2010 Earth Observation Highlights

by | Jan 16, 2011

In this issue of Earth Imaging Journal, we wrap up the year with our annual display of intriguing images beginning on page 12. These images typify how Earth observation chronicles and supports significant global events. We also feature our annual Remote Sensing Market Guide (page 32), a comprehensive resource of companies and organizations that provide Earth observation and other geospatial products and services.

Looking back at 2010, several key developments and events fueled the fast-paced Earth observation industry. Following is a brief recap of just some of the most interesting stories of the year.

The year began on a positive note with DigitalGlobe announcing that its new WorldView-2 satellite is fully operational and imagery is available commercially. This proved to be just in time to collect images of Haiti for humanitarian relief in the wake of the catastrophic 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated the island nation's capitol, Port-au-Prince, leveling the city and killing thousands.

In February, the White House killed the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), a joint civil-military weather satellite program suffering from high costs and delays. The administration's new plan calls for the Air Force to serve military weather needs with morning-orbit satellites, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will fund and develop afternoon-orbit satellites for civil weather forecasting and climate monitoring.

Meanwhile, France and Germany agreed to jointly build the Charme satellite”CH4 Atmospheric Remote Monitoring Explorer”designed to measure atmospheric methane, which adds to the greenhouse effect of global warming. Look for the new satellite in 2014.

Additionally, Germany recently formally committed $630 million to help finance Europe's next-generation meteorological satellite system.

In March, GeoEye announced that General Dynamics, which built the company’s GeoEye-1 satellite, would not build GeoEye-2. Instead, the company selected Lockheed Martin to build its next-generation satellite. ITT will provide the GeoEye-2 optical component, as it did with GeoEye-1.

In April, NASA flew its first Earth science mission over the Pacific Ocean with a Global Hawk drone, an unmanned aerial system (UAS) specially configured with 11 science instruments. The drone covered 8,300 kilometers in 14 hours. Additionally, in a display of international cooperation aimed at reducing costs and producing data more rapidly, NASA began downloading imagery of North and South America acquired by Daichi, the Advanced Land Observing Satellite operated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

In May, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) passed its critical design review, paving the way to commence building the satellite. The largest concern among Landsat data users is the potential for gaps, which could occur if the aging Landsat 5 satellite fails and the LDCM mission slips to the middle of 2013 (see “The Changing Face of Earth Observation,” page 26). Data gaps in monitoring atmospheric carbon dioxide and polar ice sheets due to failed missions also will be addressed when NASA launches ICESAT-2 in 2015 and OCO-2, a replacement for its carbon dioxide-mapping Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO), in 2013.

Orbital debris issues were pushed closer to the front burner in 2010 (see “Close Encounters with Space Junk”) by the White House's new space policy, which includes a directive to “pursue research and development of technologies and techniquesto mitigate and remove on-orbit debris.” The Space Data Center, developed and operated by U.S. firm Analytical Graphics Inc. to monitor space junk, is scheduled to be fully operational in early 2011.

Finally, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) awarded GeoEye and DigitalGlobe EnhancedView imagery contracts worth $7.3 billion combined during the next 10 years. GeoEye recently announced that GeoEye-2 is running favorably ahead of schedule, but will cost some $50 million more than anticipated due to additional ground network requirements to satisfy its U.S. government customer. DigitalGlobe, which declined to accept any government funds to finance its next satellite, says it likely will double its annual revenue during the next five years. Both publicly traded companies saw the value of their stock shares spike sharply following the EnhancedView announcement.

” Jeff Specht, publisher, Earth Imaging Journal


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