Successful IKONOS Launch Offers New Source of GIS Data

by Brian Soliday, Space Imaging

-The IKONOS remote sensing satellite launched last fall by Esri Business partner Space Imaging has successfully completed its system checkout phase and is now collecting one-meter resolution imagery for commercial spatial data customers around the world.

Those who saw the first IKONOS image, collected September 30, 1999, were amazed at its sharpness and detail. Clearly visible were individual trees, automobiles, road networks, and houses. GIS users are more anxious than ever to load IKONOS imagery into their systems where it can be enhanced, rectified, and integrated with other spatial data to yield valuable new geographic information.

"Together, GIS software and IKONOS imagery can provide terrific visual information products that will be valuable to Businesses and eventually to consumer markets," said John Copple, chief executive officer of Space Imaging, Thornton, Colorado.

IKONOS acquires panchromatic imagery with one-meter spatial resolution and multispectral imagery at four meters. With ground control, the imagery boasts a two-meter horizontal and three-meter vertical accuracy, equivalent to 1:2,400-scale map standards. The satellite's ability to swivel in orbit enables it to collect imagery anywhere on earth with a revisit frequency of just one-and-a-half days.

"The spatial resolution and currency of the IKONOS data are the factors GIS users will find the most valuable," said Esri President Jack Dangermond. "It's important for Esri clients to know that current versions of ArcInfo and ArcView GIS software are capable of handling IKONOS imagery right now."

IKONOS satellite color image of area near San Diego, California This four-meter resolution color image near San Diego, California, was collected October 7, 1999, by Space Imaging's IKONOS satellite. The image shows new and existing housing developments, new construction, open space, a highway intersection, and roads. Imagery such as this could help city managers plan new development, conduct urban growth studies, and manage stormwater runoff; it could help transportation companies plan new road networks and conduct environmental impact studies; and it could help GIS professionals do parcel mapping, create tax basemaps, and do zoning assessments. (Credit

Space Imaging and Esri have worked closely in recent years to ensure complete compatibility between IKONOS data formats and the Esri software line. Esri clients new to satellite imagery will be pleased to learn their software can ingest, enhance, and classify IKONOS imagery and utilize it just like any other data layer in a GIS analysis. For sophisticated image processing of photography, users can also work with Esri Business partner ERDAS and its software.

"Esri has made the image processing and analysis tools in its software so easy to use that any GIS customer can extract valuable information from IKONOS imagery with minimal training," said Copple.

IKONOS satellite color image of hurricane flood damage in North Carolina This four-meter resolution color image of hurricane flood damage in North Carolina was collected October 22, 1999, by Space Imaging's IKONOS satellite. The striking image shows the impact of flooding on agricultural fields, the status of crop health, and water drainage patterns. It could help the agri-Business community to assess the amount of damage that has occurred to the area and help plan for future disasters. It could also help insurance companies measure damage to properties, help environmental firms assess extent of damage to public and private lands, help cities better map and manage storm water runoff, and help disaster relief efforts plan for future emergency response. (Credit:

Potential applications for one-meter satellite imagery in a GIS environment are limitless. The imagery can serve as an incredibly detailed basemap upon which other layers are laid, or it can be used as an up-to-date data source from which various land cover and elevation features are extracted to populate multiple GIS layers.

Nearly every GIS user is a potential satellite imagery customer, but three vertical markets appear most eager to obtain IKONOS imagery—state and local governments; utilities; and telecommunications. Their enthusiasm is understandable. All are savvy users of GIS and spatial data technology who recognize the unique advantages of high-resolution satellite imagery.

Local Government

"Our use of IKONOS imagery will be no different from aerial photos, except that we can get the imagery faster and it will be of higher quality," said David Gallaher, IT development director for Jefferson County, Colorado.

The County plans to use IKONOS both as a basemap and a data source. The IKONOS basemap will lie under Pandora, a GIS-based system Jefferson County developed for County offices to use in graphically linking names, addresses, parcels, roads and other data to pieces of land. The IT group will adapt Pandora to Esri's new ArcIMS software so the information can be accessible on the Internet.

"All of our GIS layers will be draped on top of the IKONOS image, which will bring everything down to the level of the individual parcel," said Gallaher.

Gallaher adds that one-meter resolution will be beneficial for many local government applications such as managing vegetation in parks and neighborhoods. The County expects to monitor the health of individual trees with IKONOS. In addition, the satellite's ability to acquire either single 11 x 11 km images or multiple contiguous scenes in one pass allows municipalities to quickly and inexpensively update part or all of their basemap to keep pace with new development.

Utility Industry

Keeping track of explosive growth is a challenge also facing the utility industry. Many electric and gas utilities already have placed IKONOS imagery orders to map the locations of their pipelines, transformers, and other infrastructure. Accurately locating these features on digital maps allows field crews to reach them more quickly and easily.

For Mitchel Bell, owner of Applied Geographic Science in Austin, Texas, the availability of one-meter imagery means saving money on pipeline siting projects. His company currently uses five-meter resolution Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) imagery in an ArcInfo-based grid model to perform least-cost path analyses. Land cover classes are extracted from the imagery and are assigned dollar values by the GIS based on the building costs associated with land type and slope.

"Refining a least-cost path analysis down to a level of one meter will enable pipeline planners to make better corridor selections and estimate costs more accurately," said Bell, adding that imagery can cut pipeline siting costs in half when compared to a traditional "windshield" survey on the ground.

Telecommunications Industry

Infrastructure siting is a concern in the telecommunications industry as well. In the wireless side of the Business, the trend is toward building microcells, or cellular antenna sites serving small coverage areas, often within the urban landscape. With inputs of land cover classes and elevation data, GIS-based radio frequency modeling packages are typically used to design these sites.

IKONOS and aerial photography complement the data sources that have traditionally served as sources of land cover and digital elevation models (e.g., Landsat, SPOT, and Indian data). There has been a trend, however, toward smaller coverage areas.

"The big advantage with IKONOS is its ability to acquire imagery anywhere regardless of international boundaries," said Paul Sill, GIS operations manager for Mobile Systems International Inc., a wireless networking and engineering company based in Bellevue, Washington. "It's often just not possible or practical to fly aerial photography in some countries."

Sill points out that many of the nations with the most severe restrictions on civilian survey flights are in those parts of the world where development of wireless communications infrastructure is occurring most rapidly. IKONOS is the only choice.

The company began selling its new visual information products under the CARTERRA brand name in early January 2000. For more information, contact Space Imaging Customer Service (tel.: 800-232-9037 or 301-552-0537, e-mail:, Web:

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