag bunting split the crowd; some had bunting envy, others didn’t like it. However, it provided a great talking point for visitors – see tip 9.
  7. If you’re stuck, ask for help – All the exhibition organisers, equipment suppliers and venue staff were really helpful, and we got great assistance on everything we asked about including missing table foot, help on setting up the TV (see tip 4) and we’d like to extend a special thank you to Sophie who drew the winner of our prize draw.
  8. Buy less promotional items – On a previous blog we mentioned our decisions on which promotional items to take. The postcards were very successful, the leaflets were useful and the pens were fine (although, almost every stand offered free pens). What we didn’t get right were the quantities, we had bought far too many! Small businesses are resourceful, so the postcards will become our compliment slips and we’ll use the pens in the office … for most of the next decade!
  9. Talk to the visitors – I know it’s an obvious thing to say, but you have talk to people. It’s easy to stand and smile at people as they walk past, but it’s when you start talking to them that things happen. We were able to attract people onto the stand with our postcards and prize draw, and then we could start talking to them, which led to a number of unexpected and interesting conversations and possible leads.
  10. It is tiring!!! – It is exhausting standing around and talking to people all day, particularly when you are more used to being sat in an office. At the end of each day we were delighted to take our shoes off!

So was it worth it? Regularly blog readers will know this has been something we’ve been wondering for our first exhibition.

On the business side we spoke to many people, some we already knew and some we did not; both groups generated conversations and potential leads. The question is whether any of these leads will turn into actual turnover over the coming months.

On the exhibition side, we learnt a lot! We’ve got a small business stand at the 2015 UK Space Conference in Liverpool in July, which is a slightly different approach as we only have a space with a table and chairs, so it will provide an interesting comparison. We look forward to meeting any fellow GEO Business exhibitors also going to Liverpool.

We‘re on Stand K31 at Geo Business 2015!

We’ve made it! We’re officially first time exhibitors! After months of discussions, decisions and preparations, at this precise moment you’ll find us on stand K31 at the Geo Business Show 2015 in the Business Design Centre in London.

In a previous week, we discussed our approach to the exhibition and wanting to have something different that stands out without breaking the bank. The blog picture reveals our stand design; we’ve large scale canvas prints of a variety of satellite images coupled with retro items such as a globe and map bunting. We were a little worried about our stand construction, but it all seemed to go went well. Let us know what you think?

South West UK, Pseudo-true colour image. Landsat 8 data courtesy USGS/NASA

South West UK, Pseudo-true colour image. Landsat 8 data courtesy USGS/NASA

In terms of promotional items, we have our brochures, postcards of all the canvas prints, a number of A5 sheets on our key products/services and our pens. In addition, we’re giving away a small canvas Landsat image of South Devon, as shown on the right. Come on drop your business card or complete an entry form off at our stand, and we’ll select the winner tomorrow before the exhibition closes.

Geo Business 2015 runs both today and tomorrow, and so do come along and have a look at our stand. Give us some feedback on our design, enter the competition or just pick up a few postcards or a pen! If you feel like it, talk to us! We’d be glad to discuss remote sensing, Earth observation and all things Pixalytics with you; maybe find out if there is anything we might be able to help you, or your organisation, with. Who knows what ideas, products or solutions our discussions might come up with?

Don’t forget, tomorrow at 12.30pm in Room F, we’re running a free workshop called ‘How to add value to remote sensing by applying cutting edge scientific research to create richer imagery and data’. It would be great to see people there.

Finally, we’ve also previously talked about how we’d determine whether all of this effort is worthwhile. We’ve come up with these three metrics to measure our toe dipping into the exhibition world:

  • New contacts for customers or research partners.
  • In the next four months, gain sufficient new client business from the exhibition to cover our costs – after all this is why we are all exhibiting!
  • Develop a long-term business relationship over the course of the next year.

We’ll let you know how we got on next week. However, if you’re at Geo Business today or tomorrow why not come up and have look, talk to us and take away a few freebies. We’d love to see you.

Is space a good investment?

Space is an expensive, and uncertain, environment to work in, and decisions to invest in space technology and missions are frequently questioned in the current global economic climate. Headline figures of tens of millions, or billions, do little to counter the accusations that there are more appropriate things to be investing in. Is the cost of investing in space worthwhile?

Image of East Devon, UK taken by Landsat 8 on 4th November 2013.  The River Exe flows from top to bottom and the River Teign from left to right. Plumes of suspended sediment are clearly visible following periods of heavy rainfall in late October and early November 2013.  Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

Image of East Devon, UK taken by Landsat 8 on 4th November 2013.
The River Exe flows from top to bottom and the River Teign from left to right. Plumes of suspended sediment are clearly visible following periods of heavy rainfall in late October and early November 2013.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

Last week the Landsat Advisory Group, a sub-committee of the US Government’s National Geospatial Advisory Committee, issued a report looking at the economic value of Landsat data to America. As Landsat data is freely available, quantifying the value of that data isn’t easy; and the Group approached it by considering the cost of providing alternative solutions for Landsat data.

They considered sixteen applications, linked to US Government departments, which use Landsat data. These ranged from flood mitigation, shoreline mapping and coastal change; through forestry management, waterfowl habitats and vineyard management; to mapping, wildfire assessment and global security support. The report estimated that these sixteen streams alone produced savings of between $350 million and $436 million to the US economy. The report concluded that the economic value of just one year of Landsat data far exceeds the multi-year total cost of building, launching, and managing Landsat satellites and sensors.

This conclusion was interesting given reports in 2014 that Landsat 8 cost around $850m to build and launch, a figure which will increase to almost $1 billion with running costs; and that NASA were estimating that Landsat 9 would cost in excess of the $650m budget they had been given. These figures are significantly in excess of the quantified figures in the Advisory Group report; however work undertaken by US Geological Survey in 2013 identified the economic benefit of Landsat data for the year 2011 is estimated to be $1.70 billion for US users, and $400 million for international users.

The discrepancy between the two figures is because the Advisory Group did not include private sector savings; nor the fact that Landsat data is also collected, and disseminated, by the European Space Agency; nor did it include unquantified societal benefits or contribution to scientific research. For example, it highlighted that humanitarian groups use Landsat imagery to monitor human rights violations at low cost and without risking staff entering dangerous, and often inaccessible, world regions.

Last week also demonstrated the uncertain side of space, with the discovery of the Beagle-2 spacecraft on the surface of Mars. The UK led probe mission was assumed to have crash landed on Christmas Day 2003, however recent images indicate it landed successfully but its solar panels did not unfurl successfully. The Beagle 2 discovery has obvious echoes with the recent shady site of the Philea comet landing, and demonstrates that space exploration is a risky business. Given the Beagle 2 mission cost £50 million and the Philea mission was estimated to cost around region of €1.4 billion, is the cost of investing in space worthwhile?

Consider satellite television, laptops, smoke detectors, tele-medicine, 3D graphics and satellite navigation – all of these developments came through the space industry, and so now think about the jobs and economic activity generated by these sectors. Working in space is expensive and challenging, but it’s precisely because of this that the space industry is innovative and experimental. The space sector works at the technological cutting edge, investment in space missions benefits and enhances our life on earth. So if anyone ever asks whether space is a good investment, tell them about the financial benefits of Landsat, the development of laptops, the number of lives saved by smoke detectors or the humanitarian support provided to Amnesty International.