Updated: Sep 24
Hosted 28th April 2021
To watch the recording of the whole event, click here.
Continuing on from February’s event covering the obstacles facing Earth observation firms, which you can read more about here, George Dyke joined us in March to provide a broader overview at some of the drivers of Earth observation applications.
George has worked in the space industry since 1999, and since 2004 has worked as a consultant with the Sydney-based Symbios Communications. Symbios supports the international Earth observation community, including via policy analysis and inputs, community coordination, market and technology studies. Projects include development and maintenance of the CEOS Database, and providing project support to the Open Data Cube. Their domestic clients include CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, and internationally they currently work with space agencies including ESA, NASA, JAXA, USGS, and ISRO on EO coordination activities.
April’s event lead by George Dyke, accompanied by Stephen Ward and Matt Steventon from Symbios, had a look at the drivers of Earth observation applications across both government and commercial sectors, including planetary stewardship, the UN Sustainable Development Goals and services for society. The main points are mapped out below, focussed on George’s own experiences in global work for both sectors over the last 12-18 months.
(Image: Platforms for Planetary Purpose presented by George Dyke, event recap. Source: Spiral Blue)
Key Drivers for Earth Observation
In Earth observation, satellites provide an objective view of everything on Earth - and often, as George pointed out - you have to leave a place to objectively and critically see what is going on.
(Image: 1968 Apollo 8 Earthrise vs. 2015 Earthrise. Source: NASA)
The image on the right is a 2015 homage to the 1968 Apollo Earthrise on the left, distinctly contrasting the colourless moon and the dynamic and vibrantly colourful Earth. For George, and many of us on Earth, this emphasises the vital need to keep earth vibrant by taking care of the planet, the climate, disasters and focusing on sustainable development goals. Otherwise,
“We’re not that far away from putting everything out of balance in an irreparable way.”
- George Dyke
This is one of the key drivers for Earth observation. Providing valuable satellite data, whether that’s changes in the ocean, land or atmosphere is crucial for informing decisions and decision makers across the world.
Environment, Social and Governance
This driver of Earth observation leads to the expanding business of climate change, and how ESG is transforming the satellite industry. ESG stands for environment, social and governance, a criteria of increasing interest to stakeholders and investors. This can be seen in NASA’s budget proposal offering a 12.5% increase for 2022 to Earth science programs, amassing US$2.25 billion to initiate the next generation of Earth observing satellites for the study of pressing climate science questions. America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has also increased their budget by US$500 million to accelerate work on a new generation of weather satellites to provide data for studying climate change.
These ESG outcomes are becoming increasingly important for financial managers - for example, BlackRock, the world’s largest investment management company managing US$9 trillion of assets, last year stated it would base all its decisions on ESG criteria.
“If nature’s on the balance sheet, that puts space and satellites in play.” - George Dyke
Remote sensing allows for scalable global images with low friction, meaning data does not have to be collected from national governments and are without biases. Thus, objective measurements can be retrieved, to begin quantifying climate and decarbonisation risks on businesses. Open data policies are also an increasingly important tool to guarantee access to satellite imagery for countries which do not have the capabilities for independent access to space and space data. These open tools are another key driver to maximise the potential of Earth observation - without these tools, a lot of data can end up sitting in databases and massively underutilised to solve urgent problems.
JAXA Publication on SDGs
George’s company has worked on a publication for JAXA, entitled ‘Earth Observation in service of the 2030 Agenda’ focusing on the Earth observation in addressing UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the key takeaways is that the UN SDGs provides a comprehensive collection of problems statements, which can be used as a basis for interactions with the user communities and developing satellite services and solutions. As the UN SDGs have targets, indicators and custodian agencies, it’s a great framework to base solutions off of and give a common language for business and governments around the world.
Download the publication here.
(Image: The 17 Sustainable Development Goals, infographic Source: United Nations)
The four main SDGs the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) are choosing to focus on are:
The following are the four main SDGs the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) are choosing to focus on, highlighting great potential and opportunities for Earth observation.
SDG 2 Zero Hunger
SDG 6 Clean Water
SDG 11 Sustainable Cities
SDG 15 Life on Land
Australian Government Happenings
This section George vaguely titled “Australian Government Happenings” covered exactly that - what is happening in regards to the current Australian government? Governments have always been a key driver for Earth observation, and are also good foundational customers as they consume space services and often hold key datasets. Thus, the public sector plays a crucial role in Earth observation and their support is just as important.
