Space Data is about to get big. Thanks to the growing sophistication and falling cost of satellites, more businesses than ever are looking to the “final frontier” for insights which can be put to use here on Earth.
That’s the conclusion of a report that has just been published by Sparks & Honey. The trend forecasters surveyed thought leaders from around the globe on what the billions of dollars’ worth of private investment pouring into space projects would mean for industry on this planet.
They found that thanks to the ever-growing number of increasingly affordable satellite services, new uses for “space data” are opening up across many industries. In farming, satellite data can be used to monitor factors which influence crop yield. In real estate, areas prone to flooding or sinkholes can be more accurately identified, impacting property developments and prices. In retail, foot traffic around shopping centres can be monitored in real-time, giving an increased overview of how customers behave.
“Overview” is the operative word, with space data – according to Sparks & Honey CEO Terry Young, who told me “The idea was to look at the innovations that are going to be created over the next 15 years on our journey to Mars and beyond, and to find from those innovations – which are very science or engineering-focused – what the implications are for organisations and consumers, back here on Earth.
“We’ve been talking about Big Data for a long time, and this takes us on the journey to start understanding space data and space analytics. Not too many people in the commercial sector have got their hands around it yet, they don’t fully understand the implications of all of this data.”
Because of the traditionally sky-high cost of launching satellites and keeping them in space, where they can generate data with cameras, sensors and scanners, most application of space data has in the past been carried out by Governments.
In the public sector, they have long been used to monitor conflicts, track the flow of refugees and gather terrestrial or space data for research purposes.
But with public investment in space at one-tenth of the level, in real terms, of what it was during the Apollo era when we reached the moon, the slack has since been picked up by private enterprise. Thanks to the likes of SpaceX, founded by Tesla entrepreneur Elon Musk, as well as hundreds of startups, billions will be spent in the coming decade on creating infrastructure.The exciting part for the industry is that much of this data will become available for organisations whose business is not primarily space-based.
Additionally, according to one contributor, the cost of launching a satellite has fallen to a level where it is comparable to the cost of developing and launching an app.
“Something which is hovering above the Earth and providing a perspective from above is really creating a very unique dataset. Roughly 35% of the satellites in orbit right now are there for commercial purposes, and those satellites have been driven by venture capital money. A lot of startups are providing low-orbit satellites for a wide range of different uses.”
Considering one industry – agriculture – the implications are enormous. Farmers can use image data to better understand what factors affect the growth of crops, and there are factors that can be detected from space, such as weather patterns, exposure to sunlight, air quality or pest activity, so optimum conditions can be determined.
“We covered ideas like being able to observe things like water shortage, as it relates to manufacturing processes, traffic patterns in large cities as we are looking towards building cities of the future and their infrastructure. We can even translate it to big retail, where all of a sudden we can capture real-time data on hundreds of stores simultaneously and use it to look at foot traffic patterns”, Young says.
Astronauts who blast into space talk about what they call the “overview effect” – a sense of gaining a deeper understanding of the planet as it really is, as they see it with their eyes, suspended in the void, for the first time. If the findings of this report bear out, then it’s likely that many businesses and organisations will soon be able to achieve a similar level of cognitive evolution themselves when they augment their Big Data with the biggest data of all – Space Data.