Satellite imagery (also Earth observation imagery or spaceborne photography) are images of Earth or other planets collected by imaging satellites operated by governments and businesses around the world. Satellite imaging companies sell images by licensing them to governments and businesses such as Apple Maps and Google Maps.
Earth observation (EO) is the gathering of information about the physical, chemical, and biological systems of the planet via remote-sensing technologies, supplemented by Earth-surveying techniques, which encompasses the collection, analysis, and presentation of data. Earth observation is used to monitor and assess the status of and changes in natural and built environments.
An image is an artifact that depicts visual perception, such as a photograph or other two-dimensional picture, that resembles a subject—usually a physical object—and thus provides a depiction of it. In the context of signal processing, an image is a distributed amplitude of color(s).
An Earth observation satellite or Earth remote sensing satellite is satellite specifically designed for Earth observation from orbit, similar to spy satellites but intended for non-military uses such as environmental monitoring, meteorology, map making etc. The first occurrence of satellite remote sensing can be dated to the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957. Sputnik 1 sent back radio signals, which scientists used to study the ionosphere. NASA launched the first American satellite, Explorer 1, in January 31, 1958. The information sent back from its radiation detector led to the discovery of the Earth's Van Allen radiation belts. The TIROS-1 spacecraft, launched on April 1, 1960 as part of NASA's TIROS Program, sent back the first television footage of weather patterns to be taken from space. As of 2008, more than 150 Earth observation satellites were in orbit, recording data with both passive and active sensors and acquiring more than 10 terabits of data daily.
The first images from space were taken on sub-orbital flights. The U.S-launched V-2 flight on October 24, 1946 took one image every 1.5 seconds. With an apogee of 65 miles (105 km), these photos were from five times higher than the previous record, the 13.7 miles (22 km) by the Explorer II balloon mission in 1935. The first satellite (orbital) photographs of Earth were made on August 14, 1959 by the U.S. Explorer 6. The first satellite photographs of the Moon might have been made on October 6, 1959 by the Soviet satellite Luna 3, on a mission to photograph the far side of the Moon. The Blue Marble photograph was taken from space in 1972, and has become very popular in the media and among the public. Also in 1972 the United States started the Landsat program, the largest program for acquisition of imagery of Earth from space. Landsat Data Continuity Mission, the most recent Landsat satellite, was launched on 11 February 2013. In 1977, the first real time satellite imagery was acquired by the United States's KH-11 satellite system.
A sub-orbital spaceflight is a spaceflight in which the spacecraft reaches outer space, but its trajectory intersects the atmosphere or surface of the gravitating body from which it was launched, so that it will not complete one orbital revolution.
Explorer 6, or S-2, was an American satellite launched on August 7, 1959. It was a small, spheroidal satellite designed to study trapped radiation of various energies, galactic cosmic rays, geomagnetism, radio propagation in the upper atmosphere, and the flux of micrometeorites. It also tested a scanning device designed for photographing the Earth's cloud cover, and transmitted the first pictures of Earth from orbit.
The Moon, also known as Luna, is an astronomical body that orbits planet Earth and is Earth's only permanent natural satellite. It is the fifth-largest natural satellite in the Solar System, and the largest among planetary satellites relative to the size of the planet that it orbits. The Moon is after Jupiter's satellite Io the second-densest satellite in the Solar System among those whose densities are known.
All satellite images produced by NASA are published by NASA Earth Observatory and are freely available to the public. Several other countries have satellite imaging programs, and a collaborative European effort launched the ERS and Envisat satellites carrying various sensors. There are also private companies that provide commercial satellite imagery. In the early 21st century satellite imagery became widely available when affordable, easy to use software with access to satellite imagery databases was offered by several companies and organizations.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.
