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“Market needs will decide a nation’s geospatial policy”

Jun 2007 | Comments Off on “Market needs will decide a nation’s geospatial policy”

What is the potential of high resolution imageries?

There has been a great increase in awareness about high resolution satellite and aerial imagery. The credit goes to the players like Microsoft Virtual Earth, Yahoo, and Google Earth. In many countries nowadays, even kids talk about on-line imagery and maps. It is bringing geography to life. It has been terrific in raising the global visibility of satellite imagery. That’s been a terrific trend for all of us. Ten years ago we really had no notion of using the Web for geospatial applications. People now almost think of access to accurate and even timely geospatial information as a fundamental right.

Until recently, high resolution satellite imagery was used mostly in defence and intelligence. But as technology progressed, attitudes have changed. Several natural disasters helped us to see geospatial information in a new light. The Indian Ocean tsunami and later Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. made people realize that pre and post imagery of natural disasters was an enormous area of application. The online distribution of high resolution satellite imagery helped a lot in the relief effort because as soon as the tsunami hit, we and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency realized that the fastest way to get imagery in the hands of people who need it was online. ESRI’s CEO, Jack Dangermond, is a visionary. He has a great phrase: the world’s resources are finite, but our population keeps exploding; we need to know more about the world and our resources to manage it more effectively so that it can support the increasing population. I think the increasing use of high resolution satellite imagery will help us better map, manage and monitor our planet.

What potential for satellite imagery do you see in the developing world?

The economic and population growth in India has been dramatic. India is growing so fast that even as you plan urban development, more development is needed, as you plan telecom lines more are needed, as you plan new roads more are needed and as you plan energy distribution systems more are needed. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said that India must build hundreds of power plants over the next five years to end the electricity shortages that threaten economic growth. Satellite imagery can help with the site selection of such plants. The government has 14,000 kilometers of borders and thousands of kilometers of coastline to watch over. Satellites can also be extremely effective in mapping changes on the ground. For example, as India links together thousands of villages under new development initiatives, satellite based maps will be critical to ensure roads and other public right-of-ways are constructed and in an environmentally sound manner. The existing satellites from the IRS system are helpful, but they can only do so much and only have so much capacity. According to the US Department of Interior, 80% of all U.S. government information has a geospatial data component or other reference to a physical location. I imagine that the figures for India would be the same. In many countries, geospatial technologies are becoming an integral part of the backbone of government management.

By the end of the year, GeoEye will launch our next-generation imaging satellite, GeoEye-1. It will collect imagery of the Earth in the panchromatic or black and white mode at half-meter resolution and in the multispectral or color mode at 1.65-meter resolution. We will be able to pan-sharpen the imagery to create color imagery at 0.5-meter resolution and better. GeoEye-1 will be able to collect 350,000 square kilometers per day in the multispectral mode and almost double that in the black and white mode.

The mapping of earthquake prone areas would be useful in better understanding risk management. While India is already doing this, one can always do it better with higher resolution imagery. I see other uses for imagery in the areas of water management and flood controls, in agriculture and soil erosion mapping and in land use and land cover modeling. I think having half-meter resolution images available in bulk will be a terrific advantage.

What are the challenges you face in India?

We hope to strengthen our relationship with those in the Indian government, in the GIS community and in Academia who see the value of satellite imagery and open markets. We would like to build a production capability here in India and have access to India’s eager and talented geospatial community. We would like access to the India market just as India has direct access to the US market.

I want to mention that we have established the GeoEye Foundation that provides satellite imagery at no cost in support of specific research projects at universities and non-governmental organizations. While the focus of the Foundation is on U.S. schools, we could consider expanding it so that students at some key universities here in India can have access to the IKONOS and Orbview-3 imagery archives. As of this month, the archive consists of some 278 million square kilometers of 1-meter resolution imagery over every country of the world.

So, finding the right people, maintaining the growth pace, and education will be tremendously helpful. Generally speaking though, I think data accessibility to high resolution imagery is in the slow lane for Indian academicians.

