National Harbor, MD – Satellite imagery providers and the economic analyst firms that ingest their information realize there’s a lot of work to be done in educating businesses on how the parameters have changed for acquiring and utilizing Earth Observation data. Panelists on the “Imagery, Sensing, and Satellite IoT panel for the Finance Sector” at the Satellite 2021 examined what they have to work with and what more work they need to do moving forward.
“Traditionally, satellite imagery providers have focused a lot on mapping using very high resolution, spatial resolution imagery with updates on a monthly, weekly timeframe,” said Dr. Patrick O’Neil, Chief Data Scientist at BlackSky. “That doesn’t really work in a modern trading space, when you have decisions that are being made in seconds. The question really becomes, ‘How can you get to insights faster?’… There are a lot of fast dynamic situations that you really couldn’t address traditionally using remote sensing data…We’re moving into an entirely new space where the velocity of information that’s coming off the satellites is faster than it’s ever been before. And that opens up entirely new domains that can be addressed with satellite imagery.”
BlackSky and several other New Space imaging companies are focusing on reducing time to acquire imagery, launching a large constellation of satellites to quickly provide pictures and revisit areas of interest on a daily basis or faster. On top of that, the company adds on artificial intelligence to automatically analyze the wealth of imagery flowing into the cloud around the clock.
“With this technology, adding on top of that artificial intelligence that can automatically analyze all this imagery that’s coming down, you can suddenly do some pretty incredible things like monitor not just one economic port weekly,” O’Neil said. “ You can monitor an economic port multiple times per day and then scale that up to be able to analyze thousands of ports around the world using satellite imagery that comes off rapidly though revisit constellations, layer in other data types like synthetic aperture radar, and then pull that all together and have unified AI capabilities to analyze all that data, pull out economic indicators, and then disseminate those economic indicators through modern APIs and machine to machine.”
Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) operator ICEYE is also providing a combination of quickly delivering imagery on-demand to customers and building solutions around analytics to delivery actionable intelligence.
“We provide data in a couple different ways,” said Andrew Parlock, Senior Director Sales North America, ICEYE, “We can get a phone call and deliver imagery of a particular site… Another thing that’s happening in the industry is there’s folks coming up utilizing all the goodness that the imagery providers are delivering and then wrapping additional capabilities and additional intelligence and delivering that to the marketplace. It’s a win-win all around, you’re getting this data fusion, you’ll have unprecedented access to imagery in repeat cycles that have never been seen before.”
At Ursa Space Systems, data fusion and analytics is the name of the game. The Ithaca, New York-based data analytics firm takes in information from a wide variety of Earth Observation satellite platforms, including radio frequency information, AIS ship-tracking data, optical imagery, and SAR imagery. The company is best known for its use of SAR imagery to monitor oil inventory, with the current capability to measure it to 6.6 billion barrels and 971 locations worldwide.
The combination of multi-source data and analytics is delivering real-world results, using data from one source to “tip-and-queue” where imaging satellites should take pictures to get more details on an area of interest.
“Let’s take a use case of pipeline monitoring,” said Nicole Robinson, President of Ursa Space Systems. “In Nigeria, they have lost on the order of $40 billion over the past 10 years from bandit, from theft. Imagine we’re staring at this pipeline from a broad monitoring perspective. From an RF perspective, it can pick up where there’s push-to-talk radio activity, that generates an alert that says Ursa double-click on this [geographic] spot right here. We then task SAR and EO simultaneous to have a closer look at what’s going on and provide that insight from a change detection perspective back to the customer and the impacted community.”
One of the “red flags” indicating oil theft is the detection nearby the pipeline of a barge or a “dark ship” which doesn’t have its AIS ship tracking on and/or isn’t communicating by radio. The combination of RF information — provided by satellite RF survey firm Hawkeye 360 in this case – along with AIS ship tracking, optical imaging, and SAR imaging provides is more powerful than any single source of information.
Panelists emphasized that obtaining imagery today is much different than it was a decade ago. “You have to really reframe what it is that we do,” said O’Neil. “We’re an activity monitor. We focused on getting updates as fast as possible as consistently as possible and as long as you need. You’re not going to have to move the heavens to take a single shot in the next day, which was traditionally been the case. You’re not going to have to call up a service rep to get an image, you just go into our online store and just buy an image task.
“We’ve had launched pilots and things like that just to get some of these customers to understand the difference between traditional mapping companies and rapid revisit activity in [imaging] intelligence companies. It’s been a bit of a struggle, but you tend to find that in any industry, you have a few businesses who are out in front, and they’re really willing to adopt the changes and those are the ones to really be able to capture the most value.”