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This year’s Joint Agency Commercial Imagery Evaluation (JACIE) Workshop set all kinds of records—more commercial vendors, more presentations, a new networking event and, above all, more people. About 575 signed up for the event, compared to 350 in 2023.

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Why so much enthusiasm for a workshop focused on assessing the quality of remote sensing data?  

In a word, growth. The number of satellite systems dedicated to observing Earth is expanding as both government entities and companies see the increasing societal benefits of remote sensing data. 

“JACIE is a community where government and industry can come together and bring their like-minded calibration/validation scientists to sit and talk and understand how to utilize these data,” said Greg Stensaas, who has been instrumental over the years in fostering those relationships. Stensaas is an emeritus of the Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center, part of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

USGS Adds New Features

The USGS-planned workshop included new features this year to enhance the collaboration and meet the needs for the growing industry. For the first time it featured side meetings on synthetic aperture radar (SAR), assessments and tools, and hyperspectral instruments (HSI). That’s in addition to a packed agenda of sessions that included new systems; artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML); topography, geolocation and digital elevation models (DEMs); standards, specs and formats; and, of course, calibration and validation. 

JACIE organizers were thrilled at the level of interest. About 275 people showed up in person, with 300 registered for the online option. The number of presenters was about 50% higher than the 2023 workshop total, and three times as many vendors set up booths in the exhibit and display area, which also included a poster session. “The auditorium more or less filled up, with not a whole lot of seats available” at many sessions, said KBR contractor Pat Scaramuzza, a senior scientist at EROS who presented one of the posters.

“The Monday night networking event was also new this year and well received,” said Jeff Clauson, data quality lead for the EROS Calibration/Validation Center of Excellence (ECCOE). “Vendors and poster presenters were also present for the entire week and engaged attendees during every break,” he said.

People talking at a networking event
Jeff Clauson of USGS EROS (left) talks with Raad Salah of NOAA at the 2024 JACIE workshop during the networking event.

How JACIE Helps Industry

JACIE has always been a venue for commercial, government, and academic technical cal/val engineers and scientists to collaborate on understanding and improving data products offered by commercial vendors. Commercial vendors/value-adders accounted for roughly 50 percent of those attending the workshop, and they are eager to get feedback on their products.

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“JACIE strives to be a neutral ground between governmental decision makers and commercial marketers aimed at getting the most out of all data products,” said Cody Anderson, the ECCOE project manager and the USGS JACIE manager. "We aim to not play favorites with any commercial providers. We want to use every data set that's out there,” he said.

In addition to USGS, the JACIE partner agencies include NASA, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The European Space Agency (ESA) is also strongly involved and operates a “sister” workshop: the Very High-resolution Radar & Optical Data Assessment (VH-RODA).

“Evaluation” and “assessment" are in the names of these “sister” workshops, and these benefit companies in myriad ways, especially start-ups. “Getting everybody in one place is definitely very valuable for those smaller, newer companies because there’s no other venue like JACIE to learn what some of these U.S. government requirements are across the board, including your image quality and your cal/val requirements,” said Jim Vrabel, the USGS tech team lead for JACIE and an imaging scientist for Imaging Technology Consultants, a subcontractor to KBR. 

Being the maintainers of the Landsat “gold standard” and the JACIE managers, ECCOE provides significant value in being able to measure data against the best-scrutinized remote sensing dataset. “In terms of the commercial aspect, there's definitely interest in trying to align the commercial data to that gold standard of Landsat and then being able to leverage that for interoperability and use within science applications,” Clauson said.

Other tools provided by ECCOE that provide value for commercial vendors and an educational resource to the larger remote sensing community include the JACIE Earth Observing Satellites Online Compendium and the Spectral Characteristics Viewer. The compendium offers details on over 650 satellite missions, active and inactive, and is updated when new data are available, with the most recent version from February 2024. The spectral viewer allows users to compare the theoretical spectral response differences between products from multiple sensors over varied targets. 

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How JACIE Benefits Government

When it began, JACIE was intended to evaluate whether commercial ventures could provide data at a high enough quality, comparable to existing government sensors, for scientific use for federal agencies. As the commercial remote sensing industry has grown, its relationship with JACIE agencies has shifted into more of an even partnership, with both sides learning from each other. Both sides have also progressed in providing information in ways more readily digestible by each other, minimizing the time needed to exploit the benefits of the diverse datasets.

That collaborative attitude was in full evidence at the JACIE workshop. Scaramuzza noted innovations from companies that have potential to directly benefit EROS, including an algorithm to help estimate surface temperature. He also attended presentations about how hyperspectral imaging satellites would be useful to simulate the Landsat Next trio of satellites pre-launch.

Stensaas summed up the spirit of progress surrounding JACIE with a reference to William T. Pecora, a USGS director in the 1960s who helped create EROS and the entire field of Earth observation. “We’re at a point now, I think, where the original vision from Pecora about viewing everything from space to understand the changes in the earth is now a reality with the different datasets, different scales, different modalities, different sources. Everything’s here now to achieve that vision, and we are at the birth of a new remote sensing and data science environment where things will be done that we could never before envision.” 

Two men discuss a scientific poster
EROS scientist Pat Scaramuzza (right) chats with Aaron Gerace of RIT at the 2024 JACIE workshop. Scaramuzza presented a poster about cloud masking.

Workshop Highlights

International ties: Participants from 31 different countries of origin attended the workshop, including Australia, Bangladesh, Ghana, Germany and the United Kingdom. “The international aspect of the whole thing is that the remote sensing scientist doesn't really care whether your satellite system comes from Japan or Italy or the United States,” Stensaas noted. “As long as the data fits and has data quality to meet your science application need, you'll use it.” 

Valentina Boccia, Earth Observation Data Quality & Cal/Val Manager for Optical Missions at ESA, reported on what she termed “the European JACIE”—the VH-RODA workshop. VH-RODA started in 2019 and frequently interacts with JACIE, with representatives of the two groups giving status reports at each other’s workshops. 

JACIE 2025: Since 2004, USGS has had a unique role related to JACIE, providing administration and management of the JACIE team. USGS hosted this year’s workshop at its Reston, Virginia, headquarters, with EROS’ team of remote sensing experts planning the workshops. Reston will also host next year’s JACIE on April 7-11, 2025.

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