SAR applications & services for remote sensing

ERS-1/ERS-2 Tandem Digital Elevation Model over Barstow Californ
ERS-1/ERS-2 Tandem Digital Elevation Model over Barstow California.

The Swiss Company Gamma Remote Sensing AG (GAMMA), a successful highly specialised SME has established itself as one of the leading-edge companies in Earth observation (EO).

Since 1995 when GAMMA was founded one of its main activities has been to exploit new application fields of satellite remote sensing data, starting from the data provided by ESA's successful satellites ERS-1 and ERS-2.

The objective of GAMMA is to conduct research studies and to provide consulting and processing services in the field of microwave remote sensing.

Today with the immense quantity of data from European EO satellite missions as well as that from other nations, new and unique capabilities are available for planning and monitoring purposes, for understanding climate changes and for the sustainable management of natural resources and the related socio-economic developments.

SAR data for forest mapping

One of GAMMA's major achievements was the demonstration of the important potential in using Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data for forest mapping and monitoring. Geo-information products and services related to forestry and forest resources management are derived primarily from satellite data using state-of-the-art processing techniques.

Digital Elevation Model generation with SAR interferometry is another important application based on ESA's ERS-1 and ERS-2 satellites, which has promising commercial perspective.

Forest damage (orange areas) caused by storm
Forest damage (orange areas) caused by storm "Lothar" in Dec. 1999.

Under the "Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation", the Project "Combined Remote Sensing Natural Disaster Monitoring" (CIRSTEN) mapped the forest damage in France and Switzerland caused by the winter storms in December 1999. This was done together with the Institute of Geodesy and Photogrammetry of ETH Zürich using SAR images from the ERS mission.

The results illustrate the potential of using satellite EO data and are illustrated in the picture on the left, where the areas are identified very clearly using the processed SAR data. This project was performed on the basis of the experience gained in collaboration with Spot Image and SERTIT, France, for the development of the Coherence Product - a novel image product generated using ERS Tandem data and SAR interferometric techniques (INSAR).

Another impressive forest mapping activity was conducted by GAMMA in collaboration with partners from eight European countries under the European Commission (EC) Environment and Climate Programme, in the SIBERIA Project. This SIBERIA team produced an extensive forest map of a large part of Siberia, a geographical region for which only limited information was previously available but for which detailed information is of great scientific, environmental and commercial interest, both to specific customers and to the general public. For this project SAR data were used from the Japanese JERS-1 satellite. The data included multitemporal and interferometric data from dual-frequency spaceborne radar instruments, which although relatively recent development, have shown huge potential for the mapping and monitoring of the Earth's surface, especially in less populated areas and in regions where cloud cover is persistent.

Business with ESA

For Mr. Urs Wegmüller, Director of GAMMA, contracts with ESA have always been an important part of GAMMA's business activity. They have confirmed that the company know-how is at the top of the research and development. The main areas covered by ESA contracts often performed with partners are application development for space-borne SAR and the development of products and services based on such applications.

Several follow-on activities have been initiated taking advantage of the collaboration with ESA:

  • value-adding commercial services and consulting to customers
  • software and license sales of GAMMA's processing software
  • Earth observation data processing and distribution
  • R&D activities under other public funded programmes (e.g. EU Projects)

Mr. Wegmüller stresses that thanks to its advanced technical competence and to the specific products and services developed for ESA and other customers, GAMMA is in a good competitive position to expand its business in the wider market for EO products which is expected to grow within the coming years.

Mr. Wegmüller wants furthermore to express his appreciation for the ESA SME initiative, which provides a good opportunity for SMEs to enter the highly technological space field and a practical vehicle to initiate new business areas leading to future commercial growth.

"We in GAMMA by collaborating with ESA have had the advantage of being able to maintain our competence up-to-date and to be a player in the EO business with the aim to always better meet the needs of users and customers". He concludes by advising other SMEs to keep an open eye on the opportunities within ESA initiated programmes to establish new profitable business areas.

For more information, refer to the article "More details on typical applications".

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