As the number of satellites launched into orbit continues to increase, the volume of imagery is growing exponentially, creating a trove of valuable insights waiting to be gleaned from the data.
There are many SAR satellite providers responsible for this growth, creating lots of terrific options. But how do you choose the right one?
It would be easier if a significant amount of this imagery were housed under one roof. This is where Ursa Space enters the picture, with its recently launched Image Services offering.
How can you realize this potential opportunity by accessing the satellite imagery, particularly from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technology?
In the Q&A below, we discuss Image Services with Eric Cote, a Product Manager at Ursa Space.
Ursa Space’s Eric Cote
Geoffrey Craig: How would you describe Image Services?
Eric Cote: Ursa Space’s Image Services provides a one-stop source for commercial SAR imagery. With this service, customers can search and order imagery from our growing archive catalog of over 8 million images and 14 years of history. Customers can also use this service to task new images from our Virtual Constellation, the world’s largest network of SAR satellites from our vendor partners.
We’ve partnered with a number of SAR providers, so when someone comes to us, they instantly have access to all of the imagery in each provider’s archives, and access to task new images from each provider’s satellite network.
The GIF here shows some of the existing imagery available from Ursa Space’s Virtual Constellation catalog. For this example, parameters included some of the major SAR providers covering Africa during a selected time period.
When someone wants an image for an upcoming date, they tell us the basics—where and when—and we handle the rest. More advanced users can also choose to provide detailed collection criteria, and we’ll do all the legwork to get the images that meet the customer’s requirements from our satellite provider partners.
A sample of SAR imagery from some of Ursa Space’s Virtual Constellation satellite partners
GC: Are there any other steps involved besides order and delivery?
EC: An additional step between order and delivery is processing. Without going into too much technical detail, let’s just say that there are different formats for SAR imagery, and if someone is trying to understand and interpret imagery across multiple vendors or formats, they will run into problems without the proper training.
People can work with us instead. We have the in-house SAR processing expertise to turn multiple data formats into one common vendor-independent format, which is then delivered to the customer, ready to be used.
GC: Can you elaborate on the problems that arise when analyzing images over time in different formats?
EC: Without the proper corrections, a structure or feature might not appear in the same location within each image, leading you to conclude that the feature has either changed significantly or disappeared, when in fact it’s just a technical error because the different formats weren’t properly accounted for.
A SAR image of Paris by Airbus, processed into a “Point of View” perspective by Ursa Space
GC: Can someone just wait until another image arrives with the same format?
EC: Yes, but not if timing is important, and you need the soonest possible image. Again, we’ll take care of the processing and deliver the image in one common format.
There’s also the benefit of Ursa Space working with multiple SAR providers on your behalf, so you won’t get caught without a backup plan in case of unexpected maintenance or availability issues with a single vendor. We can provide a reliable delivery schedule by tasking a satellite from another provider that’s a part of our Virtual Constellation.
GC: What are some motivations behind imagery acquisition?
EC: If there’s a natural disaster, say a hurricane in Florida, then an insurance company might want imagery to understand the impact of the storm on infrastructure. Where is there flooding? Or where did buildings sustain the most damage from high winds?
You can quickly understand the extent of damage by pulling an archived image to establish a baseline against which the post-event image is compared. This example also makes clear why the benefits of SAR can be critical at times. Unlike optical imagery, SAR works in any weather, day or night. That’s a critical distinction when trying to assess the situation on the ground right after a major storm hits and clouds obstruct the view.
GC: Can Ursa Space also help with the analytics?
EC: Absolutely. Using the same example, we can identify and quantify the damage inflicted by the storm, such as flood mapping or highlighting infrastructure changes.
The illustration above shows the processing and analytics done by Ursa Space on a SAR image provided by ICEYE, collected off the coast of Mauritius in August 2020, after a ship ran aground, leaking oil into the ocean. The area highlighted in red is the oil slick.
Another use case is economic monitoring. We can perform analytics to measure economic activity, which is why the archive is so important. Having extensive historical data is critical when trying to interpret current information. That’s true whether it’s a financial firm fine-tuning a trading algorithm, or a local municipality assessing property valuations.
GC: Thanks Eric. Anything else you’d like to add?
EC: To summarize, we have a streamlined process for searching our catalog, ordering, processing, analyzing, and delivering SAR imagery across a Virtual Constellation from our satellite partners. This provides enhanced capabilities and redundancy when compared to any one vendor alone. Customers can therefore take advantage of the ongoing satellite revolution. As fast as turnaround times are today, they will only improve moving forward.
Learn more about our Image Services