NASA Earth Observatory is an online publishing outlet for NASA which was created in 1999. It is the principal source of satellite imagery and other scientific information pertaining to the climate and the environment which are being provided by NASA for consumption by the general public. It is funded with public money, as authorized by the United States Congress, and is part of the EOS Project Science Office located at Goddard Space Flight Center. As of 2006 NASA Earth Observatory has won the Webby People's Voice Award in Education three times. There were a series of publicized images issued by the website in 2008, including imagery of clouds streaming over the Caspian Sea, dust storms curling off the coast of Morocco, the crumbling of the Wilkins Ice Shelf, Hurricane Bertha, and others.
European remote sensing satellite (ERS) was the European Space Agency's first Earth-observing satellite programme using a polar orbit. The first satellite was launched on 17 July 1991 into a Sun-synchronous polar orbit at an altitude of 782–785 km.
Satellite images have many applications in meteorology, oceanography, fishing, agriculture, biodiversity conservation, forestry, landscape, geology, cartography, regional planning, education, intelligence and warfare. Images can be in visible colors and in other spectra. There are also elevation maps, usually made by radar images. Interpretation and analysis of satellite imagery is conducted using specialized remote sensing software.
Meteorology is a branch of the atmospheric sciences which includes atmospheric chemistry and atmospheric physics, with a major focus on weather forecasting. The study of meteorology dates back millennia, though significant progress in meteorology did not occur until the 18th century. The 19th century saw modest progress in the field after weather observation networks were formed across broad regions. Prior attempts at prediction of weather depended on historical data. It was not until after the elucidation of the laws of physics and more particularly, the development of the computer, allowing for the automated solution of a great many equations that model the weather, in the latter half of the 20th century that significant breakthroughs in weather forecasting were achieved. An important domain of weather forecasting is marine weather forecasting as it relates to maritime and coastal safety, in which weather effects also include atmospheric interactions with large bodies of water.
Oceanography, also known as oceanology, is the study of the physical and biological aspects of the ocean. It is an important Earth science, which covers a wide range of topics, including ecosystem dynamics; ocean currents, waves, and geophysical fluid dynamics; plate tectonics and the geology of the sea floor; and fluxes of various chemical substances and physical properties within the ocean and across its boundaries. These diverse topics reflect multiple disciplines that oceanographers blend to further knowledge of the world ocean and understanding of processes within: astronomy, biology, chemistry, climatology, geography, geology, hydrology, meteorology and physics. Paleoceanography studies the history of the oceans in the geologic past.
Fishing is the activity of trying to catch fish. Fish are normally caught in the wild. Techniques for catching fish include hand gathering, spearing, netting, angling and trapping. “Fishing” may include catching aquatic animals other than fish, such as molluscs, cephalopods, crustaceans, and echinoderms. The term is not normally applied to catching farmed fish, or to aquatic mammals, such as whales where the term whaling is more appropriate. In addition to being caught to be eaten, fish are caught as recreational pastimes. Fishing tournaments are held, and caught fish are sometimes kept as preserved or living trophies. When bioblitzes occur, fish are typically caught, identified, and then released.
There are four types of resolution when discussing satellite imagery in remote sensing: spatial, spectral, temporal, and radiometric. Campbell (2002)defines these as follows:
In remote sensing, ground sample distance (GSD) in a digital photo of the ground from air or space is the distance between pixel centers measured on the ground. For example, in an image with a one-meter GSD, adjacent pixels image locations are 1 meter apart on the ground. GSD is a measure of one limitation to image resolution, that is, the limitation due to sampling.
A reconnaissance satellite or intelligence satellite is an Earth observation satellite or communications satellite deployed for military or intelligence applications.
The Corona program was a series of American strategic reconnaissance satellites produced and operated by the Central Intelligence Agency Directorate of Science & Technology with substantial assistance from the U.S. Air Force. The Corona satellites were used for photographic surveillance of the Soviet Union (USSR), the People's Republic of China, and other areas beginning in June 1959 and ending in May 1972. The name of this program is sometimes seen in pre-ASCII all caps as "CORONA", but in mixed caps, its actual name "Corona" was a codeword, not an acronym.
