Opening up space with the cloud

Spatial data has many different applications we have yet to discover. Analyzing satellite data opens up a whole world of possibilities for industry, transport and agriculture.

Étienne Bonhomme, General Manager France at Orange Cloud for Business, and Alain Bouquet, Head of Space and Navigation at Orange Business Services, discuss the wide range of possibilities offered by this new “black gold” and explain how Orange Business Services is using the cloud to facilitate access to spatial data.

What major changes have there been in the use of digital technology in space?

Étienne Bonhomme: Spatial data has always held particular interest for scientific researchers, but it has assumed even greater levels of strategic importance in recent times. The data collected creates value on many levels, contributing to geolocation, imaging and climate monitoring (sea levels, the ozone layer, etc.). The use of spatial data has become more prevalent in the past 10 years due to a significant increase in the volume of satellite data available and enhanced data storage and processing capacity. With the advent of the cloud, this data is available on Earth, where it can be analyzed and made suitable for use by the general public and private companies. Its role is becoming more and more vital as the volume and range of data collected is increasing. Over the past 10 years, digital companies have heavily invested in the space industry, leading to an increase in the number of satellite programs and, in turn, the volume of data generated. For instance, the Copernicus satellites, which had amassed one petabyte of data over a 20-year period, have generated over seven petabytes in the last two years.

Alain Bouquet: This significant increase in data volume has brought the digital sector and the space industry closer together. The French Space Agency’s new strategy sets out to turn spatial data into a product that benefits the entire industry.

What is the cloud’s role in improving spatial data?

Étienne Bonhomme: The cloud offers storage space and processing power. Our public cloud solution Flexible Engine is used to store and access large volumes of complex data from the EU’s Copernicus program. We process this data and extract the relevant information. The cloud is the only way to meet the most exacting standards while keeping up with sudden surges in demand.

How can we create models that can be monetized?

Étienne Bonhomme: Since 2017, Orange Business Services has been heavily involved in the Earth observation market through its partnership with the French Space Agency (CNES), Airbus and Thalès, sharing its know-how, infrastructure and cloud expertise and thereby contributing to the strategy to derive value from spatial data. For instance, the CNES recently entered into a partnership with a Marseille-based container transportation company to leverage satellite data for geolocation purposes. The transportation company seeks to optimize routes for its ships and implement predictive models to reduce delivery times, costs and energy usage in order to lower its carbon footprint. Railway companies could lead similar projects to optimize maintenance, reduce journey times and anticipate incidents.

Alain Bouquet: Similarly, in precision agriculture, we are currently working with a start-up that has developed cutting-edge technology to boost geolocation accuracy. This innovation, which is vital to the development of new agriculture, could also interest autonomous vehicle makers and other manufacturers. It is important to note that end clients’ expectations and new uses are what “guides” the digital transformation—cloud technology and spatial data are simply tools that help meet their demands.

How is data sovereignty and security maintained for these sensitive activities?

Alain Bouquet: Orange Business Services infrastructure is secure by nature and guarantees uninterrupted access to data around the clock. Orange Cyberdefense is Europe’s leading provider of cybersecurity services and solutions, enabling us to offer our customers infrastructure that is “secure by design”—in other words, products that show we take risks and security into consideration from the design phase and throughout the product life cycle.

Spatial data naturally poses challenges for economic sovereignty.

Our infrastructure is located and operated in France, which is why we are the partner of choice for organizations that protect French and European sovereignty.

What major spatial cloud-computing projects does the future hold?

Étienne Bonhomme: The spacy industry is booming. Some start-ups have even successfully launched satellites, which will lead to further increases in data volumes. The nature of future projects will be dictated by businesses’ needs so that we can continue to provide them with innovative solutions.

Alain Bouquet: Storage, processing and delivery—three technological priorities for the industrialization of space—are creating bottlenecks in the process, as the weight, volume and diversification of data lead to significant increases in infrastructure spending. As a key provider of cloud solutions, we must play our part in providing new solutions, such as edge computing and artificial intelligence.

Étienne Bonhomme: I have just one final point to add. The possibilities offered by analyzing satellite data are endless—and it’s only the beginning of the adventure.