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Outlook positive for remote sensing

Photonics Spectra
Jan 2010
Caren B. Les, caren.les@laurin.com

WELLESLEY, Mass. – The global value of remote sensing products is expected to reach $11 billion by 2014, up from an estimated $8.3 billion in 2009, with a compound annual growth rate of 6 percent, according to a report from BCC Research, a market analysis firm. The report, titled Remote Sensing Technologies and Global Markets (IAS022B), was published in October 2009.

“In the study, I looked at the remote sensing market from the perspective of four platforms for the instrumentation: spaceborne, airborne, terrestrial and aquatic,” said analyst James Wilson, author of the report. “To a large extent, the platform determines the type of instrumentation. Photonic and optical instrumentation are compatible with all four platforms.”

The product value of instruments for the largest segment – space-based satellite platforms, estimated to be worth $3.3 billion in 2009 – is expected to reach $4.4 billion in 2014, with a compound annual growth rate of 5.7 percent. The value of instruments for the second largest, the airborne aircraft-based platform, is expected to rise from an estimated $2.3 billion in 2009 to $3.1 billion in 2014, with a growth rate of 6.4 percent.

Instrument values for terrestrial and aquatic platforms are projected to have growth rates of 5 and 8.7 percent, respectively, from 2009 to 2014.

Among the basic types of photonics-based remote sensing instruments are cameras (film and digital), and laser, lidar, hyperspectral and multispectral.

Wilson said that the spaceborne platform segment is large for obvious reasons: superior height and unobstructed views. Satellite-based remote sensing instruments are used to collect imagery and other data from the Earth’s surface for various purposes.

“Also, from a business standpoint, the technology is mature, and the risks are insurable – you can plug a dollar value into a business plan. Satellite platforms can outperform expectations in terms of their ability to generate revenue by operating longer than their nominal lifetimes. Once the satellite and ground network are in place, a business can scale up with minimal human intervention. You see operators of space-based platforms expanding their business by absorbing aerial photography companies, and not the other way around,” he noted.

Land-use planning

Wilson divided the remote-sensing product market into 20 application areas, among which instruments used for land planning were projected to be the strongest performers, with a compound annual growth rate of 15.6 percent predicted from 2010 to 2014.

The land-planning application is expected to thrive, mostly because this area of remote sensing dovetails with geographic information services organizations, which are receiving funding through the US government’s American Recovery and Investment Act, he said. The act contains numerous programs that will speed the adoption of geographic information systems by state and local governments.

“Photonics/optical-based remote sensing has contributed to the systems in that it has provided an intuitive interface; for example, one might click on an online image of a house obtained through satellite imagery to get its sales and tax history,” he said.

“The funding will provide the needed financial impetus to put in place infrastructure that encourages further use of the systems as a revenue generator. Municipalities raise most of their revenue from taxes or noncompliance fines. Linking aerial and space imagery to geographic information services enables communities to improve tax collections by identifying parcels that are underassessed, such as a home with a swimming pool that was constructed without building permits,” he added.

This type of sensing also can improve the richness of information about locations. For example, Wilson said that there are companies that help identify the location of precious metal deposits on the basis of change in leaf color caused by the presence or absence of these metals.

“Challenges to the space-borne remote-sensing industry include surviving an era of reduced defense spending and dealing with the sorts of privacy issues that Google is now fighting,” he said.

Agriculture, public health

The values of remote sensing products used in agriculture and public health applications are expected to have compound annual growth rates of 11.7 percent each from 2010 to 2014. Growth rates in the single digits are projected for products used in oceanography, cartography, urban and suburban planning, intelligence gathering, disaster management, climate change studies, atmospheric research, forestry, border protection, natural hazard monitoring, weather forecasting, law enforcement, right-of-way management, hydrology and fresh water resources, land mine detection, and oil, gas and mineral exploration.

No growth is predicted for the products in archaeological or culture site protection, according to the report.


GLOSSARY
lidar
An acronym of light detection and ranging, describing systems that use a light beam in place of conventional microwave beams for atmospheric monitoring, tracking and detection functions. Ladar, an acronym of laser detection and ranging, uses laser light for detection of speed, altitude, direction and range; it is often called laser radar.
remote sensing
Technique that utilizes electromagnetic energy to detect and quantify information about an object that is not in contact with the sensing apparatus.
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