Aerial Imagery, 3D and Big Data Analysis

By pjain      Published June 26, 2020, 10:24 p.m. in blog Education   

Market Size, Structure and Applications

Market Size


Resolution Timeline - Commercial and Free

Private satellite operators were only allowed in 1992 by the USA.

Till July 2014 for "security" reasons, commercial satellite imagery were restricted in resolution and only military images allowed for highest resolution.

DigitalGlobe was only licensed to sell images with a higher resolution than 50 cm (20 in) to the US military. However, DigitalGlobe obtained permission, in June 2014, from the U.S. Department of Commerce, to allow the company to more widely exploit its commercial satellite imagery.

The company was permitted to offer customers the highest resolution imagery available from their constellation. Additionally, the updated approvals allowed the sale of imagery to customers at up to 25 cm panchromatic and 100 cm (39 in) multispectral ground sample distance (GSD), beginning six months after WorldView-3 became operational.

Year Resolution Title Notes
1997 bw 3m,color 15m EarlyBird-1 Launched from Russia, Lost communications in just 4 days
1999 bw 0.8m,color 3.2m IKONOS Spent 5680 days in orbit - 2x design life
2001 bw 60cm,color 2.4m QuickBird Primary DigitalGlobe imagery satellite till Jan 2015, 4x mission design life
2014 bw 25cm, color 100cm WorldView-3
2016 bw 31cm, color 1.24m WorldView-4 By Jan 2019 a gyroscope failure made it inoperable
  • Mil=Military, Com=Commercial Premium, Free=Free open-source



  • Conservation organizations like the Amazon Conservation Team

Urban planners

Space Exploration

  • NASA is a big buyer of satellite imagery

Defense intelligence

  • The United States Department of Defense's National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)

Mapping - Big Tech

Much of Google Earth and Google Maps high resolution-imagery is provided by DigitalGlobe


Military Applications of Space --xfr--

Star Wars

"Brilliant Pebbles" and "Brilliant Eyes" projects which were part of the Strategic Defense Initiative and run by Lawrence Livermore Labs

Regulation, Accuracy, Technology

1992 Land Remote Sensing Policy Act - privates allowed in satellite imaging

Drones Imagery Technology

Satellite Imagery Technology


Photogrammetry is the science and technology of obtaining reliable information about physical objects and the environment through the process of recording, measuring and interpreting photographic images and patterns of electromagnetic radiant imagery and other phenomena. It had been used since earliest days of photography eg by French surveyors around 1840.

  1. One example is the extraction of three-dimensional measurements from two-dimensional data (i.e. images); for example, the distance between two points that lie on a plane parallel to the photographic image plane can be determined by measuring their distance on the image, if the scale of the image is known.

  2. Another example is the extraction of accurate color ranges and values representing such quantities as albedo, specular reflection, metallicity, or ambient occlusion from photographs of materials for the purposes of physically based rendering.

3D Analytics from Space Images

Vricon is the leader in this segment

New York City metropolitan area as an example of how Vricon can help build 5G infrastructure. By taking a stack of 10 to 15 satellite images of New York and running it through an algorithm, Vricon creates an elevation and point-based 3D model. The satellite imagery than “gets draped over” that model, Jablonsky said, so “you get this photorealistic” result.

  1. The largest user is the U.S. Army which uses 3D recon image data to create virtual training environments that are based on real-world data. That allows the Army to train anyone, from helicopters pilots to infantry units, for a scenario multiple times before entering the actual battlefield. They all run scenarios digitally across a potential battlefield 25 times before you ever go in

  2. 3D modeling helps with infrastructure projects such as building out 5G networks eg for T-Mobile as "it’s really time consuming to try and figure out ... where to place all of your towers, your repeaters, and your antennas for building out a 5G network. It’s even more complicated than any of the other telecommunications roll-outs because 5G waves have a very high frequency, which means they don’t travel a far distance before they can get interrupted" - Vricon CEO

Big Data Analysis of Imagery


Companies in Imagery

Intergraph Corp - Mapping Sciences division 1990+

GeoEye was a major competitor - till acquired with DigitalGlobe

  • formerly Orbimage and Space Imaging), before their merger with DigitalGlobe.

MAXR Maxar

Maxar Technologies is a space technology company headquartered in Westminster, Colorado, United States founded in 1969 as MDA (MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates). With 2018 revenue of $2.14b and NI $1.26b, it had 6000 employees.