The resolution of satellite images varies depending on the instrument used and the altitude of the satellite's orbit. For example, the Landsat archive offers repeated imagery at 30 meter resolution for the planet, but most of it has not been processed from the raw data. Landsat 7 has an average return period of 16 days. For many smaller areas, images with resolution as high as 41 cm can be available.
Satellite imagery is sometimes supplemented with aerial photography, which has higher resolution, but is more expensive per square meter. Satellite imagery can be combined with vector or raster data in a GIS provided that the imagery has been spatially rectified so that it will properly align with other data sets.
Satellite imaging of the Earth surface is of sufficient public utility that many countries maintain satellite imaging programs. The United States has led the way in making these data freely available for scientific use. Some of the more popular programs are listed below, recently followed by the European Union's Sentinel constellation.
Landsat is the oldest continuous Earth observing satellite imaging program. Optical Landsat imagery has been collected at 30 m resolution since the early 1980s. Beginning with Landsat 5, thermal infrared imagery was also collected (at coarser spatial resolution than the optical data). The Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 satellites are currently in orbit. Landsat 9 is planned.
MODIS has collected near-daily satellite imagery of the earth in 36 spectral bands since 2000. MODIS is onboard the NASA Terra and Aqua satellites.
The ESA is currently developing the Sentinel constellation of satellites. Currently, 7 missions are planned, each for a different application. Sentinel-1 (SAR imaging), Sentinel-2 (decameter optical imaging for land surfaces), and Sentinel-3 (hectometer optical and thermal imaging for land and water) have already been launched.
The Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) is an imaging instrument onboard Terra, the flagship satellite of NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS) launched in December 1999. ASTER is a cooperative effort between NASA, Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), and Japan Space Systems (J-spacesystems). ASTER data is used to create detailed maps of land surface temperature, reflectance, and elevation. The coordinated system of EOS satellites, including Terra, is a major component of NASA's Science Mission Directorate and the Earth Science Division. The goal of NASA Earth Science is to develop a scientific understanding of the Earth as an integrated system, its response to change, and to better predict variability and trends in climate, weather, and natural hazards.
The Meteosat-2 geostationary weather satellite began operationally to supply imagery data on 16 August 1981. Eumetsat has operated the Meteosats since 1987.
Several satellites are built and maintained by private companies. These include:
GeoEye's GeoEye-1 satellite was launched on September 6, 2008. meters (16 inches) in the panchromatic or black and white mode. It collects multispectral or color imagery at 1.65-meter resolution or about 64 inches.The GeoEye-1 satellite has the high resolution imaging system and is able to collect images with a ground resolution of 0.41
DigitalGlobe's WorldView-2 satellite provides high resolution commercial satellite imagery with 0.46 m spatial resolution (panchromatic only). cm apart. Similarly DigitalGlobe's QuickBird satellite provides 0.6 meter resolution (at NADIR) panchromatic images.The 0.46 meters resolution of WorldView-2's panchromatic images allows the satellite to distinguish between objects on the ground that are at least 46
DigitalGlobe's WorldView-3 satellite provides high resolution commercial satellite imagery with 0.31 m spatial resolution. WVIII also carries a short wave infrared sensor and an atmospheric sensor
The 3 SPOT satellites in orbit (Spot 2, 4 and 5) provide images with a large choice of resolutions – from 2.5 m to 1 km. Spot Image also distributes multiresolution data from other optical satellites, in particular from Formosat-2 (Taiwan) and Kompsat-2 (South Korea) and from radar satellites (TerraSar-X, ERS, Envisat, Radarsat). Spot Image is also the exclusive distributor of data from the high resolution Pleiades satellites with a resolution of 0.50 meter or about 20 inches. The launches occurred in 2011 and 2012, respectively. The company also offers infrastructures for receiving and processing, as well as added value options.
