Will You Have To Pay For Landsat Data?

Shetland Islands, Scotland. data acquired by Landsat 8 on 27 April 2014. Data courtesy of NASA/USGA.

Interesting discussions are taking place in the US on the position of free-to-access data which has the potential to affect everyone working in the downstream industry.

The US Government is once again exploring the possibility of reintroducing charges for accessing Landsat data. It was reported by the Landsat Advisory Group at the National Geospatial Advisory Committee meeting on the 3rd and 4th April 2018 that the Department of Interior asked them, last July, to look at whether the costs of Landsat could be recovered from its users.

It’s not the first time that this has been looked at since Landsat was made free-to-access in 2008. We’ve previously written about how free-to-access data, does not mean free data, but the lack of a usage charge saw an explosion in the use of this data. However, the political and industry backdrop is different this time. Anyone who has been following President Trump’s space policy will be aware of the shift in focus, and funding, away from Earth Observation (EO). Hence, the obvious appeal of recovering the costs from Landsat users to allow the programme to continue. It was reported at the NASA 2019 Budget Hearing last month that everything was on track for the launch of Landsat-9 in December 2020.

The Landsat Advisory Group reported it was working on three tasks in relation to this, which are due to be reported on later this year:

  1. Review the Landsat user community’s willingness-to-pay.
  2. Review the results of their previous paper ‘Statement on Landsat Data Use and Charges from 2012 and any other relevant studies looking at potential for users to pay.
  3. Update the results of 2011 study on The Users, Uses, and Value of Landsat and Other Moderate-Resolution Satellite Imagery in the United States.

At the last review, the Statement on Landsat Data Use and Charges produced a recommendation that Landsat data must continue to be distributed at no cost. There were a number of reasons given at the time including:

  • Severely restrict data use.
  • Cost more than the amount of revenue generated by the charges.
  • Stifle innovation and business activity that creates jobs.
  • Inhibit data analysis in scientific and technical fields.
  • Negatively impact international relations relating to national, homeland, and food Security.
  • Negatively impact U.S. standing as the leader in space technology.

Whilst a lot of these reasons are still relevant today, it’s undeniable that the industry landscape has changed in the last six years due to the expansion of commercial satellite providers. Part of the reason that Landsat, and other similar national satellites, were launched by originally government organisations is commercial operators did not have the relevant funding, capability or business model to do so. This has changed to a degree and last week in an article in spacenews.com they noted that 30 companies operating today who have launched, or have announced their intention to launch, EO satellites. These range from the high resolution Worldview satellites owned by DigitalGlobe, though Planet’s large cubesat constellation to the small specialist constellations such as ICEYE.

Governments are still the major buyers of commercial data, and as the amount of this data continues to increase it’s not surprise to see existing free-to-access business models being revisited. Not all of these changes are negative, for example, recent changes to the way ESA accesses third party missions, including from commercial suppliers, means startups and incubators can use this data for building services as they transition from research and development.

So if this happens and the US start charging for Landsat, does it matter? Well, yes it does!

Landsat has an unrivalled archive utilised by users across the globe and any fees will have negative implications for:

  • Encouraging the wider uptake of Earth Observation through schools and students which could harm the future generation of scientific researchers
  • Scientific research as scientists will potenitally go back to using smaller, or even the minimum necessary, data sets
  • Businesses who’ve developed services based on Landsat data, and we’d include ourselves in this group. Clearly, any costs of data will need to be passed onto clients and so this could change, or even destroy, business models.
  • See a switch from US Landsat to the EU’s Copernicus data as the go to free-to-access data source, meaning significant reduced time series options.

Whilst this has been discussed before, and the US have withdrawn from the edge, this time the world is different and everyone should be aware that there is a real potential that Landsat data could be charged for as early as next year. The satellite data industry could be about to have another twist. Are you ready?

Space Strategy For Europe

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

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

A Space Strategy for Europe was issued last week by the European Commission (EC), based around four strategic goals.

  • Maximising the Benefits of Space for Society and the European Union (EU) Economy
  • Fostering a Globally Competitive & Innovative European Space Sector
  • Reinforcing Europe’s Autonomy In Accessing & Using Space In a Secure & Safe Environment
  • Strengthening Europe’s Role as a Global Actor & Promoting International Co-operation

The strategy began with a heartening assessment of the European space economy, recognising that it supports almost a quarter of million jobs and is valued at around €50 bn.

