The era of near real-time and real-time optical and radar space imaging is drawing closer and closer. A big step forward in this direction was taken recently by an ESA experiment of a SAR image taken by Setinel-1A, then communicated to an optical communication Technology Demonstration Payload onboard Alphasat via laser beam, which then relayed it to the ground station. This data was then processed and converted to “image” form in just 13 minutes.
This experiment is a precursor towards the establishment of the European Data Relay System (EDRS) SpaceDataHighway, which aims to utilize relay communication satellites to transfer data to and from different satellite / aerial platforms to ground stations at very high speeds using laser communication. Detailed information about the EDRS SpaceDataHighway can be accessed here, here, and here.
I think it is just a matter of a few years before near-real time space imaging (accessible within a few minutes of data acquisition) will be commonplace in the civilian / commercial domain. And that will bring along a lot of new applications of satellite imaging to the fore. Exciting times ahead!