Today, for the smooth functioning of most sectors of the economy, constant monitoring of natural and anthropogenic landscapes based on Earth remote sensing data is necessary. Many companies are actively involved in the creation of different software to access satellite imagery or even launch their own commercial satellites.
Access to detailed and regularly updated information on the development of the infrastructure of urban agglomerations and other settlements, tracking of agricultural land and forest areas, detection of illegal logging and environmental hazards identification, natural disasters assessment – all this is possible thanks to the processing of data from aerial, satellite imagery, and drones.
Today we will talk about the latter two, as they are used and compared most often.
Previously, drones were used exclusively in the military sphere. Today, they are available to anyone who wishes to purchase them, and therefore, they have found applications in various areas of life.
They are widely used for weather monitoring, photo and video business, search and rescue operations, firefighting, personal purposes, of course in agriculture, and even for the delivery of goods.
Drones have a much higher resolution and level of overlap compared to satellite imagery, but they require much more time and money, and it is not always possible to use them. The main advantages of satellite imagery are a wide spatial coverage, the ability to conduct regular observations of the territory of interest, and short data processing time.
Let’s talk in more detail about what satellite imagery is capable of and what are the advantages of using it over drones.
Images of various resolutions and spectral compositions are received from satellites. For example, for agricultural and environmental monitoring, information from the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, invisible to the human eye, is indispensable.
Satellite imagery provides another valuable type of data: height and terrain. To solve the problems of cartography and cadastral registration and assess the pace of residential and industrial construction, three-dimensional surface models are needed, which today are built using ground-based measurement methods and require significant time and resources.
Without information obtained from satellite imagery, safe navigation of unmanned aerial vehicles is also impossible.
The main advantages of space photographs are their great scalability. They cover vast, including hard-to-reach, territories at one point in time and under the same physical conditions.
The images provide an integrated and at the same time generalized image of all elements of the earth’s surface, which makes it possible to see their structure and connections. A very important advantage is the repetition of shooting, i.e. fixing the state of objects at different points in time and the possibility of tracking their change’ dynamics.
Operational mapping is another important use of space materials. For this, fast automatic processing of incoming remote data and their conversion into a cartographic format is carried out.
The best known are operational meteorological maps. With satellite imagery, it is possible to map forest fires, floods, the development of adverse environmental situations, and other natural hazards.
Space imagery is used to monitor the health and maturity of agricultural crops and forecasts the harvest, to monitor the formation and disappearance of snow cover over vast areas, the seasonal dynamics of sea ice, and much more.
To obtain satellite pictures, you do not need to launch the satellite into orbit. It is already there, and you are working with already offered data. Pictures are updated with a frequency of approximately 3-5 days without any additional effort on the part of the user. In addition, there is access to historical data on the state of land and weather, as well as forecasts for the future.
Single drone footage could cost roughly 4-5 times more than satellite data. And if one shooting on the field is not enough and the drone will have to be launched several times, then the price could be much higher. As for satellite imagery, you can get them even for free.
Hundreds of small satellites have been launched in the last decade. What was once a small niche is now a booming business. The number of small satellites to be launched between 2018 and 2027 is estimated to be beyond 6000.
Advances in the space industry not only drive innovation and democratize access to space, but also mean that a large amount of space data is easily accessible.
At the same time, new technologies for space applications are reducing costs, and a variety of sensors provide greater spatial resolution, higher temporal frequency, and “rich” spectral coverage.
This combination of cost reduction and empowerment opens up many options for Earth observation, from pollution monitoring and agriculture to tracking commercial shipping and disaster prevention.
How to Access and Analyze Satellite Data?
Space photography has recently become more accessible, some data can be freely found on the Internet. Free satellite images are widely used not only in educational and scientific circles but also in the commercial sector.
Free Earth remote sensing data includes space images with a spatial resolution worse than 10 m, for example, data from the Sentinel and Landsat satellite programs.
There are many websites and apps like Google Maps around the world that provide you with high-quality satellite images of all kinds. There is both free and paid software that provides satellite data and its analysis for different businesses.
In What Industries to Apply?
The demand for remote sensing data is explained by the relevance, objectivity, coverage of large areas, availability for purchase by both individuals and legal entities.
Remote sensing data can be used in conditions where ground-based research methods are not possible, for example, during fires and floods.
Satellite images are used in various industries and services to solve various problems, including monitoring of a fire hazard situation, detection of illegal logging and self-occupation of territories, construction in protected areas, monitoring of oil pipelines, monitoring of farmland, etc.
Overall, a key reason for using satellite data is the need to have easy, fast, cheap, historical, and already analyzed information on a large territory.