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Giovanni Sylos Labini, Chief Executive Officer of Planetek Italia

EARSC Company of the Year 2017

Planetek Italy is the winner of the fourth edition of the EARSC Company Award 2017. This is for the company recognised by both peers and international experts as having made the most significant contribution to the growth of the EO services sector in Europe, please tell us what this means for you and how the important the prize is for the Planetek Group?
Planetek actively supports EARSC since many years. We believe EARSC is a real authority in the EO scenario, and what makes a great association is the quality of the associates. EARSC represents the best of our industry all over the world and this makes the EARSC Company Award like an Oscar Prize within our industry, which obviously gives us enormous satisfaction!

Planetek Italia

Tell us a bit about the history of Planetek and how it has grown over the years?
In 1994 I founded Planetek with three young partners: Mariella Pappalepore, Vincenzo Barbieri and Sergio Samarelli. At that time, we were the only personnel of the company and our first year turnover was about 50,000 €. Nowdays, Planetek Group (including Planetek Hellas, founded in 2006) has over 60 highly skilled employees with a turnover that will exceed 6 million € this year.

When the company started in business, what specific idea, purpose or vision was the driving force?
The first motto of Planetek was “GIS & Remote Sensing” and the idea was to build a company focused on application design, meeting users’ needs more than following the technology push.

What has been the greatest challenge the company has encountered and how was it overcome?
At first, the greatest challenge was to explain to potential customers what our services were useful for. 23 years ago, the Internet was a new thing for tech gizmos only, and we were based in one of the most disadvantaged regions in Europe. In order to cope with these difficulties, we made strong investments in education and training of our potential customers. We also largely benefited from the Internet as a marketing communication tool and an easier and faster way to connect with our international partners.

Please tell us a bit more about what Planetek does? What are the key markets that you address?
Planetek is structured in 3 Strategic Business Units that are largely autonomous in their markets: Business to Business, Government and Security, Space Stream. This structure normally helps us in smoothing the single market cycles and in doing a serious cross-fertilization of user experiences within different markets.

What do you consider are the most important competences of Planetek that help you succeed?
Of course an obsessive user-focused approach in all our activities. I truly believe that if you ask anyone among our thousands of users and customers acquired over the last 23 years, you will easily find an overall positive impression about our services and products. We always do our best to intercept real users’ needs, rather than looking at the world through the distorted lenses of technology,

What do you see as the main challenges facing the company in the next 1-2 years?
We will continue carrying out our strategy of market diversification and growth, both geographically and in terms of applications. To accomplish this goal, we are taking advantage from the standardisation of our services and from the cloud as a way to boost marketing. Currently, we are within the greatest transition of our product focus: from geoinformation towards geoanalytics. We are well in the business and, in meantime, the IT big guys start being seriously interested in our industry. The challenge for Planetek is to balance the huge investment that IT big players are going to put in our industry with our experience on EO service design. The result of this strategy is our award-winning Rheticus® platform, which is based on our new business model.

Market Views

The quantity of data is exploding in every direction. Every individual, business and government is both generating data and consuming it. Data revolution has already started.

What are the main issues you consider may affect the evolution of the market you are addressing and where do you see the greatest opportunities for growth?
Thanks to EARSC, we are pushing more on a market development approach. At last, the EU Commission, ESA and Member States understood that in order to maintain EU autonomy and leadership in EO, they should implement a strong demand-oriented policy effort. Well, this could be a great chance for EO companies in EU, and we are ready to catch it.

Are there particular threats which you see for your business?
As already said, the EO services look central in order to exploit geoanalytics, but our industry is still small and disperse compared to the IT industry, so the risk is a commoditization of EO services that could erase our niche market.

At the moment, innovation seems to be on everyone’s list of things to promote, what is your perception of innovation in the EO services sector? How do you approach innovation within the Planetek group?
We are making huge investment in R&D, luckily supported by EU programs, ESA, ASI and so forth. Within Planetek, there is a specific internal team, the Design Lab, which takes care of the innovation agenda of our business units.

What is your vision about the democratisation of Earth Observation?
Well, if you mean an easier access of people to EO, this is obviously a benefit for our industry. It helps to build a strong opportunity towards emerging countries and towards potential consumer markets, hardly to be imagined a few years ago.

How you plan your vertically-integrated EO system (space base geospatial big data collection, processing, and information management system)?
At Planetek we think that the long-standing separation between Upstream and Downstream will not survive the technological revolution, so we are positioning Planetek in the design and development of space-stream services, exporting our capabilities in EO application service design in the space segment.

EO Service Development and Stakeholders

In the EO services sector, governments can have a strong influence over the way business develops. Aside from being a good customer, what’s the one other thing governments can do to support the development of the sector?
Like said by Marianna Mazzuccato ( in her book “The Entrepreneurial State”, Governments should not limit themselves in regulate market, but they have to make precise choices in order to “tilt” the playground in the direction they believe an entire new market can flourish: “EO and Space Services” is one of these for sure.

EARSC is the European trade association dealing with the geospatial services sector; what for you are the main benefits of EARSC membership?
Trade associations have a vital role in establishing relationships among Governments, People and Industry sectors. This is crucial in the EO industry, which is made by small and disperse companies. Moreover, this is a very single point shop for good ideas and cooperation with other subjects in the field.

What do consider is the main issue for EARSC to address today on behalf of the European EO services sector?
The challenge of establishing a true strong internal market for the private sector in EO.


Finally, what can you say about your outlook for the sector and how companies in this sector should be positioning themselves?
Innovate: Capitalize on progress also in related technologies. Internationalize: address extra European markets. Implement non-organic growth strategies.

In September 2015, world leaders agreed on a shared vision about the world we want to see in 2030 by adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. With the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015, the United Nations has set out an unprecedented action plan to fight poverty and inequalities worldwide while respecting planetary boundaries.

How can Earth observation support the effort to help the UN and Nations achieve the SDGs?

