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Microspace Technology Enables All Countries to Reap the Benefits of National Earth Observation Programs

The September 2020 launch of the NEMO-HD microsatellite built by Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) added Slovenia to the growing list of relatively small countries that have developed their own national Earth observation programs. Even with the widespread availability of image data from numerous commercial organizations, many countries without existing space programs are leveraging cost-effective microspace technology to ensure they reap the benefits of space-borne remote sensing.

SFL built the NEMO-HD microsatellite in response to a competitive RFP issued by SPACE-SI of Slovenia. Measuring just 60x60x30 centimeters, NEMO-HD captures 2.8-meter resolution high-definition multispectral imagery and video for use in a variety of applications. NEMO-HD is the first satellite mission developed by Slovenia.

For countries of any geographic size or economic status, the advantages of owning and operating a remote sensing program dedicated to serving their own national interests are many, yielding both direct and indirect returns on investment. Consider the following:

Guaranteed Data Access – In the event of an incident that could take commercial imaging systems offline, restrict access to image data, or limit acquisition tasking, countries with their own orbiting platforms are always first in line to capture and receive imagery for any area of interest whenever practical. A sovereign nation cannot be dependent on another for access to vital image data.

Enhanced National Security – In times of crisis and peace, Earth observation satellites provide the ultimate in situational awareness by continuously monitoring a nation’s entire territory, its borders, waters, and airspace. Timely delivery of imagery gives insights into what is occurring within its borders and in the surrounding region with accuracy that no other information source can provide.

Improved Natural Resource Management – Satellite imagery enables national governments to continuously monitor the status of their natural resources to ensure they are being used, or consumed, in responsible manners. As natural and manmade activities impact these resources, the imagery delivers an unbiased view of the situation at a given point in time as well as revealing change over longer time periods, so the appropriate authorities can make well-informed decisions to remedy the problem.

Fast Disaster Response – In the aftermath of a natural disaster, effective response requires fast access to information regarding the situation on the ground. Satellite imagery is often the best way to acquire such information. But precious hours and days can be lost waiting for a third-party satellite to capture, process, and deliver the desired image data. Direct control over the entire image collection and delivery workflow is the only way to ensure critical information reaches first responders and incident commanders in a timely fashion.

Greater Economic Prosperity – In the long run, a national Earth observation program can cost less than continuous purchases of image data from a third party. In addition to these direct economic savings, there are indirect payouts as well. Imagery is the cornerstone used by many government agencies to plan for future land development to be carried out in ways that are environmentally sustainable and cost-effective, saving considerable money in the long term.

Potential Revenue Stream – The global demand for high-quality image data is almost insatiable, giving national remote sensing programs the option to sell their data sets at commercial products on the open market. This sale of raw data and imagery products can help underwrite the cost of the program.
In the next blog, we will discuss why microspace technologies – specifically small satellites – make national Earth observation programs so accessible.