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Special UNISPACE III volume
Marsteller, Deborah

International Archives of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. Vol. XXXII Part 7C2, UNISPACE III, Vienna. 1999
“Environment and Remote Sensing for Sustainable Development”
9:00 am -12:00 pm. 23 July 1999, VIC Room A
Vienna, Austria
Since the dawn of the space age, more titan forty years ago, remote sensing from space has been the purview of governmental
organizations. Pursuits for nation security interests and scientific/civil applications have dominated the remote sensing market for
decades. Changing world dynamics and associated geo-political landscapes; rapidly advancing (i.e. Moore’s law' of computer
redoubling of performance to cost every 18-24 months) high speed, low cost commercial computer technology; and the ever
increasing demand for content rich, digital Earth information has encouraged tire private sector to enter the domain of commercial
high resolution Earth imaging from space.
As the dawn of tire 21 st century approaches, so approaches the “Dawn of the Age of Transparency” foreseen by Sir Arthur Clarke.
Clarke’s “PeaceSats” will materialize in the form of commercial high resolution imaging satellites, which are soon to be placed into
operation by Space Imaging, Orblmage, Earthwatch, and others. Operating in low' Earth orbit, a constellation of satellites will
provide a diverse set of high resolution geospatial data and information products and sendees to: digitally map the world, monitor the
land cover & land use at the level of man’s scale and impact, and contribute to the peaceful-sustainable development of “planet
Earth”. Without such critical and collateral new information sources, there will be a limitation to the rate at which knowledge
develops of the micro and macro changes occurring in the world. The pressing demands of population growth, migration,
consumption of resources, proliferating crises, and globalization of the economy create the need for more timely, accurate, cost
effective information products to meet these challenges.
Commercial (private) Earth imaging satellites soon will take their place along with national satellite systems. UNISPACE III occurs
at a critical “defining moment” in the evolution of the use of space for peaceful purposes. Much has changed in the w'orld, politically,
economically, and technologically since UNISPACE II in 1982. It is critical to realize that just as commercial comsats have risen to
dominate national comsat systems so will be the case 25 years from now for remote sensing systems. This reality must be a (if not
The) key consideration and deliberation at UNISPACE Iff. This paper helps frame the key issues for discussion and formulation into
a set of codified recommendations that can be advanced to and approved by the General Assembly.
Since 1900 the world population has tripled, now
approaching 6 billion and potentially reaching 10 billion by
2025. Our industrial production has increased 50-fold from
1900, our consumption of fossil fuel has increased 30-fold,
and our gross global production has increased over 20-fold.
Today, we consume 40% of the world’s plant growth
annually. Since 1950, over 3 million square kilometers of
forestry have been destroyed and we continue to consume our
forests at an annual rate approaching 200,000 square
As the population continues to increase, urban and rural
stresses increase. Human migration is increasing, south to
north and rural to urban, changing the distribution of the
world's population and demanding greater production of ever
diminishing tillable lands. Observing the impact of man on
his planet-home is an ever pressing need of our “Global
Village”. Monitoring change, movement, and impact on the
planet at the scale of a human, i.e. a meter, has become a
critical need to provide time critical, spatially accurate,
information content (i.e. spatially, spectrally, and
radiometrically). Earth imagery will provide a new source of
power to fuel the ever expanding information based global
It is critical to realize and appreciate that information is
developed only after data is collected. When UNISPACE II
met in 1982, data collection from and data access to remote
sensing satellites was a dominant theme. Appreciating the
value of the new sources of Earth data, the United Nations
Programs on Space Applications (UN-PSA) recommended
the development of indigenous capability at the national level
of space science and technology. Thus began a global
process of national expenditures to develop educational
systems and infrastructures to be able to access space and
benefit from the associated space technologies in order to
help solve earthly problems.
Countries that could not allocate discretionary research and
development funds to space endeavors would not be able to
benefit from this space technology. Organizations like the
UN began playing a role in encouraging developing countries
to institute local programs for developing and using space
technologies. Throughout the decade of the eighties and into
the nineties numerous countries adopted the UN-PSA
recommendations and initiated space programs. Resulting
remote sensing systems were paid for by governments, and
the price paid by the users was well below the real cost of
production, if not “free”. The conventional “wisdom”
developed that if the real cost was charged no one could
afford to buy the data. Tins led to the assessment in 1992 at
the 17°’ ISPRS Congress, panel on Remote Sensing at the
Crossroads, that: “To become an economically viable
enterprise the operation of a remote sensing system must
generate products that are both needed and affordable. To be
needed requires that it be user-driven. Globally, remote
sensing has yet to achieve this status. Although producers of
remote sensing products have consistendy demonstrated
annual gains in their market strength, the limited appreciation
and knowledge of remote sensing and its capabilities,
particularly in the developing countries, preclude the wide
spread demands for and applications of space-acquired
images and digitized data.”
This assessment seven years ago was veiy astute and signaled
the change in the “paradigm” of thinking as to how the
world’s complex problems can be most responsively
addressed, i.e., focus on the end results desired, not on the
means to the end.
Today, at the UNISPACE III, we need to turn our attention
toward information needs and redirect the UN-PSA away
from the desire to create space technology. In its place the