The 2030 Agenda specifically demands the need for new data acquisition and integration approaches and specifically references the need for “high quality, timely, reliable and disaggregated data, including Earth observations and geospatial information”. It is clear that data, as the basis for evidence-based decision-making and accountability, will be critical to the success of the 2030 Agenda. Goal 17, in the area of data, monitoring and accountability, requires us to support developing countries to increase significantly the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts.

At the global policy level, the need for ‘geographic location’ in a new era of data needs is well recognized. Data – statistics, geospatial information, Earth observations, environmental and other Big Data – are at the core of being able to measure and monitor progress on the SDGs for all countries. Such data have the real potential of forming a new and emerging ‘data ecosystem’ for development, in which integrated information systems that are comprehensive and coordinated are able to monitor the state of the Earth, people and planet, and to deliver timely information necessary to citizens, organizations and governments to build accountability and make good, evidenced-based decisions.

The UN Statistical Commission (UNSC) is the central mechanism within the UN to supply global statistics and has the mandate for the development and implementation of the Global Indicator Framework for monitoring progress towards achieving the SDGs.
Could you explain how your team is assisting the coordination of all the activities related to monitoring and reporting against the global indicator framework?

The task of determining the global indicator framework, the follow-up and review mechanism and where considerable data acquisition, integration and disaggregation will be needed, was given to the Statistical Commission. It established the Inter-agency Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) to develop the global indicator framework on behalf of the UN General Assembly. The initial indicator framework has just been adopted by the General Assembly just 2 weeks ago, and comprises 232 global indicators.

How is the work of the UN Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) linked to these activities? Overall, how do you see EO services as potentially useful tools in providing a wide range of information to support the monitoring and reporting the global indicators framework?

In UNSD, we provide the Secretariat for both the Statistical Commission and the UN Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM). In essence, the Secretariat for the global intergovernmental mechanisms for statistics and geography. When we think about the 2030 Agenda, and the associated data needs, UNSD is in a unique position to assist countries and international organisations to integrate these information systems. For example, we are seeing that many national statistical offices now understand that Earth observations are able to provide new and consistent data sources and methodologies to integrate multiple ‘location-based’ variables to support and inform official statistics and the indicators for the SDGs. These methods are able to fill data gaps and/or improve the temporal and spatial resolutions of data, by bringing together information from various sources, particularly those related to the environment. This information integration is important, as the global indicator framework will be the primary conduit to guide and inform Member States, based on individual national circumstances, on how they measure, monitor and report on the SDGs and related targets in the years to come.

Under the purview of the IAEG-SDGs and UN-GGIM, a Working Group on Geospatial Information has been established in order to ensure that, from a statistical and geographic location perspective, geospatial information, Earth observations and other new data sources can reliably and consistently contribute to the agreed indicators.

You have been contributing to the role of geospatial and Earth observations for the sustainable development process since the Rio+20 Conference in June 2012, including ensuring that appropriate recognition and text was in the outcome document of Rio+20 ‘The Future We Want’ and in the 2015 outcome document ‘Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’
How could EO services industry communicate their capabilities to the global development policy community and related decision-makers?

The policy-science-technology nexus has always been a difficult ‘communication of capability’ challenge, and as a means to inform local to global policy and decisions. In my observations, very little is understood regarding the role of geography in sustainable development processes at the intergovernmental level, including how Earth observations and other capabilities can be applied to sustainable development, and how policies can be implemented to bring the two together in a coherent and integrated manner. In some respects this is a reflection of the considerable policy – technical gap that exists within and across countries, but it is also a reflection of the different philosophies of each community. Achieving sustainable development is driven by the need for political negotiation and agreement in order to obtain high level global objectives for the future of our planet. The geography philosophy is more concerned with ensuring reliable and authoritative local to national data and science-based analyses are available on the interactions of people with their places and environment. Therefore, there are obvious differences in understanding and in terminologies, especially in the growing data requirements to support the many social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, including measuring and monitoring. Fortunately these differences are slowly being brought together through change – motivated partly by awareness and understanding, and partly by pure necessity. A goal is to ensure that the 2030 Agenda provides a means to diffuse, if not even eliminate these views and lack of understandings!

Tracking progress on the SDGs requires the collection, processing, analysis and dissemination of an unprecedented amount of data and statistics at the sub-national, national, regional and global levels, including those derived from official statistical systems, Earth observations, geospatial information, and from new and innovative data sources.
How can regional-based service providers, which are mainly small but highly innovative companies (providing readily available solutions turning data into valuable information) be better integrated in such decision-making activities?

I am not so sure I can answer this question, as such decision-making tends to bring into play the local to national aspects of sustainable development. These small and innovative service providers tend to be a lot more agile than more formal and structured entities, including governments that are not as flexible as they would like to be. This provides opportunity, particularly in assisting the least developing countries.

To answer the tough questions and to be able measure and monitor progress for those most in need, the most vulnerable countries, is going to take not only transformational change in our thinking, but also transformational change in how we leverage existing and new sources of data and emerging technologies – in essence a digital transformation. Presently, the most developed countries are grappling with an abundance and oversupply of data, technology and innovation, while in many parts of the world data and innovation scarcity prevails. When applied to sustainable development there is a greater concern. Those countries that are experiencing significant data scarcity are also those that tend to be most vulnerable and at greatest risk of being left behind. A vast ‘geospatial digital divide’ remains.

While the challenges are immense, the digital innovation and technology that is available today allows the necessary transformation, and being able to bridge the geospatial digital divide that exists among countries. But realizing this opportunity is complex in many dimensions, not the least being the lack of robust national information systems and associated geospatial frameworks. With the enabling global mechanism of the 2030 Agenda, the challenge is how to most effectively transfer this technology and data richness, availability and connectivity to the technology and data poor. Highly innovative companies are now beginning to take up this challenge, and providing data and solutions to real world needs on the ground – often at the local level.

