Issue #1(27) 2021 Opinion

iPhone moment for the Earth observation industry

Aravind Ravichandran TerraWatch Space, Toulouse, France

Like the app revolution enabled by the iPhone, data from space can enable a revolution of applications to help us build a sustainable future, to understand our planet and make better business decisions. The author argues that the ‘iPhone moment’ for the Earth observation industry is ‘now’, enabled by cheaper launches and more efficient satellite manufacturing processes. The question is how to capitalise on it.

Earth observation is expected to grow into a multi-billion dollar industry thanks to the numerous applications of satellite data across business niches, or ‘verticals’, including agriculture, energy, infrastructure, insurance and financial services, along with the biggest customer of satellite imagery, the defence sector.

Advancements in satellite miniaturisation and a reduction in launch costs have meant that different types of payloads and sensors can now be developed and flight-tested faster and cheaper than ever before. This has enhanced our ability to monitor the Earth and collect more different types of data than before. These range from monitoring radio frequency signals to identify illegal fishing (Hawkeye360, Kleos, Unseenlabs) to using radio occultation signals from navigation satellites to better understand our weather (Spire, GeoOptics).

We can also keep track of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGSat, Bluefield, MethaneSat), keep an eye on the energy efficiency of the buildings in which we live and work (SatelliteVu), monitor the spread of wildfires (ConstellR, OroraTech) and enhance predictions of crop yields and plant health (ScanWorld).

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