25Mr. O’Connell is GeoEye’s President and CEO. He was CEO of GeoEye’s predecessor, Orbimage, beginning in 2001. In January 2006, Orbimagemerged with Space Imaging to formGeoEye, the world’s largest operator

of commercial imagery satellites. In the fall of 2006, GeoEye became the first commercial remote sensing corporation to be traded on NASDAQ.

Mr. O’Connell has over twenty years of experience in communications management and finance.

Prior to joining GeoEye, Mr. O’Connell was a managing director at Crest Advisors, a New York-based private merchant bank that invested in and advised communications companies, and senior vice president of Legal and Business Affairs for Sony Worldwide Networks, a division of Sony Corporation specializing in radio and Internet programming.

Space News named Mr. O’Connell one of the “10 Who Made a Difference in Space in 2006.”

What about challenges at international level?

The average age of a map in the US is more than twenty years. Many parts of the Earth have never been mapped to any degree at all. Even after Hurricane Katrina, the average age of a flood plain map in the U.S. is more than ten years. If there is potential in the US, then there is even more potential in other parts of the globe. We are also talking with friends around the world about putting together international consortia to address certain issues. For example, people are concerned about maritime security. The Italians are very concerned about it, for instance. It’s very easy to get from certain countries over to Italy. The Japanese are very concerned about it because North Korea is just a boat ride away. Companies and countries can unite so that imagery from everyone’s Earth imaging satellites can be pressed into service to address the maritime security issues. As we look into the future, especially in terms of defense and intelligence, I think putting together international consortia to address key issues before they becomes problems would be good for all of us.

Any regulatory/policy level issues?

Our next satellite, due to be operational early next year, will collect imagery with a ground resolution of 41-centimeters. Due to U.S. Government licensing restrictions, we must resample the imagery to halfmeter resolution before making it available for sale to commercial customers. Of course, governments that have governmentto- government agreements in place will be able to receive the imagery at the best resolution. So we’ve been asked by our friends in certain countries to see what we can do to help them get access to the best imagery. We have asked India to write a letter requesting this and we will gladly help work on the issue within the U.S. Government. I think America is coming around to the idea that they have to reduce the restrictions on American companies so that we can all share information more freely. I’d say that’s the primary challenge that we face as we get this new satellite ready for launch later this year.

Digital imagery also flows easily across the Internet and the ability of a country to control this is also limited. We believe that Governments will be most effective if they work to try to harness the power and benefits of the technology rather than to block it.

How much policy control is there from the US?

We operate our satellites under a license from the US Government, specifi cally the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA. NOAA is within our Department of Commerce. There’s a list of countries to which we can’t sell our imagery. For example, we can’t sell imagery to North Korea or Iran or Cuba.

Both GeoEye and CARTOSAT have to distribute through NRSA. Comment.

It’s sensitive. We are still in discussions with ANTRIX on this but want to do the best thing from a business sense for them and for us. ANTRIX informed us that they are not going to give us the right to distribute IRS products outside of India. You may recall that once Space Imaging, which was purchased by GeoEye in early 2006, had exclusive rights to sell imagery from the IRS satellites. That contract is no longer in place. I understand that since India now operates many Earth imaging satellites they want to sell direct and not be tied to one reseller. GeoEye would also like to sell directly to Indian markets. So our relationship in the future will be purely a commercial one with no exclusivities. If we bring them a deal, and if they like the deal, they’ll probably do the deal because it makes economic sense.

We have heard from many potential customers in India that they would prefer to deal directly with us rather than placing an order with NRSA and ANTRIX, and then waiting for them to give us the order and then waiting longer for these agencies to get back to the customer.

Overall, India’s markets for this technology should be open. Indo-US Cooperation in civil space dates back to the beginning of the Indian Space Program. For example, India was one of the first countries to establish a receiving station for the Landsat satellites. So India has a long tradition of utilizing remotely sensed data, but in the end market needs will play a deciding role in influencing a nation’s geospatial policy.

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