March 02, 2009
RapidEye Satellite Constellation Takes a Look at a Wide Area
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

RapidEye Satellite Constellation Takes a Look at a Wide Area

By Susan Smith

RapidEye, founded in 1998 in Munich, is a geospatial solutions provider that also owns their own satellites. Their first satellite constellation, comprised of five earth observation satellites, was launched in October 2008. The company just announced their system has successfully completed all post-launch testing and calibration activities, and will now be ready to take on commercial operations.

Agricultural area near Sao Paulo (Brazil), acquired by CHOROS (RapidEye 4) on Nov 11 2008

Agricultural area near Sao Paulo (Brazil), acquired by CHOROS (RapidEye 4) on Nov 11 2008

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) of Vancouver, RapidEye’s prime contractor, has conducted the commissioning period for both the space and ground segment in which they thoroughly measured, analyzed and verified system performance and product quality, according to company literature.

In an interview with GISWeekly, Michael Oxfort, Head of operations and engineering for RapidEye, said there are over 100 people working for RapidEye, dispersed across 17 or 18 nations.

GISWeekly: Does RapidEye also provide geospatial solutions with satellite data?

Michael Oxfort: Our core competencies include providing services to our customers. We try to come up with very tailored solutions for our customers, and for the customers it’s very important for them to get their information in a very specific way so it can be used in their workflow. It could be that we’re providing information in a form that can be used in a GIS, but also there could be other forms. On our service side, we’re going for a very customized solution, on the data side, we also provide satellite imagery. Many of our customers are interested in satellite information but only if it is presented in a tailored way. For example, it could be just one
GIS layer of available information, which a customer uses only in his system and then can make his own assessments with the new information

Estuary of Aconcagua river near the Chilean city Concon, acquired by CHOMA (RapidEye 5) on Nov 9 2008

Estuary of Aconcagua river near the Chilean city Concon, acquired by CHOMA (RapidEye 5) on Nov 9 2008

GW: What is the relationship with MDA, the general contractor, now that the constellation has launched?

MO: Since January we are in charge of operating the system and since then we are receiving data from the satellites, which we are processing to these various image levels, then we make them available in our archives.

GW: Can you explain your work for the EMBRAPA - Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation?

MO: Brazil and South America as a whole are very interesting because it’s summertime there, and in the southern hemisphere, from agricultural point of view, much more interesting than in Europe or Germany – here it’s snowing. That’s why we are focusing on the Brazilian area because their growing season is happening now. There is a pilot project running for which we are showing our customers the quality of our data and services. With real live data, we are now in a much better position to also show the customer the abilities of the regular system. At this point, we are evaluating the data, and also trying to assess if all the information extractions
work. The data is related to agrometeorologic risk management and monitoring the environmental dimensions of the sustainability in tropical agriculture.

GW: How would you compare RapidEye with other commercial satellites such as GeoEye and DigitalGlobe?

MO: We have different characteristics. DigitalGlobe and GeoEye have systems in space with very high resolution, 1 meter or below, and we don’t have this. We decided to go for a lower resolution of 6 ½ meters so that we are able to cover large areas. So if you compare DigitalGlobe or GeoEye, they have one image at a couple of 100 square kilometres whereas when we make a shot we have a couple of 10,000 square kilometers. So due to the difference in the resolution, we have the ability to collect much more area. The primary purpose for our system is to monitor a larger area on a repetitive basis, so therefore our goal is to collect as many square kilometers as possible in one
go. Due to the fact that we’re also restricting ourselves to certain applications, the 6 ½ meters is sufficient for our purposes. We don’t necessarily want to see someone standing on the tennis court and ready for serving, but we want to be able to cover large agricultural fields.

GW: Are many of your customers agricultural customers?

MO: Yes, our customers are interested in getting an overview of the dynamic of the growing season, and of course, there is a growing area that is quite large. To get an overview, you need a system that is able to monitor this a couple of times over the growing season which is what our system has been designed to do. Customers include everyone who has something to do with agriculture. Others who have an interest in RapidEye include insurance companies who want to evaluate certain things after specific weather events, or food producers or also even large farmers with an interest in seeing what’s happening on their fields. In Germany, where we have small fields, the farmer has the
ability to walk in the evening and know exactly what is happening on his fields, but you can’t do this in the U.S. anymore because the fields are so vast. For that use purpose our system is ideal, because they can have a quick overview of what’s happening. You can make an assessment of what the fields looked like a month ago, today and you can get a feeling of dynamic process. In a case where a weather event has created a lot of damage, customers might want to see the extent of damage, or the impact on the harvest or on roads and bridges, etc.

GW: Where are most of your customers located?

Customers are worldwide. We’re preparing ourselves for the growing season here in the northern hemisphere while now we’re doing a lot of work in the southern hemisphere.

The key for our system in Brandenburg is to work with larger customers who then have long term contracts. There is also an interest for smaller companies or even individuals to access our data, so therefore, RapidEye is in the process of working on an electronic e-commerce platform (the RapidEye Kiosk) which would allow smaller customers to gain access to our data. We’re starting to fill our library, as we image areas. We need to get a stock of imagery so we can provide this to our customers.

According to company literature, in addition, the company is assembling a worldwide network of distributors to make it easy for customers to access RapidEye's products in their own language and region. These partnerships should be completed later this year.

Top News of the Week

The economic stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed into law last week by President Obama includes more than $73 billion in programs that will require geospatial data, technology, services and applications in at least 24 Federal agencies, according to an analysis by
MAPPS , the association of geospatial firms.

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-- Susan Smith, Managing Editor.

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