The Earth observation (EO) sector is strongly represented within the document, particularly in the first two goals. Whilst some of the references to EO are fairly obvious statements, there are also some intriguing comments.

Maximising the Benefits of Space for Society and the EU Economy
This goal identifies a significant untapped potential for the uptake of space services and data, and outlines a number of actions that will be taken to unlock this; including:

  • Encouraging the use of space services and data, wherever they provide effective solutions – the last part provides an interesting test.
  • Ensuring EU legislation will be supportive of the uptake of these services.
  • Provision of improved access to, and exploitation of, Copernicus data – anyone who has tried to access data will know the need for continued improvement.Improving interconnectivity with other data infrastructures and other datasets.
  • Define clear limits between free Copernicus core information services and commercial applications – hopefully this will show Copernicus services as an opportunity rather than a threat; something that is currently unclear for, particularly SME, businesses.

Overall, the strategy states this will open up new business opportunities, including for SME’s and start-ups. We’re supportive of these actions, however we also have concerns.

The document has a single line stating it will reach out to new users and connect downstream activities to non-space sectors. This is the holy grail for every EO commercial organisation, and very few have come close to achieving it. The minimal statement potentially suggests the EC is fundamentally underestimating how difficult this will be.

An intriguing element is the intention “to introduce an ‘industry test’ to check downstream suppliers can provide reliable and affordable services.” We’d support any quality accreditation, but it will be interesting to see whether this is a certification scheme for everyone or a barrier to market for SMEs and start-ups.

This issue was strongly debated at a European Space Agency (ESA) meeting last week, particularly over the question as to whether the accrediting body assumes liability when a service doesn’t deliver. It is worth noting that the European Association of Remote Sensing Companies (EARSC) has an existing certification scheme for management practices, but only a few organisations have gone through the process to date.

Fostering a Globally Competitive & Innovative European Space Sector
This goal focuses on supporting research and development within the space economy, together with promoting entrepreneurship and business opportunities.

It specifically references the launch of a dedicated sector skills alliance for space/Earth observation – which sounds great. However, it appears to be a committee of stakeholders to discuss the necessary skills requirements for the industry, and so it is not clear what it will actually do.

The Commission also aims to support space entrepreneurs, start-ups and SME’s through a variety of programmes, dialogues and synergies! Lots of good words used with little clarity of real action.

Reinforcing Europe’s Autonomy In Accessing & Using Space In a Secure & Safe Environment
This goal has a focus on ensuring that Europe has the infrastructure and capacity to operate in space freely; although this does seem slightly at odds with the international co-operation trumpeted in the final goal.

However, the most interesting element for the EO community is the statement that the radio frequency spectrum must be protected from interference from other systems. This is something that is vital for space sector, but falls short of guaranteeing space technology having access to radio frequencies. In recent times, there has been a threat to the microwave frequencies from the requirements of mobile phone and wifi networks.

Strengthening Europe’s Role as a Global Actor & Promoting International Co-operation
The final strategic goal highlights the importance of international co-operation and the desire for the EU to have a much greater global lead. Given that the EU has the second largest public space budget in the world, this emphasis is welcomed.

It also notes that the EU will contribute to initiatives including the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) and the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS).

Like all strategies there are lots of good intentions within these words, but limited practical details. It won’t be until the detailed plans are draw up to implement these actions that we will be able to determine whether this document is a valuable step forward for the space economy in Europe, or a thirteen page missed opportunity.

Our Footnote for the UK
The strategy makes clear the EU & ESA will be key to the delivery of this strategy, and so we can’t comment without mentioning the Brexit word. The current plan is that the UK will be out of the EU in early 2019, and therefore the UK Government’s input to the upcoming ESA ministerial is absolutely critical, alongside decisions on how we’ll interact with the Copernicus program.

We need to give a strong and positive commitment to our ongoing involvement with ESA, without this the UK’s space economy will face a significant setback. Everyone within the community must ensure that the Government, and Ministers, are fully aware of the importance of this in the coming weeks.

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!


