Madhav Ragam, Vice President - Asia Pacific, Maxar Technologies
Satellites and Satellite Imagery
There are two different types of satellites–natural and man-made. Examples of natural satellites are the Earth and moon. The Earth orbits around the sun and the moon rotates around the Earth. A man-made satellite is a machine that is launched into space and orbits around a body in space.
Since the first landing on the moon in 1969, humans have made significant progress in exploring space and, at last count, there are more than 2,700 man-made satellites in space. Satellites serve many purposes: communications, remote sensing, navigation, polar monitoring, etc.
Electro-optical satellite imagery from remote sensing satellites is a critical tool for visualizing ground conditions. Maxar Technologies, a trusted partner and innovator in Earth Intelligence and Space Infrastructure, operates the world’s most sophisticated commercial satellite constellation, which collects the highest resolution and most accurate satellite imagery available. Its foundational context empowers organizations to make critical, time-sensitive decisions. Typical questions that can be answered using high-resolution satellite imagery and geospatial analytics include:
1. Where are remote and vulnerable populations?
2. How do I reach them?
3. How quickly are populations growing?
4. How can communities access essential resources and services?
5. Where do I deploy resources and services for the biggest impact?
6. How are communities changing over time?
7. How are communities affected by crisis or disasters?
8. How resilient are communities to various shocks and stressors?
9. What is the best path to recovery and reconstruction after a crisis?
In this time of rapid global change, we need new ways to identify, monitor and understand the impact of change on environments and human dynamics such as economy, health and sociopolitical stability. Aggregating multiple data sources—including satellite imagery, weather data, human geography information and more—into a single view and leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML)tools enables end users to get a more complete picture of a situation and make informed decisions. Here are several examples of Maxar’s Earth Intelligence work in action:
1. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations can be measured, monitored and influenced by space-based data and AI/ML. These goals tackle major world issues like poverty, hunger, health, climate change, education, among others.
2. NTT DATA used AI to extract information from Maxar’s satellite imagery library to generate a detailed road network that Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development, Inc. (TRI-AD) Automated Mapping Platform (AMP) leveraged. This work has led to significant progress toward the efficient generation of automated high-definition driving maps.
3. In Taiwan, landslides occur frequently, often killing or isolating hundreds of villagers each season. Unchecked, agricultural changes to the natural environment have increased soil erosion, a contributing factor to landslides. The government uses high-resolution satellite imagery combined with scalable surveys and algorithms to determine land use/land cover to reduce the geological risks of landslides.
4. Malawi’s Dzaleka refugee camp was originally established in 1994 to shelter approximately 9,000 refugees fleeing violence and war in Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Today, approximately 30,000 refugees live in the deeply congested camp, making it more difficult for refugees to access water, medical treatment and electricity. To meet this growing need, The Hive, USA for UNHCR’s (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) innovation lab, is using satellite imagery to map and analyze Dzaleka camp and 115 other refugee camps to assist ground site planning teams in their decongestion efforts.
5. Cities are rapidly growing—as are customer expectations around wireless connectivity and signal reliability. The 5G networks of tomorrow will rely on a signal so sensitive it can be blocked by the palm of your hand—which makes network planning even more complicated. Network solutions are only as reliable as the data used to plan them. Maxar is the trusted geospatial partner for many of the world’s leading telecommunications companies, providing the customized data, analysis and expertise they need to create accurate location intelligence.
In the coming years, high-resolution satellite imagery will become much more readily available. Next year, once Maxar’s new WorldView Legion satellites (image above) launch, the company will be able to monitor the most dynamic parts of the globe up to 15 times per day, from sun-up to sun-down. These six satellites will collect about 5 million sq km of imagery daily, tripling Maxar’s available 30 cm capacity.
This increased availability of high-resolution satellite imagery will spur new use cases. End users will also rely more heavily on the cloud and AI/MLto sort through all the data to find the critical insights they need to make business decisions in industries like:
1. Transportation: detecting and mapping new neighborhoods to update “last mile” delivery network maps
2. Parks and Agriculture: deploying tree counting and health assessment models every month to maintain public green spaces
3. Governments and trading companies: creating local models to identify cars and other economic-related activity and then deploying the model as new imagery is collected to determine changes to traffic patterns and economic or trade activity at malls, borders and other gathering places.
4. Insurance: updating property features on an annual basis before renewing policies.
This article introduces the types of use cases that high-resolution satellite imagery is enabling today and how it can be used in the future. Maxar’s WorldViewLegion satellites will significantly advance these use cases due to the increase in revisit opportunities and collection capacity, unlocking more meaningful data and insights for our customers - whether they are monitoring assets, mapping the world or fueling their own products.