Forecast International projects the worldwide civil and commercial remote sensing satellite market to be worth $16 billion over the 2010-2019 timeframe. Its “The Market for Civil & Commercial Remote Sensing Satellites” study covers 48 satellite production programmes and finds that over the next 10 years 110 individual remote sensing satellites will be produced.
“Uses of satellite data include urban planning, natural resource exploitation, agriculture, mapping and navigation, transportation, and scientific study of Earth’s climate,” says William Ostrove, space systems analyst. Other satellite imagery applications include environmental treaty monitoring, damage estimation for insurance claims, real estate appraisal, and assistance during natural disasters.
The most important consumers of satellite imagery data remain government and military agencies. For example, GeoEye and DigitalGlobe, two large US remote sensing companies, have each been awarded contracts under the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s NextView programme. The revenue generated by this program has allowed the two companies to upgrade their fleets and provide better value to both government and private customers.
Government agencies also form valuable partnerships with private industry to develop and operate satellite fleets. According to the study, “Many programs around the world, such as the Indian Cartosat, Canadian Radarsat, and Franco-Italian COSMO-SkyMed/Pleiades blur the distinction between government and private operated satellite networks.” These satellite networks provide imagery to both government and commercial customers and provide strong competition to privately operated satellite companies.
One important trend the study identifies is the continued growth of satellites equipped with synthetic aperture radar. SAR-equipped satellites can obtain images through cloud cover or at night, unlike satellites equipped with optical sensors. Until recently, the US government restricted American companies from selling SAR data with better than 3-metre resolution; however, companies can now sell images with up to 1-metre resolution. So while US companies still must compete with well-established Canadian and European SAR data providers, they now enjoy a level playing field.
Top manufacturers in the remote sensing satellite industry include EADS Astrium, Thales Alenia Space, Lockheed Martin, Mitsubishi Electric, and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation.