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Landsat 7 Value Added Processors Workshop
March 4, 1999

Remarks from Dr. Murray Felsher
(Associated Technical Consultants)

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

I am honored to have been asked to provide this all-too-knowledgeable group with a set of round-up reflections, impressions and conclusions of this, a most important day for both the remote sensing value-added industry, and the U.S. Geological Survey. The significance of this day rests on the recognition that the U.S.G.S., truthfully the premier earth science and applications agency of the U.S. government has finally been awarded the responsibility of managing the premier earth science and applications remote sensing satellite of the U.S. government.

Many of you will recall that the Earth Resources Observation System, EROS, was established at the Interior Department in the 60's as a fait accompli , and found a home in the U.S.G.S. through the efforts of people named Pecora and Fischer, Robinove and DeNoyer, Colvocoresses and Doyle. Establishment of the EROS Data Center in Sioux Falls, and its continuing growth and expansion attest to the leadership provided by such as Al Watkins and Don Lauer. As a geologist, I have always considered the U.S.G.S. as the working mecca of my profession, and I'm proud to be here.

As to substantive and nitty-gritty details of today's activities, those will undoubtedly be covered by my co-closer, Kass Green, herself a distinguished president of a successful value-added remote sensing firm. As for me, I would use these few minutes allotted to place this day's concerns, contentions, considerations and controversies into an appropriate historical context. As such, I intend to impart upon you a very personal and autobiographical point-of-view, biases and all, with no apologies.

Mind you, I intend to do so without imposing upon you the history of bureaucratic machinations, frustrations, and devastations that have marred --- that is, marked the history of Landsat as it has been coursing through its 27-year random walk among the corridors of a confused Congress and the halls of fuzzy federal agencies. In fact, I won't even mention that last part at all. Oops.

During World War II, specifically in 1943, a geologist named H.T.U. Smith working in the Office of Military Geology here at the U.S. Geological Survey, wrote and had published a textbook entitled, "Interpretations of Aerial Photographs" which quickly became the standard work in its field. Sixteen years later, 1959, fully forty years ago, as a Master's degree candidate in geology, I became Dr. Smith's Laboratory and Teaching Assistant at the University of Massachusetts, thus beginning, though I didn't know it at the time, a continuing and lifelong attachment to remote sensing --- though then it wasn't called that.

A classmate of mine at UMass followed me down to the University of Texas where we both received our Ph.D.s. My fate was to ramble over strange and wonderful paths to ultimately appear before you today. My classmate, who through the years maintained a strong and earnest interest and competence in remote sensing, now occupies, literally, John Wesley Powell's chair and desk as Director of the Geological Survey. And that's another reason that I feel so strongly that this is a special day. I truly believe that, for the first time, U.S.G.S. has as its head an individual who understands what a Landsat can do for his profession, for the United States, and for the World. Like myself, I am certain that Chip Groat also feels an attachment to remote sensing.

But I must admit that, for me, the "attachment" was then, and continues now, not to be based on the "science" or "technology" of remote sensing, but rather on its applications. That is, without assigning value thereto, and always knowing that without the "science" and the "technology" there would be no applications, I did then and do now most vehemently assert that the end-user --- the recipient of a remotely-sensed knowledge product is the most important link in the remote sensing user "chain."

I define that remote sensing user chain as a continuum beginning with a launcher-spacecraft-sensor space segment; to a command-and-control ground station; to the zeros and ones that are emitted from that ground station; to the manipulation of those numbers to create image data; to the enhancement of that image data to create image information; to the digital merging of that image information with appropriate GPS and disparate GIS digital sets to create a derived knowledge product, and finally --- to the distribution and dissemination of that knowledge product to an end user.

Note that unless the end user is satisfied with the knowledge thus presented, then the effort, time, and resources expended in construction of that entire chain become little more than a wasted academic exercise. Granted, that exercise may prove intellectually stimulating to a precious few, and gratifyingly satisfying to a precious few others. But unless the ultimate recipient is ready to accept, and in the commercial instance, pay for the knowledge he has received, I maintain that we have wasted generations of talent, bundles of money, and forests of trees.

Further, you must know that an end user is really not concerned with a thing called Landsat-7. Or SPOT. Or IKONOS. Or IRS 1-C, or NOAA-14, or GOES, or ERS-1, or SPIN-2. The paying customer, especially the paying customer, pays for the knowledge product that you, as adders-of-value, deliver to him, via you, the provider of space-derived data . The image source is irrelevant. How wise he becomes, based on the utilization of that knowledge, is usually out of your hands. And so, as we move from data to information to knowledge to wisdom --- we --- as an industry, take responsibility for all but the last.

The commercial success of a value-added firm is directly related to its ability to cleverly understand and take advantage of the interface between ground-segment-derived data and information, and ground-segment-derived knowledge. How successful a value-added firm competes is a function of the products and services developed at that interface. And, needless to say, that competition must take place on a level playing field, without government interference or government competition masked as neutral participation.

After spending some years on the faculty at Syracuse University, I moved to Washington DC to help direct an NSF-funded project at the American Geological Institute. With the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency I, joined EPA as coordinator for remote sensing for their national enforcement efforts. There, and later at NASA, where I worked at NASA headquarters Applications office, I participated in enough programs to realize that left to their own, government agencies will always opt to:

  1. husband and otherwise conserve their own budgets and resources by bartering services and products with other agencies rather than purchasing those products and services from the private sector; and
  2. undersell or actually give away products and services to other organizational entities in order to enhance the perception of their own programs.

    I left government in 1980 and began publishing the Washington Remote Sensing Letter, which appears three times per month and is now in its 19th year of publication. At the same time I began consulting, and continue these efforts as well. This was the time of the so-called "Landsat Commercialization," when NASA certified the Landsat system as an operational, non-R&D entity and forced it upon a reluctant NOAA --- which in turn offered up the Landsat system as a commercial "kluge." As a consultant for Eastman Kodak Company, I was responsible for authoring a large part of the marketing volume that formed a portion of Kodak's bid to "commercialize" Landsat. We lost to EOSAT, in retrospect, and in view of what was to follow, this turned out to be a major coup for Kodak. I continued to consult for Kodak, and helped form KRS Remote Sensing, a Kodak spin-off company that won the NOAA/Landsat-7 contract. That was 1987. Landsat-7, as you see, like the program itself, has had multiple fits and starts.

    My remote sensing consulting activities, whether working for a government agency, or for a private company, have all been aimed at enhancing the opportunities of the latter, while maintaining the responsibilities of the former. Four years ago I served as a consultant to the DoD NRO Landsat Program Office, with the responsibility of establishing a civilian and commercial "gateway" for the U.S. Air Force Landsat-7 --- there's that Landsat-7 again, HRMSI imagery.

    In terms of today's discussions, then, if the U.S. Geological Survey offers everybody Landsat-7 imagery, depending on processing, for $495 or $600 per scene, what say I? "Wonderful," say I. But if the U.S. Geological Survey, or NASA/Stennis, or any other government agency offers any end user the opportunity for a low-cost demonstration project, or a verification and validation project, or any other low-cost or no-cost effort involving the operational adding of value to image data --- such activity clearly in competition with the private sector --- then, say I, "not-so-wonderful."

    Three years ago I was a member of the Defense Science Board Task Force whose report resulted in the formation of NIMA, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, and I'm currently a consultant to NIMA's Commercial Imagery Program Office. The Task Force report recommended a major shift by the Geospatial/Intelligence Community to maximize purchases of commercial imagery and commercial off-the-shelf software and hardware. And that community is in the forefront in the incorporation of the private sector into the whole spectrum of its activities. Much of this early adoption is due to the fact that when it stood up as an agency a Commercial Advocate Office was created, whose chief reports straight to the Director of NIMA.

    Recently, we formed NARSIA --- the North American Remote Sensing Industries Association --- and many of you work for companies that are NARSIA members. One of our working tenets --- a conviction if not actually a canon and touchstone, is the elimination of the federal government as a source of business competition. Sell us whatever raw imagery and metadata you feel comfortable with at whatever price you feel justified in charging. We will establish a financially-at-risk entity and compete with one another to sell to the end user --- in whatever organization he resides --- the required remote sensing-embedded knowledge he needs to pursue his missions and goals.

    Ground segment activities and the interfaces between them are the true and proper venues of the private sector, not the government. And absent the real academic research activities of a teaching professor, all value-added remote sensing activities must be undertaken as true commercial ventures. This includes activities undertaken by researchers through government funding, where purchase of remote sensing products and services should be competed for by the private sector, rather than offered as gifts by government agencies.

    Perhaps as important, or even more important than ground segment activities and the interfaces between them, is the interface between the space segment and ground segment itself. Indeed, and tautologically, without satellites and sensors there are no space-derived data and information. And we are now to be blessed with a host of image sources. In fact we may be facing an era of "image data glut." Consider the string of satellites to be launched this year, as published in this last issue of Space News. And on April 12 IKONOS-1 flies, followed three days later by Landsat-7. The data product represented by Landsat-7 will undoubtedly be a valuable resource. But it is one of many.

    The successful remote sensing companies --- you out there --- will understand which image data mix needs to be acquired for what specific application, and you will have the software, perhaps proprietary, to transform that data into information and knowledge. And you will be able to deliver that final product economically and in a timely fashion. The business of doing business in remote sensing becomes more profitable as one moves from selling data to selling information to selling knowledge. I am not certain that we will ever be wise enough to sell wisdom. But we must be wise enough to recognize that it is to all our benefit to learn to work together.

    The good news is that the U.S. Geological Survey has stepped up to Landsat. In the recent past, in its dealings with the aerial survey and mapping companies, the Survey has proven that it possesses a sense of business acumen absent in every other technical agency.

    Suffice it to say that we would all be satisfied to be able to establish and maintain an environment of mutual respect and understanding of purpose between those in government who acquire imagery, those in the private sector who purchase, enhance, and sell that imagery, and those in the end-user community who pay for the end-product. That's all we ask. Allow us the freedom of the marketplace.

    Thank you for your kind attention.

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