Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 43

Submission from the Ordnance Survey


1.1  About Ordnance Survey

  Ordnance Survey is the provider of definitive mapping data for England, Scotland and Wales. We benefit businesses, government organisations and consumers by supplying intelligent digital information and paper maps based on one of the world's most detailed geographic reference frameworks.

  Ordnance Survey is a non-ministerial government department and Executive Agency, which since 1999 has operated as a Trading Fund within the public sector. Our Director General and Chief Executive is official adviser to the United Kingdom Government on all aspects of survey, mapping and geographic information.

  Ordnance Survey surveys and collects data on roads, buildings, postal and non-postal addresses, boundaries, water courses, height and many other aspects of the natural and man-made landscape of Britain. Although traditionally supplied to the user as paper maps, this data is now more usually supplied as digital information, which can be readily analysed, manipulated and linked to other information. The large-scale digital database of the surface of Britain is known as the National Geographic Database (NGD), from which the OS MasterMap®product is produced. The NGD is kept up to date on a daily basis with up to 5,000 changes being made to the database each day. It forms a valuable resource for both private- and public-sector organisations in this country, and an independent report published in 1999 estimated that Ordnance Survey mapping underpinned £100 billion of economic activity.

  Ordnance Survey has interest in two specific areas of space exploitation: Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) and remote sensing. Ordnance Survey will therefore address its response in the context of these two topics.

1.2  The use of GPS by Ordnance Survey

  Ordnance Survey has been at the forefront in developing the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) as a positioning tool over the last 18 years. The key contribution of GPS to Ordnance Survey is as a fundamental building block for our data—through defining the location reference framework in Great Britain—and as a tool to aid data collection.

  The introduction of GPS technology to our 350 field surveyors has resulted in a 40% efficiency gain in their working practices; we anticipate further improvements in our business processes with the introduction of GALILEOTM, as a result of reduced signal acquisition times and greater satellite availability.

  Ordnance Survey uses GPS specifically to:

    —  define the 3-D reference framework for Britain as well as providing an explicit link to European and global co-ordinate reference systems; and

    —  provide a positioning tool to aid data capture for both on-the-ground and photogrammetric survey.

1.3  Ordnance Survey GPS services

  Ordnance Survey provides a countrywide GPS service that can be accessed via OS Net® provides free access to a facility that enables all GPS users to post-process GPS signals in order to improve the accuracy of their raw GPS data and to work seamlessly between Britain's National Grid and the GPS co-ordinate system. The creation of this service was initially part funded by the National Interest Mapping Services Agreement (NIMSA).

  Ordnance Survey is also providing the ability to enhance the accuracy of positions derived from the raw GPS data that is received from the satellites in real time. Ordnance Survey runs a service for its own GPS-equipped surveyors that means that they can just get out of their cars, dial into the service and receive corrections that enable up to 1-cm level positioning. This has driven considerable flexibility in working practices tied into significant efficiency savings. A wide range of government and commercial applications also require accurate positioning in real time. So, since April 2006, Ordnance Survey has made the raw GPS observations from OS Net available to appointed partner organisations for them to create a range of services for their customers.

  When GALILEO is operational OS Net will provide combined GPS and GALILEO functionality, adding in increased availability, flexibility and efficiency to high-accuracy GNSS users.

1.4  Use of remote sensing by Ordnance Survey

  Ordnance Survey's main use of remote sensing involves the use of aerial images captured using a photogrammetric-quality digital camera flown in a fixed-wing aircraft, flying at about 1,500 to 2,000 metres above ground level. These images are used to update the NGD, from which Ordnance Survey's products are derived as well as being used to populate the OS MasterMap Imagery Layer. The resolution of the images used in this process is between 15 cm and 20 cm (ground sample distance), which is much finer than any commercially available space-borne imagery. Nevertheless, Ordnance Survey has followed the growth of the high-resolution satellite sensor industry with interest, and has engaged in several initiatives to determine how such imagery could be used by a mapping agency such as us.