The EARSC EO product of the year award recognised Waste from Space by Air and Space Evidence as being the best EO product which supports the implementation of the SDGs and the monitoring and reporting against the global indicator framework.
How do you assess the relevance of the winner into developing a service solution for governments and the alignment with SDGs?

The broad and transformative nature of the 2030 Agenda requires us to consider new and innovative means to address and curtail the many local to global development challenges in order to ‘leave no one behind’, and with commensurate new and innovative data sources and methods.

Therefore, and noting that countries desperately need ‘readily available solutions’, I applaud the approach that EARSC has taken in recognizing products that provide direct and specific solutions for the implementation of the SDGs at national, regional and/or global levels, and that are able to measure, monitor and report against specific indicators of the global indicator framework. It is of much more tangible benefit to countries, particularly developing nations, if specific solutions to real problems are able to be provided and implemented. These ‘applications’ are then able to assist governments and the community directly in their measuring, monitoring, and annual reporting. We desperately need applications such as Waste from Space by Air and Space Evidence that have direct benefit to countries and their national implementations of the SDGs.

At the end of the interview, we would like to ask you for your overall recommendations on the future development of the geo-information service sector, and would like to ask to give some hopefully positive messages to the members of EARSC.

Data and technological enablers such as Earth observations, which bring everyone directly into contact with environmental and geo-location information on a daily basis, have ensured that people the world over, are beginning to appreciate the need for this information in their consumption of data. As a result, a large proportion of the global community now have an entirely different set of Earth observations and geospatial information uses, needs and expectations than they did even 10 years ago, such has been the evolutionary change. In some respects it also indicates that geo-location information and services are now being driven more and more by users and consumers in response to their contemporary needs as much as responding to the needs of governments, technology developments and breakthroughs. Therefore, the potential of geo-information has rapidly advanced and has now reached a level of maturity that allows this information to make a central contribution to the integration of information for the purposes of global issues such as sustainable development.

I say “potential” because we are not there yet – but we are on the right path. EO and geospatial technologies, and strengthening data production and the use of better data in policymaking and monitoring, are becoming increasingly recognized as fundamental means for global development, but we still need to democratize these technologies and associated data in such a way that they are easily reachable and useable by developing countries. To succeed in our global development aspirations we need to not only reach the developing countries, we need to reach the poorest of the poor in the least developed countries, and we need to give then a voice and location so at to ensure that no one is left behind. Data needs to be more open, platforms need to be more usable and analytics need to be more accessible. If this is achieved we will see fundamental Earth observations, geospatial information, positioning infrastructure, policy frameworks, institutional capacity, and economic development moving up the value chain in all countries.

Short Biography
Greg Scott is Inter-Regional Advisor for Global Geospatial Information Management in the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD). In his role within the Secretariat, Greg provides high level strategic policy advice and leadership in the coordination and implementation of UN-GGIM initiatives with Member States and related International Organizations involved in national, regional and global geospatial information management. Greg is also responsible for developing the substantive content for the UN-GGIM Committee of Experts, the UN-GGIM High Level Forum’s, international technical capacity development workshops, and other international fora.
Greg possesses formal qualifications in cartography and survey mapping, has a Graduate Diploma in Geography from the Australian National University, and is presently undertaking a PhD at the University of Melbourne.

Japan Space Systems is a non-profit, general foundation corporation, and we were formed after the merger of 3 non-profit R&D organizations related to space under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

Mr Hisanobu Takayama, could you tell us a bit about the history of J-Spacesystems; how your organisation started and what is your mission and how does it fit with other entities in Japan taking care of the industry sector which delivers commercial services based on EO data?

Japan Space Systems is a non-profit, general foundation corporation, and we were formed after the merger of 3 non-profit R&D organizations related to space under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). They are Institute for Unmanned Space Experiment Free Flyer (USEF), Japan Resources Observation Systems & Space Utilization Organization (JAROS), and Earth Remote Sensing Data Analysis Centre (ERSDAC), and in 2012, they merged together to newly start activities as Japan Space Systems. The aim of J-spacesystems is to promote the utilization of space systems and technologies to contribute to the expansion of national economy and support industry development. Due to our close relationship with METI, we are very much industry-focussed meaning that our projects are aimed to benefit the industry instead of pure academic or scientific purposes.

Part of our budget comes from the financial support of our 42 member companies, which consist of major players in Japan from aerospace, EO data analysis, heavy equipment, oil & gas, and mineral resources sectors. We work closely with them to foster technology development within the industry through joint design projects and basic research, as well as exchange of staff between J-spacesystems and the member companies.

We have strong expertise in EO data application, particularly in areas of mineral exploration, environmental monitoring, disaster response & management, and land management, and have conducted numerous feasibility studies. In line with the current global trend of EO downstream, we are putting more and more emphasis on commercial EO data applications. We are looking to strengthen our collaboration with non-space industries and engage new players to contribute to the “industrialization of EO data” through new business creation.

Can you describe briefly the main services J-spacesystems provides and J-spacesystems involvement with the Japanese EO industry? What has been the greatest challenge encountered by your organisation?

Our services consists of 3 main pillars – 1) technology development, 2) human resources development and capacity building, and 3) market analysis and policy advice.

We perform R&D, conceptual design, feasibility studies, and technology developments in the areas of small satellite missions and bus development, launch systems, satellite operations and ground facilities, remote-sensing technologies and data applications. Some of our main projects and systems that we developed together with the industry includes the Earth-observation payload ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer), which is on-board NASA’s Terra satellite, high-performance small satellite bus ASNARO (Advanced Satellite with New System Architecture for Observation).

We also offer training and capacity building for developing countries in remote-sensing, particularly for data processing and information mining from images. Over the years, we have conducted capacity building programs in over 50 countries in Europe, Africa, South East Asia and South America.

