Existing in 2014-2015, the forecast that by 2020 global satellite coverage of the entire Earth would be performed daily turned out to be unfounded. Much of this was linked to the emergence of numerous startups. In particular, the company Planet, which owns approximately 150 Earth observation satellites in orbit, claimed to be creating a global constellation for Earth observation satellites and the capability for daily global coverage.

Planet closely collaborates with U.S. intelligence and military organizations, and recently the company concluded that these agencies require high-resolution imagery. Products with resolutions of 3-5 meters ceased to be popular, prompting Planet to reduce the orbit height of its SkySat satellites, enabling them to capture images with resolutions around 50 cm. Additionally, Planet announced the creation of the largest constellation of nanosatellites, SuperDoves, which provide resolutions no greater than 50 cm.

However, as of May 2020, no existing constellation was capable of achieving daily global coverage. Furthermore, many companies began revising such plans due to lack of interest from users.

Another opinion from 5-6 years ago was that higher competition would lead to lower costs for Earth observation data. On one hand, this was expected—competition should ensure more favorable pricing. In practice, however, Earth observation data providers prefer a partnership business model. This involves a specific agreement among an alliance or consortium of companies to accomplish a particular task, without creating a separate legal entity. An example is the consortium of high and very high-resolution satellite operators that united several years ago to fulfill tasks for the European Space Agency's coverage of the entire territory of Europe and continue to provide this coverage (Airbus, Planet, Deimos, etc.). The cost of Earth observation data has remained the same as in 2015, and in some companies, it has even increased. When it comes to large delivery volumes, the price list is no longer applicable, and a completely different pricing offer comes into play.

It's worth noting that there have been changes in the relationships between operator companies and resellers compared to the partnership models of 2015. Major Earth observation satellite operators like Maxar and Airbus are reducing the number of resellers to work more closely with those who provide larger sales volumes or services. In turn, new operators strive to collaborate with a larger number of resellers to ensure wide recognition.

There were many claims that the market demand for new imagery would constitute less than 2% of the total market volume. It turned out to be the opposite. Today, more and more consumers are requesting not just new imagery, but new imagery delivered very quickly. For some solutions, the delivery speed must be no more than 45 minutes, and sometimes even less than 30 minutes, regardless of whether it is direct download or delivery via the "cloud." Customers, especially from maritime intelligence, disaster monitoring, and similar industries, need new imagery with quality coverage and high delivery speed.

As of September 2019, the Earth observation data market volume amounted to $1.5 billion, of which 67% was provided by Maxar and Airbus (according to Euroconsult data reports). The market is steadily growing, and Euroconsult forecasts it will reach $2.1 billion by 2028.

The services market is also developing actively. As of September 2019, it amounted to $3.4 billion. The largest share belongs to various services for infrastructure applications and environmental monitoring (including agriculture, nature conservation areas, and forestry). According to forecasts, by 2028, the market volume will almost double, reaching $5.9 billion.

In 2015, the first satellite constellations consisting of five satellites emerged. They were mainly owned by companies like DigitalGlobe, BlackBridge (now part of Maxar Technologies), Airbus, and E-Geos. These companies had both identical satellite constellations (where satellites were launched simultaneously) and those composed of various satellites launched at different times, managed like a virtual constellation (as with DigitalGlobe). In 2015, the company 21AT launched the Triplesat constellation of three very high-resolution satellites, which is still active today.

Five years ago, the medium-resolution Earth observation data market was gaining momentum, with BlackBridge's RapidEye constellation leading the way. RapidEye was a breakthrough, the first microsatellite constellation highly demanded for ecological monitoring, forestry, and agriculture monitoring, among other sectors. In addition to BlackBridge, there were several other companies planning to create large satellite constellations (Planet Labs, AxelSpase, BlackSkyGlobal, and many others, including "Gazprom Space Systems"). Today, many of them provide services based on free Earth observation data.

