Practical Handbook of Remote Sensing

Book ArrivalOur first book is out now!!! A dull and damp Saturday afternoon was spectacularly brightened by a deliveryman’s knock at the door, who handed over our first copies of the Practical Handbook of Remote Sensing – as you can see in the picture. It was the first time we’d got the finished paperback in our hands. Very exciting!

The book was written by us, Samantha Lavender and Andrew Lavender, and is published by CRC Press of the Taylor & Francis Group. It is a general how-to guide for anyone wanting to use remote sensing, guiding inexperienced individuals through the principles and science of remote sensing, and giving them the skills to undertake practical remote sensing at home with just a computer and free-to-access desktop software.

It’s a book Sam has wanted to write for many years: something which we hope opens up the exciting field we work in to new people. However she quickly realised that if she was writing an ‘idiots guide’, she needed an idiot – which she says is where I came in! Personally, I prefer the publisher description of me as a non-expert navigating the subject for the first time.

The first half of the book begins with the basic principles and history of remote sensing, next we have the science behind remote sensing and image processing and finally the first half is finished off with chapters on practical remote sensing and image processing with a variety of example exercises. The second half is focussed on applications of remote sensing within both land and marine environments, with details on the applications, scientific theory of the remote sensing techniques and associated practical exercises.

We aimed to make the book practical, readable and easy to understand. The principle we used was that if I couldn’t understand a section of the book, it had to be rewritten until I could understand it! We have also based it on open source software, using ESA’s Sentinel Application Platform (SNAP) and QGIS as our remote sensing and geographical information systems software. The default dataset we’ve used is Landsat; again as it is freely accessible, although a number of other datasets are also included.

We’d also like to start to build a community of ‘new’ remote sensors and so we launched a complementary website last weekend, www.playingwithrsdata.com – designed and written by the excellent i-Create Design and Square Apple. The website will keep the book users updated on any changes to software or data used in the book, provide additional exercises and a forum for people to ask questions and continue their learning.

We’re both very excited and proud about having our first book published, and we hope that people will enjoy reading it and working through the exercises to gain new skills. What’s that? You want to know where you can immediately get hold of a copy of the Practical Handbook of Remote Sensing. Well, clicking on this link will take you to our wonderful publishers who can make that happen!

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.

The Small and Mighty Proba Missions

This week the European Space Agency announced the latest mission in the Project for OnBoard Automony (PROBA) mini-satellite programme. Proba-3 is planned to launch in four years; and will be a pair of satellites flying in close formation, 150m apart, with the front satellite creating an artificial eclipse of the sun allowing its companion views of the solar corona; normally only visible momentarily during solar eclipses.

Tamar estuary captured in October 2005, data courtesy of ESA.

Tamar estuary captured in October 2005, data courtesy of ESA.

The Proba missions are part of ESA’s In-orbit Technology Demonstration Programme, which focuses on testing, and using, innovative technologies in space. Despite Proba-3’s nomenclature, it will be the fourth mission in the Proba programme. The first, Proba-1, was launched on the 22nd October 2001 on a planned two year Earth observation (EO) mission; however despite the planned lifecycle, thirteen years later it is still flying and sending back EO data. It’s in a sun synchronous orbit with a seven-day repeat cycle and carries eight instruments. The main one is the Compact High Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (CHRIS), developed in the UK by the Space Group of Sira Technology Ltd that was later acquired by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited. CHRIS is a hyperspectral sensor that acquires a set of up to five images of a target, with different modes allowing the collection of up to 62 spectral wavebands.

Plymouth, where Pixalytics is based, and our lead consultant, Dr Samantha Lavender, have a long history with Proba-1. Rame Head point, along the coast from Plymouth, is one of the test sites for the CHRIS instrument and she’s been doing research using the data it provides for over a decade. Over Plymouth Mode 2 is used, which focuses on mapping the water at a spatial resolution of 17m; this mode was proposed by Sam back in the early days of CHRIS-Proba. The image at the top of the page, captured in October 2005, shows the Tamar estuary in the UK that separates the counties of Devon and Cornwall; for this image CHRIS was pointed further North due to planned fieldwork activities. At the bottom of the image is the thick line of the Tamar Road Bridge and below it, the thinner Brunel railway bridge. Plymouth is to the right of the bridge, and to the left is the Cornish town of Saltash.

Proba-V image of the Nile Delta in Egypt, courtesy of the Belgian PROBA-V / ESA Earth Watch programmes

Proba-V image of the Nile Delta in Egypt, courtesy of the Belgian PROBA-V / ESA Earth Watch programmes

Proba-2 was launched in 2009, carrying two solar observation experiments, two space weather experiments and seventeen other technology demonstrations. ESA returned to EO for the third mission, Proba-V, launched on the 7 May 2013; the change in nomenclature is because the V stands for vegetation sensor. It is a redesign of the ‘Vegetation’ imaging instrument carried on the French Spot satellites; it has a 350m ground resolution with a 2250km swath, and collects data in the blue, red, near-infrared and mid-infrared wavebands. It provides worldwide coverage every two days, and through its four spectral bands it can distinguish between different types of land cover. The image on the right is from Proba-V, showing the Nile delta on 2nd May 2014.

Despite their small stature all the Proba satellites are showing their resilience by remaining operational, and they’re playing a vital role in allowing innovative new technologies to be tested in space.