Enabling the public sector to save money, innovate and make more effective policy decisions by using space technology and data

Case Study: Telespazio VEGA – Development of operational national satellite imaging flood mapping capability

General Information

  • Provider: Telespazio VEGA
  • Technology utilised: Earth observation (EO)
  • Thematic area: Natural Hazards
  • End user(s): Environment Agency,Cabinet Office, Local Authorities
  • Website: www.telespazio-vega.com


  • 2016

This project was selected through an SSGP competition run using Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI), supported by Innovate UK.

The DEFRA National Flood Emergency Framework for England sets out scaled responses to flood emergencies on local to national scales. During January and February 2014 the UK experienced flooding beyond the response capability of a single local authority. This signified the need for high quality flood mapping data to aid flooding response across all sectors on a national scale.

The aim of this project was to meet expressed Cabinet Office (CO)/COBR requirements for rapid national level flood mapping in Near Real Time (NRT) using all weather (Radar) satellite imagery and developing existing local area satellite flood mapping methodologies.

The key objectives for the project were:

  • Improving timeliness using satellite capabilities – Reactive to Proactive
  • Develop national satellite tasking plan – Selective to Automated
  • Utilise UK CUT for near real time COSMO-SkyMed data downlink – Reliance to Control
  • Precise & Accurate automated flood delineation – Multiplex to Seamless Intuition 

The project achieved a three-day flood forecast to enable national tasking plan for high priority regions using high resolution COSMO-SkyMed Imagery. It also improved flood delineation across wide area mapping and the methodology for urban flood delineation. Overall, the accuracy of flood delineation was over 90% and the turnaround from image acquisition to precise flood delineation was four hours.

Lessons Learned

Through the development of a national tasking plan, the project highlighted the possibilities of satellite imagery to analyse with precision, terrestrial landscapes on a national scale in a short space of time.

Costs and Benefits

The potential cost for an eventual operational satellite application has two components:

  • Prioritised satellite tasking map – this is primarily manpower-based and completed within two days of activation, hence low cost. The service will attract a license fee for access to a commercial database used to assign flood risk.
  • Flood extent mapping costs – these will be driven by size and frequency of flood extents and associated commercial imagery licenses (where relevant) needed to fulfil them.

Savings will be evident through reduced expenditure on trying to contract the same capability via an alternative methodology. There are significant savings when compared to deploying an alternative solution that can provide the equivalent low latency and high frequency (i.e. twice daily) national response with weather-independent reliability to provide flood awareness products.

The potential benefit and saving achievable also include:

  • The benefit is seen as being providing a far more rapid situational awareness of flood risk and peak flow situation, which will better guide tactical response and political direction
  • The cost of the benefit is the value to government of having a faster, more comprehensive and more frequently available situational awareness.

Next Steps

The next steps for this project include automating the process to achieve near ‘real-time’ flood delineation on a national scale; the improvement of the forecast-guided activation of satellite imaging, and the greater provision of datasets to facility ease of use for insurance industry.