How To Order Commercial High-Resolution And Medium-Resolution Satellite Imagery

Apollo Mapping strives to make the process of ordering satellite imagery accessible to our customers. We recently read this article, and there’s some confusion on how ordering satellite imagery actually works. So we want to take the time to clarify some important questions we are commonly asked: Who are the customers we aim to serve? How do we actually get our images? And what does the process of ordering imagery through Apollo Mapping entail?

This 50-centimeter (cm) image was captured off the coast of New Zealand by the satellite WorldView-2 on October 10, 2015.

Who is a typical Apollo Mapping satellite imagery client?

Ordering satellite imagery starts with you – our customers. At Apollo Mapping, we serve all types of clients, including government officials, academics and companies. Generally there’s one common thread that unites our customers: They are people who need imagery to accomplish another task; they don’t want to go through the process of coding or interacting with an API; and they just need a ready-to-go image(s) to proceed with their job as quickly as possible.

If you’re not a typical customer and just want to test an image out, but don’t have a specific goal to accomplish, ordering images from Apollo Mapping might not be your best bet. Here are two free options you might consider instead: Google Earth or the USGS Earth Explorer.

Why is pricing for satellite imaging complicated?

Apollo Mapping is a satellite image reseller. This means we have nearly every commercially-available satellite image from numerous companies in one place, which allows us to offer an enormous variety of images to our customers. However, this also means every company we source our images from has its own pricing structure. And since each image we sell must meet the needs of the customer (i.e. newest imagery, imagery from a certain date range, etc.), we have to price out each one we select according to the specific provider’s pricing structure.

This 30-cm image of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates was captured by the satellite WorldView-3 on September 18, 2014.

How do I order satellite imagery?

There are two ways to request imagery from Apollo Mapping depending on your preference. If you want to see all the available data for your area and select your preferred images yourself, you can go through our imagery search engine, Image Hunter. There you can upload or select your area of interest, choose the image(s) you want, and submit it for a quote. The other option is to send us your order information via email.

For both options, you’ll need to define your area of interest. In Image Hunter you can define your area of interest by using our gazetteer, entering coordinates, drawing a polygon, or uploading a geographic file. You can find a basic tutorial on how to use Image Hunter here. Once your area is defined, Image Hunter will display all the available images based on the selected filters. You can then browse through the images, select the one(s) that meets your requirements, and submit the image(s) for a quote.

If you choose to email us your order directly, you will need to include your area of interest, a bit about your imagery requirements, and then we can help select the best image(s). To submit your area of interest, you can use coordinates in decimal degrees which can be grabbed from Google Earth. You can find instructions on how to locate coordinates in decimal degrees here. We can also use a Google Earth KML/KMZ file. You can learn more about Google Earth files here, and find instructions on saving a KML/KMZ file from GoogleEarth here. We also accept GIS polygon shapefiles. While this file type is most common for GIS professionals, you can find instructions on creating a shapefile here, and learn more about shapefiles here. For both Google Earth files and shapefiles, they can only have one polygon per file (not multiple polygons) for us to use them.

Along with your area of interest, it’s helpful to understand the imagery parameters required for your project when you email us. You can send your area of interest to with any specific requirements you have, such as date range and resolution for the images, or any other important project details.

No matter which of the above methods you use, we will get back to you as soon as possible with pricing for your satellite images. Once you receive and accept your quote, Apollo Mapping will place your order and perform any necessary production work. Generally, the data is delivered to you via Dropbox in 1 to 3 business days.

What can I expect to pay for satellite imagery?

This 50-cm image of the Rainbow Mountains in China was captured by the satellite GeoEye-1 on July 11, 2009.

While the cost for satellite imagery varies based on the vintage of the data, the resolution, and its overall quality, these figures are set by the individual satellite companies so there is not an exact methodology to this process. In broad terms, the starting price range for high-resolution imagery is between $300 and $800 based on the minimum order size of 25 square kilometers, or roughly 10 square miles. Production work can impact the price of imagery as well, including orthorectification, which makes the image more spatially accurate for use in a GIS; and color balancing, which allows your image to be opened and viewed with accurate color, instead of opening as a black tile.

Hopefully this information has helped shed some light on what we do here at Apollo Mapping – who our customers are, how you can order your own satellite imagery, and how you can expect those images to be priced. If you have any other questions about how to order satellite imagery, or would like to request a specific quote, please contact us at And if you’d like to stay up to date with the world of satellite imagery, as well as Apollo Mapping news, you can sign up to receive our monthly newsletter here at the bottom of the page.

Bonus question! How do we get our satellite images at Apollo Mapping?

If you’re curious about how imagery gets from a satellite into Apollo Mapping’s Image Hunter database, read on!

There are two ways satellite companies decide which areas of the world are imaged via satellites. The first one, called speculative collecting, occurs when satellite companies select areas they think are of high interest to their clients and then direct their satellites to collect imagery of those areas. Speculative collections are the reason we end up with a high volume of imagery over cities, coastlines and suburban areas, and less imagery over rural and/or less populated areas. The second way an area is selected for collection are client imagery requests for a project location, this is called tasking. For increased efficiency, when a client tasks a satellite to collect imagery of a specific location, satellite companies will typically collect a larger swatch around the area requested (so the satellite does some speculative collecting as well) instead of just the one isolated location they were paid to image.

The availability for speculative and tasked collections is controlled by a combination of three key factors: cloud cover forecasts, competition for satellite time, and overall satellite capacity. Satellites use advanced forecasts based on current and past weather patterns to avoid capturing imagery over the target area on days predicted to be cloudy, as no one wants images full of clouds!

Competition for satellite time has more to do with what makes sense for companies in terms of finances and expediency, rather than where their satellite(s) may be located in space. Satellite companies estimate how many desired locations (polygons) can be imaged in a single sweep of the satellite. They will then prioritize collecting as many locations as possible (thus maximizing the profitability of the satellite’s imaging time), instead of selecting out of the way spots where only one polygon can be imaged. People who wish to task imagery quicker can pay more for higher priority. Increased revenue makes tasking more worthwhile for satellite companies so customers get their data quicker than normally expected. This can help counter-balance the impact of remote polygons and/or competition for satellite imaging time.

Satellites also have finite onboard data storage capacity, much like your phone. Once their databases are full, they must pass over a ground downlink station, where the satellite can offload data from its onboard storage before continuing to capture imagery. Downlink stations essentially function like the Cloud as they are access points to store data on a network thereby creating more available bandwidth on the device (i.e. satellite).

Once data hits a downlink station, it’s stored locally on a satellite company’s internal network. Geographic metadata for each image is then made available on either an Application Programming Interface (API) or in a shapefile. From there, Apollo Mapping accesses the API or shapefile for a satellite company and then adds geographic information and a low-resolution preview for each collection to our Image Hunter database. These low-resolution previews are what you see when you search an area on Image Hunter. To search for your own satellite images now, check out this tutorial to help guide you through using Image Hunter.