A growing number of start-ups are turning high-altitude surveillance, once the domain of global superpowers, into a business. This according to a recent article in The New York Times.

“Businesses will not be able to hide from competitors or regulators or watchdogs,” said Mark Johnson, co-founder of satellite information start-up Descartes Labs, adding, “They need to realize that their traditional competitive advantage—information—will be available to everyone.”

The article cites data from research firm Euroconsult that shows nearly 730 Earth observation satellites have been launched over the past decade, and over 2,000 more are expected to enter orbit in the next ten years. James Crawford, founder of Palo Alto-based firm Orbital Insight–one of the first to create a business around cube satellite data—believes that satellite analysis will lead to more efficient markets and a better understanding of the global economy, and that advances in artificial intelligence will enhance the speed and accuracy with which machines analyze data.

But some warn that satellite gathering has its limits and that finding useful information can be expensive. Shawana Johnson, president of Global Marketing Insights (a consulting firm with expertise in the field) argues, “You have to want to look at a variety of activities across the Earth and look at them daily—or weekly—for the cost to make sense.”

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