Lastly, we conduct market analysis on behalf of METI and the National Space Policy Secretariat of the Japanese Cabinet Office (CAO) to examine trends and needs with respect to EO data in emerging countries. In the recent years, we have strengthened our ties with CAO to offer policy analysis and advice to support shaping up Japan’s space policy initiatives.

Contrasting Japan and Europe probably there are different approaches shaped by the different market conditions. How do the Japanese EO data suppliers invest in new opportunities?

Indeed, traditional EO data companies in Japan didn’t view satellite imagery as a data commodity, and remained focussed on government contracts and overseas development projects. Thus, their business and investment are somewhat already established. On the other hand, we, J-spacesystems, are looking to move away from conventional business model, and bring in the interests of the wider user communities into the EO domain. To bring this vision into fruition, we launched our online business creation platform Space Business Court to create new business opportunities and investments by engaging entities from a wide range of non-space sectors.

In November 2016, EARSC and JSS signed a memorandum of understanding to develop synergies and strengthen cooperation in business, research and technology between Europe and Japan in the utilisation EO technology. What are your expectations and how do you judge the first steps which have been taken?

I feel that previously, Europe and Japan just didn’t know about each other, particularly about each other’s industry, their current status and capabilities. The line of communication really didn’t exist before. With that in mind, I believe improving the understanding of each other has been an important outcome of the partnership between EARSC and JSS so far. We have already had several information exchange and workshops which have been extremely valuable in gaining better insights into the current status and issues in Europe and Japan, and I feel that the partnership is off to a good start. Having said that, I do feel that it’s vital that we maintain this momentum, and we have to work together to facilitate greater collaboration between European and Japanese companies, where both sides complement their strengths and weaknesses to create new businesses. Japan has a very strong IT industry with many energetic start-ups in AI, IoT and Machine-learning, as well as established players, and I would like to see more collaborations between them and the European players.

Signature of the Memorandum of Understanding by Chetan Pradhan, Chairman of the Board of Directors of EARSC and Yoshiharu Kunogi, J-spacesystems President of the Board of Executives in Brussels on 23 November 2016.

The EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation acts as an intermediary support organisation to support activities between the JSS and EARSC as part of its objective to facilitate EU-Japan industrial cooperation under its Space.Japan project. Could you explain more concretely how they (can) support this collaboration?

The EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation has a solid experience in promoting EU-Japan industrial and innovation cooperation in Earth-observation and other space-related industries through organising numerous events to facilitate company partnerships, B2B matchmaking, networking and industry liaison. To give some concrete examples;

  1. Space.Japan project to support EU SMEs in Aerospace to search for business / R&D cooperation with Japan (the first partnering mission was organized in March 2015 in Tokyo, involving EARSC and 14 other EU SMEs).
  2. First EU-Japan Space Forum in Tokyo in October 2014, bringing together stakeholders and industries to discuss future cooperation, along the EU-Japan Space Policy Dialogue.
  3. Annual EU-Japan Business Round-table, consisting of major aerospace companies such as Airbus, Arianespace, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
  4. Japan partner for Enterprise Europe Network (EEN), a dedicated B2B partner search database.

Therefore, we feel that EU-Japan Centre has various ‘practical tools’ to facilitate company collaborations, and their role is absolutely vital to ensure the success of the partnership between EARSC and JSS.

EARSC together with 3 member companies – Airbus D&S, GMV and e-GEOS participated in the S-NET 4th Sectorial Meeting “EO Data Platform” in Tokyo on 15 February. The event showed growing interest in Japan for consolidating EO and IT. The following day, JSS organised the first EARSC-JSS Joint EO & IT Seminar to give an opportunity for the two industries to come together and exchange ideas from fresh perspectives. How can we together ensure a EU/Japan industry collaboration on a sustainable and long-term basis?

I think it’s important for EARSC and JSS to maintain the enthusiasm from both sides through regular exchange of information, and more importantly, organise events that capture the needs and interests of the industry. The 2 workshops in February indicated that the hint to new business opportunities lies with Japan’s energetic IT sector to our European audience, and I believe this is kind of topics that JSS and EARSC need to discuss and disseminate to assist creation of new business ventures. JSS is planning to organise a large-scale space symposium in Sept 2017 focusing on the industry and new business opportunities. The symposium held in Sept 2016 enjoyed over 200 attendants, and we also have several other events in the pipeline focused on the industrialization of EO data. We hope that these events will support industry collaboration between Europe and Japan, and set the scene for more concrete framework to be put in place in the near future.

The link between EO and IT seems to be an important topic in both Japan and Europe. How do Japanese policy makers and companies foresee synergies between the two sectors?

In November 2016, JSS contracted MM Research Institution to estimate the market potential of “EO & IT”, which found it to be staggering €2.8 Bn (350 Bn yen) already in 2016, and it’s expected to grow to €6.4 Bn or 16 Bn by 2030 with CAGR of 5.2 and 11.8% respectively. This is a staggering projection, and it has quickly attracted large interests from both the Japanese government and the industry. Thus, the key government ministries and agencies are very supportive and hopeful about the potential synergies between the two industries.

Could you explain to our reader what the Space Business Court is? How it is intended to support industry?
Space Business Court (SBC) is an online business creation platform fully funded by JSS. The aim is to become a one-stop shop to foster new business creation using EO data application as well as other areas of space such as GNSS and space hardware and software. SBC is for entrepreneurs and companies in Japan as well as overseas looking to start new business in space, and we intend to offer support right from the initial idea phase to actual business implementation. SBC is a completely free service and it’s equipped with many useful contents: 1) companies can register their profiles and look for partners, 2) news section to gather valuable insight on the latest trends and developments in the space industry in Japan and overseas, 3) obtain information about various funding opportunities, 4) experts pool to connect space industry experts with start-ups and established companies, and 5) API for open-source EO data and data-processing tools, which we plan to develop in the near future. The teaser-site for SBC is already up and running, and the URL is . The grand opening is scheduled for May 16, 2017.

