Satellite operators, data analysts agree on need for speed

by

Geospatial data companies are focusing intently on quickly acquiring satellite imagery and delivering it to customers.

“Speed is very important and will never not be important,” said Robbie Schingler, Planet co-founder and chief strategy officer. “This is a constant area of innovation.”

Planet relies on 180 Earth observation satellites and 30 ground stations to gather imagery and provide data and services to customers.

Vertically integrated companies like Planet can speed up data delivery by responding more quickly to customer demands, decreasing the latency of geospatial products or pushing answers to customers before they ask, Schingler said April 24 at the 2018 GEOINT Symposium. “You can do it with onboard software, you can do it with laser communications, you can also do it through new applications,” he said.

Airbus’ commitment to speed is exemplified by its investment in the European Data Relay System, a constellation of satellites with laser links to speed up the transfer of Earth observation imagery.

“Our investment in the SpaceDataHighway gives you an indication of how much importance we place on reducing latency, which opens up new use cases,” said John Murtagh, Head of Strategy, Airbus Defence and Space.

DigitalGlobe focuses on reducing latency through its network design.

“By investing in ground stations to cover 45 percent of the land in real time, 95 percent of the land in 20 minutes and by moving into the Amazon cloud, we’ve been able to shrink the time it takes to get data into end user’s hands in some cases to minutes,” said Walter Scott, Maxar Technologies chief technical officer and DigitalGlobe founder.

In addition, DigitalGlobe designed its Global Enhanced GEOINT Delivery platform to move data quickly into the hands of 100,000 individual U.S. government and allied customers, Scott said.

The focus on speed is essential because geospatial data is most valuable when its fresh. The longer it takes for that data to travel into the hands of users, the less valuable it becomes.

“At some point the data becomes worthless,” said Adam Maher, president and co-founder of Ursa Space Systems, a company that offers economic insights from geospatial data.

Companies preparing to launch their first satellites also are focused on speed.

“How do we lessen the response time from observation taken to handing it to the customer?” said Scott Herman, product development vice president for BlackSky, Spaceflight Industries’ geospatial intelligence company. “That drives the design of the ground station network, communications in space and ground processing required to add value to the data. Getting it down so it is near real time for a broad commercial and defense audience is a big driver for us.”

BlackSky plans to launch a constellation of up to 60 Earth observation satellites “in bizarre orbits” to get high revisit rates over facilities of interest and track changes in economic supply chains or patterns of life, Herman said.

Hawkeye 360, a company preparing to launch a constellation of satellites to monitor RF signals, is thinking about speed, as well.

“For our next generation spacecraft, rather than store and forward data, we are going to leverage something like Globalstar to get low data rate information down quicker,” said Chris DeMay, Founder & Chief Technology Officer, Hawkeye 360.