It specializes in manufacturing communication, Earth observation, radar, and on-orbit servicing satellites, satellite products, and related services. DigitalGlobe and MDA Holdings Company merged to become Maxar Technologies on 5 October 2017. It also owns Space Systems Loral, headquartered in Palo Alto, California. It owns Radiant Solutions, headquartered in Herndon, Virginia.

Apr'2020 It divested MDA's Canadian businesses for USD 765m to a consortium of financial sponsors led by Northern Private Capital - ground stations, radar satellite products, robotics, defense, and satellite components, representing approximately 1,900 employees.

  • Maxar CEO Dan Jablonsky

SEG: huge libraries of images

SEG: WorldView Legion imagery satellites $600m Investment

Maxar is to begin launching its next generation WorldView Legion imagery satellites with SpaceX next year after spending $600 million capital program building and launching the first six Legion satellites. Getting those satellites in orbit and operating successfully will be the next big turning point for Maxar, as it pivots the company from what Jablonsky describes as a “big spend” to “reaping the benefits” improving cash flow and profits.

WorldView-Legion consists of six satellites planned to start launching in 2021 into a mix of sun-synchronous and mid-latitude orbits. These satellites will replace imaging capability currently provided by DigitalGlobe's WorldView-1, WorldView-2 and GeoEye-1 Earth observation satellites.

SEG: Power and propulsion Rocket Engines

Because of the company’s success building electric propulsion systems for commercial satellites, it is also a leader in rocket systems.

May 2019, the company was selected as the provider of the power and propulsion element for the Lunar Gateway developed by NASA. This is a major space project with a $375 million contract to build the first piece of NASA’s lunar astronaut program - a lunar gateway station that will orbit the moon.

SEG: 3D Image Analysis Software Vricon

Maxar buys out Vricon image analysis software for $140m

Vricon brought in $40 million of third-party revenue in 2019, with about $20 million of EBITDA.

Space and satellite imagery company Maxar Technologies is taking full ownership of 3D analytics firm Vricon, a joint venture it has held with Swedish aerospace group Saab.

DigitalGlobe acquired Oct'2017

An American commercial vendor of space imagery and geospatial content, and operator of civilian remote sensing spacecraft.

  • 1992 WorldView Imaging Corp founded in Oakland, CA
    • Founded by Dr Walter Scott (head of Lawrence Livemore Labs)
    • CEO Doug Gerull executive in charge of the Mapping Sciences division at the Intergraph Corporation.
  • 1993 Received first high resolution commercial remote sensing satellite license to build a commercial remote sensing satellite capable of collecting images with 3 m (9.8 ft) resolution.
  • 1995 became EarthWatch Inc on merging with Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.'s commercial remote sensing operations.
  • Sep 2001 renamed to DigitalGlobe
  • 2007 acquired online imagery provider GlobeXplorer to extend its imagery distribution capabilities via online APIs and web services.
  • 2011, DigitalGlobe was inducted into the Space Foundation's Space Technology Hall of Fame for its role in advancing commercial Earth-imaging satellites.
  • 2013, DigitalGlobe purchased GeoEye.
  • Feb 2017, MDA and DigitalGlobe reached an agreement for MDA to acquire DigitalGlobe for US $2.4B completed Oct'2017
  • May 2017, DigitalGlobe's image catalog contains 100 petabytes worth of data, and grows by 100 terabytes each day.

Timeline of Satellites for Earth Imagery

Sep 1997 EarlyBird-1 (COSPAR 1997-085A)

First Earth imaging satellite was built for EarthWatch by CTA Space Systems (later part of Orbital Sciences Corporation) and launched on December 24, 1997, from the Svobodny Cosmodrome by a Start-1 launch vehicle. It had a mass of 317 kg and a design life of 3 years (fuel reserves for 5 years). It included a panchromatic (black-and-white) camera with a 3 m (9.8 ft) resolution and a multispectral (color) camera with a 15 m (49 ft) resolution. The imaging sensor was derived from a 1998-cancelled NASA satellite called Clark (SSTI 2). Early Bird 1 was the first commercial satellite to be launched from the Svobodny Cosmodrome. Although the launch was successful, the satellite lost communications after only four days in orbit due to power system failure.