How can we improve co-operation between JSS and EARSC in a more effective way? How do you perceive both roles in this respect?

I think it’s vital that the 2 organisations maintain regular and effective communication to maintain the momentum. Furthermore, exchange of industry insight and other business information would also be of interest for European and Japanese companies. I think the key is to increase the understanding about each other. By understanding each other’s strengths, capabilities, and areas in which the two sides can complement one another, we can identify possible subject areas and ideas for collaboration. Then the two sides can lobby their respective governing bodies to convert these ideas into proper policy framework to support new business ventures.

In your opinion, what will be the best mechanism to build a strong partnership?

Following from the previous question, I think a having a proper cooperation framework agreement would help moving potential partnerships forward. For this, it’s important to show some success cases of cooperative ventures, ideally in EO, and maybe even exchange of personnel between Japan and Europe to better understand about each other’s strengths and capabilities.

At the end of the interview, here is the opportunity for your final thoughts and how your activities could contribute to the future development of the EO geo-information service sector?

SBC is the first industry-led service in Japan focused on the benefiting the industry, and I will strive to ensure that it contributes to new business creation in EO data application in Japan and internationally. Let’s work together and look forward to the road ahead.

Short Biography
Hisanobu Takayama started his career at Mitsubishi Electric Co. (Melco), a major Japanese aerospace/electronics company, and worked the development of antenna for satellite communication. He was in charge of proposal creation and bidding, contract management, and business strategy & planning for many government projects. He has a proven expertise in business planning and negotiation, with the total value of projects that he dealt with amounts to nearly 1 billion EUR. Later, he joined the business management and strategic headquarters for Mitsubishi Precision Systems. Hisanobu joined Japan Space Systems in 2015 as the Director General of Strategic Planning Office and the Vice Director General of Space Industry Division, where he spearheads activities on creation of new space business and cross-sector engagement. He has a vast knowledge and network in the Japanese space sector, ranging from space and non-space companies, government ministries and institutions. He also organizes space training events for elementary schools and companies interested in space.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and comments with the EOmag readers.

Firstly, in the last couple of years you have been very active in supporting the European Flagship programmes Copernicus and Galileo among Members of the European Parliament (for which we are very grateful), what do you find particularly motivating about the space domain?

Its potential to improve normal people’s everyday lives, while often going beyond imagination in terms of technology and physics. The space domain represents an area where boundaries can still be pushed much further. We should do this in an intelligent way, in order to keep our economy competitive. Our concentration on the two flagship programs Galileo and Copernicus fits well in this approach.

Our community follows Galileo but is especially engaged with Copernicus, where do you see the most tangible results and benefits that the Copernicus programme brings to the European Union?

For me, the best possible result would be the involvement of many new companies of different forms and sizes that provide EO-enabled digital services to the public. Copernicus offers a great opportunity to SME’s and start-ups to be active in the space domain, something that was often reserved for larger players before. This development is not only profitable for our economy but it also improves the lives of consumers, who can benefit from better services. Also our public sector and European research institutions are obvious beneficiaries, because EO-data provides a wealth of information on which research and new policy may be based. Accordingly, Copernicus can contribute to solving large societal problem, for instance through CO2-monitoring. Because of Copernicus, Europe is a frontrunner on Earth Observation. This is particularly beneficial comsidering that we are only a moderate space-power compared to actors like the United States, China and Russia.

You mentioned several times the need for a strong communication strategy around the benefits of space data and applications. In your opinion, what should be done to better promote satellite applications and EO services in particular to the EU citizens?

This is not something that is easily done. We can only make a difference if everyone involved participates in communicating the benefits of satellite applications and space in general. So we should not just publish a tender for publicity agencies and then think we have solved the problem, but we should also be involved ourselves. Not only all involved politicians, but also space researchers, entrepreneurs and students. We live in an era of breaking silos, also when it comes to space. I myself try to inform people about space as much as I can in as many different ways as possible.

The EC has recently published the Space Strategy for Europe. Can you give us your perspective on this document and what you would consider a priority?

The space strategy is a good start, as it deals with the most important space policy issues for Europe. For me it was particularly important that it would advocate a strong role for the private sector, with clearly defined boundaries for public sector involvement. In this respect, I am happy with the Commission’s contribution. The strategy is also convincing when it comes to support for the current flagship programs Copernicus and Galileo and the intention to create cloud platforms for disseminating EO data. Our main priority should be to ensure a broad majority support for this strategy in the European Parliament. Once that is achieved we can focus on allocating the budgets in order to actually realise the plans.

The European Parliament will now react to the space strategy proposals, what should we expect as an outcome and how important should be the involvement of the EO industry?

As outlined above, the European Parliament should encourage the Commission to actually implement the strategy as quick as possible. In convincing both my colleagues and society as a whole that earth observation is of vital importance for our future, we need all the help from industry that we can get. Be good, tell it and sell it!

The strategy claims for a wider use of space data in numerous EU policies and key political priorities, how will the various EP Committees be involved in the process?

There will be several committees giving an Opinion to Parliament’s report on the space strategy that will be written in the Industry Committee (ITRE). This also includes committees that were previously never involved in space, such as the Fisheries Committee (PECH). Also the Transport Committee (TRAN), the Defence Committee (SEDE) and possibly the Environment Committee (ENVI) will write official opinions. This is a good start in showing the broad importance of space and involving more colleagues.

In your opinion, what will be the best mechanism to build a strong private-sector partnership with European research institutions to maximise Europe’s potential whilst avoiding unnecessary competition between private and public entities?

We should focus on where we can all act together in a triple helix approach: the private sector, research institutions and the public sector. We need to align all three in order to make it work, this is something I experienced when I was involved in setting up ‘Brainport Eindhoven’, a high-tech innovation partnership in the south of The Netherlands. To make such a partnership in space work, it is important that all actors share objectives and engage in cooperation with an open mind. Only then can we develop the innovation ecosystem that we need for space in Europe.

