How Earth Observation data shapes societal use of technology
Other sectors Maritime Oil and gas Food

Space technology with the capability to monitor Earth continuously has many applications and has proven to be of great value to society, as a means of weather prediction; climate monitoring; resource utilization; rescue operations; fostering international space cooperation and therefore countering geopolitical tensions; and acting as catalyst for growth and development of industries in both commercial space and non-space sectors.

The use of satellite technology and geographic information systems (GIS) for increasing comprehensive knowledge of the territory, and identification, mapping and analyses of environmental conditions has gained prominence in recent years. Very high and high-resolution satellite data have become more readily available, leading to disaster forecasting, management and mitigation. It can also identify information about a wide range of commodities traded on a global basis, such as minerals, metals, oil and gas, and agriculture produce. The Earth Observation (EO) market is expected to grow in the area of prediction and detection of risks, post- disaster rescue, recovery efforts, infrastructure planning, urban development utilities and national mapping agencies. Satellite data can be integrated in system control to construct warning systems for assets management, in order to effectively decrease the response time in operation and increase management of precise and predictive maintenance. In other words, the growth of EO data creates a potential growth both in mitigating against climate damage and economic and efficiency growth across industries, across regions. But this potential will only come to fruition if utilized. Multi-decadal data sets are already available from various types of EO sensors, but their effective exploitation has been hindered by the lack of data centres which offer dedicated EO- processing chains and high-performance processing (HPC) capabilities.

Advancing technologies, higher demands

With the increasing pace of developing technologies comes higher demands and expectations from users of the insights and analytics these technologies could provide. National and international space agencies are meeting the increasing demand by providing additional data, serving large science programmes, enlarging network stations, upgrading delivery methods for quicker data dissemination and making more data available in near-real time. The growth in computing, network bandwidths and storage capacities has resulted in users requesting larger volumes of data to be delivered in unprecedented timeframes11.

Advancements in cloud storage allows large amount of data to be analyzed online; big data analytics enables processing of large volumes of data; and emerging artificial intelligence (AI) processes and identifies trends and patterns from huge volumes of data, in addition to performing predictive analysis

AI-driven EO start-ups alone (like Orbital Insight, Descartes Labs, Ursa Space Systems and Spaceknow) raised $96 million in 2017, nearly three times more than in 20162. The combination of EO data with sensor data, models and block chain technology is foreseen to have a high impact for the user segments and processes, such as distribution management systems in government services or supply chain management in various industry sectors. Automation and augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) can lower and streamline maintenance costs and operationalize the functioning of EO systems, while visualization technologies play an important role in proving advantages in access and distribution of remote sensing and GIS information, such as through flexible screens and 3D modelling.

Image processing time impacts market value

Satellite images require large amounts of processing before they are usable. By processing satellite images, a variety of information can be extracted and distributed at various aggregation levels. Information extraction may include the detection and characterization of a specific “target/object”, which could be, for example, water, land movements, fire, agriculture and economic productivity, and construction developments, etc.

However, as the number of users increase in mass-market image-related products segments, the potential for service turnover also increases. Services will be tailored to suit industrial applications, where users might seek observations at many wavelengths and polarizations to support various business segments such as supporting trading, finances, and energy utilization. Economies of scale for suppliers, maturing service offerings and network effects will all combine to increase the value of the service market. It’s been forecasted that from 2017 to 2027, an annual demand for EO data and services will rise from just over $3 billion to $6.9 billion3.

EO data growth is driven by rising economic value. EO data growth will also be accelerated in the quest for a cleaner, greener world based on climate targets to be met with the Paris Agreement and the goal of “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. Experts agree that Paris Agreement targets cannot be met in the face of consistent EU failure to reign in transport carbon emissions4.

The Paris Agreement acknowledges explicitly the need to ensure environmental integrity and implicitly asks to complement the bottom-up information with atmospheric measurements for verification. Although not yet mandatory within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reporting process, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Guidelines (2006) recommend nevertheless to implement verification procedures using such top-down estimates in order to improve the accuracy and reliability of national inventory systems and to contribute to the verification procedures.

A Monitoring and Verification Support (MVS) capacity is provided by satellites in orbit today, which have the capability to measure atmospheric pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, while the capability to monitor CO2 emissions is still limited.

Under the Copernicus-2 programme, the European Space Agency (ESA) is planning three new satellites to monitor emissions everywhere on the planet at much higher resolution and frequency. The Sentinel 7 spacecrafts, set to be launched in 2025, will create the first worldwide system for independent measurement of CO2 pollution sources – in time to supply data to the UN’s global stock-take of GHG emissions, starting in 2028, in accordance with the Paris Agreement.

Each satellite will carry a near-infrared and shortwave-infrared spectrometer generating a wide sweep area of 240km, capable of capturing the plumes of gases from power stations and cities. Orbiting 14 times each day, the satellites will pass over every CO2 source on Earth every two to three days. China, Japan and the US will augment the EU observations with additional satellites, such that by 2030, all significant emission sources will be comprehensively observed on a near-daily basis.

The capability to monitor emissions with a spatial resolution down to 2x2km2, will make it possible to pinpoint specific emissions sources like ships, factories and offshore-plants. Such an independent and top-down analysis will be useful to update and verify GHG emission inventories on all levels (local, regional, national, global), and avoid becoming too dependent on prediction models, in-situ-measurements as well as local/national observation and reporting processes. Hence the data from EO satellites like the Sentinels will play a major role in evaluation and enforcement of the Paris Agreement, driving investment further into EO satellites and data processes.


DNV GL is grateful to Gordon Campbell, Director, Science, Applications and Future Technologies Department, Directorate of EO Programmes at the European Space Agency (ESA) and Dag Anders Moldestad Senior Advisor at the Norwegian Space Agency for the valuable discussions.

Main author: Barbara Scarnato

Contributor: Steinar Lag

Editor: Tiffany Hildre

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