When high school students near Denver wanted to study how fire-prone their part of the country was, they tapped a group of technical specialists 1,000 miles away for help.
A Colorado teacher made the connection with a relative at BAE Systems in Rancho Bernardo. The big defense contractor offered its advanced geospatial software, gratis. It also provided some engineering services to help the students make sense of their data.
Typically the Rancho Bernardo employees work out of the spotlight, solving mission-critical issues for government clients. Military and intelligence agencies use BAE Systems software tools to interpret satellite or aerial images.
BAE Systems’ Rancho Bernardo employees produce the SOCET GXP line of software. GXP stands for Geospatial eXploitation Products. SOCET GXP uses satellite and aerial imagery to identify and analyze features on the ground. The company’s geospatial intelligence software combines image analysis, advanced photogrammetric techniques, remote sensing and observation workflows.
A $58 Billion Market
The wider market for geospatial analytics software was estimated at $58 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow to $159 billion by 2027.
BAE’s products are increasingly using artificial intelligence to help clients interpret what they see. In many cases, AI is doing what human analysts used to do, said Damon Brady, general manager and product line director for advanced geoint systems at BAE.
BAE is stepping up its technical game, Brady said, as the national defense strategy shifts from counterterrorism to near peer competition. In Defense Department parlance, the latter means technically advanced countries such as Russia and China.
The Situation on the Ground
The students’ finished project showcases the capabilities of BAE’s software.
The Colorado students chose Grand County as their study subject. It is the portion of the state that includes Rocky Mountain National Park as well as federally managed wilderness areas. What the students found was cause for concern. Colorado, like California, is experiencing drought, higher than usual temperatures and increased danger from fire.
To the naked eye, trees may appear green and healthy. Viewing the same satellite image outside the visible spectrum tells a different story.
“Near-infrared will tell you more about tree moisture content and overall tree health,” Brady said. It can reveal areas full of dead or dying trees.
The students’ final report offered details such as where to find stands of trees that have been heavily damaged by insects, specifically bark beetles.
Such analysis can be useful as humanity builds on the fringes of development and in rural areas — a place that analysts call the wildland urban interface. According to the U.S. Forest Service, by 2010, the wildland urban interface covered 10% of the land area of the Lower 48 states. That area included 33% of all homes.
Images outside the visible spectrum can offer analysts other clues, such as the chemical makeup of an object. “We can tell if a house is painted in Benjamin Moore paint” or a different brand, Brady said.
BAE’s software can also help intelligence analysts track motion. In addition, it can incorporate other data sources, such as signals data or financial data.
Software is the main emphasis at BAE’s Rancho Bernardo facility. It also includes a low-volume production area for satellite payloads.
BAE holds a conference for roughly 500-600 software users each spring in San Diego.
BAE Systems had $26.4 billion in 2020 revenue. It has 31,900 employees in the United States and 89,600 employees worldwide. In addition to its tech heavy software business, it helps the U.S. Navy maintain, repair and update its ships at a company shipyard in Barrio Logan.
The BAE team that supported the Colorado project was impressed with the students’ application of the scientific method as well as the rigor of their project. “I know the team that helped work on program really enjoyed working with the kids,” Brady said.
“This is a capability we would love to deliver into California, into San Diego,” he also said.
CEO: Charles Woodburn
HEADQUARTERS: London, with U.S. headquarters in Arlington, Virginia
BUSINESS: Defense contractor
REVENUE: $26.4 billion in 2020
STOCK: BA on the London Stock Exchange; BAESY on OTC
EMPLOYEES: 89,600 worldwide
NOTABLE: The corporation produces submarines and surface ships, including the U.K.’s Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers
CONTACT: (858) 592-5000