Investing in the future space industry workforce

If the UK Space Sector is to achieve George Osborne’s stated ambitious target of tripling in size within 20 years, we’ll need to develop the workforce by a similar order of magnitude. Ensuring that we have the right skills available will be vital if we are going to develop the industry, and part of this is investing in those new to the disciple of remote sensing including early career scientists.
Last week I was at the European Association of Remote Sensing Laboratories (EARSeL) January Bureau and Council meeting, where it was good to see strong support for junior researchers. Events planned for this year include The Split Remote Sensing Summer School (SplitRS 2014), the EARSeL & ISPRS Young Scientist Days in parallel with the 34th EARSeL Symposium, and a summer school in Russia during September.
In addition, in the UK, the Space Internship Network (SpIN) is currently looking for 2014 placements for students and there is even some limited funding available to support SME’s with their placement. I know how difficult it is for SME’s to support student placements and early career scientists, but as I said last week that we want to play our part in the growth of the sector, and that includes workforce development. Unfortunately the SpIN placement timing isn’t suited to us this year, but we are currently discussing our first MSc work placement.
There are several exciting opportunities in this country, Europe and beyond to help the development of the future space workforce. How are you, and your company, going to get involved?

Looking back and moving forward

2013 was the first full year of existence for Pixalytics, and I’m pleased to say we’ve been kept busy. So busy in fact, that some of the things we planned to do, we didn’t manage – like our weekly blog! We started off well in the summer, but the closer the end of the year came the more infrequent become the blog. We know the key to blogging is regularity and consistency, so we intend to do better in 2014. Right here, right now, we publically commit to issuing a blog every Wednesday recording our thoughts, and the journey of the business over the coming year.

The last year has been interesting and alongside working, I’ve attended a lot of great conferences, with RSPSoc Annual Conference followed by ESA Living Symposium being particular highlights! As a scientist I recognise it’s vital to meet the community to show what you’re developing, and see the new research everyone else is working on. I used to call this networking, but after our blog discussed the usefulness of meeting people you already know; I should probably come up with a new phrase – how about continuing professional development? What do you think about attending conferences – work, research, networking, professional development or something else?
At July’s UK Space Conference in Glasgow I even managed to get Andy to come along and have the full delegate experience (First Small Step in Space and Space Can Help). I’ve found myself increasingly attended webinars this year, and ResearchGate took off as one of several research focused online networking platforms. Although, this won’t stop me attending conferences in person … particularly looking forward to Ocean Sciences in Hawaii, where I’ve offered to be a mentor, and Ocean Optics in Portland, Maine this year.

It was also a year of goodbyes and new beginnings. I finished my 3-year term of Chairman of RSPSoc (the UK’s learned society focusing on remote sensing and photogrammetry) which I thoroughly enjoyed, and found it really positive that despite everyone’s hectic schedule, people are still willing to volunteer. However, to ensure I didn’t get any free time I became Vice-Chairman of the British Association of Remote Sensing Companies (BARSC) and am looking forward to the exciting year ahead.

The new year has started positively with great publicity about the UK’s Space Industry with Chancellor George Osborne indicating he wants the sector to triple in size within 20 years. This builds on the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy 2014-30 that was previewed in July and released in September. Our challenge for 2014 is to ensure that Pixalytics plays it’s part in this growth, and we hope you’ll enjoy following our progress. Until next Wednesday … We hope ….

When is networking, not networking?

I was talking to a group of writers this week about pretending you’re writing. A pretence everyone recognised was that reading how-to-write books equated to writing. It does not! The books may be interesting, give you tips or make you think about writing techniques in a new way, but it isn’t writing. To do that, you need to write!

It got me thinking about my recent blog on Maslow for the Micro Business, where I noted the importance of networking for developing and growing your business. I know you’re thinking that attending meetings, industry events, conferences and social events are part of any business owner’s life, and it’s all networking right?

Networking is about building relationships between businesses that could benefit both parties, or simply put it’s about developing potential new clients or suppliers. So are all events networking? They are certainly all networking opportunities. However many micro businesses operate in niche markets, like us in remote sensing earth observation. You need to be honest with yourself when you attend an event, and consider who in the room is a potential new client or supplier? Is anybody?

Think about the events you attend, are they true networking opportunities? You may talk about business at these events, you may talk about your business and you may even give out the odd business card, but if no-one has the potential to be a client or supplier, then don’t pretend to yourself that you’re networking.

