The volume of data generated by earth observation satellites has increased tremendously over the last few decades and will increase further in the coming decade thanks in particular to the launch of nanosatellites constellations. These data should open new avenues for Earth surface monitoring due to highly improved spectral, spatial and temporal resolution. Many applications depend, however, on the accuracy of the image geometric model. The geometry of optical images, whether acquired from pushbroom or frame systems, is now commonly represented using a Rational Function Model (RFM). While the formalism has become standard, the procedures used to generate these models and their accuracies are diverse. As a result, the RFM models delivered with commercial data are commonly not accurate enough for 3-D extraction, subpixel registration or ground deformation measurements. In this study, we present a methodology for RFM optimization and demonstrate its potential for 3D reconstruction using tri-stereo and multi-date Cubesat images provided by SkySat and PlanetScope, respectively. We use SkySat data over the Morenci Mine, Arizona, which is the largest copper mine in the United States. The re-projection error after the RFM refinement is 0.42 pix without using ground control points (GCPs). Comparison of our Digital Elevation Model (DEM with ~3 m GSD) with a reference DEM obtained from an airborne LiDAR survey (with ~1 m GSD) over stable areas yields a standard deviation of the elevation differences of ~3.9 m. The comparison of the two DEMs allows detecting and measuring the topographic changes due to the mine activity (excavation and stockpiles). We assess the potential of PlanetScope data, using multi-date DOVE-C images from the Shisper glacier, located in the Karakoram (Pakistan), which is known for its recent surge. We extracted DEMs in 2017 and 2019 before and after the surge. The re-projection error after the RFM refinement is 0.38 pix without using GCPs. The accuracy of our DEMs (with ~9 m GSD) is evaluated through comparison with the SRTM DEM (GSD ~30 m) and with a DEM (GSD ~2 m) calculated from Geoeye-1 (GE-1) and World-View-2 (WV-2) stereo images. The standard deviation of the elevation differences in stable areas between the PlanetScope DEM and SRTM is ~12 m, and ~7 m with the GE-1&WV-2 DEM. The mass transfer due to the surge is clearly revealed from a comparison of the 2017 and 2019 DEMs. The study demonstrates that, with the proposed scheme for RFM optimization, times series of DEM extracted from SkySat and PlanetScope images can be used to measure topographic changes due to mining activities or ice flow, and could also be used to monitor geomorphic processes such as landslides, or coastal erosion for example.
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