Space Imaging’s far-sighted vision has resulted in the success of the IKONOS. Could you throw some light on how the idea of IKONOS cropped up?
CEO, Space Imaging
- Space Imaging’s far-sighted vision has resulted in the success of the IKONOS. Could you throw some light on how the idea of IKONOS cropped up?
“Space Imaging’s mission has always been to change people’s lives for the better by allowing the commercial sector to harness the power of high-resolution remote sensing imagery. By launching the IKONOS satellite in September 1999, we became the world’s first and only company to operate a high-resolution, commercial remote sensing satellite and took the first step toward changing the way we all see and understand our world.”
“By providing IKONOS imagery to the public through our CARTERRA™ product line, urban planners, disaster relief agencies, local governments and other organizations are now able to do things never before possible – things that improve the quality of life for people across the globe.”
“For example, using these new visual information products, farmers can more precisely monitor the health of crops and estimate yields, scientists can look at environmentally sensitive areas and predict trends, government officials can monitor and plan enlightened land use policies, city planners can further the development of new housing communities, phone companies will be able to optimize the placement of towers so that cell phones never drift out of coverage areas, and insurance companies can measure and map damage to properties after natural disasters. With the ability of IKONOS to collect images with incredibly fine detail across very expansive areas, Space Imaging can also help planners determine land boundaries in nations moving toward private ownership. The possibilities are endless and we’re proud to be the company that is making this possible.”
- Besides the high-resolution advantage, how does the IKONOS differ from other satellite imaging efforts in the past like Landsat, SPOT or the IRS?
“Compared to traditional satellite remote sensing, IKONOS provides significantly higher image resolution. The IKONOS satellite has ability to collect both panchromatic and multispectral images of the same place from the same perspective. The collected imagery can be output as one-meter panchromatic (black-and-white), one-meter pan-sharpened (color) and four-meter multispectral (color). Our imagery also provides excellent accuracy without the need for ground control, and that is made possible through superior satellite positioning and pointing angle achieved through GPS and star tracker technology. This higher level of detail is required for making precise, feature-oriented maps. The multispectral qualities of the imagery make it ideal for feature identification and differentiation, which is important for map making. High-resolution is the most obvious benefit of IKONOS imagery, but it is by no means the only advantage over other types of imagery.”
“In addition, the satellite is constantly collecting data, allowing for more rapid delivery of up-to-date image products. We can revisit any imaged area within 2.9 days at one-meter resolution or 1.5 days at 1.5-meter resolution. All of these factors combined provide more value in the products we deliver.”
“Another advantage is that the IKONOS satellite provides global coverage and thus can collect imagery of remote areas of the world that may be otherwise inaccessible due to rugged terrain or other inhibiting factors, such as the high cost or danger associated with flying an airplane over these areas. Our Regional Affiliate program allows us to efficiently distribute these images to local markets all over the world. Additionally, Space Imaging’s sophisticated, highly automated ground processing software and hardware enable us to complete projects quickly for customers so that they receive up-to-date, current maps.”
“One last advantage is that the data is completely digital. The images can be utilized in their raw form or digitally integrated with other data. In many cases, the imagery is integrated with other data such as demographic and weather data to create information products. Customers have a need for end-to-end solutions with various products integrated together. CARTERRA imagery and information products from Space Imaging can satisfy a broad range of customer requirements.”
- IKONOS is the first private sector remote sensing satellite. How has this proved to be an advantage or disadvantage to your company?
“By being the first to have a one-meter product, Space Imaging has the opportunity to define the de facto standard for high-resolution satellite imagery. We provide more than just data products – we provide visual Earth information products that help customers make decisions about the world around them on a daily basis. Our customers expect more than just data. We are delivering value-added information products.”
- Technically, are such high-resolution imageries in color feasible, and if so, is IKONOS planning in this direction?
“High-resolution color imagery isn’t just feasible, it’s a reality. Space Imaging currently offers high-resolution color imagery as part of our CARTERRA™ product line. We call it pan-sharpened high-resolution imagery. Pan-sharpened imagery is four-meter multispectral IKONOS imagery that is combined, or fused, with the one-meter panchromatic IKONOS imagery to produce one-meter natural color (i.e., blue, green and red) or false color infrared (i.e., green, red and near infrared) imagery.”
