by Thys Cronje
Over the next decade, Earth Observation (EO) satellites will stop streaming image data to the earth. Instead, the instruments onboard EO satellites will tell us what is happening below. And, these satellites will be able to take control of their operations to allow for the execution of complex tasks.
The statement above may seem a bit drastic, but I genuinely believe that it is not too far off. It is not as if the transmittance of EO data from satellites will seize. But the modus operandi must change. To begin with, the number of EO instruments are growing fast, and the amount of data they generate are increasing exponentially. These trends are challenging the way we think.
EO data supply chains are still very much linear. Satellites stream raw EO data, through a network of ground stations to data centres and processing units where smart systems transform the data into information. Furthermore, to stay relevant in the big data supply chain, EO data must be readily fused with other data sources. As a result, we are in the process of creating an enormous data bottleneck. The fact is, it won’t help much to solve the data dilemma downstream. We need to tackle it at the source.
The autonomy of EO instruments will increase. We will see operators tasking satellites to detect changes in infrastructure, land-use, and economic activities directly from space. The payloads will be able to identify structures, recognize specific objects, add situational context to the information, and quantify the current situation. Then, the satellites will relay this knowledge to the correct decision-makers on earth in near real-time. This knowledge will allow investors, corporates, governments and the man in the street to make informed decisions in near real-time.
The composition of payloads will