Northern Sky Research

EO Data: Distribution & Guaranteed Access

Nov 19th, 2012

Since the first edition of NSR’s Earth Observation (EO) report, data resellers and value-added service (VAS) providers regularly identify access to sub-meter optical data as a recurrent hurdle. In parallel, while large EO contracts dominate the headlines (and revenues), NSR believes that a consequent market potential resides in smaller and sustainable needs from commercial end-users.

Usually small commercial end-user imagery contracts used to have low priority levels, facing difficulties to access an imagery source at the right moment and/or on short notice. As commercial end-users use imagery for operational uses, they need certainty that it will be available when needed. This availability results from several factors:

  • The source must be physically able to image the required area in a specific (thus limited) time period (revisit time).
  • The source must be available during this limited time period.
  • The source must have the appropriate imaging capability (especially for data intensive applications)

These aspects call for an appropriate revisit time and thus for comparable data sources (not necessarily identical).

Satellite constellations are the most obvious solution (high revisit time and imaging capability), which requires that one provider bears all the cost and risk associated with a constellation (which are consequent despite being lowered by a commoditization trend). Moreover, it limits the data-pool to one provider.

Collaboration between satellite operators with comparable satellites is another solution. It spreads the costs and risks (and revenues) among several actors. Be it limited to a project or with a larger scope, it allows for somewhat simulating a constellation (as Astrium GEO and Hisdesat with their SAR satellites). Collaboration is still not the norm and is usually limited in time and/or scope. Moreover, its efficiency seems dubious and its existence fragile given each actor’s interest, the duality of authority/decision centers (satellite operation, for example) and the lack of long-term stability (satellites’ operational lifetime usually won’t match).

Finally, a third answer lies with data resellers. Able to order data from different companies, data resellers are theoretically the best solution as they can simulate an “Industry-constellation” made of every commercially available comparable imagery source. Yet, this is not fully working as data resellers reported difficulties in accessing sub-meter optical data. This was mainly due to a mismatch between supply and demand, and due to large sized contracts creating “dark spots” and scarcity.

Bottom Line

Thanks to satellites launched recently or soon to be, sub-meter optical imaging capabilities should grow by more than 50% by 2015 (compared to 2011). This should put an end to scarcity and may actually lead to a temporary overcapacity.

This will intensify competition between satellite operators, leading them to look for new markets for their data, which should in turn enhance data resellers’ efficiency in simulating “industry-constellations”. All in all, it should ensure the guarantee of access long enough for more commercial customers to trust satellite as a source of imagery, increasing the market they represent and eventually spurring operators to invest in more imaging capability.

The intensity at which this will happen depends on satellite operators, as they will have to adapt their distribution strategies to address those customers. As commercial end-users’ dynamism should drive them to represent a bigger share of the market, NSR identified the guarantee of access aspect as a key success factor for satellite operators to thrive in the commercial EO data market.

Information for this article was extracted from NSR's reportĀ Global Satellite-Based Earth Observation (EO), 4th Edition