Innovation and changeDigital TransformationFree access to satellite data announced

Free access to satellite data announced

Government departments, emergency services and local authorities to receive free access to thousands of high-resolution satellite images of Britain to help tackle public sector challenges.

Government departments, emergency services and local authorities will receive free access to thousands of high-resolution satellite images of Britain, under plans announced by Science Minister Sam Gyimah.

The UK Space Agency’s Space for Smarter Government Programme (SSGP) will provide access to archives of images and radar data for research and development projects, forming part of the #SmarterGov campaign.

This will stimulate further growth in the UK’s world-leading space industry, which already employs around 40,000 people, while benefitting the public sector in areas such as planning and development.

The images, which offer sub 5m resolution with less than 15% cloud cover, will provide an unprecedented level of detail of major British cities, transport networks, national parks and energy infrastructure.

This type of satellite data is already being used in a number of pilot projects. It has been combined with machine learning techniques to help Bournemouth Borough Council identify the best locations for electric vehicle charge points across the city. While the Environment Agency is investigating the feasibility of using satellite images as a tool to monitor plastic pollution off Britain’s shoreline to support clean-up operations and protect wildlife.

Science Minister Sam Gyimah said: “From monitoring plastic pollution to supporting the next generation of electric vehicles, satellite imaging is transforming our society from the skies.

“This is a great example of how our modern Industrial Strategy’s support for our thriving space sector is spurring innovation, driving growth and further strengthening public services.”

Sara Huntingdon, the UK Space Agency’s SSGP Manager, said: “Until now there has been a perceived financial barrier to the public sector, academics and start-ups accessing high resolution data from satellites, so this is great news for the UK space sector.

“We hope it will break down barriers, enable rapid prototyping and stimulate the next wave of satellite enabled application development. We are trying something that has not been done before across the whole UK Government, and I am really excited to see the results.

“The images have been procured from Airbus Defence and Space and Telespazio-Vega UK Ltd. Airbus are providing high resolution optical imagery, effectively a colour camera in space, from its Spot and Pleiades satellites.”

The data will be available for up to three years to explore what role high resolution satellite data could have in public sector delivery. The project will also feed in to the recently established Geospatial Commission, set up by the government to maximise the value of all UK government data linked to location, and to create jobs and growth.

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