Developments in Earth Observation and Environmental Management

The BBC has today revealed plans for an exciting development in remote sensing satellite imagery and its use in Earth observation. The new ‘DMC’ constellation of satellites, a set of three satellites designed to enable high resolution imagery of China in particular, will be launched by the UK company DMCii together with 21AT, based in Beijing.

The satellites will enable the production of images that have a resolution high enough to identify detail at the scale of a single square metre. In addition to fine resolution, the satellites will also allow the production of images that are broad and large in size.

Usually in this type of Earth observation there is a trade off between the size of the area pictured and the resolution of the image. A ground view of a larger area captured by a geostationary satellite for example would typically be at a lower resolution due to the very high altitude of this type of satellite. Higher resolutions are usually more easily achieved using polar orbiting satellites. These operate at lower altitudes and view a smaller portion of the Earth’s area at any one time, revisiting the same area in their orbit two or three times in one day.

Using three satellites, the DMC constellation will achieve multiple revisits to the same areas each day, allowing close monitoring of change over time. The satellites will therefore facilitate an important combination of temporal change and both high resolution and broad coverage of spatial change on the Earth’s surface.

The satellite technology itself will be owned by DMCii, with its operation and the use of data leased to 21AT and shared between the two companies. (Previously, DMCii had exclusive ownership and use of all its satellites). This operational structure is argued to be more commonly used in satellite communications and less so in Earth observation.

But for this new development, the importance of the deal between the two companies will be realized when the information produced is put into use. The images generated from the satellite data collected will be used for monitoring development and environmental change in China in particular. It will be used to aid land use planning, management of water and agriculture systems and urban planning and redevelopment in China in particular, a country whose population has reached over 1.3 billion. In addition to this, along with monitoring environmental degradation and the use of natural resources, experts hope the information yielded by the DMC satellites will be integral to new methods of natural disaster management and mitigation.

With these expectations in mind, it is hoped that the capacity of the technology will be increased to four or more satellites. Though the potential of the constellation will be discovered after its inception in 2014, it certainly remains an exciting development in the field of Earth observation technology and its uses.

To read more articles in the field of environmental management and change, development, technology and related fields, please see the ‘Articles, Resources and Publications’ Section of our website at www.tjc-oxford.com .

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