This article first appeared in SatMagazine in May 2016.
On August 14, 1959, the Explorer 6 satellite captured the first satellite images of the Earth.
“When the first images appeared, people would talk about the folds in the Appalachian Mountains,” recalled James Irons, a veteran scientist at the Earth Sciences Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “For the first time, it was possible to observe from great height what people had been talking about for hundreds of years.” Since then, satellite imaging has evolved and developed into an extremely valuable resource for information about our planet.
Despite all of the technology advancements, there has been little improvement in the time required to deliver satellite imaging data since that first image of the Earth from space was acquired and dispatched nearly 60 years ago.
Today, most satellite imagery is weeks to months old by the time it is received on Earth. While the images are beautiful, how useful are they when they are that outdated? Satellite imaging has the potential to assist with vital humanitarian efforts, the global economy, security and defense, agriculture and more. But how can organizations make informed decisions using information that isn’t current?
The existing state of the industry is partly due to the fact that satellite imaging is no easy task. Expertise is required in a variety of fields that include space, hardware, processing, software and communications through networks and radios.
The other aspect that has slowed the progression of this field is the cost, as that has affected most areas of the space industry. Accessing space is undeniably expensive and has consequently been restricted to those with deep pockets. As such, the valuable information obtained from space missions is limited to quite a small number of organizations.
As a society, we are constantly searching for new and better sources of information. With advancements in technology, expanded connectedness and new commercial space launch models, satellite imagery has much to offer in our quest for knowledge. Satellite imaging has the potential to be a source of extensive information and can also offer the immediacy required to make a significant impact on critical global concerns. If providers of satellite imaging capitalize on these advancements to decrease cost and increase the speed whereby images are supplied to their customers, they can improve the efficacy and accuracy of the data collected.
Consider Amazon Web Services, a comprehensive, evolving cloud computing platform that enables businesses to operate more effectively, efficiently and securely in the cloud. By creating a scalable software platform that addresses the market’s need for a one-stop shop, Amazon is able to offer services that help businesses across the globe remain active and nimble. BlackSky aims to be the first company to apply a similar model to satellite imaging.
BlackSky intends to provide a way to look at our planet in near real-time to enable companies, organizations and governments to make far better informed decisions. With a constellation of 60 high-resolution microsatellites, this will be the first company to offer satellite imaging as a service. The distinct business model and massive infrastructure will position BlackSky to address and transcend the industry’s current status quo with improvements of the following key elements:
Persistence and Revisit Rates
This is the key to unlocking the potential of satellite imaging—the secret sauce, if you will. It’s only possible with a well-built and scalable infrastructure. With a constellation of 60 imaging satellites orbiting the Earth, BlackSky will have the ability to pass over key zones hourly—not just daily or weekly. BlackSky’s frequent revisit rates will cover 95 percent of the Earth’s population and will pass over major economic areas and large cities as many as 40 to 70 times each day. The images will be fresher, more current and will tell a more comprehensive story.
Customers are looking for an intuitive system they can operate with ease and that will ultimately provides them with a high-quality product. They want to task a satellite or peruse a database of available images, which is currently a complicated and lengthy process. BlackSky’s software platform is scaled for the Web and allows customers to rapidly request, receive and interact with satellite imagery via the Internet or even a mobile phone.
Due to the high cost of satellites and the launch process, most companies have traditionally owned only one or a handful of satellites. BlackSky’s investment in an infrastructure of this size ensures our customers will benefit from scale advantages including tremendously decreased costs—roughly one-tenth of the cost of current industry standards.
BlackSky is implementing a revolutionary business model to help the global community see the world in a way that the planet has never been seen before. Space is no longer a distant dream or a fantasy. Space is a critical component of global comprehension and the time is now that we start to unearth the data that can only be discovered from the vantage in space.
With this enhanced global awareness, everyone can delight in a more complete understanding of the dynamic world we live in, leading to better informed decisions and a better planet for us all.