Clark Nelson, is Vice President for Sales and Marketing at SPOT Image Corporation, U.S. subsidiary of the French company Spot Image, the commercial operator of the SPOT Earth observation satellites, the first of which was placed in orbit in 1986.He
proudly pointed out to me that his
company was the first commercial remote sensing company in the world.In his
view, the beginning of the commercial provision of satellite imagery, previously the exclusive purview of governments, marked a historical turning point.Nelson
says that "the center of the [remote sensing] universe shifted back to the United States with the launch of the high resolution satellites" in the 1990s."Recently, the most significant fact is the emergence of the U.S. government as the partner of the commercial companies.This is a very, very important milestone for the industry."For traditional companies the cost of entry into this market is just too great.In Europe, Spot
is a public-private partnership with the French government; in the United States, GeoEye (ORBIMAGE's new name after it recently bought Space-Imaging) and DigitalGlobe are also, in effect, public-private partnerships, because of their large government contracts.
The aerial photography and satellite imagery businesses differ, according to Nelson
, in two key respects.First, the cost of entry is much lower for aerial photography.Therefore, there are hundreds of aerial companies, as opposed to a handful of satellite providers.Second, aerial photography is limited as to geographic coverage but provides higher resolution than satellites.On the whole, the two segments "complement each other nicely."
The aerial photography market is "reconfiguring itself," Nelson
told me. For example, some companies are now investing in the very expensive aerial digital sensors and then leasing them to other companies.As the industry shifts from film to digital, some companies will be able to make the switch, some will merge, and some will fold.
Google Earth has had a "profound effect" on the industry, Nelson