Inspiring the Next Generation of EO Scientists

Artist's rendition of a satellite - 3dsculptor/123RF Stock Photo

Artist’s rendition of a satellite – 3dsculptor/123RF Stock Photo

Last week, whilst Europe’s Earth Observation (EO) community was focussed on the successful launch of Sentinel-5P, over in America Tuesday 10th October was Earth Observation Day!

This annual event is co-ordinated by AmericaView, a non-profit organisation, whose aim to advance the widespread use of remote sensing data and technology through education and outreach, workforce development, applied research, and technology transfer to the public and private sectors.

Earth Observation Day is a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) event celebrating the Landsat mission and its forty-five year archive of imagery. Using satellite imagery provides valuable experience for children in maths and sciences, together with introducing subjects such as land cover, food production, hydrology, habitats, local climate and spatial thinking. The AmericaView website contains a wealth of EO materials available for teachers to use, from fun puzzles and games through to a variety of remote sensing tutorials. Even more impressive is that the event links schools to local scientists in remote sensing and geospatial technologies. These scientists provide support to teachers including giving talks, helping design lessons or being available to answer student’s questions.

This is a fantastic event by AmericaView, supporting by wonderful resources and remote sensing specialists. We first wrote about this three years ago, and thought the UK would benefit from something similar. We still do. The UK Space Agency recently had an opportunity for organisations interested in providing education and outreach activities to support EO, satellite launch programme or the James Webb Space Telescope. It will be interesting to see what the successful candidates come up with.

At Pixalytics we’re passionate about educating and inspiring the next generation of EO scientists. For example, we regularly support the Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society’s Wavelength conference for students and early career scientists; and sponsored the Best Early-Career Researcher prize at this year’s GISRUK Conference. We’re also involved with two exciting events at Plymouth’s Marine Biological Association, a Young Marine Biologists (YMB) Summit for 12-18 year olds at the end of this month and their 2018 Postgraduate conference.

Why is this important?
The space industry, and the EO sector, is continuing to grow. According to Euroconsult’s ‘Satellites to Be Built & Launched by 2026’ – I know this is another of the expensive reports we highlighted recently – there will be around 3,000 satellites with a mass above 50 kg launched in the next decade – of which around half are anticipated as being used for EO or communication purposes. This almost doubles the number of satellites launched in the last ten years and doesn’t include the increasing number of nano and cubesats going up.

Alongside the number of satellites, technological developments mean that the amount of EO data available is increasing almost exponentially. For example, earlier this month World View successfully completed multi-day flight of its Stratolliteâ„¢ service, which uses high-altitude balloons coupled with the ability to steer within stratospheric winds. They can carry a variety of sensors, a mega-pixel camera was on the recent flight, offering an alternative vehicle for collecting EO data.

Therefore, we need a future EO workforce who are excited, and inspired, by the possibilities and who will take this data and do fantastic things with it.

To find that workforce we need to shout about our exciting industry and make sure everyone knows about the career opportunities available.

Outstanding Science!

It’s British Science Week! Co-ordinated by the British Science Association (BSA) and funded by the UK Government through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, it’s a celebration of science, engineering, technology and maths – often referred to as STEM.

The week runs from 10th to the 19th March which technically makes it a ten day festival – a slightly concerning lack of precision for a celebration of these subjects! There are events taking place all over the UK, and you can see here if there are any local to you. For us, there are nine events taking place in Plymouth. Highlights include:

  • Be a Marine Biologist for A Day running on the 16th and 17th at the Marine Biological Association
  • Science Week Challenge – Cliffhanger: On 17th of March teams of students from Secondary Schools across Plymouth will compete to design and build a machine to solve a problem.
  • Dartmoor Zoological Park running a STEM careers day. Although, sadly you’ve already missed this as it took place on Tuesday!

All of these, and the many others across the country, are fantastic for promoting, educating and inspiring everyone to get involved with STEM subjects and careers. Regularly readers know this is something that we’re very keen on at Pixalytics. Eighteen months ago we published a book, ‘Practical Handbook of Remote Sensing’, which aims to take complete beginners through the process of finding, downloading, processing and visualising remote sensing satellite data using just their home PC and an internet connection.

We were delighted to find out recently that our book has been chosen an Outstanding Academic Title (OAT) of 2016 by Choice, a publication of the Association of College & Research Libraries, a division of the American Libraries Association.

