SANSA Earth Observation Programmes and Projects

SANSA Earth Observation research and services are managed by means of various programmes and projects.

Applications and Products Programme

Within SANSA's Earth Observation directorate, one of the main focus areas is to streamline the conversion of raw imagery into a format that is accessible to the users.

A key component in remote sensing is image processing. Raw satellite images need to be presented in a usable and meaningful format before various remote sensing tasks can be performed on the images. Image processing algorithms are usually executed on raw imagery to produce meaningful products. Typical tasks including image enhancements, atmospheric corrections, pan-sharpening and orthorectification are usually performed on raw imagery. Recently, the amount of data received from various sensors has increased drastically; and as a result the need for automated processing chains for the above tasks; in order to get the data out timeously. One of the key tasks within the SANSA Earth Observation directorate is the development and improvement of these automated processing chains in order to speed up production and ensure accuracy for the delivered satellite image products.

In addition to the development of processing chains used to deliver base processed satellite images, the Earth Observation directorate is involved in taking base level satellite images and converting these into higher level value added products. Examples of these products include an annual national mosaic which is produced using SPOT 5 imagery (since 2006). In addition, an exciting new product is available whereby the directorate is involved in providing clients with a fire scar mapping service. This fire scar mapping service is a product delivered to interested parties who wish to trace the progression and starting point of fires. Further information on these products can be found under the "Service - Image production" link.

Research and Project Programme

The Earth Observation directorate of SANSA is actively involved in a number of research projects. The directorate has now identified two flagship research projects which will spearhead the unit's research directions in the upcoming years. The first of these is a project focusing on Housing, primarily targeted at understanding the national dynamics of low-cost and informal settlement developments. The second research area is an environmental flagship which is tailored to investigate national vegetation dynamics. These projects are further outlined below.

Flagship Project

Human Settlement

Informal settlement change detection

More than 10% of the South Africa's 50 million people live in urban informal settlements. Living conditions within these settlements are typically poor with residents facing a range of basic livelihood challenges including poor access to basic sanitation and water supply, solid waste accumulation, recurrent shack fires, safety and security risks, and a range of other health hazards. South Africa has established a National Informal Settlement Development Programme (NUSP) to respond to these challenges. This programme was designed to support the National Department of Human Settlement (NDHS) in its implementation of the Upgrading Informal Settlements Programme (UISP) with the objective of eventually upgrading all informal settlements in the country. Currently, the NDHS does not have access to an updated national dataset captured at the same scale using source data that can be used to understand the status of informal settlements in the country. The latest national coverage of informal settlements information was released in 2007 and therefore the need to create an updated informal settlement using available high resolution imagery. This project investigates the use of SPOT 5 data used to study the status of informal settlements and assess the changes that have taken place between 2006 and 2011. The images illustrate how informal settlement areas in Mamelodi, Pretoria have expanded between an image acquired in 2006 and an image acquired in 2011. The red area depicts the change that has taken place between these two image dates.

2006 mamelodi          mamelodi 2011


Technology Programme

Ttechnologyhe Technology Programme is run within the SANSA Earth Observation division under what is known as the Data Systems Management (DSM) unit. The core work carried out within the technology group is the upkeep and maintenance of the Earth Observation Data Centre (EODC).

The Earth Observation Data Centre file storage system houses the satellite imagery archive on an 80TB online file system and is archived to a 760TB tape storage library. Image processing is performed by the 14 dual/quad core processing servers. The DSM group is responsible for the technical support of the Ground Segment systems once the satellite imagery is received by SANSA Space Operations. This includes all the computer systems for storage, processing and delivery of satellite imagery to the consumer. The hardware and file storage systems are currently being upgraded to improve performance and access to data.


HCD Programme

Building Earth Observation Capacity in South Africa

Human Capital Development (HCD) is a cross-cutting theme in all SANSA programs. In a bid to advance the efficient use of Earth Observation (EO) services and products, SANSA is continually pursuing a progressive HCD programme that is aimed at creating transferable hands-on skills, to advance the science of remote sensing in South Africa and close the current skills gap in the country. SANSA is implementing strategic training programs that include internship and studentship programmes, guest lecturing at university, post graduate supervision, and conducting focused training courses to government departments and the wider community. SANSA aims to improve user competencies to analyze and interpret satellite data within government and the broader user community. We promote trans-disciplinary knowledge sharing in all earth observation societal-benefit areas through our international collaborations with the Group on Earth Observation (GEO), Committee of Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS), Japan International Co-operation Agency, European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) and European Space Agency (ESA). SANSA Earth Observation offers the following short training courses regularly to users of satellite imagery.