The Sentinel-2 satellite, launched in 2015, provided Earth observation data for free, and there was a belief that these free data would lead to the demise of the commercial remote sensing market. However, this did not happen; instead, many companies started offering more interesting solutions in data processing and service creation. As a result, the analytical solutions market in the Earth observation data sector has overtaken raw data sales in monetary terms.

What does the current global Earth observation data market look like?

It is customary to divide it into several segments based on spatial resolution of images.

1. Very high-resolution Earth observation data market (from 30 cm to 1 m).

In this segment, as in the entire market, the leaders are the two largest companies—Maxar and Airbus. They provide almost 70% of the total Earth observation satellite data market volume, utilizing state-of-the-art technologies and offering interesting solutions.

The closest competitors in this segment are companies like Spacewill, Planet (which entered the very high-resolution market with the SkySat constellation). Companies like 21AT (China), SIIS (Korea), ISI (Israel), and others are also in this segment.

New players are also emerging. CG Satellite (China), which entered the international market only a few months ago, plans to offer very interesting solutions based on its own constellation, including not only very high-resolution satellites but also video satellites and radar satellites—a very promising offer for the international data market, if not today, then definitely in the near future.

2. High-resolution (1 to 2.5 m) and medium-resolution (2.5 to 20 m) Earth observation data market.

In this segment, the leaders are Airbus with its Spot constellation, which has an extensive archive of data, and Planet with its Dove constellation.

New entrants in the market include companies like Axelspace and Orbita Aerospace, which is deploying a constellation of 12 satellites with hyperspectral equipment at a spatial resolution of 10 m.

Axelspace operates the AxelGlobe satellite constellation. In 2015, the company decided to create its own microsatellite constellation and planned to launch over 50 satellites. Based on customer demand, the first GRUS-1A satellite was launched in 2018, with four more satellites planned for 2020, and the constellation will continue to expand annually. The AxelGlobe constellation specification resembles the RapidEye constellation but with improved spatial resolution (2.5 m panchromatic, 5 m multispectral, 55 km swath). By the end of 2020, a constellation of five satellites will provide daily coverage in some parts of the Earth.

In early April 2020, the supply of data from the RapidEye constellation ceased, Airbus announced that the Spot program would not continue, and Planet definitively transitions to the very high-resolution segment, with uncertainty about whether it will develop a constellation with a resolution of 3-5 meters.

3. Radar Remote Sensing Data Market.

Significant developments have been made by companies that provide data from radar satellites. Recently, E-Geos, a long-time leader in this segment, launched a new generation of Cosmo-SkyMed satellites, identical to the first-generation models. Since the first constellation is still operational, consumers can receive information from eight satellites at once. In 2019, Maxar launched a constellation of three radar satellites, Radarsat Constellation.

In addition, the provision of data from video satellites, meteorological satellites, and various spatial data services is developing.

Today, commercial providers of remote sensing data overlook one important fact: mass interest in space imagery arises only when some data is distributed under an open license and for free. Neither Maxar, Airbus, nor anyone else is willing to provide their data for free, as is the case, for example, with Landsat or Sentinel data. The use of Landsat data became widespread only after they became available for free. Sentinel was originally created for free data distribution, which outstripped Landsat in terms of requests. Customers want remote sensing data that is simultaneous, super-accurate, cloud-free, and in large volumes, supporting any software. Moreover, it would be good to receive services and answers to all sorts of questions daily, in real-time mode, and at minimal cost, ideally for free!

As of today, such wishes are unattainable. Therefore, both customers and remote sensing data providers face the question of what to choose. The answer to this question depends on the specific customer, their financial, technological, and time resources, the availability of specialists, software, and other factors. It is not always necessary to turn to unconditional leaders like Maxar and Airbus, demanding huge discounts from their representatives if other data sources are suitable for solving your tasks.

Read about where and how to view and download satellite images for free in our article.