OAT’s are chosen from titles reviewed in Choice over the last year, and selected books demonstrate excellence in scholarship, presentation and a significant contribution to the field. The reviewer’s comments are integral to this process. Someone from San Diego State University reviewed our book last August and their comments included:

  • ‘a unique approach to the presentation of the subject’
  • ‘This book is successful in achieving its aim of making the science of remote sensing accessible to a broad readership.’
  • ‘Highly recommended. All library collections’

OAT’s are a celebration of the best academic books and Choice selected 500 titles out of 5,500 they reviewed last year. We’re very proud to have been included in this list.

Everyone can, and should, get involved in science. So why not go to one of the British Science Week events local to you, or if not you could always read a book!

It’s World Space Week!!

world-space-week-logoDid you know it’s World Space Week? It occurs between the 4th and 10th October each year, because:

  • On 4th October 1957 the first human-made Earth satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched; and
  • On 10th October 1967: The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies was signed – see previous blog for more details.

This annual international celebration aims to inspire everyone about space, encourage young people to get involved in science, technology, engineering and maths and to demonstrate the benefits, and use, of space technology. The first World Space Week occurred in 2000, and each year has a specific theme.

2016 World Space Week
We’re really excited this year as the theme is ‘Remote Sensing: Enabling our Future’. It’s celebrating Earth Observation (EO), and highlighting the variety of EO missions in space and the applications which use their data.

There are over 1,000 events taking place all over the world to celebrate remote sensing, and they are all listed on the World Space Week website. It seems as though Brazil is holding the most events this year, a whopping 159! Have a look through and see if there is anything you’d like to go to. If not, create your own event –

  • Spend a night looking at the stars.
  • Use Google Earth to look at your local area from space.
  • Get some friends together and watch classic space films.
  • Build your own spacecraft – Both ESA and SSTL have cut out models you can use.

Competition!!

Competition Image courtesy of ESA.

Competition Image courtesy of ESA.

Here at Pixalytics, we couldn’t let the Remote Sensing theme go by without getting involved. So we’ve decided to run our first ever Twitter competition!! The prize is a copy of our book ‘Practical Handbook of Remote Sensing’, which guides complete beginners through the process of finding, downloading, analysing and applying remote sensing data. We’ll post the book, free of charge, anywhere in the world!

The competition has now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered.

The location was Angkor Wat in Cambodia, read more about the site our next blog.

Stellar Space Careers

ESA astronaut Tim Peake, tests his NASA spacesuit, at NASA's Johnson Space Center, USA. Image courtesy of NASA.

ESA astronaut Tim Peake, tests his NASA spacesuit, at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, USA.
Image courtesy of NASA.

The UK space industry will get a publicity boost in the next month, as astronaut British Tim Peake goes into space on a five-month mission at the International Space Station (ISS). Being an astronaut is something many children dream about, although as less than six hundred people have ever gone into space it is a challenge to achieve. Working in the space industry on the other hand is something within the reach of everyone.

The space industry, often referred to as the space economy, includes space related services ranging from the manufacturing of spacecraft, satellites, ground stations and launch vehicles; through space-enabled applications such as broadcasting, navigation equipment and satellite phones; to user value-added applications such as Earth Observation (EO), meteorological services and broadband. The industry is worth £11.8 Bn to the UK economy and it’s growing at rate of just under nine percent per annum. It directly supports around 37,000 jobs, and indirectly another 100,000.

The shining star of the industry – irrespective of how much we promote EO scientists – will always be the astronauts. Tim will be the second British astronaut into space; our first, Helen Sharman, went up 1991. He was selected as a European Space Agency astronaut in 2009 and was chosen for his ISS mission in 2013. The next step is a launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in Kazakstan, in December.

Although we’ve said becoming an astronaut was difficult, it is not impossible. This week people were encouraged to apply to NASA to become an astronaut. Before you all rush off to send in your application, there are a few requirements:

  • You have to be a US citizen.
  • They are looking for pilots, engineers, scientists and medical doctors.
  • You’ll have to pass a long-duration spaceflight physical test.

If you want to become an astronaut, or indeed work in the space economy, education in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) subjects is crucial. Last week, at the Von Braun Symposium in America, they called for more STEM education and internships to encourage the next generation of the space workforce.

The European Space Education Resource Office in the UK (ERESO-UK) aims to promote the use of space to enhance and support STEM teaching, and they have set up a number of projects surrounding Tim’s mission and they are encouraging school participation. These include the EO Detective Competition to win a photograph from space during Tim’s mission, the Space to Earth challenge encouraging students to run, swim, cycle, climb, dance or exercise the 400 km distance from the Earth to the ISS and there are grants for innovative projects linked to Tim’s mission. The full details of all the projects can be found here.

