Satellite Constellations... Serving the Climate
Rolando Grandi, CFA, International Thematic Equities Manager
People have always been fascinated to see Earth from the sky. Since the first attempts by France’s Montgolfier brothers in 1783, Earth observation has now come full circle with the deployment of hundreds of satellite constellations. This booming industry is offering unprecedented opportunities to improve life on Earth – from space.
With practical applications for all sectors, from communications to healthcare to farming to insurance, Earth observation, an industry that’s expected to grow +8.5% per year from now until 2025, can help us meet immense global challenges. First in line? Tracking climate change and protecting biodiversity.
An Industry in Orbit
The Earth observation industry is in the throes of change. It has reinvented itself with satellite miniaturisation; near-Earth orbits (500 km vs. 35,000 km for traditional satellites), which drives down the cost of going into space; and artificial intelligence, for in-depth, detailed analysis of any changes detected. Space data – reliable, accurate and sent in real time – is now treated as key information with high added value. According to Euroconsult, the Earth observation satellite market could grow +16% by 2030.
Leading the pack in the US, PLANET deploys one of the largest constellations in low orbit, a fleet of more than 200 nanosatellites. Co-founded in 2010 by three former NASA employees, PLANET has just unveiled its new high-resolution satellite constellation, Pelican, which can circle the Earth – a revisit – up to 30 times a day. These 32 satellites, slated to launch in 2023, are designed to monitor natural disasters and track climate change. They will also be able to de-orbit at the end of their life. As one of NASA’s suppliers, MAXAR deploys what we consider unmatched expertise in very-high-resolution images. The company announced the launch of its WorldView Legion satellites starting in summer 2022: weighing 2,500 kg, these satellites can circle the Earth 15 times a day. With ever-improving optic and temporal resolutions, these satellites are used to monitor Earth in real time, specifically to track climate change.
Serving the Climate
In fact, space data can be a very powerful tool for the climate. Twenty-six of the 50 climate change tracking indicators identified by the UN are now being supplied by satellite imaging. The 110-satellite constellation of American company SPIRE can create a 3D atmospheric temperature, pressure and humidity model more than 10,000 times each day, which makes it possible to anticipate certain weather conditions – very useful for farmers, for example. The approximately three million shots of Earth taken every day by PLANET provide valuable information to its customers, whether it be the European Commission to protect biodiversity, the Amazon Conservation Association for mapping rainforest destruction in the Amazon, or EOMAP, the German-based expert in protecting aquatic environments. We think this booming industry will also be a priceless ally in the protection of marine biodiversity – one of the highest priorities, bound up with the climate issue.
Observing Earth to protect it better is a huge commitment, and leveraging satellite data has become a major economic and scientific challenge. The impact of this booming new industry, whose potential is yet largely untapped, will, without any doubt, impact our future.
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