BlackBridge, previously known as RapidEye, operates a constellation of five satellites, launched in August 2008, km, and deliver images in 5 meter pixel size. RapidEye satellite imagery is especially suited for agricultural, environmental, cartographic and disaster management applications. The company not only offers their imagery, but consults their customers to create services and solutions based on analysis of this imagery .the RapidEye constellation contains identical multispectral sensors which are equally calibrated. Therefore, an image from one satellite will be equivalent to an image from any of the other four, allowing for a large amount of imagery to be collected (4 million km² per day), and daily revisit to an area. Each travel on the same orbital plane at 630
Earth Resource Observation Satellites, better known as “EROS” satellites, are lightweight, low earth orbiting, high-resolution satellites designed for fast maneuvering between imaging targets. In the commercial high-resolution satellite market, EROS is the smallest very high resolution satellite; it is very agile and thus enables very high performances. The satellites are deployed in a circular sun-synchronous near polar orbit at an altitude of 510 km (+/- 40 km). EROS satellites imagery applications are primarily for intelligence, homeland security and national development purposes but also employed in a wide range of civilian applications, including: mapping, border control, infrastructure planning, agricultural monitoring, environmental monitoring, disaster response, training and simulations, etc.
EROS A – a high resolution satellite with 1.9-1.2m resolution panchromatic was launched on December 5, 2000.
EROS B - the second generation of Very High Resolution satellites with 70 cm resolution panchromatic, was launched on April 25, 2006.
Advancements in artificial intelligence have made autonomous, large scale analysis of imagery possible. AI has been taught to process Satellite Imagery with a small degree of error. Studies have used AI to differentiate between different forest types and AI can tell the difference between certain soil and vegetation types.Researchers are using AI to monitor Satellite Imagery for vineyard and grape health as well as having AI estimate wheat harvest size. Projects like SpaceKnow uses AI to conduct case studies in near real-time of deforestation due to wildfires in California and manufacturing activity in China.
As the technology advances, clearer imagery and faster neural networks has allowed for the study of Above Ground Biomass (AGB). This ABG index can describe the size and density of vegetation which scientists use to estimate carbon output and footprints in certain areas.Scientists are eager to apply this data to the study of global warming and climate change. Researchers are developing AI that can monitor refugee movements in war-torn countries, monitor deforestation in the Amazon rain-forest, and show algae blooms in places like the Gulf of Mexico and the Red Sea. Upcoming studies of contaminated surface water and chemical runoff from Fracking are also being planned.
Because the total area of the land on Earth is so large and because resolution is relatively high, satellite databases are huge and image processing (creating useful images from the raw data) is time-consuming.[ citation needed ] Preprocessing, such as image destriping is often required. Depending on the sensor used, weather conditions can affect image quality: for example, it is difficult to obtain images for areas of frequent cloud cover such as mountain-tops. For such reasons, publicly available satellite image datasets are typically processed for visual or scientific commercial use by third parties.
Commercial satellite companies do not place their imagery into the public domain and do not sell their imagery; instead, one must be licensed to use their imagery. Thus, the ability to legally make derivative products from commercial satellite imagery is minimized.
Privacy concerns have been brought up by some who wish not to have their property shown from above. Google Maps responds to such concerns in their FAQ with the following statement: "We understand your privacy concerns... The images that Google Maps displays are no different from what can be seen by anyone who flies over or drives by a specific geographic location."
Envisat is a large inactive Earth-observing satellite which is still in orbit. Operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), it was the world's largest civilian Earth observation satellite.
The weather satellite is a type of satellite that is primarily used to monitor the weather and climate of the Earth. Satellites can be polar orbiting, covering the entire Earth asynchronously, or geostationary, hovering over the same spot on the equator.