The space economy is a wide and varied sector, it offers opportunities for anyone who wants to get involved. If you, or someone you know, is considering their first, or a change of, career, then go and whisper space in their ear. You never know, one of them may become an astronaut in the future!

British Science Won’t Be Eclipsed

Hawthorn leaves opening in Plymouth on 18th March 2015

Hawthorn leaves opening in Plymouth on 18th March 2015

We’re celebrating science in this blog, as it’s British Science Week in the UK! Despite its name British Science Week is actually a ten day programme celebrating science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM). The week is co-ordinated by the British Science Association, a charity founded in 1831.

The British Science Association, like ourselves at Pixalytics, firmly believe that science should be at heart of society and culture and have the desire to inform, educate, and inspire people to get interested and involved in science. They promote their aims by supporting a variety of conferences, festivals, awards, training and encouraging young people to get involved in STEM subjects.

British Science week is one of their major annual festivals, and has hundreds of events running up and down the country. The website has a search facility, so you can see what events are running locally. Down here in Plymouth, the events include Ocean Science at The National Marine Aquarium, tomorrow at Museum & Art Gallery learn about the science behind the headlines and on Saturday, also at the Museum, an animal themed day including some real mini-beasts from Dartmoor Zoo – the place that inspired the 2011 film ‘We Bought A Zoo’, which starred Matt Damon and Scarlett Johnansson.

If you can’t get to any of the events in your local area, British Science Week is also promoting two citizen’s science projects:

  • Nature’s Calendar run by the Woodland Trust, asking everyone to look out for up to six common natural events to see how fast spring is arriving this year. They want to be informed of your first sightings of the orange tipped butterfly, the 7-spot ladybird, frog spawn, oak leaves, Hawthorn leaves, and Hawthorn flowers. This will continue a dataset which began in 1736, and we thought the Landsat archive was doing well.
  • Worm Watch Lab – A project to help scientists better understand how our brain works by observing the egg laying behaviour of nematode worms. You watch a 30 second video, and click a key if you see a worm lay an egg. We’ve watched a few and are yet to see the egg laying moment, but all the video watching is developing a lot of datasets for the scientists.

If you are interested in Citizen Science and go to sea, why not get involved in the citizen science work we support, by taking part in the Secchi Disk Project. Phytoplankton underpin the marine food chain and is particularly sensitive to changes in sea-surface temperatures, so this project aims to better understand their current global phytoplankton abundance. You do this by lowering a Secchi disk, a plain white disk attached to a tape measure, over the side of a boat and then recording the depth below the surface where it disappears from sight. This measurement is uploaded to the website and helps develop a global dataset of seawater clarity, which turn indicates the amount of phytoplankton at the sea surface. All the details on how to get involved are on the website.

On Friday, nature is getting involved by providing a partial solar eclipse over the UK. Starting at around 8.30am the moon will take about an hour to get to the maximum effect where the partial eclipse will be visible to the majority of the country – although the level of cloud will determine exactly what you see. Plymouth will be amongst the first places in the country to see the maximum effect around 9.23am – 9.25am, however the country’s best views will be on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland with a 98% eclipse predicted. The only two landmasses who will see a total eclipse will be the Faroe Islands and the Norwegian arctic archipelago of Svalbard. The last total eclipse in the UK was on the 24th August 1999, and the next one isn’t due until 23 September 2090!

Although the eclipse is a spectacular natural event, remember not to look directly at the sun, as this can damage your eyes. To view the eclipse wear a pair of special eclipse glasses, use a pinhole camera or watch it on the television!

We fully support British Science Week, it’s a great idea and we hope it will inspire more people to get involved in science.

Pixalytics Going 200 Miles An Hour

Landsat 8 Image of Abu Dhabi from the 10th November 2014. Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Landsat 8 Image of Abu Dhabi from the 10th November 2014.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

One of the keys to growing a small business is to say yes a lot. It might be yes to a new contract, or yes to being part of a bidding consortium or yes to an unusual marketing opportunity. We’ve recently said yes to such a marketing opportunity, and this weekend our company name will adorn two Formula 1 cars as they compete in the final F1 Grand Prix of the season in Abu Dhabi. Pixalytics has sponsored an F1 racing team!

We’re part of the community that’s helped the Caterham F1 team to race in Abu Dhabi. Caterham F1 is based in Oxfordshire in the UK, and sadly went into administration in October 2014 resulting in them missing the races in Brazil and the USA. In November they started a crowd-funding initiative, using the Exeter based Crowdcube platform, to raise over £2M to enable them to race in Abu Dhabi.

