Nanosatellites:  The Future of Remotely Acquired Data

Nanosatellites: The Future of Remotely Acquired Data

The “race to space” of the 1960s left a legacy of Earth communication satellites in its wake. Those early scientists set the stage for the latest iteration of earth observation platforms: nanosatellites, picosatellites and microsatellites.  Just as  computing power that once was the size of a Volkswagen can now fit on your wrist, new satellites in development are roughly the size of a small laptop and weigh as little as 1 kg (~2 pounds).

There are more than 900 nanosatellites in orbit today. Roughly 60% are US origin, less than a quarter European, and the rest from smaller countries around the world. New companies are launching more and more satellites with improved and increased capabilities daily. Planet Labs, Skybox (Google) and Digital Globe are the three largest companies with commercially available nanosatellites.

Some of these satellites are weather observation platforms, others function as low orbit cell phone towers, and still others collect important spectral data. These small satellites are quickly bringing space within reach of the masses.

As the industry continues to exponentially grow, the acquisition and cost of nanosatellite imagery will be easier and lower respectively.

Satellites of the past had fixed orbits around the globe. New nanosatellites can be tasked for frequent revisits to specific areas without attention to geosynchronicity.  Currently there are a few nanosatellite constellations that claim to have a revisit time in under a day but we have yet to use them.  However the industry seems to be moving quickly towards sub-day revisit times as the industry standard.  Also as the industry continues to exponentially grow, the acquisition and cost of nanosatellite imagery will be easier and lower respectively.

Our experience shows a wide range of available data, resolution, revisit times, and data complexity. Hyperspectral cameras vary in capabilities and bandwidth, thus it is important for project continuity that the chosen nanosatellite companies are consistent from one data acquisition to another. The use of nanosatellites for change detection and land classification requires 4 band imagery (natural color), which is available from most satellite data.  Data used for more in-depth projects may require higher spatial resolution.

Overall, nanosatellites are the next step for Satelytics, and we expect to overcome the few small hurdles we have encountered: tasking satellites to our clients’ specifications, cost issues (tasking even small satellites is costly) and consistency of data. With these conquerable goals in sight, nanosatellite data will enable our clients to access more and better information.

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