I was a very minor player in the space race. Not the race between global super powers in the 50s and 60s, but the race in the 90s to put the first high-resolution commercial imaging satellite into orbit. It was an exciting time. Private companies consisting of just a couple hundred people had the audacious vision that they could build satellites, launch them, construct a network of ground stations, and collect sufficient imagery to create a detailed, searchable database of the globe. It was easy to believe that putting the planet online could change the world, touching an enormous range of human endeavors spanning agriculture, defense, human rights, mineral extraction, disaster response, urban planning and construction.
We had actual rocket scientists among our ranks, but the guys who were really crossing into uncharted territory were the ones building the imagery repositories. The data management, data protection, and archive technologies of the day were pushed to the limit to handle the immense volume of data we anticipated would soon be streaming down from space.
Flash forward to today and the GEOINT2013* (the asterisk is a nod to the delay caused by the federal government shutdown last fall). Today DigitalGlobe has a constellation of five satellites in orbit, collecting over one billion square kilometers of imagery annually, and more on the way. Meanwhile UrtheCast is planning to put cameras on the International Space Station that will offer a free, web-accessible near-live feed I know I’ll want to access, Skybox Imaging has plans to launch more than 24 satellites roughly the size of dorm refrigerators and capable of collecting sub-meter resolution imagery with integrated analytics, and Planet Labs recently deployed a “flock” of 28 shoebox-sized Dove satellites capable of delivering 4 meter resolution or better imagery. In addition, there were probably a half-dozen companies at GEOINT promoting drones designed to capture full-motion imagery.
Geospatial data is now both richer and more abundant than ever. The technical challenges associated with capturing data, processing it, preserving it, and enabling collaboration have grown as new applications for geospatial data continue to emerge. Consider that just last month the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was crowdsourced, with nearly 4 million volunteers viewing more than 120,000 square kilometers of high-res satellite imagery. Every pixel was viewed by at least 10 volunteers.
Quantum’s StorNext 5 scale-out storage and Lattus object storage products play key roles in making creative applications for geospatial data come to life, with use cases for global collaboration, geospatial archive and full motion imagery. Not rocket science? Perhaps, but still pretty cool.