The Landsat program is the longest-running enterprise for acquisition of satellite imagery of Earth. On July 23, 1972 the Earth Resources Technology Satellite was launched. This was eventually renamed to Landsat. The most recent, Landsat 8, was launched on February 11, 2013. The instruments on the Landsat satellites have acquired millions of images. The images, archived in the United States and at Landsat receiving stations around the world, are a unique resource for global change research and applications in agriculture, cartography, geology, forestry, regional planning, surveillance and education, and can be viewed through the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) 'EarthExplorer' website. Landsat 7 data has eight spectral bands with spatial resolutions ranging from 15 to 60 meters; the temporal resolution is 16 days. Landsat images are usually divided into scenes for easy downloading. Each Landsat scene is about 115 miles long and 115 miles wide.
Landsat 7 is the seventh satellite of the Landsat program. Launched on April 15, 1999, Landsat 7's primary goal is to refresh the global archive of satellite photos, providing up-to-date and cloud-free images. The Landsat Program is managed and operated by the USGS, and data from Landsat 7 is collected and distributed by the USGS. The NASA World Wind project allows 3D images from Landsat 7 and other sources to be freely navigated and viewed from any angle. The satellite's companion, Earth Observing-1, trailed by one minute and followed the same orbital characteristics, but in 2011 its fuel was depleted and EO-1's orbit began to degrade. Landsat 7 was built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company.
SPOT is a commercial high-resolution optical imaging Earth observation satellite system operating from space. It is run by Spot Image, based in Toulouse, France. It was initiated by the CNES in the 1970s and was developed in association with the SSTC and the Swedish National Space Board (SNSB). It has been designed to improve the knowledge and management of the Earth by exploring the Earth's resources, detecting and forecasting phenomena involving climatology and oceanography, and monitoring human activities and natural phenomena. The SPOT system includes a series of satellites and ground control resources for satellite control and programming, image production, and distribution. Earlier satellites were launched using the European Space Agency's Ariane 2, 3, and 4 rockets, while SPOT 6 and SPOT 7 were launched by the Indian PSLV.
DigitalGlobe is an American commercial vendor of space imagery and geospatial content, and operator of civilian remote sensing spacecraft. The company went public on the New York Stock Exchange on 14 May 2009, selling 14.7 million shares at $19.00 each to raise $279 million in capital. On 5 October 2017, Maxar Technologies completed its acquisition of DigitalGlobe.
IKONOS was a commercial Earth observation satellite, and was the first to collect publicly available high-resolution imagery at 1- and 4-meter resolution. It collected multispectral (MS) and panchromatic (PAN) imagery. The capability to observe Earth via space-based telescope has been called "one of the most significant developments in the history of the space age", and IKONOS brought imagery rivaling that of military spy satellites to the commercial market. IKONOS imagery began being sold on 1 January 2000, and the spacecraft was retired in 2015.
Landsat 4 is the fourth satellite of the Landsat program. It was launched on July 16, 1982, with the primary goal of providing a global archive of satellite imagery. Although the Landsat Program is managed by NASA, data from Landsat 4 was collected and distributed by the U.S. Geological Survey. Landsat 4 science operations ended on December 14, 1993 when the satellite lost its ability to transmit science data, far beyond its designed life expectancy of five years. The satellite housekeeping telemetry and tracking continued to be maintained by NASA until it was decommissioned on June 15, 2001.
Landsat 3 is the third satellite of the Landsat program. It was launched on March 5, 1978, with the primary goal of providing a global archive of satellite imagery. Unlike later Landsat satellites, Landsat 3 was managed solely by NASA. Landsat 3 decommissioned on September 7, 1983, beyond its design life of one year. The data collected during Landsat 3's lifetime was used by 31 countries. Countries that cannot afford their own satellite are able to use the data for ecological preservation efforts and to determine the location of natural resources.
QuickBird was a high-resolution commercial earth observation satellite, owned by DigitalGlobe launched in 2001 and decayed in 2015. It was the first satellite in a constellation of three scheduled to be in orbit by 2008. QuickBird used Ball Aerospace's Global Imaging System 2000. The satellite collected panchromatic imagery at 61 centimeter resolution and multispectral imagery at 2.44- to 1.63-meter resolution, as orbit altitude is lowered during the end of mission life.
