Satellite Earth observation opens new horizons

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Satellite

Small satellite platforms are transforming the way satellite Earth observation (EO) businesses are conducted. For more information, visit ellipsis-drive.com.

Small satellite platforms have brought a paradigm shift in the way satellite Earth observation (EO) business is conducted, with service and pricing models rapidly changing. Constellations of satellites, industry consolidation, and tools for analysing data (often called Big Data) are changing commercial satellite EO. Satellite EO remains a puzzle for the industry for various reasons, which has prevented its large-scale commoditization to markets beyond the government. The small satellite operators like Planet, Terra Bella, Spire, and BlackSky Global are changing the perception that one needs to invest in large satellites and have anchor tenant customers in order to succeed in this industry.

Satellite-based Earth Observation, 8th Edition, from NSR predicts a $43 billion market for data, value-added products, information products, and big data analytics. There is an expected rapid increase in satellite EO market share in downstream services, driven by an increase in high resolution and high revisit frequency data, which will drive demand for EO data and services across all industries. There will, however, be a squeeze on margins on pure data sales as the competition increases with a looming oversupply situation caused by these cheap small satellite platforms, which will lead to trends such as verticalization and mergers and acquisitions across the value chain of the industry.

Selected Small Satellite EO Constellations

The impact of these small satellites has mainly been felt in the adoption rate through the easier provision of end-to-end solutions, due to the lower costs of operation and infrastructure setup, which has shifted the emphasis to services. While North American and European firms have emerged strongly in the recent past, India remains oblivious to this growth story as the satellite EO industry continues to grow with the advent of Big Data analytics, which combines image, weather, location and other datasets to offer enterprise services. Despite India’s large IT industry presence, which caters to a global customer base, there is no notable commercial satellite EO firm aside from ISRO and a few GIS companies like CropIn and Cyient.

The success story of ISRO’s satellite EO program would not translate into a robust commercial industry if it did not, and especially in light of the government’s aggressive efforts to integrate satellites into the digital economy, it would be a missed opportunity for India to lead this promising industry. ISRO has signed 170 MoUs with various public agencies for applications such as infrastructure monitoring, crop insurance, watershed development, asset management, and mapping. However, the question ISRO and the government need to ask is if ISRO alone can satisfy all customers on time?

The bottom line

The NSR believes that small satellite platforms and data analytics will democratize satellite image-based insights and become part of everyday business processes by the next decade. The opportunity in the global satellite EO market is huge, and if India is to capitalize on it, the first step needs to be to seek inspiration from ESA’s Copernicus Program for creating an ecosystem for commercial companies to emerge and compete fairly on both domestic and global markets. According to India’s geospatial companies, one of the biggest challenges is the uncertainty of regulations. The first step to establishing a robust domestic satellite EO industry will be amending the Remote Sensing Data Policy of 2011.

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