DigitalGlobe president and chief executive Jeffrey Tarr speaking Tuesday on a “Big Data” panel that includes, from left to right, Terran Orbital's Marco Villa, Planet co-founder Chris Boshuizen, OmniEarth’s Lars Dyrud, angel investor Dylan Taylor and World View’s Jane Poynter. Credit: Tom Kimmell

COLORADO SPRINGS —  In a world economy worth an estimated $90 trillion, the market for information that could be obtained from physical observations will be worth at least $9 trillion, said Lars Dyrud, OmniEarth chief executive.

“At least 10 to 15 percent efficiency could be gained through information that leads to better decision making,” said Dyrud, one of the panelists discussing Big Data during an April 4 session at the Space Symposium. Much of the information will come from physical observations, including space data, he added.

Companies and government agencies continue to expand their space data-gathering capabilities while struggling with the task of making sense of vast quantities of information, fusing disparate data sources and offering products that appeal to customers.

While some customers can ingest the raw data World View Enterprises acquires with sensors on its high-altitude balloons, most seek data provided in a format that is easy to understand, said Jane Poynter, World View’s chief executive.

“We are at risk of being drowned by this data,” said Chris Boshuizen, Planet co-founder and entrepreneur-in-residence at the Data Collective, a venture capital firm. “We need to be deft, agile and proficient in interpreting data and understanding it.”

To tackle the problem, DigitalGlobe, a firm that collects about 70 terabytes of raw imagery  every day and processes and disseminates 270 terabytes of finished product, is investing in cloud computing and machine learning. “Data is so massive, human beings don’t have the capacity to analyze or make sense of it,” said Jeffrey Tarr, DigitalGlobe president and chief executive.

Another challenge facing the industry is the fact that Earth-observation data is not yet a commodity.

“There is no market with numerous suppliers. If a customer needs data with one-meter resolution across the United States updated every three months, “there is no marketplace to buy that and exchange one supplier for another,” Dyrud said. “Spectral bands, radiometric calibration, degree of georeferencing, all those could be stipulated and set, much the way different grades and varietals of coffee are set. Then a builder of a satellite would know that once they can offer that data the market is waiting.”

To derive useful information, companies are combining datasets. “What is mind-blowing is not just the quantity of data, but also the diversity,” said Marco Villa, chief operating officer of Terran Orbital and Tyvak Nano Satellite Systems. “Our customers combine Earth imagery with data from other platforms to keep extracting more information.

All the panelists predict demand for data will grow as new industries discover its utility. Data obtained via satellite also will play an important role in automation, including driverless cars. “Driverless cars will need recent, accurate base maps that reflect even minor changes in roads,” Dyrud said. “Space is key enabler.”x

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...