Satellites aren’t the only systems “darkening the skies.” At a lower altitude, unmanned aerial systems (UAS) also are taking off—literally.

“Advances in SmallSats have the potential for long-term and cost-efficient impacts … but much is still to be explored,” said John Leslie, spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which regulates commercial remote sensing on behalf of the U.S. government. “We’d [therefore] recommend expanding the imagery discussion beyond satellites to include the airborne and UAS data providers. Having a broad spectrum of capabilities that are flexible will best serve NOAA and other users.”

At first glance lies a classic technological struggle between two platforms competing for dominance: Blu-ray vs. HD DVD, Mac vs. PC, Xbox vs. PlayStation, spaceborne vs. airborne imagery and data. In reality, what’s emerging is a system of complementary rather than competitive data sources, according to Kevin O’Connell, president and CEO of Innovative Analytics & Training and co-author of U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing Satellite Industry: An Analysis of Risks.

While UAS offer superior resolution, linear tracking, and sensor diversity, satellites offer wide area coverage, seamless revisits, and lower operating costs.

“What we’re seeing is the emergence of a global geospatial ecosystem,” O’Connell said. “I typically don’t like that word—‘ecosystem’—but in this case it works. We have a multitude of capabilities that are going to be available to a widespread set of users, and they’re going to choose in that marketplace just like we choose when we go to any other marketplace the data that is most pertinent to their needs.”

Feature image courtesy of Urthecast

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