Making the most of your satellite imagery with MapHubs

Cady Coleman speaking at Sat Summit 2018

One evening a few weeks ago, beneath the rockets of the Air and Space Museum, I listening to former NASA astronaut, Cady Coleman talk about the space and satellites.

It was one of those "only in DC" moments. The museum was hosting an after hours evening event Sat Summit - the annual gathering of satellite providers and the people who use them for good. Surrounded by rockets and lunar landers, I thought about our role in all this.

Satellites have become integral to MapHubs and with all the new exciting developments happening, particularly in forest monitoring, I thought I'd lay out where we fit in the, er, orbit. In a nutshell, we help satellite providers make their products more accessible and more useful. Here's how.

We make satellite imagery more accessible

Planet imagery combined with MapHubs layers

Back in 2007 - when I first returned to Washington DC - getting a single Landsat image required about three PhDs, a brick of cash, and permission from the NASA Administrator. I exaggerate but it wasn't easy, even at the big NGO where I worked. Using imagery was the sole domain of GIS and remote sensing experts who had software knowhow to extract data, run analysis and turn it into maps and results. But in the past ten years, the rise of clouding computing service has made imagery more accessible, easier and more affordable.

Loading imagery into MapHubs

MapHubs is satellite neutral, which means you can bring use satellite imagery from any provider that you like into MapHubs. Aside from open imagery sources like Landsat and Sentinel-2, we've built integration with Planet and DigitalGlobe APIs (see image above). Simply find the imagery you want and then paste the Scene IDS into your MapHubs portal. This saves the hassle of downloading giant files and then setting up a raster service to host your imagery. Once your imagery is in MapHubs, you can use it from mapping.

We keep it simple

GIS software

To the uninitiated, legacy GIS software looks like the control panel of a rocket ship. There are many nobs, dials, buttons because the software is designed for spatial analysis not simple imagery handling and map making. We designed MapHubs to help GIS professionals collaborate with the non-specialists. In less than one day, we've trained journalists, sustainability officers, and researchers with no previous GIS expertise how to find and turn imagery into high impact maps. There are advanced features for experienced GIS users to make elaborate maps but it's also simple to use, to create a map, and then embed in your social media, embed in a blogpost, or simply screenshot and add to a report.

Map of oil palm plantation in DRC with concession boundaries, Sentinel2 imagery, and GLAD alerts

Simple = useful

MapHubs helps users create high impact maps with their imagery. By combining your imagery with property rights, infrastructure and other map layers, you can quickly and turn your imagery into publishable maps for sharing with your colleagues and counterparts. Our users have mapped deforestation caused by chocolate companies in the Ivory Coast, logging in the Solomon Islands, and palm oil investments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Maps can be tweeted, embedded in blogs and websites, and then shared as links.

We need a bigger a galaxy

Hubble telescope image of over 10,000 galaxies

Tackling complex environmental problems like tropical deforestation requires a bigger galaxy of users. By lowering the barriers to entry, we put powerful tools and imagery in the hands of those who can affect change. We plan to keep adding new imagery options and even simpler mapping tools to MapHubs. This will help everyone benefit from the opportunities created by space pioneers like Cady Colemen and the fabulous flying machines of the Air and Space Museum.