Some things happening right now include a parliamentary inquiry on the implementation of Earth observation, and the Australian Space Agency’s (ASA) development of 7 technology roadmaps, one of which is Earth observation (made public on 30th June 2021). Other indications of EO’s boom in Australia include UNSW’s study on Satellite Cross Calibration Radiometry which mention a series of satellites, Australia’s legacy and advantage in calibration validation, as well as Earth Observation Australia’s (EOA) growing interest in Australian water quality as a key national concern.
In particular, EOA and Space Industry Australia (SIA) have become newfound influences in the space industry and are definitely worth paying attention to. Resources have been flowing into these groups since SIA’s success in hosting the International Astronautical Congress (IAC), and EOA’s involvement in government projects. Ultimately, the government will need to continue consulting space bodies and such organisations, and organising our voices in the space community will be immensely helpful to create uniform, federated responses.
Platforms: Impact Delivery
So what impacts can Earth observation and EO businesses create? George introduced the following infographic, which outlines significant benefits in just one sector of Earth observation; geospatial services.
(Image: Global Economic Impact of Geospatial Services, during 2016. Source: AlphaBeta. Read more here.)
These impacts, spanning consumer, business and societal benefits include impressive improvements including reducing travel time by 12% on average, supporting over US$1 trillion of yearly sales for businesses, and decreasing emergency response times by 20%. The geospatial services industry is big and only getting bigger, enabled by increasing technological developments such as mobile tech and GPS tracking. This creates a real opportunity for Earth observation to channel growth and further these positive impacts.
In his own experience, George recalled a company executive he talked to last year explaining that their goal was to commercialise their government work in geo-intelligence and tap into the unrealised consumer market, which has massive potential. An example can be seen with Oracle, an integrated cloud infrastructure platform which started out serving defence and eventually successfully commercialised their databases for business and civil industries.
Platforms provide a channel to deliver services and enable Earth Observation to leverage its inevitable growth, as we are starting to see with Google Earth Engine, CREODIAS and Open Data Cube.
Earth Observation as a Service Ecosystem
In the last section of the event, George drew inspiration from a Space News article and highlights the main takeaways, in his opinion.
As we can see in the chart, the three main ecosystems are divided by the three main blocs currently in tension around the globe. Despite George’s Open Data Cube being an innovative platform for democratic satellite data, there is hesitation from his EU colleagues who don’t want free, open data uploaded on Amazon as it is a US based system. Similarly, many people are hesitant to upload to Alibaba cloud, a China based system.
While government policy can definitely be seen as an important factor, George believes that the policy community and policymakers need to understand that technicians can create their own worlds. Spotlighting Spiral Blue’s very own community events, with investors and companies of all sizes as an example, policies will eventually need to be adjusted to accommodate for the future and allow the worlds to realise their full potential.
“You can resist the car as much as you want, but eventually you’re going to need to start building roads and putting out signs.” - George Dyke
Such lucrative opportunities are, of course, not complete without an analysis of risks, posing a question: “What kills the cloud?” An easy answer is political tension and great firewalls which have the potential to disrupt these business models, as we can see with an example of China blocking foreign services such as Google, and thus must be taken into consideration.
So, finally, what’s next for EO businesses and the space industry?
The next step is placing technologies closer to the edge - companies such as Apple are optimising their chips for low powered, high performance computing, to put on the edge of their own network instead of a data centre that requires massive amounts of power.
What we will start to see, and already are starting to see, are cloud platforms becoming the foundation, as well as edge devices such as Spiral Blue launching computers into space allowing users to upload software onto space hardware, and the European Space Agency (ESA) launching machine learning satellites.
That is the direction we’re heading towards, and Spiral Blue is right at the forefront of this revolution.
About Spiral Blue
Spiral Blue is a Sydney SME focused on building the next generation of Earth observation services with artificial intelligence and Space Edge Computing. Spiral Blue technology has applications in defence, city planning, utilities, and other industries. Founded in 2018, the company has recently launched its first Space Edge Zero prototypes to orbit, and is now awaiting results of this in-orbit demonstration.