Today’s satellite capture is continuous

In a recent Wall Street Journal column, American analyst, investor, and all-around businessman Andy Kessler detailed a state-of-the-art satellite imaging company called Maxar Technologies. What makes Maxar interesting? They are already mapping the world continuously: The company’s satellites circle the planet every 94 minutes to capture meter-accurate data for 3.5 million square kilometers of terrain. On top of that, they have no less than 17 years of images and point clouds—120 petabytes of data—stored away on Amazon’s servers.

Upgrading to a digital twin

The big news is that Maxar has just sunk $600 million into six new satellites, with plans to start launches in Sept 2021. These satellites will get Maxar 50% more coverage and improve data accuracy to a third of a meter. In short, it will help the company create what president Dan Jablonsky calls a “digital twin of the planet” that is updated “almost in real time.”

Why does it matter?

Before the upgrade, Maxar’s data was already in high demand by a number of government and commercial customers. That list includes the military (no surprise there), a number of news outlets, Esri’s ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World, and Google Maps, who use it to track changes like how many shops in a strip mall turn over every year.

With their new satellites providing a nearly real-time digital twin of the planet, Maxar thinks they will be able to grow that list and move into even more markets. Think autonomous vehicle navigation, optical aircraft navigation, drone location and navigation, and gaming (like Pokémon Go).

Early days

It’s important to remember that much of this is still speculative. Though the mapping technology to create a digital twin of the Earth exists, it remains uncertain who will use the data, and for what purposes. And, as Kessler notes, it’s possible that the market for will develop in a different direction, with competition from companies that use low-orbit satellites to offer similar data at a lower cost.