Published Date: Feb 2024


Remote sensing technology has come a long way in the past few decades and is now being used for a wide variety of applications across different industries globally. Remote sensing refers to the process of detecting and monitoring the physical characteristics of an area by measuring its reflected and emitted radiation at a distance, usually from aircraft or satellites. With advancements in sensor technologies and data processing capabilities, remote sensing services have greatly improved in accuracy, resolution and coverage. This has led to new opportunities for monitoring global changes and development applications.

Emergence of Commercial Satellite Imagery

The commercialization of satellite imagery in the 1990s marked a turning point for the remote sensing industry. Prior to this, satellite data was largely restricted for defense and military uses by governments. However, the emergence of private remote sensing companies launching their own imaging satellites made high resolution satellite imagery openly available to a much wider user base at affordable costs. Companies like DigitalGlobe, Planet Labs and BlackSky now operate large fleets of imaging satellites that can revisit locations daily and provide imagery at sub-meter resolution globally. This democratization of remote sensing data has fueled new commercial applications as well as research in many domains.

Operational Monitoring Services Expand

Leveraging the availability of frequent satellite imagery, operational monitoring services have expanded greatly over the past decade to address needs across numerous industries. For example, mapping and GIS companies now offer services to automatically detect changes for infrastructure and construction projects using time-series satellite imagery analysis. Agriculture sector uses satellite-based monitoring for crop health, irrigation management and insurance claims. Energy and utility firms track oil and gas assets, solar farms and power transmission lines remotely. Other applications include disaster response, environmental monitoring, urban planning and maritime domain awareness. Advanced analytic capabilities like machine learning are further enhancing the value derived from these continuous monitoring services.

Satellite Constellations Scale Up Coverage

To meet the growing demands, satellite operators are continuously augmenting their constellations and launching bigger fleets of smaller satellites. For example, Planet Labs now operates over 200 SuperDove satellites in sun-synchronous low Earth orbit, capturing the entire landmass of the Earth on a daily basis. Similarly, companies like Spire Global have launched hundreds of CubeSats equipped with AIS receivers and other sensors, collecting maritime analytics and weather data globally. These distributed satellite networks are transforming monitoring services through unprecedented real-time availability of data anywhere on Earth. Global coverage at high updating frequencies allows tracking fast-changing events and enabling entirely new applications in sectors like insurance, logistics, and emergency response.

Geospatial Big Data Analytics Gain Traction

With petabyte-scale satellite imagery archives accumulating, advanced analytics of geospatial big data is gaining traction. Using high performance computing, data scientists can now undertake automated feature extraction, change detection, map updating, and predictive modeling over vast areas and long timeframes. This enables monitoring natural resources, predicting disasters and modeling climate impacts globally. Synergistic analysis of multiple data streams including satellite imagery, demographic maps, socio-economic indicators and terrestrial IoT sensor data provides actionable insights. Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cloud platforms are further empowering Big Data analytics for global remote sensing applications in sustainable development, environmental monitoring, and disaster management.

Democratization Benefits Society

In summary, global remote sensing services have proliferated significantly over the past decade due to commercialization of satellite data and advancements in enabling technologies. Monitoring capabilities now extend to diverse sectors and applications worldwide. Democratization of geospatial data access has promoted transparency and empowered scientific research, entrepreneurship, conservation efforts as well as public service programs in underserved regions. Continued improvements in coverage, timeliness, resolution and analytics will further augment value derived from monitoring Earth from space through integration with other digital technologies. Overall, advances in remote sensing are greatly benefitting societies worldwide through new environmental, agricultural, infrastructure and emergency management applications.