Turning to the question of the relationship between the private sector and the European Parliament, how do you see this dialogue mechanism and what specifically should be covered? Can the dialogue between EP and service industry be improved and if so how?

My doors are always open to anyone who wants to speak about the policy areas I am involved in. From the space sector there is already considerable interest to engage in such discussions, during which usually a large number of different perspectives and interests are presented. That is also the case with a number of colleagues that are very active on space policies. What we need to get broader attention is more cross-overs. Participation from space industry in debates about the digital single market, connectivity, precision agriculture etc. Get involved in debates in other sectors.

At the end of the interview, there is the opportunity for your final thoughts and how your activities could contribute to the future development of the EO geo-information service sector in Europe?

I will remain involved in space policy matters and I will make sure that I keep in touch with as many stakeholders as possible. As liberal shadow-rapporteur on the Space Strategy for Europe, I will do my best to safeguard a strong position for the private sector in space. I will also closely monitor the Commission’s actions in the field of the dissemination of EO data on platforms. However, the most important contribution that I can make is staying in touch with my constituency about space and encourage other politicians to do so as well. I’ve got space under my skin!

Short Biography
Cora van Nieuwenhuizen MEP (1963) was elected to the European Parliament in 2014 on behalf of the Dutch liberal party VVD. She is a member of the parliamentary committees ECON (Economic and Monetary Affairs) and ITRE (Industry, Research and Energy). Moreover, Ms. Van Nieuwenhuizen is the Vice-chair of Parliament’s Delegation for relations with India, a Member of the Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) Panel of the European Parliament and a member of the Board of the Knowledge4Innovation Forum.
Apart from space policy, Ms. Van Nieuwenhuizen predominantly works on financial services regulation, FinTech and the Digital Single Market.

Thank you in advance for the elements of contribution to the Interview and for sharing your thoughts and comments with the EOmag readers

This is the third year and the third winner of this now prestigious award is Deimos Imaging. This achievement was recognised by EARSC members in delivering the award to them this year.

Tell us a bit about the history of Deimos Imaging, how the Company was split from Deimos Space and how it has grown over the years?

Deimos Space was founded in 2001 by a group of engineers, we were 23 back then, with the idea of setting up a small, agile company dedicated to providing high-quality space engineering services.

After a few years of growth, in 2006 we decided to start Deimos Imaging as a spin-off, and expand into the growing satellite imagery market by acquiring and operating our own satellite, the Deimos-1.

When the satellite was launched, in 2009, we were around 20 people, and we managed to be successful enough in the satellite imagery market to convince our parent company, Elecnor, to invest into a second-generation satellite, Deimos-2. The satellite was launched in 2014, and by then we had doubled the size of the company to 50 people, and we were operating two control and processing centers in two separate facilities in Spain.

The next big step for Deimos Imaging was the acquisition by the Canadian UrtheCast Corp. in July 2015, which enabled us to keep growing steadily and which gave us a clear roadmap for the future. We have now more than 100 employees, and we plan to keep growing significantly in 2017.

Please tell us a bit more about what Deimos imaging does? What are the key markets that you address?

Deimos Imaging has grown over the years to become one of the world’s leading satellite imagery providers. We own and operate our Deimos-1 and Deimos-2 satellites with a 24/7 commercial service from our facilities in Spain and through a network of ground stations in Canada, Sweden and Norway.

The acquisition of Deimos Imaging by UrtheCast added significant value to the company, and we included in our portfolio two other unique data sources, both based on the International Space: a mid-resolution camera, Theia, and the first UHD color video camera in space, Iris.

Moreover, as a founding member of the PanGeo Alliance, we can provide quite a unique portfolio of EO data to a very broad range of customers.

After the acquisition by UrtheCast we have expanded beyond our traditional markets in Europe and Latin America, and we have now achieved a true worldwide commercial footprint.

What is your view on the evolution of online web services – what timescale will it occur over and will you embrace the change?

Deimos Imaging has a “traditional” business model for earth observation and we deliver the information through standard channels to our customers. Urthecast has a different approach based on a web platform and the customer can access the data through an API in a real time. This way of distributing the data is becoming more available nowadays and we really think this will be the key for the next generation of application of EO. It implies a faster and cheaper access to the services and it will allow more users to access the same data and in a different way. There market is changing and the evolution of online web services will happen very soon.

The PanGeo Alliance is the first global alliance of Earth Observation sensors operators. Could you briefly explain how customers benefit from a global network of resellers and a unified access point to new tasking and archive imagery?

The PanGeo Alliance, which we co-founded two years ago, has rapidly grown to eight member entities worldwide, in eight different countries.

As a member of the Alliance, we have access to an unprecedented fleet of EO sensors, which will be greatly expand in the coming years. Nowadays, the PanGeo Allliance includes 15 operational EO sensors, and it allows us to provide to our customers quite a unique portfolio of imagery of a wide resolution range (from 20 m to 75 cm/pixel), 4K full-color videos and AIS data.

For us, the Alliance also provides an additional global reseller network, which complements our existing channels.

But the key benefit for our customers is that we can act as a single access point for the whole portfolio, not just as a reseller, but as a true constellation campaign manager. We can combine the access to each member’s archive catalogue, and we can task the whole PanGeo fleet thanks to a multi-satellite mission planning and ordering system. This is like offering to your customers the control of a 15-satellite EO fleet.

What is your vision about the democratization of Earth Observation?

UrtheCast’s vision is what we call the “democratization” of Earth Observation.
This shall not be confused with a simple “free data” statement. We do believe that the price of the data is just a part of the equation. Quality, access, usability, continuity are among the other key factors you have to tackle in order to be really able to make a difference.

Our goal is to provide unhindered and near universal access of EO imagery and data. This has to be done at affordable price point, in formats and on platforms that do not require expertise, and within an eco-system that attracts third-party investment and innovation. We believe this would significantly broaden the utility of the EO data for organizations and individuals.