Professional development, scientific updates, discussion groups, learning sets or catching up with business friends are all useful and valid ways to spend time as a micro business owner. In some cases you’ll learn new skills or get new ideas, but they aren’t networking. Of course don’t turn your networking head off altogether as there is always the exception to the rule, where the person you are talking with has a next door neighbour, brother, sister–in-law or friend in your field.

However these happy occurrences are the exception to the rule. If you want to develop new clients or suppliers, you need to go to the events that they go to; not expect them to come to the events you go to.

Analyse your time outside of business delivery. Are you going to real networking opportunities? If the answer is no, then ask yourself if you are going to the right events?

Find the right events, go to them and talk to your potential clients and suppliers, get their details and follow up with them after the event. In essence, don’t pretend that you’re networking, go and network.

Whoever controls the data, controls the service!

Like many people last week we watched the US Congress fail to pass the federal budget and shutdown the US Government. Putting aside the ridiculous scenario that the world’s largest country is closed and the financial hardship they’re inflicting on their public service workers; as a small company in the UK who currently don’t work for America or American companies, we didn’t expect to be impacted commercially. We were wrong!

NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Geological Survey (USGS) control a significant number of satellites and the remote sensing data streams from them. The federal shutdown has closed all their websites and associated structures; although NOAA has kept Weather.gov open for critical weather information only. You’d expect no satellites to be launched during this period, you’d probably expect that should anything go wrong it wouldn’t get repaired, you might even know that some data downloading processes require human intervention and could be impacted too. But surely that’s all? Websites can operate quite happily on their own can’t they?

Given the immense size of remote sensing data sets, in the region of multiple terabytes, many academic and commercial organisations download data when they need it; rather than have the cost of massive data storage facilities. This is where the real impact of the federal shutdown bites. These datasets are downloaded from websites which have been closed by the federal shutdown. It’s not that they aren’t being updated, it‘s a total shutdown. The websites simply have a front page stating that due to the lapse in federal funding the websites is not available; some specialist sites are still up if you know where to the find them, but even they say information may be out of date. Also, the Twitter feeds of NASA, NOAA and USGS have stopped tweeting!

Everyone assumes that the data is still being downloaded in the USA, and will be processed and made available once the federal shutdown is resolved. A little delay maybe but no major issue for research, unless of course something has gone wrong and data isn’t being downloaded. Will researchers in the future, have to refer to the 2013 Data Black Hole or the Federal Fault of 13 in their trend analysis?

However, what about time critical applications? Remote sensing is being used to provide services such as flood and disaster monitoring, crop watering and oceanographic applications. How many of those customers, or suppliers, realised that their ability to receive or deliver those services was dependant on the American government? Anyone relying on Landsat or MODIS data downloaded from a US website, are currently becalmed without a data stream. The European MyOcean service is reporting degraded and interrupted ocean colour products due to a lack of spatial coverage.

Companies who want to provide reliable, consistent and dependable remote sensing applications really need to control the data stream alongside the application. This essentially is having your own ground stations to receive data, out of the reach of most organisations.

This week has clearly shown whoever controls the data stream, controls the service. How much of your service pathway do you control?

Maslow and the Micro Business

Anyone who’s read the principles of motivation will recognise the pyramid, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Maslow's hierarchy

Maslow’s hierarchy

This management theory is seventy years old this year, and the BBC website has produced an interesting article on the theory and its creator; including how it’s applied to business.

I’ve studied Maslow a number of times and the article got me thinking about Maslow and the Micro Business. What does the hierarchy of needs mean for a sole trader; or a micro company of one or two people; like us! The concepts of team, manager, promotion and self-development look very different in these organisations.

At the bottom of the pyramid are physiological needs, in Maslow terms this is the need for food, drink and shelter. In Micro Maslow, I see this as paying yourself a reasonable salary. If you’re not paying yourself, then you have a hobby and not a business.

Next level is safety. For Micro-Maslow I equate this to longer term contracts and future cashflows, rather than not knowing where your next influx of money is coming from. Once you get to here, you have a good foundation for growing the business.

Maslow’s middle level is love and belonging. This is important for micro businesses, as the lack of people means it can be a solitary working life; the solution is networking. You need to meet, talk and discuss with people working in your field or other micro business owners. This might be through on-line forums, trade/industry organisations, local chamber of commerce or business owners meetings.

