The world continues to get sharper in focus as a number of suppliers move closer towards offering imaging capabilities in the range 0.25-0.5m. This football-sized resolution is sufficient to resolve fine-scale infrastructure and objects such as solar panels, street furniture and land cover details. DigitalGlobe’s Worldview-3, following a relaxation of US Government constraints on the distribution of very high resolution imagery, set the bar with a resolution of 0.31m and is about to be joined by Worldview-4 in October this year, with similar resolution. While DigitalGlobe continues to lead the field in high spatial resolution for optical imaging, a number of other suppliers are now planning imaging in the sub-0.5m range. S I Imaging, who recently commenced commercial operations with their 0.55m resolution Kompsat-3A satellite (newly available in our EarthImages catalogue), are planning imaging at 0.3m resolution from 2021, while Japan hopes to achieve 0.25m resolution around the same time. Others are almost certainly on the drawing board.
Meanwhile, we should not lose sight of the fact that imaging radar has been available at 0.25m resolution for some time. The Airbus Terrasar-X satellite can image at 0.25m through cloud and darkness, and thus has a reliability in seeing targets that is not available to optical imagers. However, radar is not as intuitive to interpret, and so tends to be required along with an expert or at least some sophisticated analysis!
Given that we already have access to ultra-high resolution optical imagery from DigitalGlobe, what difference will these additional sources have for the user? Well, ultra-high resolution imagery will be available from different sources, so spreading pressure on tasking resources, and enhanced competition is usually good for consumers in terms of pricing. While not exactly opening the flood gates, this should enhance the supply of this high end imagery, with the associated benefit of improving chances of obtaining cloud-free imagery from the greater number of passes per day. The business and technical innovators in our industry will almost certainly continue to find applications of this ultra-high resolution imagery that no one has thought of before, and that can be inspiring to witness.