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Research into the value of satellite-derived Earth Observation capabilities to UK Government

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This is to announce the launch of an independent economic study by London Economics. It is the first comprehensive insight into the current and near-term value of satellite-derived Earth Observation (EO) capabilities to UK government for civil and domestic purposes.

Addressing an information gap

Due to little pre-existing information in this area beyond meteorology, we commissioned the study to address the gap and gain insight into the subsequent value to industry as suppliers of EO data and applications to government.

The information is also intended to provide evidence for co-ordination of EO exploitation across government.

A focus on nine domestic civil use cases

The study concentrates on nine domestic civil use cases and these include: Agriculture, Atmosphere, Built Environment, Coastal Management, Flood Management, Forestry, Meteorology, Maritime and Transport Systems.

The importance of evidence

The values are presented as estimates and represent what EO capabilities offer UK government, economically, over alternative methods within the use cases. All values are based on evidence of use and in the case of potential values, evidence of demand and supply.

The value estimates are constrained by the availability of evidence. Whilst comprehensive research was carried out, limitations to time and resource prevented full investigation of use among devolved administrations and local authorities for example, or consultations with all industry members.

Satellite image of the United Kingdom from space, Image source: Met Office and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Image courtesy of Met Office and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Highlights of key findings

Of the range of findings, here are some that stand out:

  • EO presents a nascent but buoyant and high growth market, globally
  • Across the nine use cases examined, the predominant EO use by government is in Meteorology; this represents 90% of the current value derived
  • Current government use in the other civil use cases is limited, variable and fragmented, if at all
  • Government users tend to make use of Sentinel data and process it in-house whilst little commercial data and few civil applications are currently procured for operational use
  • The current government market is fragmented. Findings suggest that there could be benefit from more co-ordination efforts to connect procurers of data and applications to providers
  • Government could treble direct value gains from greater EO use by 2020
  • Ongoing technological developments are driving the potential for EO use and indicate increasing EO value beyond 2020

The views of more than 60 individuals from government and industry

Over 60 individuals were consulted and these included members of relevant government departments, other stakeholders, independent experts and 16 industry workshop participants.

Stakeholder involvement

Innovate UK commissioned the study and formed part of the steering group together with members of the National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) and the UK Government Earth Observation Service (UK GEOS). A range of other key stakeholders including the UK Space Agency (UKSA) were consulted and provided feedback at the review stage.

The opportunity for Earth Observation

The overall global market for EO is projected to grow to a staggering $66 billion[1] by 2020.  With increasing capabilities in EO, the UK is well positioned to capture a leading share of this market. If the government can derive value from more use of EO, now or in the future, it could become an important customer and thereby help catalyse greater UK sector growth, internationally.

How can government derive value from Earth Observation developments?

If government is to derive benefit from future EO developments and at the same time, help stimulate greater growth of the UK EO sector, there needs to be greater ongoing engagement with industry particularly through the R&D to operations phase. This will give government more understanding of what EO offers now and in the future; equally it will enable industry to better understand government requirements so that developments can be steered accordingly, where viable to do so.

The Space for Smarter Government Programme (SSGP) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) EO Centre of Excellence are initiatives which have already started the engagement process with government and pave the way for further development.

The need for cross-government co-ordination

This, in turn, calls for co-ordination across government to consolidate requirements and points of engagement with industry for EO and other geospatial data sets. In addition, co-ordination of EO practitioners across government, research and academia will enable government to become an increasingly well informed and proactive customer, building on the UK GEOS concept.

Further steps for development

There is the opportunity for greater use of existing tools including downstream R&D programmes to enable R&D efforts to be directed to government requirements.

There could also be consideration given to a strategic infrastructure to facilitate access to and use of exploitable data for users and application developers; this could enable greater integration with other complementary geospatial data sets.

Ultimately, a repeat assessment of EO use and value to government and industry in three years’ time is recommended.


[1] London Economics / Geospatial Media and Communications (2018). Geobuiz: Geospatial Industry Outlook & Readiness Index, 2017 edition.


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