A Quick Attempt to Catalogue the Burgeoning Underworld of Web-based Landsat Viewers
Sit down and buckle up, because we’re about to launch into a whirlwind tour of the “earth observation” world’s latest and most fashionable trend.
No, I’m not talking about using the phrase “big data” several times in a single sentence. And no, this trend does not involve insisting that “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle” is a reasonable way to talk about drones. Let’s put you to the test (hint: the answer is in the title of this blog post):
What do government agencies, research universities, independent hackers, coding bootcamp grads, do-good dev shops, swarms of startups, and multi-billion dollar defense contractors all have in common? They are all furiously building Landsat Viewers.
So without further ado, below is a list of every web-based Landsat Viewer I have found on the internet: grouped, linked, and mildly editorialized.
- USGS “EarthExplorer” | An unparalleled one-stop-shop for earth observation data generally, this prolific resource has more Landsat archival imagery than any other viewer. The overwhelming search interface aside, this is the gold standard of governments turning “open data” into “accessible data.”
- USGS “LandsatLook” | Despite being purpose-made for Landsat (unlike its cousin the EarthExplorer), I find it slow and hard to use. It does allow for fairly specific search parameters and the ability to export full-band imagery. Operating in the open since 2012, this is one of the original gangsters. The backend relies on an ArcGIS REST API.
- USGS “Global Visualization Viewer” | I haven’t bothered to actually test this one, because I’m too lazy to meet the browser requirements. Not to worry, I’ll just spin up my own instance from the source code. Someday.
- NASA “Web Enabled Landsat Data” (WELD) | A nifty viewer for historical Landsat composites, segmented by season.
- NASA “EarthData Search” | NASA’s answer to USGS’s EarthExplorer, EarthData Search has a mountain of data available in a cluttered, but extensive interface. The inclusion of non-NASA open data sources (like ESA’s Sentinel-1 imagery) is a *baller* move.
- European Space Agency “Landsat 8 Data Portal” | I don’t think this project is complete; at the very least it feels unfinished. Built on top of “Keystone” software from Spacemetric, it’s a strange beast to try to use but a great project to see from the ESA none-the-less. Now if only NASA would build a Sentinel viewer…
- University of Maryland Global Land Cover Facility “Earth Science Data Interface”| Say that three times fast! I would consider this a prototype for the USGS EarthExplorer — ambitious, useful, and definitely ahead of its time.
- University of New Hampshire “Landsat Click ‘n Pic” | The most WTF search interface I’ve found to date and perhaps my favorite — you just click anywhere on a seemingly static map of the continental U.S. (or Alaska or Hawaii) and then…boom! Magically, a scene is selected where you clicked. It’s almost as elegant as it is strange.
- RemotePixel “Satellite Search” | Just one project of many from the absurdly prolific developer behind RemotePixel, Vincent Sarago. “Satellite Search” is one of the few Landsat 8 viewers that also accommodates Sentinel 2 data. The man is legendary. Tweet at him here.
- Lachlan Hurst “Observed Earth” | Unthinkably, Lachlan built a working iPhone app that not only serves Landsat 8 data — it can go one step further to do advanced image processing routines using your phone’s GPU. One guy built that. One. Guy. Get at him on Twitter here.
- “Snapsat” | Five alumni of the Code Fellows’ Python Development Accelerator banded together to build one of the most impressively full-featured viewers I have come across. The story behind its inception is awesome, and it’s well worth throwing @TheRealSnapsat a follow Twitter.
- Timothy Whitehead “Landsat Preview .kml File” | The .kml file to end all others — if you have Google Earth Pro installed (don’t fret about the name, it’s free these days) you can simply open this .kml file see a beautiful grid of Landsat 8 footprints covering the entire globe. Click on one and you’ll instantly pull down the most recent photo taken for that scene. Seriously, what is going on? It’s an undeniably interesting time to be alive if you give one darn toot about earth imagery.
Startups & Small Businesses
- EOS Data Analytics “Landsat Viewer” | A very straightforward name obscures a surprisingly sophisticated tool for not only viewing but also processing Landsat imagery on the fly. They’re at the front of the field in terms of processing prowess and speed.
- AstroDigital “Imagery Browser” | The sleekest and easiest to use of any Landsat viewer I’ve come across, AstroDigital is a satellite startup starting with software instead of hardware. Their out-of-the-box imagery analysis routines are incredibly simple to use (although slower than EOS DA) but they win hands-down on design. They worked with Development Seed on the viewer. Who are they?
- Development Seed “Libra” | Impossible to summarize in a paragraph, DS has arguably contributed more to the art of hacking on Landsat than anyone else (other than, perhaps, Amazon Web Services). The creators of the near-ubiquitous Landsat-util (used by both EOS DA and AstroDigital) they went one step further to make Libra a completely open source project. Oh yeah, and Mapbox spun out of them. Who are they?
- Mapbox “Landsat Live” | The juggernaut $63M giants of the mapping startup world, “Landsat Live” is one of many pet projects the company hosts for free. It’s a self-updating map of the world populated by the most recent Landsat scene available (regardless of characteristics like cloud cover).