  Projects undertaken in the Data Collection & Management and the Research & Innovation departments of Ordnance Survey have investigated the use of images from satellites, including Landsat, SPOT and, more recently, IKONOS and QuickBird. These investigations have shown that the satellite imagery available to the civilian market at the present time does not provide us with adequate information to fully update our spatial database to the required specification. However, we feel that there is value in continuing our investigations into other uses of remotely sensed data, especially that of change detection[58]. When a feature, such as a house or a length of road, changes on the ground, it is our duty to find this change and capture it in the NGD. One of our recent research projects investigated change detection using QuickBird imagery (60-cm resolution, panchromatic imagery from the satellite operated by Digital Globe® of Longmont, Colorado). It was found that imagery of this resolution was very valuable when helping to determine where change had occurred—and what type of change it was. While it was not possible to capture this change in the database to the required level of accuracy, the mere knowledge that change has occurred could be of significant use, and therefore produce substantial savings to us in the deployment of alternative methods of capture, such as field survey and aerial photography. Our results have been presented at various international conferences and in several publications, including an article in the ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (2006, vol. 60, pp 212-223).


2.1  The impact of current levels of investment on space-related activities on the UK's international competitiveness in this sector

  The British approach to remote-sensing space missions in the past has been, in our opinion, quite low key, while our neighbours see this as an important aspect of their space programmes (witness France's continuing sponsorship of the SPOT [Satellite Pour l'Observation de la Terre] programme and Germany's investment in the TerraSar-X and related radar satellites). Some encouraging signs of a flourishing satellite industry have emerged in the UK via Surrey University, in the shape of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL). Until now, the remote sensing capabilities of the microsatellites developed by SSTL have not matched our requirements, but this shows some signs of changing. The TopSat experimental satellite collaboration between SSTL, QinetiQ®, Infoterra and Rutherford Appleton Laboratories shows how a remote-sensing system can be built and deployed for a fraction of the cost of traditional systems such as Landsat and SPOT. The partial funding of this mission by the British National Space Centre is to be applauded.

2.2  The benefits and value for money obtained from participation in the European Space Agency and other international programmes

  From a remote sensing point of view, we do not feel qualified to comment on this issue as we have had very little experience of remote-sensing data from European programmes.

  Current GNSS are operated primarily for defence purposes. GPS and GLONASS are owned and operated by the United States and Russian military agencies respectively. Whilst assurances have been made, especially by the Americans, regarding the continued availability of these navigation systems, there are no guarantees. Until this problem is overcome, and the number of GNSS signals is increased, the growing needs of member states for satellite positioning and navigation cannot be met.

  GALILEO, an initiative of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission (EC), has been developed by the EU for the EU citizen to benefit from. It will have guaranteed levels of service and the legally binding operational assurances that are needed for safety of life as well as commercial services. GALILEO will therefore provide a stable GNSS to support EU directives and programmes (especially around transport management) and result in user confidence, which is necessary to stimulate investment in the development of end-user applications.

  The key benefits of GALILEO are:

    —  Greater signal availability, as GALILEO itself will have more satellites than current GNSS and it can also be combined with the existing GNSS. This brings huge potential in environments where line-of-sight signals are restricted at present, for example, in built-up areas and under tree canopies.

    —  Improved accuracy, as a result of having two civilian codes, will give better raw stand-alone positional accuracy than current GNSS.

    —  Improved reliability or service due to increased redundancy and integrity monitoring.

    —  Wider breadth of services than current GNSS; that is the Public Regulated Service, the Safety of Life Service and so on, because GALILEO will be in European civilian control, designed for civilian, member state and commercial applications, and operated for the benefit of the European citizen.

  Currently knowing the time of day is something that is ubiquitous for us all; in the future knowing our position could be just as omnipresent. Ubiquitous knowledge of location provides major benefits to good governance, business success and citizen services by, for example:

    —  improving personal safety;

    —  reducing traffic congestion and enabling innovative transport policy;

    —  faster life-critical response;

    —  reducing distribution costs; and

    —  cheaper offender management.

  Significant commercial markets are therefore expected to develop to support these and other applications, which GALILEO will underpin. The following provides more details for some.

