With its unique constellation of satellites, Airbus Defence and Space - Intelligence has been the European leader in Earth Observation for over 35 years. Leveraging artificial intelligence, the Starling service enables small farmers, as well as industrial and governmental entities, to take proactive measures against deforestation caused by raw material production.
Michael Chemouny, Director of Optical Programs at Airbus Defence and Space - Intelligence, sheds light on Airbus Intelligence’s Earth Observation services and the transformative Starling platform.

Tell us about Airbus Intelligence’s Earth Observation services?

Intelligence has a constellation of satellites that combine optical and radar capabilities. In terms of optical resolution, our Pléiades Neo provides users with 30cm native resolution satellite imagery.
We also provide digital geospatial solutions to different industries, enabling users to get direct access to the information- they need through value-added products and services. To democratise access to our satellite imagery, we have launched OneAtlas. This digital platform also provides AI-based image intelligence services, such as object detection and counting (vehicles, airplanes, boats), land classification mapping, and change detection. OneAtlas offers different thematic services, including Starling, dedicated to forests.

What is the objective of the service?

Together with the NGO Earthworm Foundation, Starling was initially developed to verify no-deforestation and responsible sourcing commitments made by private sector companies in industries like palm oil, pulp and paper, and cocoa. Today, the service has expanded its impact to help businesses verify their "zero deforestation" commitments in supply chains. It is also being used by government agencies. In addition to its verification capabilities, Starling helps implement innovative initiatives like reforestation, environmental protection, and carbon capture through agroforestry. The service operates in 22 countries globally, covering an area of seven million square kilometers and a historical imagery archive spanning 20 years.

How is Starling making a tangible impact?

Let’s take the case of Côte d'Ivoire, where the government is using Starling in the protected forest of Cavally. Not only did Starling quickly detect and combat illegal activities, but it also instilled a deep sense of commitment among local authorities and communities. By using Starling, they were able to optimise existing plantations, diversify income streams, and launch reforestation campaigns, all aimed at nurturing forest rejuvenation. The impact has been astounding. Deforestation has been curtailed, with an impressive 38,968 hectares of land preserved. Furthermore, replanting efforts have resulted in the addition of 75,919 new trees to the region and 777 hectares of forests are witnessing natural regeneration.

How is Starling expected to evolve?

There are several challenges on the horizon, primarily related to the new European regulations on imported deforestation. These regulations cover the importation of raw materials or processed products that have contributed to deforestation. In response, we are committed to adapting Starling's AI algorithms, calibrating and training them on new ecosystems. We also aim to develop new algorithms to expand our coverage to a greater variety of commodities, such as soybeans. Moreover, our vision extends beyond the current capabilities of Starling. We aspire to delve deeper into assessing biomass and its carbon storage potential, as well as expanding our focus on reforestation activities. By continuously pushing the boundaries of technology and innovation, we aim to enhance our services and contribute even more effectively to the global efforts in combating deforestation.