In late 2019, the Zimbabwean Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube caused quite a bit of a stir when he included plans to launch a space satellite in his budget for 2020. They were many who were opposed to the idea simply because they felt that the country had more urgent problems to tackle than putting a satellite in orbit. Many people failed to see the point of spending any amount of money on a satellite at a time when the nation was in dire straits—probably a significant portion of them also failed to see the point of sending it at any other point in time.

I won’t try to guess the motivation behind Zimbabwe’s current space ambitions or even what the purpose of Mthuli’s planned satellite is supposed to be. I will however list all how Zimbabwean entrepreneurs can use the multitude of information which is already available from other countries’ satellites to identify new opportunities. For the most part, this “information” is just the satellite images, a lot of which are already available for free on the internet.

Finding vacant pieces of land

Whether you want to find a piece of vacant land on which to build your new family home or one on which to start a multimillion-dollar housing development project, satellite images such as the kind provided by Google Earth may come in handy during your search. Spotting unused pieces of land on a satellite image is much easier and cheaper than driving around hoping to accidentally run across exactly what you are looking for. Just for the cost of accessing the internet, you can easily look at acres upon acres of land from the comfort of your own home. Other possible uses of freely available satellite imagery include the identification of the so-called infill stands in residential areas.

Satellite images provide information in a format which is simpler and easier to consume for a layperson than a traditional map which one might end up needing expert assistance in interpreting. You must however keep the limitations of most of the freely available satellite imaging services in mind. For instance, most of the satellite images out there are older and hence more likely to be outdated. This means that if you are using such images to search for vacant pieces of land, the older photographs are more likely to show empty spaces where there are no longer any.

Find out how well (or badly) other businesses are doing

Satellite photographs can also be used to assess how well a particular business or even an entire industry is doing. For instance, there are some businesses such as the bigger retail establishments whose performance over time can be estimated from how many cars are getting parked on their parking lots. A similar approach can be used to estimate church, sports or concert attendances.

Even the sizes of coal (or any other raw material) stockpiles can be used to help judge how well the plant which consumes that stockpile is performing. Satellite imaging also allows you to plan more effectively and with more foresight since you can gather for yourself some of the information which you otherwise would have had to hear about much later from the news.

Finding new business locations

Satellite photographs can also be used to identify good locations for business. For instance, most satellite images are captured during the day and they contain everything big enough for the resolution used often including the cars on the road at that very instance. This makes it possible for someone who is keenly examining these photographs to estimate the traffic patterns on any roads of their choice. There are many uses in which such kind of information can be put to. As an example, the distribution of traffic on the roads can be used to choose locations for businesses such as filling stations, service stations and car parks. This information can also be used to choose the best locations for displays such as billboards or even assessing whether or not the asking price of renting a billboard is fair. In this way, innovative use of satellite imagery can allow you to make an informed decision when locating your business even if you are unfamiliar with the actual area in question.

Forecasting agricultural production

With satellite imaging, you don’t have to hear about bumper harvests or impending food shortages through the news. Many modern satellites come with multispectral imaging which can come in very handy when you are trying to estimate the quantity and quality of crops in a field. For instance, a grain miller can use satellite images to survey what is happening on local farmlands far before harvest time and start stocking up on grain if the results don’t look too promising. This application of satellite imaging can also be used by farm owners who live far from their properties. Even potential financiers can look at past satellite photos of a piece of farmland to assess the risk and the competency of the farmer who is looking for funding. Companies which want to engage the services of contract farmers can also use satellite imagery for similar purposes.

In conclusion

While I may have presented the application of satellite imaging as something simple enough to be done by just looking at the pictures, in reality, it is a very involved process and specialized software tools have been developed to make the process of gathering information from the images efficient enough to be practical.