Moving towards the top of the pyramid is self-esteem, which Maslow describes as reputation and status. For Micro Maslow there are two sides to this. The external side is about getting your name known; give talks or presentations, speak or volunteer at industry events and get recognised as an expert by others in your industry. The internal side is about appreciating your own achievements. We’re not very good at taking a step back and congratulating ourselves on what we’ve done. Have you achieved your targets for the year? Has your business grown? Have you remained profitable? Recognise what you have achieved and congratulate yourself!

Maslow’s peak is self-actualization, realising your own potential. For Micro Maslow this is about achieving your business dreams – and remember it’s your dreams! It might be achieving a certain level of turnover or profit, providing a certain personal income level, creating jobs, giving back to the local community or achieving the work life balance you want or something else. What’s your business dream and have you made it come true?

Maslow's Micro Business hierarchy

Maslow’s Micro Business hierarchy

Putting my thoughts together gives me this Micro Business version of Maslow. In writing this blog, I’ve identified a few areas we need to work on. What about you?
Where are you on the hierarchy? Any level you need to work on? Have you achieved your business dream?

Business with social inklings

I recently read Richard Branson’s ‘Screw Business as Usual’ and his idea of ‘Business as a Force for Good’ struck a chord with me. For me a business is more than just financial figures, its ethos and values are as important. This is not about having a lovely glossy brochure, instead how does the business stand up for and demonstrate the values it believes in.

I know not everyone looks at business in this way. Maybe because I never dreamed of running a company, my view of the corporate world is influenced by my academic and scientific background. I transitioned from academia to business not for the pursuit of profit, but because it appeared to be the best way of getting where I wanted; and I’ve always liked a challenge!

From the last 5+ years of running companies I’ve decided that business is just a word, whereas the vision of a business is more personal reflection of those leading it. Whilst I’ve come to appreciate the importance of cashflow and profit to both company stability and growth; how the money is used is still an extension of the company values.

My vision for Pixalytics is for it to be a company that provides information and knowledge to people who need it, without them needing to understand the complexity of the underlying data gathering and processing. This will require a convergence of knowledge around business, research, innovation, science and education to be successful.

These knowledge strands must go beyond the pure financial aspect, they need to be imbedded in our values and ethos. I try personally to demonstrate this by:
• Exploring and learning about how different businesses work.
• Setting time aside to focus on scientific research.
• Writing papers/articles and giving presentations to develop and communicate ideas.
• Volunteering within a number of learned/trade associations.
• Supporting students and new entrepreneurs.

Obviously doing these things takes time, and hence time away from earning money. However, through our authenticity and values, I believe Pixalytics will be stronger and a force for good.

The Introvert In Your Business

There are two personalities running every business. First is the extrovert; speaking to customers, winning contracts and bringing in the money. The second often sits at the back of the business, in a dark corner of a room or a mind, the introvert; business administration.

These personalities have a symbiotic relationship and each requires constant monitoring and nurturing, particularly for start ups. Every business needs to the extrovert to be out earning money, otherwise the company won’t last long. But don’t forget the introvert! Doing admin at night or your next spare moment might isn’t good. Although administration doesn’t earn you money, it can cost you.

Firstly admin tasks take time. The more time you spend on admin, the less time you have to earn money. Being organised, and doing your admin little and often will save you time in the long run. Secondly are mistakes! Forgetting to re-order paper for the printer is annoying, but not paying your taxes correctly could be more serious.

If you’re starting a business and don’t understand the administrative side, get some help. There are plenty of local people and businesses that can support you, but don’t hand over admin completely. They’ll make sure you pay your suppliers and do your tax returns, but also use them, and learn from them, to get the information you need to run your business. For example, how does your cashflow look for the coming months? Are customers paying? What are you spending each month? What costs are rising? Are you making a profit on each job? Every business owner or manager needs to know these things!

Anyone who doubts the power of introverts, listen to Susan Cain’s TED talk on this topic!

In Pixalytics Sam is the extrovert; the face of the business: speaking, networking, winning the contracts and doing the work. I’m the introvert, responsible for doing administration and making sure the business runs smoothly. This enables Sam to concentrate on doing the work and earning the money. Focusing on what we’re each good at makes our business stronger – besides my Earth Observation knowledge is miniscule, despite attending the recent UK Space Conference!

For all you extroverts out there, make sure your business has an introvert hiding somewhere. Properly nurtured they will help you manage, control, develop and grow your business.