Oct 19, 2011

The Future of Commercial Remote Sensing #geoint2011

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A panel at the GEOINT Conference in San Antonio this week posed the question about whether the decision to commercialize the earth observation satellite business was the right one. Some of the comments made by panel members that included GeoEye, Astrium, MDA, and DigitalGlobe were certainly in the affirmative. Matt O’Connell, CEO of GeoEye, said it was the “perfect public/private partnership” and it was one reasons he left Wall Street to take on the job of building a commercial remote sensing business.

It has been 17 years since the decision was taken to fund development of commercial earth observing sensors in the private sector rather than continue with government run satellites. I thought it was odd that such a question was even posed given the support this sector has received. It seemed to bring into question whether the business model was sustainable. Certainly if in the current fiscal crisis worsens some government support may wane. It puts pressure on the commercial providers to look more towards the private sector to sell commercial imagery, a clientele that needs to be educated as to the more advanced technical benefits. Not every business is familiar how remotely sensed data classification technology benefits them.

Those on the panel representing European satellite companies indicated that while the European debt crisis will have some impact on their business, markets for their products are still growing. In fact, RapidEye CEO, Ryan Johnson indicated that lower resolution imagery provided by his company could help reduce overall costs. The argument is that the lower resolution, large area coverage imagery can be used as a first pass analysis that would then lead the use of higher resolution imagery to focus in on a specific area.

by Joe Francica