A number of rewards were offered to those who supported the #RefuelCaterhamF1 project, and one of them caught our eye; we felt the opportunity to have our name on the car was an opportunity not to miss. As regular blog readers will know we are fans of Formula One and at the final Grand Prix of the season this weekend, our company name will appear on the tradebar on both sides of the two participating Caterham CT05 F1 cars. Hopefully during Thursday and Friday practice, Saturday qualifying and Sunday’s race, Pixalytics will be hitting speeds of almost 200mph and with a bit of luck, may be visible to an audience of billions.

An Earth observation company sponsoring an F1 team may not at first appear to be a natural fit, but Caterham is a British company working in the STEM sector, like us. We need highly skilled organisations like Caterham to thrive in this country, vibrant STEM companies are vital to encouraging the next generation to see the opportunities in these areas. There is a long way to go before Caterham even survives, especially with the recently announced redundancies, but we wanted to give them our support.

Early this year we wrote a blog about how we hadn’t been able to see the night-time Grand Prix in Singapore without using high resolution satellites. As soon as we knew we were going racing, the question raised its head again – could we see the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix circuit from space? It takes place on the Yas Marina circuit, the circuit is five and half kilometres long, but it is a L-shaped loop with a footprint of about three kilometres.

After searching the Landsat 8 images archive, we found the image at the shown top of the blog from the 10th November 2014 where you can clearly see the circuit. What do you mean you can’t see it? It’s in the bottom left quadrant, about a third of the way in from the left and a third of the way up from the bottom. It is there!

Zoomed in Landsat 8 Image of Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Circuit from the 10th November 2014. Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Zoomed in Landsat 8 Image of Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Circuit from the 10th November 2014.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

If  you are still to see it, it’s worth knowing the Yas Marina circuit has a second interesting feature. The circuit loops around the Ferrari World theme park and this building has a bright Ferrari red roof, making it easier to spot. You can see it  clearer in the zoomed in image on t right. but it is also in the image at the top.

Running your own business, or any business, is hard work. A lot of time is spent winning customers, completing contracts and worrying about cashflow and profit. Sometimes you have put the business aside, and take a moment to enjoy what you do. We’re doing that this weekend. Will we get new business out of our sponsorship? Unlikely. Will anyone see Pixalytics on the car? Probably not – unless the TV cameras zoom in! But for us, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to sponsor an F1 car. So watch the coverage over the weekend, and let us know if you see Pixalytics flying past.

The UK needs an Earth Observation Day!

Not sure if you know, but today – April 9th – is Earth Observation Day in America!

Any celebration of Earth Observation has our support, but this particular initiative deserves promotion as it’s focussed on inspiring students, and teachers, to engage with remote sensing applications; something that’s at the heart of our company too.
Placard
The event is the brainchild of a non-profit organisation called AmericaView; whose aim is to advance the availability, timely distribution, and widespread use of remote sensing data and technology through education, research and outreach, and sustainable technology transfer to the public and private sectors.

The day itself focuses on using remote sensing imagery and in-situ measurements to explore surface temperature for different types of land cover using Landsat imagery; as it’s freely available and has a historical archive. The AmericaView website has exercises and factsheets to support activities for kindergarten to year 12. In addition, AmericaView scientists, who have expertise in remote sensing and geospatial technology, support teachers in their local area by giving talks, helping teachers design lessons or being available to answer student’s questions.

We think this is a brilliant way to get students learning about remote sensing, and using lots of elements of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculums. We wondered why we don’t have something similar in the UK?

We know there are similar events, for example the Royal Geography Society has been running a GIS (Geographical Information Systems) Day for a number of years; and the National STEM Centre supported World Meteorological Day on the 23 March that looked at weather and climate change. However, there is far more to remote sensing and Earth Observation than weather. We need to promote the potential for the subject to support crop management, helping disaster response, forestry use, support water and marine management, urban planning, flood prevention … the list could go on!

Earth Observation offers huge potential to help our understanding of this planet and its natural resources. With the introduction of cubesats, swarm satellites, and last week’s successful launch of the first satellite of ESA’s Copernicus mission, data available is going to increase exponentially in the near future. It gives students opportunities enhance learning, and apply skills, in a variety of subjects beyond the obvious STEM ones. Remote sensing could be used in the teaching of geography, history and even politics. Couple this with the ambition to double the size of the UK space sector by 2020, Earth Observation could not only supports learning, but offers realistic opportunities for future jobs and careers.

We need to interest, excite and, most importantly, inspire the next generation of scientists in this country, and an educational based Earth Observation Day could play an exciting part of that development. What does the rest of the Earth Observation community think? Should we get our voice heard for an Earth Observation day here too?