Back in March 2019, the UK Space Agency announced that free satellite data was to be made available to help tackle public sector challenges by using space technologies as part of its #SmarterGov campaign. The campaign was launched to drive innovation, savings and public service improvement across the public sector.
Two months post this announcement, the UK Space Agency, NHS England and the European Space Agency (ESA) are collaborating to provide funding for projects aimed at the real-time diagnosis of bowel cancer and freedom from air pollution.
Simon Agass, Applications Lead at the UK Space Agency explains how the government is fully exploiting the power of technology and data to deliver world-class services in the UK by using space technologies.
What data has been made available?
The data that has been procured through the UK Space Agency’s Space for Smarter Government Programme Data Initiative are different types of Earth Observation data, including both Optical and Radar. All of the data can be used for planning, development and environmental applications. The data is not designed or acquired for one specific application, but rather to help demonstrate what is possible to achieve with Earth Observation data from space.
What has demand for this data been like from the public sector?
There has been a very positive response from the public sector to the data being made available. We currently have 70 unique public sector organisations, as well as 120 individuals in the process of signing up to use the data.
How has the public sector benefited from the data?
We are at a very early stage as organisations are just starting to use the data we are making available. However the feedback we are getting is that just having access to and being able to use high-resolution Earth Observation data is a great benefit as this has not previously been possible in such an open and cross-cutting way.
How are the private and education sectors using this data?
The data is being used in many different ways, we have everything from identifying cycle networks and monitoring traffic and changes in the network through to monitoring woodland the creation of living labs being proposed.
What have been the outcomes from the use of this data?
At this time it is too early to identify individual outcomes, but one important general outcome of the programme has been to identify the level of interest in using high resolution satellite imagery by the public sector to support everyday processes, such as research and development into planning policy, to assist naming and numbering of streets, street care, coastal management and cliff erosion, forest canopy monitoring and management and greenspace management.
How do you think this approach will boost the UK’s space supremacy?
This approach is only set to boost the UK’s growing space sector, which already employs nearly 42,000 people and provides £14.8 billion of income. The UK has a history of rapidly adopting geospatial technologies and we see this being no different. The level of interest we have had from the UK public sector demonstrates the willingness, enthusiasm and need of the public sector to adopt new technologies to meet the needs of 21st century government.
This is the first initiative of its type that has set out to meet the needs of the public sector centrally with the use of space technologies, and will demonstrate the need for, and drive the creation of applications and services that can not only meet the needs of the UK public sector, but that can be exported, making the UK a focal point for the space derived applications industry.