2016 has caught its first few rays of sunlight, but is already shaping up to be an exciting year for Earth observation (EO). Here are four reasons why:
China launched the worldâ€™s most sophisticated geostationary satellite, Gaofen 4, on the 28th December â€“ okay I know that was technically 2015, but it will begin operating in 2016! Gaofen 4 is part of the China High-Resolution Earth Observation System (CHEOS) that aims have a suite of seven high definition satellites, with varied specifications, providing real-time all day global coverage in all weathers by 2020. Unusually for EO, the Gaofen 4 high-resolution satellite is in a fixed-point 36,000 km geosynchronous orbit focusing on China and the surrounding area.
It has two optical instruments: a visible light imager with 50 m resolution, and an infrared imager with 400 m resolution. The main applications are disaster prevention, disaster relief, agricultural planning and climate change monitoring.
NASA awarded the contract to build Landsat-9â€™s Operational Land Imager-2 (OLI) instrument to Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation on 31st December â€“ yes, I know that was 2015 too!
OLI will have eight spectral wavebands with a resolution ofÂ 30 m, and one panchromatic waveband with a resolution ofÂ 15 m. This will help extend the Landsat archive that has over 40 years of continuous satellite images. Interestingly despite having a similar number of optical bands as ESAâ€™s comparable Sentinel 2 satellites; the spatial resolution isÂ poorer as Sentinel 2 has 10 m resolution for its visible wavebands.
There are a number of significant EO satellite launches planned for the coming twelve months. Highlights include for:
- Jason 3 ocean altimetry mission on January 17th
- ESAâ€™s Sentinel 3A on 4th February
- Astro-H X-ray observatory on February 12th
- ESAâ€™s Sentinel-1B on 14th April
- Ten SkySat Earth observation satellites for Google/Skybox Imaging over the summer
- Worldview 4 in September
- Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series Program (GOES-R), a NASA/NOAA next-generation geostationary weather satellite, in October
- Planet Labs are expected to deploy a significant number of small satellites from the International Space Station during the year, starting with Flock 2eâ€™s twelve satellites, to enable them to provide terrestrial images for the entire Earth.
EO is a growing industry that had sales of $1.6 billion in 2014, up 60% from five years earlier. With the investment and development currently happening within the industry, it is anticipated that this growth will continue. Pixalytics is one example!
The focus in this, and future years, will be getting a broader user base for satellite imagery including providing more operational services using near real time imagery. This should offer potential new applications, services and markets to support the ongoing growth.
You can be part of it! Satellite imagery is no longer just for governments, space agencies or research bodies. Satellites still provide the large scale climate change, ocean and land monitoring; but there can also provide small scale support on everything from crop/field management, building and smart city planning, traffic/parking monitoring and even counting animals from space.
If you want to see how Earth observation might benefit your company, get in touch. Weâ€™d be happy to talk through what might be possible â€“ youâ€™ll never know unless you ask!