In November 2022, Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano began erupting in the Moku‘āweoweo Caldera. The Mauna Loa, the largest active volcano in the world, was active for the first time in nearly 40 years. However, the United States Geological Survey stated that the lava flows were not threatening any downslope communities, and indications were that the eruption would remain in the Northeast Rift Zone. They also added that there was no threat to people living below the eruption zone.
At any other time, the eruption of the largest volcano in the world would have triggered great panic amidst the catastrophe. But the ability to monitor the eruption and communicate its impact promptly changed how the world reacted to it—an ability that comes from using satellite data. Remote sensing tools that produce satellite imagery allow officials to monitor and update the situation more accurately. In this instance, views from the GOES-West Earth Observation (EO) satellite showed the volcano’s thermal activity in yellow and red, along with the movements of ash and debris clouds.
Satellite data has come a long way since Mauna Loa’s last eruption.
Satellite data disruptors
Over the years, the satellite race has seen key checkpoints that have pushed the evolution of how satellite and earth observation data is being used. The first checkpoint was the race for resolution. Spatial resolution, or ground sampling distance (GSD), refers to the size of one pixel on the ground. Today, the GeoEye-1 satellite has a high-resolution imaging system and can collect images with a ground resolution of 0.41 meters (16 inches) in panchromatic or black-and-white mode. It collects multispectral or color imagery at a 1.65-meter resolution or about 64 inches. The second checkpoint was the currency race or the frequency at which photographs are taken. New-age companies are pioneering innovation in this field with significant advancements in temporal frequency. Companies now routinely provide consumers the ability to receive imagery more regularly and tasks satellites more frequently, helping to acquire more data faster.
A third checkpoint has added a layer of sensors that provide data beyond just imagery. A good example is the use of thermal data with infrared or mid-infrared sensors that provide insights into temperature—information that plays a critical role across industries such as utilities, defense, and energy. Hyperspectral data provides detailed information on the makeup of things being observed. The combination of hyperspectral data and optical data delivers powerful insights that can alter how we interact with the environment around us.
Several startups and smaller companies are making significant headway in building and launching these satellites. Organizations such asMaxar and Blacksky provide space infrastructure for earth intelligence and geospatial intelligence. Their satellites present insights based on earth observation data with imagery based on AI and ML. Other organizations specialize in providing specific types of data that can play a pivotal role in delivering geospatial insights. Satellite Vu, for example, specializes in thermal data, which is critical in monitoring droughts, wildfires, urban heat islands, agriculture, weather, and more. Wyvern can deliver high-resolution hyperspectral images that have immense potential across the utility industry. Iceye provides a small constellation of agile radar satellites that allow for catastrophe monitoring, disaster response for floods, and flood monitoring, apart from many other use cases. Satellogic, Planet, and other provers help take images with phenomenal regularity, thereby delivering data and imagery of greater revisit times.
The new breed of organizations brings together more agile approaches and faster time-to-market while building their products and solutions. This puts them at an advantage over traditional players, encouraging the latter to leverage their new-gen strengths with strategic investments. Accelerators such as the Seraphim Space Camp and Starburst are investing in several high-growth satellite organizations with the support and backing of older and more established organizations.
Need for strategic investments in satellites
There is an undeniable need for observational data. Across industries, technology megatrends are shaping how businesses invest in their strategic roadmap, and satellite-based data and insights are playing a massive role in shaping their future. According to Straits Research, the satellite earth observation market size is projected to reach $7.88 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 6.87%.
A large portion of this growth can be attributed to sustainability and ESG goals. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs or Global Goals), unanimously adopted by the United Nations in 2015, provide a window into the challenges that must be addressed across the planet. Several of these can be enabled by technology, especially space technology. Information that is delivered by satellites has the potential to curb deforestation, protect natural habitats, and even improve crop yields. These insights are helping us fight climate change challenges and combat the impact of mining and other activities on natural geology.
All this is possible today due to the low cost and lower total cost of ownership of building and deploying satellites. The cost to reach space has been reduced by a factor of 10. Satellites are developed at 1000x lower mass per unit performance and cost than ten years ago. Organizations like Hawkeye 360, Spire, and Planet are able to make data that was earlier only accessible to the government now accessible to all.
As organizations navigate this era of transformation, keeping pace with technological advancements often proves cumbersome. As vertical integration models become more common in EO, finding a partner who can support and assist development efforts and align with the broader GTM goals has become imperative. This is where technology providers such as Cyient are able to bring nearly three decades of expertise in crafting solutions for the EO market. As a leading provider of remote-sensing data processing services and solutions, Cyient’s expertise ranges from capturing and updating topography mapping, and hydrological and man-made infrastructure data sets to preparing GIS base maps with detailed features such as road networks, buildings outlines, crop patterns, and more.
The volume of data and insights have quadrupled year on year, sharpening our ability to map on and create systematic solutions. There is no denying that space systems have evolved significantly and in a positive direction that is redefining our future. The gravitas of these solutions lies in their ability to bring actionable insights to users who can make smarter and more informed decisions.
Thirty years ago, peering into the crater of an active volcano and understanding the impact of its eruption on people, wildlife, and geology would have been unimaginable. Today, strategies are being crafted in real time based on images and thermal information. But it doesn’t stop here. The possibilities are infinite.