Satellite imagery

Mapbox Satellite is a global basemap of high resolution satellite imagery, and Mapbox Satellite Streets combines the Mapbox Satellite basemap with vector data from Mapbox Streets to bring contextual information to your map. The imagery data comes from a variety of commercial providers, as well as open data from NASA, USGS, and others. It is color-corrected and blended together into a single raster tileset. This guide provides an overview of how satellite imagery works and how to use it in your next Mapbox project.

Sakurajima, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan

How imagery works

Our satellite imagery comes from a variety of sources as raster data and is processed and composited together by Mapbox.

Raster data

All satellite imagery is stored in raster format. Rasters are a pixel-based data format that efficiently represent continuous surfaces. Information in a raster is stored in a grid structure with each unit of information, or pixel, having the same size and shape but varying in value. Digital photographs, orthophotography, and satellite images are all stored in this format.

rasters-are-pixels

Raster formats are well-suited to analyses that look at change over space and time because each data value has an accessible location based on the grid. This allows us to access the same geographic location in two or more different rasters and compare their values.

Satellite rasters

When Earth-observing satellites take a picture, they read and record reflectance values collected from wavelengths along the electromagnetic spectrum.

diagram of electromagnetic spectrum

Source: “Comparison of wavelength, frequency and energy for the electromagnetic spectrum.” Digital image. The Electromagnetic Spectrum. March 2013. Accessed June 2017. https://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/science/toolbox/emspectrum1.html.

The human eye can only see a small part of the light-energy that is the electromagnetic spectrum. This is called visible light, because our vision evolved to be most sensitive where the sun emits the most light, and is broadly restricted to wavelengths that make up what we call red, green, and blue. Satellite sensors perceive a far wider range of the electromagnetic spectrum. The ability of sensors to collect information outside of our normal range of vision allows us to make visible the previously invisible.

The electromagnetic spectrum has such a wide range it would be impractical for a sensor to collect information from all wavelengths at the same time. Instead, different sensors prioritize the collection of information from different wavelengths of the spectrum. Each section of the spectrum that is captured and categorized by a sensor is categorized as a band of information.

Bands of information vary in size and can be compiled into different types of composite images, each emphasizing a distinct physical property. Mapbox Satellite imagery primarily relies on bands 1, 2, and 3 which make up visible red, green, and blue visible light.

Imagery sources

Mapbox Satellite imagery comes from a variety of sources depending on zoom level and geographic availability:

  • Zoom levels 0–8 use de-clouded data from NASA MODIS satellites.
  • Zoom levels 9–12 use primarily Maxar satellite imagery and NASA/USGS Landsat 5 & 7 imagery in limited locations.
  • Zoom levels 13+ use a combination of open and proprietary sources, including Maxar's Vivid product for most of the world, Nearmap aerial imagery over US cities, and open aerial imagery from Denmark, France, Germany and other regions.

Clockwise from top left: MODIS, Landsat, Maxar satellite, Nearmap aerial

This layer is optimized for a balance between recency and aesthetic quality depending on data availability.

Before it's added to Mapbox Satellite, all our imagery is color-corrected, optimized, and composited together into a single raster tileset by our Satellite team. For a brief introduction to what this process involves, read our Processing satellite imagery tutorial.

Using satellite imagery

Mapbox satellite is a composite imagery layer with global coverage to zoom 16 (1–2 m resolution), regional coverage to zoom 18 (0.6–0.3 m resolution), and select coverage to zoom 21+ (7.5 cm+). There are several ways you can use Mapbox Satellite in your projects:

Using NAIP imagery

Mapbox NAIP is an aerial imagery layer covering 48 states in the contiguous United States. NAIP is open data collected at 60 cm every 2 to 3 years, and 2018–2019 data is available nearly everywhere, including the most remote areas for our outdoors, agriculture, and recreation users. You can view the dates of NAIP images in this NAIP Dates map. Read more about NAIP in our Updated aerial imagery in the U.S. blog post.

To start working with the mapbox.naip layer in Mapbox Studio, follow these steps:

  1. Add tileset by ID: mapbox.naip.
  2. Adjust zoom extent to z13–z17.
  3. Reorder layers so mapbox.naip is directly above mapbox.satellite.
  4. Repeat steps 1–3 for mapbox.satellite-watermask.

You can also copy the NAIP (imagery alone) or NAIP Streets (with labels) styles to your Mapbox account by clicking the Copy button on the bottom right corner of each style's view page.

Uploading satellite imagery

If you have access to imagery that better meets your needs than our Satellite layer, you can upload it using the Mapbox Uploads API or through your Mapbox Studio account. Make sure you convert your imagery into GeoTIFF format before you upload. Once you've uploaded your data, it will be automatically converted into a custom raster tileset which you can then add to your Mapbox project. For more information on uploading satellite imagery, see our Processing satellite imagery tutorial.

Tracing satellite imagery

Mapbox grants users a license to trace imagery for OpenStreetMap. Producing derivative vector tilesets from imagery for commercial purposes requires is only permitted under a Mapbox Commercial Satellite license. Contact our sales team for more information.

Providing satellite feedback

If you notice an area where imagery needs improvement or updates for any reason, let us know by leaving your feedback with our imagery request tool. This tool adds your requests to a master list that we consult when prioritizing updates. If you wish to recommend an imagery source, please mention it in your request. Please note that imagery is not improved on a set schedule and is updated when and where it becomes available.