The SPOT 5 satellite: Delivering the world in 3D
Posted: September 27, 2001

The SPOT 5 "imaging" satellite, to be launched in April 2002, will provide digital elevation models (DEMs) of any location on Earth, allowing customers to create realistic 3D perspectives. DEMs are used as part of the $12 billion simulation market which includes civilian and military flight simulation, defense mission planning, video-games, and other visualization-based applications. SPOT 5 will have the capability to produce up to 80% of the required elevation models to support image-based 3D mapping business worldwide. SPOT is the only satellite system with the dedicated technology to create DEMs for commercial distribution.

The following graphic illustrates the type of product created using imagery and digital elevation models. This view of Skopje, Macedonia, and was created for the U.S. Army. SPOT satellite imagery was "draped" over an elevation model, providing a realistic view of surface features from the imagery, with accurate terrain (elevation) portrayal from the elevation model. The SPOT 5 satellite sensors will facilitate creation of elevation models for any location on Earth. Credit: Copyright CNES/SPOT Image 2001
"Very little of the world is covered by high-accuracy elevation models, yet the demand is increasing every day," explains Gene Colabatistto, president of SPOT Image Corporation. "The software, sophisticated applications and real market-driven needs are all in place. SPOT is well-positioned to take advantage of this opportunity."

DEMs are used in sophisticated modeling systems to map the influence of terrain on processes, such as in cellular communications. Telecommunication companies can save millions of dollars in infrastructure costs by using accurate mapping information in the planning process. In other applications, users overlay satellite imagery or other mapping information on DEMs to create realistic 3D surface portrayals. These are often used in dynamic "flight simulation" systems for training and mission rehearsal. The use of current, accurate imagery and elevation models are critical to defense and aviation applications where lives are at risk. SPOT 5 will allow these customers to greatly reduce this risk.

SPOT 5's fixed position stereo sensors will capture the required "stereo-imagery" from which elevation models are created. Stereo-imagery includes 2 images of the same area, captured from 2 different viewing angles. Typically, satellites have had to capture overlapping single images from different orbital paths, and manually create DEMs through laborious and expensive image processing.

SPOT 5's dedicated sensors will be able to capture consistent quality DEM-production imagery at a rate of 126,000 sq km per day. The consistent image characteristics allow an automatic process to be used in DEM production. The commercial DEMs will have a horizontal accuracy of 10 meters, and a vertical (height) accuracy of 15 meters. The stereo-imagery used to produce DEMs will not be offered commercially.

In addition to DEMs, SPOT 5's other sensors will produce:

  • B&W imagery at 2.5 m and 5m resolutions.
  • Color imagery at 10m and 20 m resolutions
  • Daily coverage of the entire Earth at 1 km resolution.

SPOT Image Corporation, headquartered in Reston, VA, is the world's leading supplier of satellite imagery/information databases, working with imagery resolutions that range from sub-one meter to one kilometer. The global SPOT satellite system includes multiple Earth observation satellites, 24 ground receiving stations worldwide, and more than 100 international distributors. SPOT is the most experienced provider of commercial satellite imagery and information products, with 15 years of continuous operations, and over 8 million archived images collected since 1986.