Space Agency opens up satellite data for R&D

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The UK Space Agency has said its Space for Smarter Government Programme (SSGP) is opening up access to its archives of images and radar data for research and development projects.

Government departments, local authorities and emergency services will able to use the data for free under plans announced by Science Minister Sam Gyimah.

The images have been procured from Airbus Defence and Space and Telespazio-Vega UK. Airbus is providing high resolution optical imagery, effectively a colour camera in space, from its Spot and Pleiades satellites.

Telespazio-Vega is providing high resolution synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data collected by the four-satellite COSMO-SkyMed constellation. Imaging radars onboard the satellites transmit and then receive radar signals that are able to penetrate cloud cover and provide images of the Earth’s surface day and night.

The UK Space Agency said the images will provide an unprecedented level of detail of major British cities, transport networks, national parks and energy infrastructure. They provide a resolution of below five metres with less than 15% cloud cover.

Transforming from the skies

Science Minister Sam Gyimah said: “From monitoring plastic pollution to supporting the next generation of electric vehicles, satellite imaging is transforming our society from the skies.

“This is a great example of how our modern Industrial Strategy’s support for our thriving space sector is spurring innovation, driving growth and further strengthening public services.”

A number of pilot projects are already using satellite data, including one run by Bournemouth Borough Council that combines it with machine learning to identify the best locations for electric vehicle charge points across the city.

In another, the Environment Agency is investigating the feasibility of using satellite images as a tool to monitor plastic pollution off Britain’s shoreline to support clean-up operations and protect wildlife.

Sara Huntingdon, the UK Space Agency’s SSGP manager, said: “Until now there has been a perceived financial barrier to the public sector, academics and start-ups accessing high resolution data from satellites, so this is great news for the UK space sector.

“We hope it will break down barriers, enable rapid prototyping and stimulate the next wave of satellite enabled application development. We are trying something that has not been done before across the whole UK Government, and I am really excited to see the results.”

Complexity and size

Earlier this year, Huntingdon told UKAuthority it is often not easy for public authorities to exploit satellite data, because of the complexity and large file sizes, but that the programme has been working on ways to support the effort.

It has been working on ways to make the data more ingestible and interoperable with traditional geographic information systems (GIS), and to look at how to move it into the cloud and optimise workflows.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0, processed by Gwawr Jones, JNCC.

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