Digital infrastructureFree satellite data and images of Britain available for public sector projects

Free satellite data and images of Britain available for public sector projects

A trial of providing free satellite data to government departments, emergency services, and local authorities through SSGP has been announced by the agency

The UK Space Agency has announced that free satellite data will be made available to help tackle public sector challenges to anyone working in the UK public sector as part of its #SmarterGov campaign. The campaign has been launched to drive innovation, savings and public service improvement across the public sector.

Government departments, emergency services, and local authorities will get the archive of images and radar data for research and development projects. The facility will also be made available to industry and academia under the prerequisite that their work must meet a public sector need. The free satellite data has been made available by the UK Space Agency’s Space for Smarter Government Programme (SSGP).

Space supremacy

This new project is a part of the UK’s endeavors to boost its space program and reinvigorate the domestic space industry ecosystem, as the dispute between UK and EU intensified over Galileo post-Brexit and the UK was barred from accessing sensitive defense purpose signals.

Following this, Britain announced that it has earmarked £92 million to build its own GNSS that would rival Galileo. The announcement signaled Britain’s ambition to emerge as a heavyweight in the space sector.

The demand for satellite imagery offering sub 5m resolution with less than 15% cloud cover is expected to grow. This is owing to the increased utility and the governments’ focus on free satellite data.

Science Minister Sam Gyimah had announced in October last year that the programme will provide access to archives of images and radar data for research and development projects. This type of satellite data is already being used in a number of pilot projects.

Projects have been combined with machine learning techniques. This was to help Bournemouth Borough Council identify the best locations for electric vehicle charge points across the city. The Environment Agency is investigating the feasibility of using satellite images as a tool to monitor plastic pollution off Britain’s shoreline. This is to support clean-up operations and protect wildlife.

A similar programme, the Geovation Accelerator had returned for 2019. It was dedicated to supporting open innovation and collaboration using location and property data. This programme was backed by the Ordnance Survey and HM Land Registry partnership.

First of its kind

It is the first trial of its kind. The data is intended to benefit the public sector in areas such as planning and development and environmental monitoring. The arrangement will also boost growth in the UK’s world-leading space industry. The industry employs nearly 42,000 people as of now.

The free satellite data and images provide an unprecedented level of detail of major British cities. These include transport networks, national parks, and energy infrastructure.

This facility will increase familiarity and raising awareness within the public sector of what space data can do. Additionally, it will break down barriers to startups and small businesses entering the sector. It will also create opportunities for new collaborations with public sector bodies.

Sara Huntingdon, the UK Space Agency’s SSGP Manager, said: “The demand for this data is huge and we have already had more than 40 organisations pre-registering an interest.

“We are doing something new, which tries to break down barriers to innovation, and I can’t wait to see what ideas and projects arise. This data could open new doors for SMEs, enable rapid prototyping within government and stimulate the next wave of satellite enabled application development.”

Free satellite data for exploration

Commercial archives of images and radar data have been downloaded to a satellite data storage system (known as CEMS). This was after the award of two data contracts to Airbus, Defence and Space and Telespazio Vega UK Ltd in October 2018. CEMS run out of the Satellite Applications Catapult at the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire.

The archive data will be available for up to three years to explore. The possibilities are limitless on what role high-resolution satellite data could have in public sector delivery.

SSGP will run a number of events to stimulate application development, with details to be announced in the coming months. These will encourage new entrants into the space applications sector and establish new connections with the government. Moreover, it will provide early feedback on requirements and emerging demand to inform future application development activities.

Providing the public sector with this free satellite data is an example of the government fully exploiting the power of technology and data. This will push them towards delivering world-class services.

Those interested can apply at ssgp@ukspaceagency.gov.uk.

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