Unthreatened, aerial imaging/mapping companies embrace commercial satellite imagery’s increased resolution
Last June, the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) granted Digital Globe permission to sell imagery at the highest resolution available from its current satellite constellation. It also allowed the company to sell imagery at a ground sample distance (GSD) of up to .25 meters panchromatic and 1 meter multispectral beginning six months after its next satellite—WorldView-3, which has a resolution of .31 meters—became operational in August. At this increased resolution, can satellite imagery now support applications that previously required aerial imagery? In other words, is the former beginning to cut into the market for the latter? How are aerial imagery companies reacting?
According to five aerial imagery providers, the availability of higher resolution satellite imagery is actually good for them, because it complements their products rather than competes with them and it raises expectations throughout the market. This reaction is analogous to that of the geospatial industry ten years ago to the launch of Google Earth: the consensus then was that, rather than compete with more professional digital mapping products, the popular new application would stimulate demand for them.
I discussed these issues with Brian R. Raber, Vice President of Merrick & Company, an engineering, architecture, surveying, planning, and geospatial solutions firm; Charles Mondello, Chief Industry Strategist at EagleView Technologies, which specializes in GIS, measurement, analysis, 3D models, and aerial oblique image capture and has a fleet of more than 70 aircraft; J. Edward Kunz, Senior Project Manager at Keystone Aerial Surveys, Inc., which operates 19 aircraft, 13 metric film camera systems, four large format digital sensors, and one LiDAR system; Ken Scruggs, Founder and President of Midwest Aerial Photography, which specializes in aerial imagery and photography in support of photogrammetric mapping projects; and Steve Kasten, Vice President of Surveying and Photogrammetry at Surdex, which provides digital orthophotography, GIS basemapping, and LiDAR services.