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Topic-icon Satellite data use is rapidly expanding

3 years 8 months ago - 2 years 5 months ago #4 by Forums Administrator
The UK is once more seen as a leading space science nation, with companies focused on making satellite technology more affordable through smaller, lighter-weight satellites that lower the cost of commercial launches. The Government’s continuing commitment to the industry was highlighted in the recent Queen’s Speech to Parliament, which included a space industry Bill outlining its ambition to grow the UK’s share of the global space market from 6.5% to 10% by 2030.

“David Willetts highlighted the importance of space in his Eight Great Technologies speech delivered in 2013. Four years on, the industry is waking up to the huge range of possibilities that data generated by satellites has to offer,” said Paul Febvre, CTO of the Satellite Applications Catapult (SAC), which aims to bring together academia and businesses, as well as opening the sector to new markets.

“The amount of data being generated by satellites has soared, but when we’re talking about the utilisation of data, we’re typically talking about earth observation (EO) satellites,” explained Stephen Spittle, Emerging Technology Lead in Digital Intelligence at SAC.

According to Dr Helen Brindley, senior lecturer at Imperial College London and a member of the National Centre for Earth Observation, there are three main categories of EO data use: data assimilation; climate monitoring and climate model evaluation; and the provision of climate services, or applications.

Used to make weather forecasts, data assimilation merges observations with model simulations to predict climate changes over a range of timescales. It is also used to construct ‘best estimates’ of how the climate has evolved in the recent past via a process known as reanalysis.

Observational information for climate monitoring can be derived from measurements taken using active and passive sensors.

Active sensors – radar or lidar – release pulses of energy and measure differences in returned signals to determine detailed information on the vertical structure of, for example, clouds, aerosols, and vegetation. Passive sensors measure natural emissions from the Earth and its atmosphere in the optical, infrared, UV and microwave bands, providing information about a range of climate variables and their changes with time.

EO data is also used to evaluate the models created to monitor and predict the state of future climate. The Met Office’s soon-to-be-released Earth System Model 1, said to be the first Earth system model to be developed by the UK, will include an interactive carbon cycle.

“What we can do with the newer data sets is use them in a combined way to look at relationships between variables,” said Dr Brindley. “For example, while a fire will release smoke into the atmosphere, it will also release gases as well as changing surface characteristics. Using our datasets, we can look at the magnitude of these impacts and how they are related over time.”

The number of applications which use data derived from satellites has exploded over the last five years and can now be found in numerous markets.

In agriculture, high resolution imagery is deployed to monitor crop growth in near real time and to identify crops.

Satellites can be used to accurately map the growth of, and encourage more sustainable, urban developments or to check planning permission for specific building work. One company, Fluvial Bounty, is deploying satellite imagery to identify potential sites to build dams to generate electricity in Africa.

The effects of pollution from maritime activity can also be monitored to help find ways of limiting its impact, while port activity can be watched to improve efficiency. SAC spin out Ocean Mind monitors the global fishing industry to give insight into environmental impact and to stop illegal activities.

Mining has used satellite data for a long time to carry out geological exploration and study environmental impacts, but technology improvements now allow companies to follow day to day activities for improved situational awareness.

The data can also be used to bring sustainable, economic or societal benefit to developing economies through programmes like The International Partnership, which aims to help with forest and marine protection, disaster management and pollution monitoring, amongst others.

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