Paris-based Defense and Space is hoping to further eat into DigitalGlobe ’s domination of the U.S. market for commercial satellite imagery with a new product called WorldDEM.
The company boasts that the WorldDEM , a synthetic aperture radar-based digital elevation model ( DEM ) of the Earth , will far surpass its earlier products by delivering data with 12-meter-per-pixel resolution , says Bernhard Brenner , the company ’s head of geospatial intelligence . The product is “seamless,” meaning no gaps in the collection swaths . Of the company ’s goal to take on DigitalGlobe , potentially with U.S. customers , Brenner says: “It will be a nice fight this year.”
The company unveiled WorldDEM at the 10th annual Geoint conference in Tampa , Fla. , on April 15.
WorldDEM products will be derived from a global database of synthetic aperture radar ( SAR ) imagery collected by the TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X satellites (built through a joint venture by EADS Astrium, now Airbus, and the German Aerospace Center , DLR ). The pair of satellites have surveyed the entire globe from the North Pole to the South Pole , Brenner says. The spacecraft have collected data across the world twice, with particularly rugged areas seeing up to an additional two passes , company officials say. They fly in a close formation —sometimes 200 meters (650 ft.) apart—to collect the data bistatically.
Brenner says that the WorldDEM product comes close to the fidelity of Lidar products , which provide very-high-resolution terrain information . Lidar , however, is generally a local-area product while WorldDem encompasses the entire globe , and Brenner says it costs about 10 times as much to produce.
This focus by Washington on developing high-end SAR products has squelched efforts by some in industry to start a U.S.-based commercial SAR sector . Consequently, the most activity in this market is taking place in Europe and Israel.
WorldDEM products are itemized in three areas . The “ core ” product would provide unprocessed data . The WorldDEM product would include processed information to show elevations of buildings and natural features . Finally, a “ true Earth ” option , still in development , would include data on the Earth after analysts remove vegetation and man-made objects such as trees and buildings.
Airbus does not yet have a customer for WorldDEM products , but expects to have one signed by year’s end , Brenner says.
Meanwhile, DigitalGlobe , the sole U.S. commercial satellite imagery provider , is responding with a new agreement with Canada-based MDA to sell commercial imagery products to their respective governments and customers . The electro-optical products would come from DigitalGlobe ’s fleet of satellites , while MDA ’s Radarsat-2 SAR products would come from MDA.
Letitia Long , director of the U.S. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency , notes that SAR data has been valuable for U.S. officials . “We certainly use SAR data and we use it extensively,” she says. The government has acknowledged it has a fleet of classified radar satellites capable of collecting high-resolution SAR imagery , though details have been kept secret.