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From Image to Substance

GEOconnexion visits Astrium in Toulouse to find out how a leading Earth Observation data and services provider turns image into substance

GEOconnexion took advantage of the opportunity to visit one of those companies, Astrium Services, as it finalised an agreement to provide 50 cm. resolution satellite imagery to Google and prepared for this year’s launch of SPOT 7. This optical Earth Observation satellite will join SPOT 6 in sun-synchronous orbit to deliver up to 1.5-meter resolution wide area imagery through to 2024. 

Uniquely in the industry, both satellites have been entirely funded by Astrium to the tune of €300 million, a venture of which it is justifiably proud given the success of SPOT 6 following its launch in September 2012. The results, as described by Charlotte Gabriel-Robez in her article in this issue, are truly impressive.

Indeed, it was the launch of SPOT 1 in 1986 that ushered in a new era in satellite remote sensing, as Gabriel-Robez, Head of GEO-information constellation Marketing, is keen to remind us. “It was the first satellite that could be tasked to acquire imagery over a specified point as and when required. Before that, one had to rely on archived data.” All subsequent SPOT birds have followed in its footsteps, their wide-swath sensors configured to gather the big picture. 

More than meets the eye

The company has been equally busy building a portfolio of processed imagery from its SPOT, Pléiades and TerraSAR-X constellations that can satisfy the needs of vertical markets. 

Jonathan Shears introduced one of those products – intended for GEOINT professionals – in his article in the Nov/Dec 2013 issue. Processed imagery for engineering, maritime security, energy exploration, environmental monitoring and agriculture/forestry (examples illustrated in Fig.1) are other vertical market products cited by SPOT 6&7 Product Manager, Jérôme Soubirane. 

“And of course, one mustn’t forget mapping,” adds Soubirane, mentioning that a paper delivered at last year’s International Cartographic Conference in Dresden awarded SPOT 6 imagery top marks for its applicability to 1:15,000 and 1:25,000 scale mapping, both in terms of feature extraction and positional accuracy. “Precision of the raw data, without Ground Control Points, is around 20 meters”, he notes. “But with Reference 3D, our internal database, we can orthorectify and deliver a 10-meter or better accuracy product for the same price.”

Yet another new product, a global elevation dataset known as WorldDEM™ and derived from the TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X radar satellite constellation, is scheduled for release by Astrium this year. With a vertical accuracy of 2m. (relative) and 10m. (absolute), the claim is that it will surpass that of any satellite-derived DEM currently available. 


Developed in partnership with IGN, the French national mapping agency, Reference 3D was established in 2002 and, to date, has been populated with geocoded data covering an area of some 58 million km2 structured in three layers: 

  • A High Resolution Stereoscopic Digital Elevation Model to Level 2 DTED format

  • A GPS-compatible HRS Orthoimage 

  • Metadata for source data quality and traceability 

Delivered in the easily-accessible DIMAP format, Reference 3D products are produced as sets of XML files that reference the DEM and orthoimage layers, as well as the metadata. These deliverables are now in widespread use with organisations such as the European Commission (JRC), French defence ministry, United Nations, NGA and Total. 

24/7 GeoStore

Custom-branded portals, managed hosting, customer-specified image processing, secure streaming in standard and bespoke packages, and preferred Direct Access to imagery in near-real time are additional cloud-based customer services introduced by Astrium. With the launch of SPOT 7, one can be certain that more will soon be on their way.

The discussion arising from our meeting with Bernhard Brenner, Executive Director of the GEO-Information Division at Astrium Services, can be followed online at