In order to achieve this goal, we are developing a complex end-to-end system which is composed both of space-based and ground-based assets. And this whole system is customer-driven, since we are basing all the requirements on the market needs we have identified in close relationship with our existing customer base.

We are currently developing two constellations of satellites, the 8-satellite UrtheDaily and the 16-satellite OptiSAR. The first system will provide complete daily coverage worldwide at 5m resolution, with very-high-quality imagery specifically designed for geoanalytics applications. The second system, composed of 8 pairs of very-high-resolution optical and SAR satellites, will complement UrtheDaily by providing a unique night/day, all-weather revisit capacity, with tens of observation opportunities per day on any given target.

In order to allow everyone to access and use this huge data stream, we have already developed and fielded a complex cloud-based infrastructure, the UrthePlatform, which will close the existing gap between the data and the users.

How you plan your vertically-integrated EO system (space base geospatial big data collection, processing, and information management system)?

UrtheCast is already structured as a vertically integrated EO system.
The upstream part is composed of the current sensors (Deimos-1, Deimos-2, Iris and Theia), and it will be complemented by our future constellations, UrtheDaily and OptiSAR. Our satellites and sensors already generate a huge amount of imagery, and the future constellations will definitely bring us in the realm of Big Data.

In order to download, move around, process and store this amount of imagery we need a significant ground infrastructure. This is why we developed our Midstream, which we call the UrthePipeline. This is already operational for the current generation of systems, but it has been really designed to cope with the future constellations.

The Downstream part of our strategy is covered by our UrthePlatform, which is a multi-sensor, multi-format searchable and query-able EO data distribution and exploitation system, fully cloud-based. The UrthePlatform is already operational, and it is already allowing a growing set of geoanalytics customers to work directly with the data on the cloud, without the need to download or move around huge amount of data.

The next logical step in the development of our vertically-integrated system will be to add more geoanalytical capabilities directly in our UrthePlatform.

Fabrizio Pirondini, CEO Deimos Imaging

Mr. Pirondini is co-founder and CEO of Deimos Imaging, a Spanish company part of the UrtheCast group, operating and marketing the Deimos-1 and Deimos-2 EO satellites. An Aerospace Engineer with almost 20 years of experience in the space sector, in his career he covered all facets of the Earth Observation value chain, encompassing technical aspects, business development, strategy and management. After an experience at the European Space Agency in Germany, in 2001 he co-founded Deimos Space, which is now one of Europe’s leading space companies. Until 2010, as Head of the Earth Observation Mission Analysis division at Deimos Space, he was responsible for the mission design and analysis of more than 20 Earth Observation missions. As CEO of Deimos Imaging since 2011, he led the expansion of the company into becoming one of the leading providers of satellite imagery. In 2014 he co-founded the PanGeo Alliance of EO satellite operators


Mr Garcés de Marcilla, could you tell us a bit about the history of ECMWF, how your organization started and what is your mission? What has been the greatest challenge encountered?

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) is an intergovernmental organisation supported by 34 states. The organisation was established in 1975 when some European nations decided to pool their resources together to tackle the issues surrounding weather and environmental monitoring that were bigger than any of them should or could address individually.

ECMWF is one of the six members of the Co-ordinated Organisations, which also include the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the Council of Europe (CoE), the European Space Agency (ESA), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT).

Can you describe briefly the main services which ECMWF provides? And who do you consider are the main customers for these services?

ECMWF is both a research institute and a 24/7 operational service, producing and disseminating numerical weather predictions to its Member and Co-operating States. This data is also fully available to the national meteorological services in these states. The Centre also offers a catalogue of forecast data that can be purchased by businesses worldwide and other commercial customers.

Of course since 2015, ECMWF also provides the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service and its freely available tools and data regarding atmospheric composition and forecasts as well as the Copernicus Climate Change service, which is still in development.

The potential customers for Copernicus services are manifold; we want policy makers and local planners, industry and science communities to all use the tools and data provided to invest with confidence, develop new products and services, as well as adapt and manage our existing infrastructure to ensure resilience.


ECMWF as Entrusted Entity responsible for the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Services (CAMS) and Copernicus Climate Change Services (C3S)

Can you describe what becoming an “Entrusted Entity (EE)” for the Copernicus Services means for your organization?

We are very proud that the European Commission (EC) and the Copernicus Member States have entrusted ECMWF to develop and operate two Copernicus Services on their behalf, CAMS and C3S. We also assist with delivery of a third (the Emergency Management Service) through ECMWF’s flood forecasting capabilities. We see this as proof of a huge amount of trust in – and respect for – what ECMWF does and recognition of our international status and excellent track record in delivering value-for-money environment-related projects and programmes. We also see it as an exciting and challenging opportunity to bring the benefits of the Copernicus programme to society.

ECMWF was founded on the idea that weather is bigger than any one individual country; we are applying the same principle to the Copernicus Services we are implementing – a European approach to developing the products for a global availability.

How much of the work as an EE will be performed by ECMWF and how much outsourced to partners? Are many of your partners coming from the private sector?

ECMWF is responsible for the implementation and management of the services as a whole but specific developments, provision of many service elements, quality assurance and outreach projects require the specialist skills of partners in Europe. The vast majority of work will be contracted out to organisations across Europe including the private sector, meteorological organizations and scientific institutions through open competition.

What plans are there for controlling the quality of the services; provision of reliable, timely and up to date information?

