How satellites help cities become smart cities

 How satellites help cities become smart cities

Smart cities are cities of a new generation. Smart cities provide their citizens a high standard of living and efficient management, thanks to information technology, and based on a lot of data. An important source for this data for cities is space, where many satellites gather data about the world’s cities around the clock.

How can satellite data be applied to cities to make them truly ‘smart’? This article will give you a few ideas.

Eurisy’s satellite applications for smart cities

Satellite applications for smart cities / Image credit: Smart Cities Marketplace / European Comission
Satellite applications for smart cities / Image credit: Smart Cities Marketplace / European Comission

Eurisy’s Space for Smart Cities brochure describes several applications of satellite data technologies for smart cities, across four elements of what makes a city a smart city:

  • A safe and resilient city
  • A healthy and inclusive city
  • A clean city
  • An efficient city
space for safe and resilient city
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Space for a safe and resilient city

One of the basic human needs is security. Living in a safe city allows its inhabitants to realize their potential, contributing to the growth of the wellbeing of society. One way to ensure the safety and resilience of the city is to use satellite data. Earth remote sensing satellites are traditionally used to observe our planet. Satellite data for these purposes is used both by rescue services to assess the consequences of natural disasters, and in agriculture to effectively manage the future harvest. A specific list of satellite data applications for urban safety and resilience can be found below.


  • Management of natural disasters
  • Coordinated emergency and rescue services
  • Critical infrastructure monitoring
  • Oil spills detection and removal
  • Monitoring of hazardous goods’ transportation
  • Analysis of crime incident patterns
  • Infringements’ reporting


  • Soil morphology and moisture
  • Soil cover and use
  • Inland and sea water quality and temperature
  • Remote control of water reservoirs
  • Hazardous materials management
  • Sustainable urban agriculture
Space for a healthy and inclusive city
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Space for a healthy and inclusive city

Satellite images provide a whole picture of the city. We are talking about both a city landscape, thanks to which you can evaluate the efficiency of using urban space, but also monitoring particular significant objects thanks to high-resolution satellite cameras. The areas of application of satellite data in this sphere are presented in the lists below.


  • Coordinated emergency medical services
  • Remote health check-ups
  • Pollution peaks alerts
  • First aid apps


  • Apps enhancing civic e-participation
  • City management based on mobile behavioural data
  • Apps fostering sustainable lifestyles
  • City open data


  • Monitoring of historical buildings
  • Augmented reality and historical city maps
  • Tourism and city guides
  • Geolocated outdoor serious games
Space for a clean city
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Space for a clean city

Smart Cities Marketplace of the European commission shares best practicies of such kind of application of satellite data. In Salburg (Austria), satellite navigation was installed for an electric trolleybus fleet. The park’s electric trolleybuses help reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality in the city. The availability of satellite navigation allowed operators to reroute and avoid traffic jams. It also gives to government officials a clearer picture of infrastructure use for planning purposes. More ways how satellite data technologies makes smart cities clean are below.


  • Air quality and temperature
  • Traffic, industry and airport emissions
  • Air quality modelling and management


  • Solar energy systems’ assessment
  • Wind maps for wind power stations
  • Remote monitoring of hydropower stations
  • Synchronised power grid systems
  • Remote detection of power outages


  • Urban forest and biosphere maps
  • Balanced green and built-in spaces
  • Vegetation cover monitoring and management


  • Optimised bin collection
  • Detection of illegal dump sites
  • Hazardous waste tracking

Satellite navigation is also used to interact with citizens. The sat-nav-based app allows residents of Trieste (Italy) to submit and track requests to the city in 11 categories, e.g. reporting broken lights, leaking pipes, and the like. The system automatically prioritizes based on the number of applications received and allows the municipality to resolve issues with less time and resources, and track trends. This development is used by more than 80 local authorities in Italy,  first developed by students for Bologna.

Space for an efficient city
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Space for an efficient city

The fast-growing municipality of Montpellier in southern France is using sensors and satellite communications to monitor organic waste compost bins in real time. This allows operators to reduce management costs. More ways of use satellite data for efficient city are below.


  • Land cover classification
  • Land use monitoring and management
  • Cadastral maps
  • Urban sprawl monitoring
  • Property tax evaluation
  • Identifi cation of illegal buildings
  • Urban 3D planning


  • Real-time transport information
  • Bike and car sharing
  • Intermodal transport
  • Urban traffi c modelling and analysis
  • Optimisation of public transport and traffi c lights
  • Mobility support for persons with impaired mobility
  • Parking apps


  • Monitoring of pavements, buildings and critical infrastructure
  • Planning of constructions and transport infrastructure
  • Adapt construction materials to climate changes
  • Road condition and traffi c safety improvements
  • Mapping of buried optic fi bre, gas and electric lines
  • Soil subsidence maps to prioritise maintenance works
Who provides solutions for smart cities from space?
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Who provides solutions for smart cities from space?

As you can see, satellite technologies can improve urban life in many areas. ESA Space Solutions collected a list of organizations whose work is aimed at improving the wellbeing of cities’ inhabitants through satellite data technology. 

It is also important to pay attention not only to how satellite data technologies are applied in existing smart cities but also to how they will help non-smart cities into smart ones.

Example of smart city Hong Kong

According to SmartCitiesWorld, the Hong Kong Aerospace Technology Group announced its first dedicated satellite constellation project in 2020. This project will help build smart cities across the Greater Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Bay Area (GBA). This constellation will consist of low-orbit, high-frequency satellites to monitor the GBA’s “ecological life cycle”. This will accelerate the development of a smart city, which in turn will affect the growth of Hong Kong’s regional competitiveness and economy.

Join space for smart cities projects
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Read more showcases satellite-based applications, with cities being one of our  focus areas. Visit our Space for Smart Cities projects page to learn about opportunities satellite-based information services in the smart city environment.

Featured image credit:

Kacia Rutkoŭskaja

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