UK satellite data to improve public service delivery

By on 02/11/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Satellite image overlaid with pavement width data, used as part of a project to identify suitable places for electric vehicle charging points (Image courtesy: Energeo Ltd).

High-resolution satellite images will help the UK public sector tackle issues such as plastic waste and city planning, the government has announced.

The UK Space Agency’s Space for Smarter Government Programme (SSGP) will provide thousands of free images and radar data to government departments, emergency services and local councils.

The data will be available for up to three years while the government explores how it could benefit public sector delivery. Announcing the plans in late October, 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.”

Eye in the sky

The high-definition images beamed down from space have less than 15% cloud cover and show UK cities, transport networks and infrastructure in unprecedented detail. The data has been obtained from Airbus Defence and Space and Telespazio-Vega UK Ltd.

Sara Huntingdon, the UK Space Agency’s SSGP Manager, said Airbus was effectively providing “a colour camera in space”.

She said: “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.”

Applications on the ground

As well as benefitting the public sector, the government hopes the programme will boost jobs and growth in the UK space sector, which currently employs around 40,000 people.

Simon Agass of the Satellite Applications Catapult, which is working with the UK Space Agency to deliver this project, said: “This could be transformational for government services in the UK and ultimately provide a platform for the export of satellite-derived services for governments across the globe.”

Bournemouth Borough Council has been involved in an early pilot scheme, using the detailed images alongside machine learning techniques to help plan out where to put electric car charging points across the city. And the Environment Agency has been exploring how it could help to monitor and tackle offshore plastic pollution.

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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