It’s Not Rocket Science: How the property sector can use the power of satellites

In this weeks guest blog, European Space Agency's Alan Cross discusses the use of space technologies within the property sector.

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From the moment we wake up, to the moment we arrive at our place of work, we interact with around 25 individual satellites in Space. Of course, as well as enabling the outside broadcasts we watch on the news over breakfast, satellites also underpin the routing and traffic avoidance apps that, in an ideal world, de-stress our commute, and provide unprecedented foresight into weather and climate conditions. Even with this in mind, it’s all too easy to think that ‘Space’ is something that only the richest governments can be involved in, but of the UKs £16.4bn space economy, more than two thirds comes from the innovative commercial use of data generated or relayed by satellites in orbit, and a further £360bn of GDP is directly supported by these services.  

Consider the property sector; SME ‘Orbital Witness’ employ satellite imagery to enable regular updates on construction sites anywhere on Earth, automatically red flagging issues such as boundary violations, accelerating due diligence enquiries, and enhancing and hastening insurance queries at reduced costs. Airbus provides a Geospatial Financial Hub that delivers flood and subsidence data at address level, as well as providing a peril assessment of a customer’s portfolio with geographic concentrations of existing risk exposure. They also use space based synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to monitor the ever changing height and shape of buildings under construction so that property insurers, lenders, and investors can keep an eye on developments of interest.  

Essentially, satellites can be divided into three categories: Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) such as GPS; Satellite Communications (SatCom); and Earth Observation (EO).  

We’re all familiar with GNSS, it guides us on road trips and allows us to track our takeaway deliveries, but these systems have also been used to provide live data concerning wind shear on tall structures, to provide clear, accurate routing for complex supply chains and logistics, and to ensure unparalleled security for high value assets and equipment, and in the coming years we will see accuracy for GNSS improve from metres, to centimetres. Satellite communication (SatCom) is currently undergoing a revolution, with cost effective high bandwidth, low latency capabilities now available that cover almost every inch of the planet. These new services employ a ‘plug-and-play’ approach, meaning that one only need point the hub-cap sized array at the sky (rather than employ a small army of technicians) and broadband speeds become available without the need for underground cables. There also exist dedicated Internet of Things (IoT) SatCom solutions, offering match box sized robust transmitters whose battery life is measure in years – ideal for getting small amounts of data in and out of remote, mobile, or otherwise inaccessible assets that might not always be able to rely on terrestrial mobile phone networks. Finally, as the cost of manufacturing sensors, and launching them into orbit, continues to plummet, hundreds of Earth Observation (EO) satellites as small as shoeboxes are now operated by an array of commercial entities, offering high resolution (30cm) data in the form of optical video, infrared, ultraviolet, and radar, which can revisit targets as frequently as every 24 hours. That means that changes in height, shape, boundaries, subsidence, temperature, moisture, even fallen trees or invasive structures or vehicles can be automatically detected to allow accelerated and informed decision making and actions. 

It’s a lot to take in, and there are far more use-cases out there that can highlighted here. Fortunately, both the UK and European space agency’s work together to support the development and uptake of satellite enabled services across all non-space sectors, and networks of experts are on hand to help you to understand the power of satellites, to sign post you to existing services and, should the opportunity arise, to support you in developing innovative new commercial applications for your sector. 

The space above our heads bristles with thousands of beacons, sensors, and transceivers, representing a treasure-trove of data and, in the right hands, competitive insights. In the coming decade or so, this number will grow to tens of thousands of satellites. Meanwhile, the UK is committed to doubling its space economy to 10% of the international market which, in the same time frame, could surpass a trillion USD. Whilst some of this growth will come from the sovereign development and launch of British built spacecraft and launch vehicles, more than two thirds will come from businesses like yours utilising and developing insightful products; combining your unique sector knowledge with the ever growing, ever present power of satellites. 

The property business is booming… and space means business.

This article first appeared in DQ Issue 20.

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