IKONOS was launched September 24, 1999. It was the world's first high-resolution commercial imaging satellite to collect panchromatic (black-and-white) images with 0.8 m resolution and multispectral (color) imagery with 3.2-meter resolution. On March 31, 2015, IKONOS was officially decommissioned after more than doubling her mission design life, spending 5,680 days in orbit and making 83,131 trips around the earth.

2001 QuickBird

QuickBird, launched on October 18, 2001, was DigitalGlobe's primary satellite until early 2015. It was built by Ball Aerospace, and launched by a Boeing Delta II. It is in a 450 km altitude, −98 degree inclination sun-synchronous orbit. An earlier launch attempt resulted in the loss of QuickBird-1; after this, the second satellite of the series, QuickBird-2 was launched and it is this satellite that became known simply as QuickBird (as no other QuickBird satellites were launched). It included a panchromatic camera with a 60 cm (24 in) resolution and a multispectral camera with a 2.4 m (7 ft 10 in) resolution. On January 27, 2015, QuickBird was de-orbited, exceeding her initial life expectancy by nearly 300%.


The GeoEye-1 satellite collects images at 0.41-meter panchromatic (black-and-white) and 1.65-meter multispectral resolution. The satellite can collect up to 350,000 square kilometers of multispectral imagery per day. This is used for large-scale mapping projects. GeoEye-1 can revisit any point on Earth once every three days or sooner.

WorldView satellites

2007 WorldView-1

Ball Aerospace built WorldView-1. It was launched on September 18, 2007 from Vandenberg Air Force Base on a Delta II 7920-10C. Launch services were provided by United Launch Alliance. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is expected to be a major customer of WorldView-1 imagery. It included a panchromatic only camera with a 50 cm (20 in) maximum resolution.

2009 WorldView-2

Ball Aerospace built WorldView-2. It was launched on October 8, 2009. DigitalGlobe partnered with Boeing commercial launch services to deliver WorldView-2 into a sun-synchronous orbit. The satellite includes a panchromatic sensor with a 46 cm (18 in) maximum resolution and a multispectral sensor of 184 cm (72 in)

2014 WorldView-3

Ball Aerospace built WorldView-3. It was launched on August 13, 2014. It has a maximum resolution of 25 cm (9.8 in). WorldView-3 operates at an altitude of 617 km (383 mi), where it has an average revisit time of less than once per day. Over the course of a day it is able to collect imagery of up to 680,000 km2 (260,000 sq mi).

WorldView-3 is the industry's first multi-payload, super-spectral, high-resolution commercial satellite.

After July 2014, the company was permitted to offer customers the highest resolution imagery available from their constellation. Additionally, the updated approvals allowed the sale of imagery to customers at up to 25 cm panchromatic and 100 cm (39 in) multispectral ground sample distance (GSD), beginning six months after WorldView-3 became operational. WorldView-3 was launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket in the 401 configuration on August 13, 2014, at 11:30 local time from SLC-3 at Vandenberg Air Force base.

Nov 2016 WorldView-4

The WorldView-4 satellite was designed to provide panchromatic images at a highest resolution of 0.31 meters per pixel (12.2 in/px), and multispectral images at 1.24 meters per pixel (48.8 in/px). Originally named GeoEye-2, the spacecraft was designed and built by Lockheed Martin, while the camera payload was provided by ITT Corporation. Following the merger of GeoEye and DigitalGlobe, DigitalGlobe announced that GeoEye-2 would be completed as a ground spare to be launched if or when required. It was renamed to WorldView-4 in July 2014, when the company announced that it would be launched in Fall 2016. It was launched on November 11, 2016.

In January 2019, the company reported the failure of a control moment gyroscope on the satellite, rendering it inoperable.

2021+ WorldView-Legion

To be built by SSL, it is DigitalGlobe's next generation of earth observation satellites. WorldView-Legion consists of six satellites planned to start launching in 2021 into a mix of sun-synchronous and mid-latitude orbits. These satellites will replace imaging capability currently provided by DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-1, WorldView-2 and GeoEye-1 Earth observation satellites.

The first block of WorldView-Legion satellites is contracted to launch on two flight-tested SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets in 2021.


There are no comments yet

Add new comment

Similar posts

Space Junk Problem and Solutions

Mars Missions, Exploration and Habitation

Space Arms Race - Private Rockets, Near Earth Internet BM$ and Satellites

Smarter Use of Technology