·         Introduction to  Remote Sensing 
·         Remote sensing technologies in disaster risk management.
·         Introduction to hyperspectral remote sensing and field spectroscopy.
·         Remote sensing application to land cover mapping.
·         Satellite applications in intergrated water resources management 
·         Advanced Remote Sensing and Machine Learning Algorithms.
·         Introduction to SAR Remote Sensing for professionals
·         Introductory Geographic Information System and Remote Sensing for educators


The SANSA Earth Observation Internship Programme is offered to honours and masters graduates, providing them with exposure to Earth Observation applications. The programme currently runs for a year, but could possible cater for six month internships too. Interns work on a number of skills including image processing, feature extraction and integration of remote sensing with other GIS data. The Internship Programme is based firstly on a familiarisation period where interns learn and apply some of the basic remote sensing techniques. Following this period, they will be involved in a more in-depth project which will fall under the supervision of one of the SANSA Earth Observation staff. They will then have the opportunity to work on an advanced topic and perform a project which will involve the integration of these advanced topic skills. The Internship Programme is based on advertised posts, so be sure to keep an eye on the vacancies section to see if we have any new positions advertised.

Short courses

short coursesA variety of short courses are catered for in the SANSA Earth Observation division:
  • Short courses may be presented at different universities on specific components of remote sensing (for example the Hyperspectral Remote Sensing course which was offered at NMMU in 2012). These courses will usually be integrated within the relevant course curricula of the university.
  • Short courses could be topic specific and be targeted at remote sensing practitioners or lecturers wishing to expand their current skills and learn new techniques. Examples of such training include the eCognition training held in November 2012 at SANSA's Hartebeesthoek site. Upcoming training courses for 2013 that are currently being investigated include a targeted training on Best Practices for Spectroradiometer Usage, and a course in conjunction with the CSIR on Introductory Scientific Programming with Python. The dates are still to be confirmed.

Data delivery

Fundisa UPAnnually, SANSA produces a data disk (Fundisa disk) with data sets specific to South Africa. These disks are delivered to up to 16 tertiary institutions and enable lecturers and students to make use of the data either for teaching purposes or in their research. If you are a student at a tertiary institute and wish to make use of remote sensing data for your studies, please contact the SANSA Earth Observation office to determine who at your university has access to the disk. SANSA will soon launch the Fundisa portal. This portal is designed to highlight to students what data is available and provide them with a link and information as to how to access the data via the SANSA catalogue. The portal will also provide student users with a forum in which questions can be posted and answered either by other users or by SANSA's in-house remote sensing experts.

Research support

The SANSA Earth Observation division offers support to researchers either through joint supervision of students, or through a visiting scientist programme.

  • Within many universities and tertiary institutions, students are being exposed to remote sensing and Earth observation data. Not all departments however have in-house expertise to support a student that wishes to combine Earth observation topics into their proposed research. The SANSA Earth Observation directorate in these situations, can offer support from scientists and provide joint supervision to these university students, ensuring that they receive the sufficient assistance for this component of their studies.
  • SANSA's Earth Observation directorate offers visiting scientists the opportunity to spend time at the institution for up to three months. Ideally, visiting scientists will be focussing on a collaborative research project with at least one of the SANSA Earth Observation members and this visiting time will provide individuals with the opportunity to work closely with one another. While the sabbatical time will allow the scientist to primarily focus on their work, they will be expected to at least present a talk at one of the Science Forums.

Science Advancement Programme

science advThe Science Advancement programme at SANSA aims to stimulate the uptake and appreciation of STEMI - Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Innovation - by the youth and the general public by using the novelty of outer space. Our teams engage with the youth and general public around the country through various platforms including national science festivals, technology exhibitions, direct school visits and guided tours of SANSA facilities.

The SANSA team will be at the upcoming national science festival Scifest Africa in Grahamstown and our experts look forward to engaging with young minds on the societal benefits of outer space exploration.
Pics for Science Advancement 1Pics for Science Advancement 2

Dont' miss the latest SANSA updates! FacebookTwitterYoutube