- What are your target markets? What is your marketing and sales model? How are you using the Internet to reach your customers?
“The applications of high-resolution imagery are endless and our customer base reaches across an equally wide range of industries. Our products can be used in such varied markets as mapping, agriculture, forestry, oil and gas exploration, media, insurance, utilities, telecommunications, real estate, environment, civil government, military, and transportation. The company’s broad selection of products provides a wealth of information about the Earth’s ever-changing cultural and natural features.”
“Regarding our marketing and sales model, we consider this information to be proprietary, but we do say that our marketing efforts emphasize the commercial applications of IKONOS imagery since these products are so new to the commercial marketplace overall.”
“Because IKONOS imagery is completely digital, it is perfectly suited to the Internet. We offer several IKONOS images via our Web site for $10 apiece which show major international landmarks and cities including Mecca, Baghdad, the Taj Mahal and Vatican City. Now with the introduction of our CARTERRA™ Online, anyone can search, browse, order and buy imagery online, directly from our Web site. This new system enhances our previous CARTERRA™ Archive-which only allowed customers to browse the imagery. You will still have the option to order imagery by calling our customer service department at 800-232-9037
- Very soon a few other satellites would join the race to provide high-resolution imageries. Do you foresee any competition or do you believe that being a pioneer in this field, your market is well established?
“We believe competition is healthy. Having other players in the market will help develop the market, so we look forward to the launches of other one-meter satellites. The market potential for one-meter imagery is so enormous that there’s plenty of room for more than one provider. However, the barrier to entry is high so there are not many companies that can afford to enter this market. Worldwide demand for remote-sensing images is expected to be in the multiple billions by the middle of the coming decade, but we think it is going to be so high that nobody can predict just how many providers will ultimately be needed. [Metzger: The source was Space Business International, second quarter issue.
- Prior to IKONOS, IRS satellite was providing the highest resolution imageries. What do you feel about the IRS imageries and their future potentials?
“Space Imaging continues to sell imagery collected by the Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellites. The IRS products fit well into our CARTERRA™ product suite. We also understand that the Indian government has plans to launch a higher-resolution mapping satellite of its own. Space Imaging expects that this launch will only expand the market for remote sensing products.”
- Do you believe that the availability of such high resolution images, as provided by IKONOS, without any restrictions will not lead to any kind of dissent among the nations?
“Space Imaging intends to distribute images to all commercial and non-commercial organizations on a worldwide basis unless otherwise specifically prohibited by U.S. laws. We understand that high-resolution imagery contains information previously unavailable to the public, and we have always understood that the IKONOS satellite’s image collection or distribution could be constrained where there was an immediate and substantial threat to a significant national security or foreign policy commitment of the U.S. We intend to fully comply with any such restrictions the U.S. government may place on us; however, we expect that such restrictions would be invoked only under the most extraordinary circumstances.”
- Organizations like FAS are claiming to use your satellite imageries to help bring about nuclear disarmament. Did you visualize such use of your imageries and morally do you approve of such use of your imageries?
“There are a number of interesting international government applications of IKONOS imagery, including resolution of border disputes, environmental monitoring and agricultural planning. IKONOS imagery is a tool that can assist in a wide range of applications and it is not Space Imaging’s policy to dictate to customers how to use imagery.
- The recent decision of the US Government to remove selective availability on GPS signals was a welcome decision. Is there any reason to believe that IKONOS was one of the factors having influenced the decision?
“We do not believe that the launch of the IKONOS satellite had an impact on that recent decision about GPS data.”
- Space Imaging has become an icon in the field of remote sensing. Are there any future plans of Space Imaging to join other fields like weather satellites, communication satellites etc.
“Space Imaging has no plans to branch out into other fields that would involve weather satellites and communications satellites. Space Imaging will continue to be a remote sensing company that focuses on the growing need for visual information products in a wide range of commercial and non-commercial fields.”
- A few words on the future of remote sensing satellites…
“The future of remote sensing is exciting and Space Imaging will continue to lead the industry in launching better and better satellites and providing customers with ever-improving products. Since the life span of IKONOS is 5-7 years, Space Imaging’s five-year business plan calls for replacement satellites and we are already in the process of defining requirements for the next generation system