2.2.1  Transport

  The management of traffic and transport systems features prominently on the government agenda. One of the prospective positioning tools for the implementation of these initiatives is undoubtedly GNSS. Using one system only may be seen as too much of a risk—a second provides the redundancy and added availability that would be required. Thus the linking together of reliable GPS and GALILEO positions with accurate and intelligent geographic information is seen as crucial to the successful delivery of these initiatives.

  Transport management systems, whether they are for boat, plane, ship, train, car or people, are already using GPS for either their primary navigation/tracking system or to augment traditional systems. A second, independent and quality-assured system will mean that many further potential applications and modes of operation are possible.

2.2.2  Emergency services

  The US E-911 regulation already requires all emergency calls to provide positional information to assist the emergency services in finding the citizen in trouble. Article 26 from the European Commission directive on universal service and user's rights relating to electronic communications networks and services (2002/22/EC—22/3/2002) introduces a similar requirement for member states. Although the implementation of these services has been slow as a result of both technology and the costs involved, when they are implemented, it is seen that GALILEO will play a major part in ensuring a reliable and accurate location.

  Navigation of the emergency services using GNSS tied to geographic information, already used by many UK emergency services, would become much more reliable with a second GNSS. This is because, currently, emergency crews often encounter blind spots whilst relying on GPS alone. Using GNSS expanded by GALILEO would eliminate many of these blind spots, enabling emergency-service crews to locate accidents more accurately, quickly and consistently.

2.2.3  Street works

  Better co-ordination between utilities, local authorities and central-government departments in planning and executing work on the public highway is high on the government agenda and would result in less digging, less interruption and less congestion. There are, for example, around 4 million utility road openings per year in the UK, which cost millions of pounds in congestion. This issue is addressed in the New Roads and Street Works Act (1991) and subsequent secondary legislation.

  The part-DTI-, part-industry-funded VISTA project ( will investigate the use of global navigation satellite technology linked to existing asset records to produce 3-D images of utilities' underground assets. GALILEO would provide the improved positioning and availability on top of what GPS is giving now. Once these geospatial positions are recorded, the location and relocation of these assets provides for significant financial savings as well as reducing the risk of breaking cables and potential lost business time.

  Along with raw positioning capability, users need a robust geospatial framework such as OS MasterMap to create and share information, enabling intelligent decision making.

2.3  The maximisation of commercial benefits and wealth creation from UK space-based technologies through innovation and knowledge transfer

  As mentioned earlier, the transfer of knowledge from the university sector to the private sector appears to have been very successful in the case of SSTL. On several occasions, at recent international conferences, we have heard people praise SSTL for their low-cost, short-development-cycle microsatellites. The commercialisation programmes of companies such as QinetiQ are also showing how technology developed originally for the military and intelligence sectors can be modified for commercial use. While Ordnance Survey has not yet availed itself of such technology, we continue to follow developments and engage with the organisations involved, in the expectation that at some future date the capability of the remote-sensing satellites will match our spatial-data-collection requirements.

  UK's strength in both pure and applied GNSS research can benefit from the huge potential that exploiting this capability provides. Our experience in the implementation and commercialisation of GNSS-based applications provides a strong background on which to exploit the major expansion predicted in the GNSS market.

2.4  The delivery of public benefits from the space-related activities of different government departments (for example, DEFRA, MoD, DTI, DfT) and the co-ordination of these activities

  It is our feeling that the medium- to long-term UK Government policy objectives should be the primary driver for support and funding. It is then possible to explicitly measure expenditure/support versus benefit across government—driving future space strategy. Key government policy drivers around the environment, transport/congestion and advancing UK industry are examples. This will really enable a focus on where the true benefit lies.

  The GNSS benefits outlined in section 2.2 are mostly directed towards government departments. It is thought that to really take advantage of these benefits, sharing of strategy and space requirements across government is a necessity.

2.5  Support for space-related research and the UK skills base

  The UK has a small but internationally respected research skills base, as evidenced by the UK presence at international conferences on space-related subjects. We would like to see this continue, and hope that the UK Government sees space-related research—and especially earth observation—as a key science worthy of investment.

October 2006

58   One of the key challenges to Ordnance Survey is that of defining where change has happened so that survey effort can be focused on it. Back

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