- Pink Matter Solutions “FarEarth Observer” | FarEarth Observer allows users to watch a simulated live stream of data coming from Landsat 7/Landsat 8 as they pass over the globe. If that wasn’t wild enough, you can even switch the view from “Natural Color” to “Vegetation Analysis” (which appears to be false color and not band arithmetic like an NDVI, but I’m not sure). It’s pulling “real-time data” from ESA somehow. This one is just a little mind-blowing to me.
- SpaceAnalyzer “Spaceye” | Rounding out the category is the Estonian company SpaceAnalyzer, whose upcoming product “Spaceye” looks to serve not only Landsat 5 but also Landsat 8 archives. Costs to use the service will range from €29–299+ per month based on the number of “regions of interest.” AstroDigital seems to be taking the same approach.
- Geocento “EarthImages” | One of the very few (perhaps the only) commercial earth imagery resellers who also provides easy access to Landsat (and Sentinel) data, EarthImages is a remarkably elegant tool for finding all kinds of earth imagery. If you’re more daring, you can use their advanced viewer EarthImages Pro (which is free).
- UrtheCast “Developer Tools” | Famous for its live streaming camera on the International Space Station, Urthecast plans to launch a 16-satellite constellation in the near future and also acquired the satellite company Deimos Imaging to jumpstart their own imagery platform. Not only can you browse Landsat 8 imagery — you can call their API to serve tiles in your own web app (for free up to 5,000 “views” or about 75,000 map tiles served).
- Mapshup “Rocket” | Rocket is a gorgeous interface for browsing imagery — not only Landsat but also Sentinel and private very high resolution imagery as well. The heat-map-style-overlay showing availability and density of imagery is one of the viewer’s most interesting traits. The engine behind Mapshup is an extremely talented French entrepreneur who tweets here and is well worth a follow.
- EOSS “Image Catalog Lite” | Rocking the rare combo of Landsat 5, 7, 8 and Sentinel-2, EOSS’s online viewer finds a way to balance a simple design with an extensive catalogue of imagery. Their volume-of-images-summarized-in-a-square-grid approach is reminiscent of Libra and OpenAerialMap and seems to be a popular choice for facing the admittedly difficult design challenge of summarizing coverage on a map interface.
Incumbents (Free & Paid)
- ESRI ArcGIS Online “Landsat 8 Views”| Technically free for 60 days, it’s the undisputed de facto tool for GIS technicians the world over.
- Harris Geospatial “ENVI” | Pardon the link to a webinar, it’s about the best I can do for this one — if you skip to about 21:55, you’ll see the Landsat viewer being demonstrated. Along with Trimble’s eCognition and Hexagon Geospatial’s ERDAS IMAGINE, ENVI is one of the “big three” (I made that phrase up) in the remote sensing world. ENVI is currently rolling a cloud-based platform whose early demos suggest a heavy emphasis on integrating Landsat into their workflow.
- DigitalGlobe “GBDX” | The titan of commercial satellite imagery, DG recently introduced it’s big-geospatial-data-analytics platform which also boasts the entire historical imagery archive of DG’s decades-long space-snooping operation. One thing to note: they’ve struck an early chord with artificial intelligence/computer vision startups like Orbital Insight and may be the only platform explicitly working to accommodate deep learning in the platform itself.
Honorable Mentions for Landsat Viewers
- Google Maps, for their much-lauded “700-Trillion-Pixel” Landsat 8 mosaic.
- ESRI, for their “ChangeMatters Viewer”.
- NASA (and later USGS), for the now-deprecated TerraLook, a tool for creating collections of Landsat and ASTER data.
- University of Michigan, for the also-now-deprecated Landsat.org.
Honorable Mentions Non-Landsat Imagery Viewers
- Apollo Mapping, for their “Image Hunter” which serves just about every kind of satellite image available except for Landsat — I would not be surprised to see Landsat and Sentinel data added to their list of sources.
- Similarly, Harris Geospatial’s MapMart “DataFinder” has a nice interface and effectively the same catalogue as Image Hunter.
- Not to get too redundant, but since we’re already here, PrecisionHawk’s recent acquisition of TerraServer has resulted in a nice tool called the “Viewer” which parallels both Image Hunter and DataFinder.
- To round out our tour of satellite imagery scroungers, i-cubed builds a software called DataDoors that allows for browsing of, you guessed it, commercial satellite imagery.
- Planet, the inimitable small-sat startup, has their own incredibly cool interface for finding and viewing their data (which is rectified against Landsat data for better fidelity). Ask for access, they may or may not give it to you fo’ free. Also, shoutout for open sourcing their ingestor for getting imagery into S3 buckets.
- Nearmap, the Australian specialist in aerial imagery, provides the “MapBrowser” for viewing their catalogue of (generally) timely, high resolution photography.
- Sinergise, the progenitors of “Sentinel On AWS” have gone so far as to not only open source their ingestor (a la Planet), but also have their very own beautiful Sentinel-2 Viewer called Sentinel Playground.
- AirBus Defense & Space (currently the only major source of very high resolution imagery other than DigitalGlobe) maintains a spiffy platform for distributing their own imagery and derived products including elevation models and SAR data. Use their “browse and order” tool here.