3D satellite photo showing some of the 775 ground survey points

PhotoSat publishes 21 new satellite surveying accuracy studies

3D satellite photo showing some of the 775 ground survey points

3D WorldView-2 satellite photo of Asmara, Eritrea, showing some of the 775 ground survey points that determine the 14cm PhotoSat surveying accuracy.

21 PhotoSat surveying accuracy studies from seven different stereo satellites

PhotoSat has published 21 new satellite surveying and mapping accuracy studies, now available on our website. The studies include data from seven different stereo satellite systems. The best results show elevation surveying accuracies of better than 15cm.

The accuracy studies include stereo satellite data from the following satellites:

  • WorldView-1
  • WorldView-2
  • WorldView-3
  • Pleiades-1B
  • KOMPSAT-3A
  • SPOT-7
  • ALOS PRISM

 

PhotoSat has measured accuracy on over 750 stereo satellite surveying projects

PhotoSat has delivered over 750 satellite surveying projects since 2007 and we have carried out accuracy evaluations on the majority of them. Most of the survey data on these projects belongs to our customers and cannot be shared publically; however, customers have provided feedback on many of these projects.

The results of these 21 new accuracy studies are consistent with our project accuracy evaluations and customer feedback.

 

PhotoSat accuracy test areas in Eritrea and California

The accuracy studies were conducted over two test areas. One test area is west of Asmara, Eritrea where PhotoSat has access to more than 45,000 ground survey points over a 50km by 20km block.

The second area is in SE California where PhotoSat uses a very accurate Opentopography.org open source LiDAR survey.

 

The effect of different numbers of ground survey points

The studies employed different numbers of ground survey control points for each test area and each satellite system. For some of the satellite stereo pairs the accuracy is significantly improved by increasing the number of ground survey control points.

For example, the WorldView-2 survey for Eritrea is accurate to 19cm in elevation with two ground control survey points, and accurate to 14cm in elevation with 21 ground control points.

In contrast, the accuracy of the WorldView-3 survey for the California test area is not improved by additional ground survey points. This WorldView-3 survey is accurate to 13cm in elevation with one ground survey control point and with 153 ground survey control points.

 

PhotoSat has been continuously producing satellite accuracy studies since 2007

In order to provide objective quantifiable accuracy data for stereo satellite surveying and mapping, PhotoSat has been continuously producing accuracy studies since 2007. We have previously published nine of these studies. The rest of the studies were used for calibrating and improving our processes.

 

21 new accuracy studies all processed with the same version of the PhotoSat processing system

The 21 new accuracy studies were produced with the most recent version (2016) of the PhotoSat processing system. Where possible we used satellite data produced by the 2015 or 2016 versions of the satellite operators’ ground processing systems.

 

Summary of PhotoSat 2016 accuracy study results

Satellite Test area km² GCP RMSE
WorldView-3 California 150 1 13cm
WorldView-3 California 146 153 13cm
WorldView-3 Eritrea 100 21 15cm
WorldView-2 California 173 1 15cm
WorldView-2 California 173 153 12cm
WorldView-2 Eritrea 100 21 14cm
WorldView-1 California 174 153 14cm
WorldView-3 Eritrea 198 2 19cm
WorldView-2 Eritrea 400 2 19cm
WorldView-1 Eritrea 100 21 19cm
WorldView-1 California 174 1 23cm
WorldView-1 Eritrea 420 9 23cm
Kompsat-3A California 144 14 21cm
Pleiades-1B Eritrea 189 74 26cm
Pleiades-1B Eritrea 189 1 28cm
Kompsat-3A California 144 1 50cm
Kompsat-3A Eritrea 130 11 48cm
Kompsat-3A Eritrea 130 1 53cm
SPOT 7 Eritrea 1,458 1 4m
ALOS PRISM Eritrea 2,300 3 2m
ALOS PRISM Eritrea 2,300 1 4m

See PhotoSat’s accuracy studies overview for full details.

For more information about PhotSat’s surveying accuracy, please see our satellite surveying case histories or visit the following links.

Satellite surveying

How can modern satellites photos possibly be accurate to 20 centimeters in 10 kilometers?

By Gerry Mitchell, P.Geo, President PhotoSat

ground control survey points in eritrea test area

3D WorldView-1 satellite view showing the ground survey points in PhotoSat’s Eritrea test area.

 

My intuition rebels at the notion that a satellite orbiting 750 kilometers above the earth, traveling at 7 kilometers per second, could possibly take photos of the ground accurate to 20 centimeters in 10 kilometers. When you take into consideration that these satellites have scanning cameras which take their photos like push brooms, with the north end of the photo taken a few milliseconds before or after the south end, and that the whole satellite is vibrating while the photos are taken, it boggles the mind. It just does not seem that such high accuracy should be possible. However, the satellite photos themselves, checked with tens of thousands of ground survey points, clearly demonstrate that the accuracy is real.

How do the satellites and cameras work?

We engineers and geoscientists in the commercial realm don’t actually know how these satellites and cameras work. Almost all of the technical details of the imaging satellites, their cameras, and their ground processing stations is classified. Or if it’s not classified it’s certainly very difficult to discover. I’ve had many conversations with satellite engineers who seem like they’d love to tell me why their satellites perform so amazingly well. Sadly, they simply aren’t allowed to discuss classified technology with anyone without the proper security clearances.

Whenever I have one of these conversations, it always seems to me that part of what the engineer knows is public and part is classified, but the engineer cannot be sure that he or she can remember what is still classified and what isn’t so it’s safest to say nothing. I’ve had satellite engineers decline to confirm information that is published on their own company’s website. Needless to say, this can make for some very awkward conversations.

We engineers and geoscientists in the commercial world only have access to the satellite photos themselves, and very general public information about the satellites and their cameras.

How accurate are the satellite photos?

When the Digital Globe WorldView-1 (WV1) satellite photos first became commercially available in 2008, PhotoSat acquired stereo photos for a test area in Eritrea where we have over 45,000 precisely surveyed ground points. When we shifted the WV1 photos 3m horizontally to match any survey point, we were amazed to discover that all of the survey points within 10km matched the satellite photos to within 20cm. We eventually documented this discovery in an accuracy study white paper that is now published on our website.

Now, eight years after that initial WorldView-1 accuracy study of the Eritrea test area, we have processed hundreds of satellite photos from the WorldView, Pleiades, SPOT and KOMPSAT satellites and have come to expect this incredible accuracy. I’m still in awe that this is possible and I still don’t know how it is achieved. I do know that the photos are amazingly accurate.

black and white photo of over 15000 ground survey points in PhotoSat Test Area

WorldView-1 satellite photo over the PhotoSat test area in Eritrea. The over 15,000 ground survey points used to confirm that the satellite photo accuracy is better than 20cm in 10km are shown as black dots. The completely black areas are survey points every 20m along lines separated by 100m.

 

 Colour image of a one meter PhotoSat survey grid produced from the WorldView-1 satellite photos

Colour image of a 1m PhotoSat survey grid produced from the WorldView-1 satellite photos. The ground survey points demonstrate that the PhotoSat grid is accurate to 35cm in elevation.