Earth Observation Specialists, Dan Wicks and Tom Jones, provide a perspective on maximising the value of satellite data for end users.
As we move into an age of space dominated by the commercial exploitation of downstream applications, huge volumes of data collected by satellites contribute to a growing market of physical Earth observation (EO) data estimated to be worth $9 trillion. Data analytics enabling these unique insights are also becoming a commodity and key to unlocking the true value of this unprecedented big geospatial data.
As new industries discover the utility of satellite data, demand is increasing. The biggest limitation to growth is the lack of an established market, due in part to the complex nature of working with satellite data and lack of standardisation across the sector. Market development is limited to a relatively small number of specialist organisations, where solution development is often supplier driven rather than market-led.
The Satellite Applications Catapult recognizes an opportunity to accelerate market growth by enabling improved access to satellite data, in order that a wider audience is able to exploit it for application development and that existing users are able to produce services with greater efficiency and at reduced cost. Often, users repeat the same processing steps for the same data, time and time again, creating huge inefficiencies.
Present trends and unexplored markets demand the provision of real time insights in the form of information, not data – something that the industry isn’t optimally positioned to deliver. Satellite data provided to users currently requires the completion of complex pre-processing steps before most analytics can even be considered. This presents a huge blocker, particularly to users with a lack of expertise and infrastructure, to effectively support exploitation of the growing volume of satellite data and to those organisations wishing to scale and move to an ‘EO as a service’-oriented business.
The Catapult believes that the answer, in part, lies in the systematic and regular provision of Analysis Ready Data (ARD). The Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) define ARD as “satellite data that have been processed to a minimum set of requirements and organized into a form that allows immediate analysis without additional user effort and interoperability with other datasets both through time and space.”
The Catapult has undertaken a series of work investigating ARD, which has initially focused on the Copernicus Sentinel data. These data are free at point of access and comprise a significant resource that will support future applications in environmental management, climate change and civil security. In 2016 the Catapult undertook a project funded by the UK Space Agency’s IPSP programme which defined an ARD standard for Sentinel-1 data. A full breakdown of the approach is given in the Algorithm Description Document.
This work was undertaken in partnership with Geoscience Australia, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Cooperative Research Centre Spatial Information (CRCSI) who provided rigorous scientific review of the work and testing of the resultant data. Importantly, this was done in the context of wider work undertaken by CEOS to define ARD and clearly demonstrated the potential for making even the most complex satellite datasets (i.e. synthetic aperture radar) readily available in a format suitable for non-expert exploitation.
The Catapult is currently undertaking a project in partnership with Defra’s Earth Observation Centre of Excellence and Aberystwyth University to investigate a possible standard for Sentinel-2 ARD, and will result in the operational generation of ARD data, provided through the Catapult’s Sentinel Data Access Service (SEDAS). This represents a huge step forward for the sector, reducing barriers of access to EO data by making it available as a commodity and not just the raw material. To further develop the overall capability of SEDAS, the Catapult is also exploring, under its own funding, the concept of ‘Data Cubes’ as a solution for organising and analysing these vast quantities of data, making it quicker and easier to provide information to the user.
The Catapult is actively developing an ecosystem of parties with an interest in this subject and welcomes opportunities to engage with new organisations. On 28 April, the Catapult is hosting a workshop in London on Sentinel-2 ARD, while we also have a Sentinel-2 LinkedIn group, so please get involved and help move the concept of ARD closer to a reality.