Skip to content

Navigating the complexities of ordering satellite imagery

An important task for Geocento in acting as an independent provider of satellite imagery has been in helping users to navigate some of the complexities of ordering imagery. The good news is that competition within the market is putting pressure on suppliers to make ordering and access much easier, and the benefits of this are starting to be seen, but in the meantime, it is worthwhile explaining some of the requirements that must be addressed by you, as a user, particularly in relation to the more traditional suppliers. Here are some of the key ones:

Being ready to provide your identity and affiliation. If you are a new client coming into the market for the first time, then it is necessary to provide your affiliation and contact details including location. This is formally required in order to ensure that there are no export controls to your country, to ensure that you have the appropriate license for your type of organisation, and to make sure that there are reselling rights for your location.

Being able to specify what you want to use the imagery for. Experienced users may know exactly what they want and be able to specify this very quickly, understanding which satellites they would like to use. For them, Geocento’s EarthImages Pro offers real flexibility in terms of image planning, specification of imaging configurations, etc. Others have simple requirements in terms of obtaining a recent cloud-free image of an area of interest and so can use our simpler EarthImages platform. Many clients, however, have sophisticated requirements but they do not have the time or confidence to identify the most appropriate imagery themselves. In these cases, by describing their application, Geocento can customise a plan to meet the client’ needs, making use of their supplier networks and their impartiality as an independent broker and helping with other requirements, such as providing sample imagery.

Understanding license conditions. If you simply want to use the imagery for your own purposes, then the license is normally straightforward. If you want to convert the imagery into other geospatial products and sell these on, or you wish to share the imagery with other organisations, then it is important to make sure that the license is able to support this. Some suppliers are much more flexible than others, but all suppliers support a range of different user cases through different licensing options. However, do bear in mind that licenses place a restriction of what can be done with the imagery.

Understanding impacts on pricing. As you would expect, higher resolution imagery is more expensive than coarser resolution imagery per sq km, but pricing is also dependent on a number of other factors such as the type of license (whether you are from an academic institution for example), urgency of the image order, number of users to be included in the license and how “old” the imagery is (particularly whether it is “new” imagery or existing imagery). Geocento’s EarthImage platform accounts for these various pricing rules in the ordering tool, and so take care of this complexity.

Being aware of how quickly imagery can be acquired and delivered. If you need the imagery urgently, then it is important to specify the appropriate options in the order, recognise that there is extra cost, and also take into consideration that even emergency orders are subject to constraints on how quickly the satellite can be tasked to collect more imagery, how long it takes to process the data, whether there are conflicts with other users and whether the satellite imaging capacity is available. Some suppliers are moving the paradigm towards routine data ordering and access so that there is less reliance on on-demand tasking which is time consuming and complex. If your needs are for imagery acquired at short notice, the best idea is to plan for this in advance so that arrangements are established in advance of needing the imagery rather than at the time of ordering, and we can help with this.

Being prepared for the impact of cloud. Cloud is always an issue for visible imagery, unless you are interested in a very dry region of the Earth, or you are prepared to accept imagery that is not “fresh”. There are alternatives, though. You can order radar imagery that “sees” through cloud (as well as day and night), or you could “look” from under the clouds, by ordering airborne imagery such as from drones, if either is compatible with your application. However, even cloud is going to become a lesser problem for visible imagery as the much increased temporal sampling of the new satellite constellations provide more opportunities to “catch” cloud-free moments in the day. We can keep you informed as these new capabilities become available.

Our image ordering platform, EarthImages, takes account of these requirements and allows the information to be provided at the time of ordering, and we fully expect the process to become simplified as competition starts to be felt across the market. In the meantime, we are here to help contact us to start the ball rolling.