Cartosat-1 or IRS-P5 is a stereoscopic Earth observation satellite in a sun-synchronous orbit, and the first one of the Cartosat series of satellites. The satellite was built, launched and maintained by the Indian Space Research Organisation. Weighing around 1560 kg at launch, its applications will mainly be towards cartography in India. It was launched by PSLV-C6, on 5 May 2005 from the newly built Second Launch Pad at Sriharikota. Images from the satellite will be available from GeoEye for worldwide distribution. The satellite covers the entire globe in 1867 orbits on a 126-day cycle. Adjacent paths are covered with a separation of eleven days.
GeoEye Inc. was an American commercial satellite imagery company based in Herndon, Virginia. GeoEye was merged into the DigitalGlobe corporation January 29th, 2013.
Landsat 8 is an American Earth observation satellite launched on February 11, 2013. It is the eighth satellite in the Landsat program; the seventh to reach orbit successfully. Originally called the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), it is a collaboration between NASA and the United States Geological Survey (USGS). NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provided development, mission systems engineering, and acquisition of the launch vehicle while the USGS provided for development of the ground systems and will conduct on-going mission operations.
The Operational Land Imager (OLI) is a remote sensing instrument aboard Landsat 8, built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies. Landsat 8 is the successor to Landsat 7 and was launched in 2013.
The Earth Remote Observation System-B (EROS-B) is the second satellite launched in a series of the EROS family of Israeli commercial Earth observation satellites, designed and manufactured by Israel Aircraft Industries.
The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) is a sensor designed and manufactured by the Raytheon Company on board the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership and NOAA-20 weather satellites. VIIRS is one of five key instruments onboard Suomi NPP, launched on October 28, 2011. VIIRS is a whiskbroom scanning radiometer that collects imagery and radiometric measurements of the land, atmosphere, cryosphere, and oceans in the visible and infrared bands of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Planet Labs, Inc. is an American private Earth imaging company based in San Francisco, CA. Their goal is to image the entirety of the planet daily to monitor changes and pinpoint trends. The company designs and manufactures Triple-CubeSat miniature satellites called Doves that are then delivered into orbit as secondary payloads on other rocket launch missions. Each Dove is equipped with a high-powered telescope and camera programmed to capture different swaths of Earth. Each Dove Earth observation satellite continuously scans Earth, sending data once it passes over a ground station. Together, Doves form the largest satellite constellation in the world that provides a complete image of Earth once per day at 3–5 m optical resolution. This is accomplished through a technique called a line scan, which allows for continuous, high resolution imagery due to the fact that this type of camera is not restricted to specific vertical resolution.
Landsat 9 is a planned US, Earth observation satellite, initially scheduled for launch in December 2020. NASA is in charge of building, launching, and testing the system, while the United States Geological Survey (USGS) will process, archive, and distribute its data. Its intended as the eighth satellite in the Landsat series, as Landsat 6 failed to reach orbit. As of October 2017, the United Launch Alliance is planning for a launch date of June 2021 using an Atlas V 401 rocket, and will lift off from the Space Launch Complex 3E at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The critical design review was completed by NASA on March 1, 2018, and Orbital ATK was give the go-ahead to manufacture the satellite.
Sentinel-4 is a satellite mission making up a part of the European Copernicus Programme, which is also known as the European Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme. Sentinel-4 will utilize 2 payload instruments integrated on board a Meteosat Third Generation Sounder (MTG-S) satellite to observe primarily the tropospheric composition of the Earth’s atmosphere. The data will be gathered and made available to the Copernicus program with the aim of contributing to air quality applications such as with the Copernicus Atmosphere Services as well as the air quality monitoring over the regions of Europe and Northern Africa. As with other aspects of the Copernicus programme, the Sentinel-4 initiative is funded mostly through the EU and the technical design and development has been put under responsibility of the European Space Agency (ESA).
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