The global value of sharing satellite data

Our planet is surrounded by remote-sensing satellites and today’s technologies are triggering a golden age for Earth exploration. Cloud computing is slashing data storage and computing costs, while artificial intelligence is making image analysis and processing much faster – but this data must be shared.

By 36Kr

In 1858, French photographer Gaspard-Félix Tournachon took to the skies in a hot air balloon to shoot birds-eye photos of Paris, marking the moment when people began to record the world from the air. For centuries, we’ve observed and revealed the mysteries of the planet by painstaking observation. Today, we live on a planet surrounded by remote-sensing satellites, with new technologies driving growth and innovation in Earth exploration. 

sharing satellite data

More eyes in the sky

Today you can select any particular date and location and observe the changes that have taken place there over time, all by a roll of your mouse wheel. Underpinning this ability is the increasing number of eyes watching the world. Satellites with remote-sensing technology cover huge surface areas and produce enormous volumes of data. They’re a vital way of obtaining spatial geographic information, and the observational data they produce has masses of potential applications.

In the past, Wall Street fund managers used remote-sensing satellites to monitor parking lots at department stores, supermarkets, and restaurant chains to help gain an edge in the market. Most remote-sensing services, however, are used for public services like monitoring land or geological disasters. In fact, 90 percent of consumption in the remote-sensing market comes from government departments.

China first ventured into the remote-sensing field in the 1970s. Since then the technology has continued to develop and cover more applications, including approving land use and registering real estate, national surveys and environmental improvements, the Belt and Road initiative, and smart cities.

Remote-sensing satellite technology is also playing an essential role in tackling climate change, disaster prevention and response, and agriculture. 

Sharing data with the world

Since the beginning of the 21st century, remote-sensing data has increased at the terabyte scale every day. And this data needs to be used efficiently to maximize its value and returns on the huge investments required.

However, we need to remove restrictions on sharing data and applications and enable real-time sharing services. A number of international organizations are actively promoting the sharing of remote-sensing data from satellites, leading to the gradual establishment of a large-scale alliance and sharing system between organizations and nations.

On November 6, 2019, at GEO (Group on Earth Observation) Week 2019 in Australia, China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced the launch of CNSA-GEO, a data-sharing platform for CNSA's Gaofen 16-m resolution satellite, plus a new data policy to make data from the satellite available to global users. 

While this might seem like a typical data sharing scheme, it nevertheless has tremendous significance for humanity by raising capabilities for addressing climate change and preventing and mitigating disasters – a move that has been lauded by the international community. Data from the Gaofen 16-m resolution satellite represents important technical support for a range of applications. These include: 

  • Surveying and monitoring resources
  • Monitoring and evaluating the environment
  • Monitoring disasters and emergency response 
  • Developing applications relating to climate change, agriculture, and rural areas
  • CConducting research in Earth science

The data also provides key support for sustainable development in other countries, especially emerging economies. Since the data was made available, users can view three types of data from the satellite on the CNSA-GEO platform: historical archive data; a global coverage map based on the archived data; and 16-m resolution data, which is updated daily.

From above the clouds to the cloud

The growth of any technology depends on the benefits it brings and the expertise accumulated in many technologies. In recent years, ICT like cloud computing, AI, and 5G have disrupted traditional industries at an unprecedented rate. And the remote-sensing satellite industry is no exception. With the expanding application of remote-sensing satellite data in various sectors, data – that is, the combined data of multiple industries – will be shared more openly. This will help create new business models and strengthen the industry ecosystem. However, the massive increase in satellite data on the petabyte scale on a daily basis will pose huge challenges in model training, security, and cost.

The Huawei Cloud Remote-sensing Intelligent Agent is a one-stop smart remote-sensing cloud platform. Its functions include data access, model orchestration, and extraction algorithms for geographical objects, visualization, and online development. The agent also enables data management through data and computing platforms that can help users extract the core value from spatiotemporal data. 

Built with Huawei's Ascend chips and Kunpeng server, the intelligent agent delivers exabyte-level scalable storage capabilities, ultra-large-scale parallel computing power, and a high-performance AI-based one-stop development platform, reducing the development cycle to days. Boasting five 9s reliability, the solution provides the key technologies needed to support the industrialization of remote-sensing.

Cloud and AI are essential to making China's Gaofen 16-m resolution data available globally. CNSA’s Earth Observation and Data Center led overall design and O&M management, and HUAWEI CLOUD, Geovis, Pista, and the China Center for Resources Satellite Data and Application (CRESDA) jointly developed the system. A combination of technical resources enables the CNSA-GEO platform to handle massive data processing volumes and sharing in real time. Given that Gaofen covers the globe every 32 days, generates up to 1 TB of data per day, and features high concurrent visits to the platform from around the world, all data from the satellite data will be stored on cloud, including existing data and future updates.

Global users will be able to access the platform and download data online, and the website experience will be smoother with less stuttering, low latency, and stable download speeds. In less than 24 hours after it was launched, the platform handled nearly 200,000 visits. 

The CNSA-GEO platform means that HUAWEI CLOUD is an official cloud computing member of GEO in the sphere of Earth observation data.

The warmth of technology

In the future, China will continue working with GEO member countries and international organizations in research, training, education, data applications, and algorithms. It will build an ecosystem based on the Gaofen satellite and cloud platforms to fully integrate Gaofen satellite data and industry applications.

CNSA and HUAWEI CLOUD are working together to maximize the positive benefits and power of technology in various sectors like agriculture, environmental protection, resources, and disaster prevention. 

Technology shouldn’t just be about materialistic considerations and the cold commercial interests underpinning them. It should also work to protect civilization and add to our knowledge. HUAWEI CLOUD hopes to work with more partners in the future to spread the warmth of technology to more people.

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