Data Among Us: the Top Practical Satellite Use Cases

By  //  October 8, 2020

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Let’s take a look at the situation we have found ourselves in: due to technical complexity, insufficient media coverage, and the swift advancement of technology, society strongly associates satellites with pure science.

If you ask the average person on the street, for them a satellite is an object that floats somewhere above the Earth’s surface and is designed for scientists, governments, the Internet, or TV providers. It is not of practical use for them or for businesses.

And that’s fundamentally wrong.

To contribute to the celebration of the annual World Space Week, which is dedicated to satellites, here is some practical knowledge about their theoretical foundation. In other words, we will take a closer look at use-cases for satellite imagery in everyday life and try to reveal how earth businesses can thrive with the help of space.

Agriculture Sector 

First of all, Earth observational data is used to obtain information about the state of fields and crops. With the help of satellite imagery and its analysis, you can find out the vegetation for crops in particular regions, how many resources will be used to cultivate the fields, detect the areas affected by erosion and measure its impact, forecast the vegetation, etc. At the same time, the opportunities for using satellite data is not only limited only to this.

For instance, EOS Data Analytics allows farmers to track soil moisture on their fields based on satellite analysis. Moreover, satellite data helps to determine the actual size and boundaries of fields.

Oil & Gas Industry

Satellite imagery enables the automation of global oil market assessment, storage and transportation calculations, and even monitoring pipeline accidents.

Every leak from the pipeline is clearly visible from the sky, while the physics and geometry combined with satellite data can also come in handy with oil storage. Since oil tanks are usually built with a floating roof, you can make estimates from the shadow’s size thrown off the roof and calculate the capacity occupancy with the help of satellite photos.

Do you need to find some oil? Not a problem either. By combining the traditional geological approach with satellite imagery, companies get the best information for efficient oil exploration.

Additionally, satellites help to identify oil spills. Each oil spill causes tremendous damage to nature, so modern technology has learned to find spills by analyzing the response of the ocean surface to the pulses sent from satellites such as TerraSAR-X og Radarsat-2. Moreover, satellites can determine the oil spill size, the speed and direction of the oil movement.

Mining

Mining companies found the use of satellite imagery useful as well. The remarkable use-cases are the support of mineral exploration projects, land cover analysis, and monitoring of mines. Firstly, satellites enable the interpretation of infrared, short wave infrared, and thermal infrared wavelengths. By overlaying them on a map, you can understand the differences between surfaces and therefore find mineral deposits.

Secondly, satellites come to aid when the teams need to attend hard-to-reach places. For example, with images’ help, you can lay a route in advance and get to know the terrain in detail. If the mine is already in operation, satellite images will help you assess the environmental impact or identify potentially dangerous areas. For example, the project called Goldeneye combines Earth observation technologies with on-site sensing. It targets five mining sites across Europe and helps to develop solutions that improve safety, environmental impact, and profitability.

Forestry 

Forest protection, monitoring of illegal logging or global forest supply, calculating forest areas and their growth, preventive measures against wildfires, and protecting rivers and reservoirs through riparian zones – all of these areas receive a much-needed boost with the help of satellites.

Each of these tasks can be solved by analyzing satellite images in real-time and comparing them at different time intervals. Here you can read how NASA uses data and different types of satellites to cover wildfires in remote regions. It’s also worth adding that modern image quality even allows for the detection of forest diseases and prevention of their distribution on a country-wide scale.

Logistics

No matter what kind of vehicle you use for cargo transportation, you will still need a map. If you want to effectively set up logistics, your maps should be up-to-date and as detailed as possible.

For instance, a ship’s captain needs to know about wind direction and speed, as well as storms, icebergs, and other obstacles on the route. If you drive a truck, you will need to know about traffic jams, road repairs, accidents, and so on. And if you manage logistics as a whole, thanks to the data described above, you can optimize both routes and transport schedules.

Modern vehicles use a range of different technologies, including satellite imagery, as a basis for further analysis. The more data you have, the more you can get, which means the more efficient your logistics will be. Simply put, pictures from space can be fed into the complex Geographical Information Systems to optimize the way the whole supply chain does.

Renewable Energy 

Another area that is already taking full advantage of satellites is the renewable energy sector. Competitors’ data on the condition of fields and actions to plan business strategies, area mapping for planning development, monitoring the land and facilities’ conditions, or measurement of  environmental impact.

As you can see, a business can choose a variety of things to track with satellites. The main takeaway is that they are an excellent tool for working with large areas. For instance, to manage wind turbines from space.

Taxes 

Probably the most unusual case from our list. Satellites are often used to find tax evaders. How, you might ask? For example, when tracking new objects on private territory. If you specify on a tax return having low income, and then a new swimming pool appears in your backyard, it certainly will not escape the satellite’s eye. Last year, a tax evader in New Delhi, India was caught with the help of satellite technology. 

Retail

Sometimes the retail business serves the role of an excellent urban planner. Knowing the essential social and cartographic data, analysts can model their own retail chains’ growth and choose the best places to open stores.

This is what happened with one pharmacy brand. Intelligent mapping using satellite images allowed the project team to choose the best areas for expansion. They used data about existing pharmacy networks, competing chains, population density by region, the rental price for commercial real estate, and target audience locations.

Real Estate

Similar to retail, when it comes to the real estate market, an object’s location plays a key role in determining its value. This is why the use of satellite imagery in real estate has been a total growth segment. Technologies allow us to get a complete view of the property and surrounding area both to builders or investors and ordinary people looking for their future house.

However, sometimes technology that helps choose the best locations for future projects can work against developers and even whole governments.

In 2006, a group of Bahraini activists used Google Earth photos to analyze and show the problem of the overcrowding of poor districts compared to rich ones. The effect was so staggering that the government had to take unprecedented steps to address the problem and began to build new areas for citizens.

Climate change and Environmental Observations

Last but not least, satellite data is crucial for systematic monitoring of the climate. It includes weather, temperature, ocean currents, changes in ice sheets, carbon and ozone volume, and other conditions.

Although this information itself is simply data about our environment, with the use of modern GIS software and advanced analysis, it can say much more about the Earth than we can imagine.

An interesting case in this direction is environmental monitoring in areas with military conflicts. The use of weapons as well as the danger of being in war zones for conventional scientists leaves only one tool for monitoring the human impact on the environment in places like this – satellites.

Summary 

In this list, we have tried to talk about industries where satellite imagery has become a common tool. Of course, this list is not complete. Insurance, Infrastructure monitoring, water intelligence, fishing, and many other sectors have been using satellites for a long time, turning them from popular scientific objects into practical business tools.

Many use cases are yet to be discovered and anyone who does this may just become the new Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk.

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