5 Benefits of Using Satellite Imagery Over Drones

According to Euroconsult, the global market for commercial Earth observation data and services is expected to reach $8 billion by 2029, growing from $4.6 billion in 2019. With satellites and drones being the most common ways to collect this type of data, understanding when to use one or another is key for making an informed decision. 

In this blog, we cover 5 reasons why satellites are more cost-effective. You’ll also learn how to identify situations when you should use a drone instead.


While drones need to be piloted by someone, satellites are fully autonomous. Once they’re in orbit, they rotate around the Earth, using sophisticated lenses and sensors to image the planet and send data back to the ground station.

Typically, when someone wants to buy commercial satellite imagery, they just have to specify their area of interest (AOI), frequency of image collection, date range, and resolution. Then, it can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days until the results are delivered. It’s just that simple!


Landscapes that are difficult to navigate by road or by foot may not be best suited for drone surveying. For example, you may want to think twice before sending a drone to forestry or mountainous locations. These natural obstacles can add more complexity to the operation, resulting in longer flight times and the risk of losing the equipment.  

Remote areas and drones are not exactly the best friends, either. That’s because most drones can’t fly too far away from the controller, meaning that the drone operator needs to be at least within a few kilometers of it. 

When you use satellite images, you don’t have to worry about any of that. 


Here’s a detail often overlooked when deciding the best way to capture images: 

Sun angle. 

Commercial drones have a flight time of about half an hour, so they might need to be recharged to complete the job. Each full charge takes between 60 to 90 minutes. Because our planet revolves around the sun, the sun angle will have changed when the drone is able to fly again.

If you’re just recording some footage, that’s OK. 

But if you’re a GIS manager who needs to conduct geospatial analysis, you’ll have to account for different elevations and sun angles when processing your image. 

One of the benefits of using satellites over drones is consistency, so you don’t have to spend extra time making corrections to your images. 


When it comes to capturing images, one of the biggest differences between satellites and drones is scalability. 

Because satellites are easier to operate, work well in remote locations, and offer more consistency, it’s no surprise that they’re often the preferred solution for imaging large areas.

Satellites are also better suited for customers interested in change detection, which requires the ongoing capture of images for comparison. Instead of booking a drone flight every single time, you can use a platform like EarthCache to automate satellite imagery collection. 


Aerial drone images cost around $100/hour. On the other hand, satellite imagery pricing is based on area size, resolution, and when the data is captured. For example, a medium-resolution archive image can cost $2.50/km², whereas a high-resolution new image, that still needs to be captured, can cost $12/km². 

For $300, a satellite can take high-resolution images of the same area covered by a drone, with the benefit of also collecting processed data.

The price of commercial satellite images is dropping every year because the cost of sending satellites into space is lower than ever, prompting more space companies to build their own constellations. As a result, the increased supply makes prices go down. 

When Should You Use a Drone?

There are a few situations when drones can be a better alternative to satellite imagery. 

First, you have to consider the level of detail you need. High-resolution satellites can give you a good view of the top of a building, but if you need more granularity to see small objects, you’d be better off with a drone. 

You should also use drones if you need more control over the angle at which an image is captured. Although this is changing with more sophisticated satellites, most satellite images can look a bit flat.

Lastly, drones are a safer bet if you have the urgency to obtain images. With satellites, clouds can cover parts of your area of interest and there’s not much you can do about it besides putting in a request for a new satellite image.  

Capture Satellite Images With EarthCache

SkyWatch is a Waterloo-based company on a mission to make Earth observation data accessible to everyone. We connect remote sensing managers and developers with one of the largest networks of satellite imagery providers in the world. 

Our talented team built EarthCache to simplify the process of buying commercial satellite images. Once you sign up, you’ll have access to multiple data providers, such as Planet and Airbus, all under one roof. It’s like Amazon for satellite imagery!

EarthCache is extremely easy to use, so you don't have to worry about complicated data agreements and lengthy negotiations. It’s also risk-free because there are no subscription fees, you only pay for what you buy and when the images are delivered. 

If you’re building an application, you’ll get instant access to the EarthCache API. You’ll be able to create your prototype at no cost with open data sources.

To request access to EarthCache, fill out the form below. We’ll get in touch with you to assess your needs, give you a product tour, and create your account.

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