Closing the Gap Between Remote Sensing Capabilities and Customer Requirements – A Recap

On Tuesday January 26, Space Tech Expo Europe delivered the third instalment of the Winter Webinar Series. Alongside sponsor Avantus, expert speakers from Euroconsult, ESA and Planetek Italia came together to discuss the latest developments regarding the remote sensing market.

The webinar was opened with an introductory presentation by Avantus. Chief Growth Officer Chris Blahm provided an overview of Avantus’s wide range of capabilities, both in the area of remote sensing and outside of that, such as mission planning and battle management among others.

After Chris’s brilliant introduction, the webinar moved on to the panel discussion. Moderator Pacôme Révillon, CEO of consulting firm Euroconsult, led the discussion through four key talking points. He was joined by Giuseppe Borghi, Head of the Φ-lab Division within ESA’s Earth Observation Programmes Directorate, and by Giovanni Sylos Labini, CEO of Planetek Italia.

Remote sensing customer requirements and data

The first half of the webinar discussed pressing developments regarding remote sensing customer requirements and data. All speakers agreed that the way customers would require data is slowly changing. End-user markets are moving from just using data images to more complex actionable insights. There is an increased need to fuse satellite data with other types of information, such as economical, societal, and political data. The speakers received a couple of specific questions from Révillion and the audience on these topics.

Révillion: Can/would data and hardware become a commodity?

Sylos Labini: “This is an ongoing process in all industries, and so I believe it is an ultimate need for Earth observation (EO). Drivers such as cloud computing, Internet of Things (IoT), edge computing and high-performance computing are progressively virtualising the hardware and data. Also, the so-called ‘uberisation’ of space services will claim for commoditised hardware and software in space services.”

Audience question: Do you have the feeling that the potential end-users are now more EO aware and willing to make the necessary trade-offs, such as between accuracy and spatial coverage when thinking of conventional ground survey?

Borghi: “The end-users are simply requiring services that meet their needs and in several cases they could be unaware of such ‘important details’. Trade-offs mean that they are not getting what requires, and this is one of the limiting factors for our market and also a driver for the innovation.”

Audience question: How does one assess the new or changing requirements of the customer(s)? Are there regular reviews conducted to assess the changing or new requirements? If so - how often this should be done? What is the advisable methodology, approach or periodicity advised to review the requirements regularly?

Borghi: “This refers to business development methodology and you should exploit that.  Requirements have a dynamic of years and depending on whether your target customers are a large or small community you should use either customer intimacy or regular surveys or mixed approaches.”

Révillion: How much time do you consider as required to penetrate a new user segment?

Sylos Labini: “Nice question, the capability to reach new user segment is closely related to fit to market of your product. When we decide to enter a new market, we try to find early users that are part of a design effort. This is an iterative process that can last up to 18 months.”

Services and enabling technologies

The last part of the webinar covered services and enabling technologies. When it comes to future technologies and services, the speakers agreed that the remote sensing market was immature but are anticipating growth in the coming decades. There is an opportunity for inventing a lot of new things. The speakers also received a handful of audience questions on the topic of technology innovation.

Audience question: Will on-board processing still be critical if downlink bandwidth is significantly expanded? Which capability do you think will mature first?

Borghi: “As more and more functionalities, like image or satellite aperture radar (SAR) data processing, satellite autonomous OP decision, constellation coordination, etc. will be transferred on-board, the computational power will remain a bottleneck not easy to solve. [This is] also limited by the availability of power onboard and the small/nano satellite capability to dissipate thermal power.”

Audience question: In improving these downstream services, do you believe the innovativeness will come from companies that capture and include new data sources from the ground together with EO data? For instance, swarm technologies with IoT capabilities for agriculture.

Borghi: “Yes, this is a trend [that has] already started in precision farming where in-situ measurements, drones observations (e.g. hyperspectral) and satellite-based remote sensing data are combined. Also, there are companies that combine social media data, with financial and economic data, and EO one to deliver richer services.”

How would you describe / anticipate the EO activity/ecosystem to look like in 2030?

Sylos Labini: “Data collected in space will continue to increase in value over the next decade as volume, variety, velocity and veracity increase. Much of the data collected will be analysed by edge analytics in orbit to reduce the volume of data that needs to be transmitted to Earth. Artificial intelligence will also be used in deep space missions to overcome communications delays due to distance and help pre-empt and correct problems. Companies will find real value in generating and selling actionable insights from the data they collect and intersect with other sources. New data will help identify and drive new business opportunities across different industries. By 2030, governments may operationally use EO in fighting climate change and measuring progress (if any) in mitigation measures.”

The speakers expect that the gap between remote sensing capabilities and customer requirements will eventually close as language, standards and regulations will be developed over the coming years. With that, a big shift is expected in the final design of the remote sensing products for the end-users.

Were you unable to attend the live webinar? No problem! You can watch the webinar on-demand here. Make sure not to miss the other webinars in Space Tech Expo Europe’s winter webinar series, you can register your virtual seat here.