Quality control is extremely important to us and is one of the main pillars of work we have identified for delivering the services successfully. Establishing the Copernicus Services as a worldwide reference is one of our top priorities, as this is instrumental to their success. This requires the implementation of rigorous, independent and scientifically sound quality and evaluation control processes for all services and products. These processes will evaluate the underpinning science, the quality of the service, and how the services address the needs of the users’ communities. We benefitted of course from ECMWF’s successful delivery and the validation of the atmosphere and climate change service pre-cursor project MACC, particularly CAMS which is now operational and receiving around 280 million observations every 12 hours and producing around 14,000 maps every day. We recently upgraded the spatial resolution and doubled number of composition forecasts for the service following months of validation by European experts in atmospheric composition, such as the Dutch Met Service KMNI. Only once we had the findings of their validation report did we go ahead with the enhancement.

You’ll also see from our website that C3S has recently invited tenders for quality control of its products and services, including a quality control function for the Climate Data Store, Essential Climate Variable products from model-based reanalyses and observations respectively, as well as its multi-model seasonal forecast products and the Sectoral Information System.

A Sectoral Information System (SIS) will build on the Climate Data Store (CDS) to deliver services tailored to the needs of particular industrial sectors. Could you tell us more about this approach?

As part of the implementation of the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), ECMWF aims to develop a Sectoral Information System (SIS), which will provide sector-specific shop windows for the C3S Climate Data Store. Several SIS proof-of-concept projects are now under way. They will serve to develop tools and products which will be tested directly with users from sectors to which climate information is particularly relevant.

From these proof-of-concept projects, and based on interactions with users, C3S will select a set of tailored sectoral climate indicators to be routinely produced and visualised. It will support the tools and promote best practices so that these sectors can take advantage of C3S climate information to enhance their businesses. There are seven proof of concept projects, they focus on water, energy, insurance, agriculture and infrastructure and health sectors.

Each of the proofs of concept is run by a consortium of organisations that bring sector-specific expertise to the projects. These are:

  • The Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI): SWICCA (Water) and UrbanSIS (Infrastructure & Health) projects
  • The University of East Anglia: the European Climatic Energy Mixes (ECEM) project (Energy)
  • Telespazio: Agriclass project (Agriculture)
  • CGI: Wind Storm Climate Service (WISC) project (Insurance)
  • Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH): End-to-end Demonstrator for Improved Decision Making in the Water Sector in Europe (EDgE) project (Water)
  • Le Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement (LSCE): Clim4energy project (Energy)

ECMWF will hold in the last quarter of 2016 a workshop dedicated to these ongoing SIS projects. As this event will address the SIS projects scope, progress and schedule, we believe it can be of significant interest to the EARSC community. We regard EARSC entities as potential providers for these projects and at the same time as SIS users, helping the development of further or improved downstream services.

Finally, and beyond the projects mentioned above, it is worth mentioning that other Sectors will be addressed with specific calls to be issued in 2017 and 2018.


Turning to the question of the relationship between the private sector and ECWMF:

Are you satisfied so far with company’s responses to the calls which you have made? If not, do you see measures which you could take to increase this? How could EARSC help you in this respect?

We have some really excellent partners as a result of our calls for tender responses but, naturally, we always want the widest possible spread of companies with the right expertise to choose from. We want to emphasize that ECMWF is fully open to industry and private sector and that we believe that a strong participation of industry and private companies will be of great benefit to the exploitation of the Copernicus CAMS and C3S Services; EARSC’s network therefore could be hugely helpful in promoting our ITTs far and wide. For example, in July we’ll have an Invitation to Tender via the CAMS website for developing use-cases to stimulate innovative ideas and support the development of downstream applications; this would be the perfect opportunity for a bit of EARSC promotional assistance. Further ITTs for elements of the services´ development and operations will be issued in the short, medium and long term. We encourage the private sector to follow closely our ITT calls, as they truly represent opportunities for competitive contributions of the private sector, and offer sustainable business prospects in the long term.

EARSC is seeking to develop a roadmap for co-operation between industry and the 7 EE’s supplying the Copernicus Services. Would ECMWF be ready to support this process and what specifically can you suggest should be covered?

The roadmap for the implementation of the CAMS and C3S Copernicus Services is defined in the Delegation Agreement signed by the EC and ECMWF, and it is under the control of the EU Copernicus Committee of Member States. Having said that, we would be pleased to discuss and support initiatives of cooperation with EARSC. One cooperation workstream could be dedicated to jointly explore how the CAMS and C3S Services can further contribute to the development of downstream services.


Finally, looking to the future;

How do you see the Copernicus Services managed by ECWMF changing over the next few years?

The services will get stronger and stronger. CAMS will consolidate its unique usefulness by adding new products to its portfolio and C3S will enter the first phase of its operational stage by 2018. Our communication and outreach for the services should also become more refined and targetted as we gain more insight in to who our users and potential users are and what needs they want us to address to make the services absolutely indispensable in their working lives.

Juan Garcés de Marcilla is Director of the Copernicus Services operated by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF) on behalf of the European Union. He has overall responsibility for the strategic development and implementation of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) and Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S).
Prior to his appointment at ECMWF, Juan was CEO at Thales Alenia Space, Spain, a company that designs and manufactures on-board systems and equipment for spacecraft. As CEO, Juan was responsible for the company´s strategy, business development, finance and industrial operations. He also acted as Technical Director, CTO, for Eutelsat in Paris, France.
Juan was born in Spain and obtained his University Degree in Engineering at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.

Andreas Veispak is the Head of Unit for Space Data for Societal Challenges and Growth at the European Commission. His responsibilities include space-related data, user uptake, and new business models as well as international relations and outreach activities.

Firstly, Mr. Veispak, can you give us a picture of the current activities of your Unit, what you do and what is your mission?

The Space Data unit has been set up recently to reflect the fact that the Copernicus programme has become operational and that we increasingly need to focus on extracting as much value as possible from the data and information it delivers. So, if I was to summarise the mission of the unit in very simple terms, I would say that we have one overriding objective: to maximise the uptake and use of Copernicus (and space data more generally) among different user groups so as to fully exploit the societal and economic potential it offers.

More specifically, the unit is responsible for data policy, management, dissemination and access (essentially everything data related), for determining current and future user needs and promoting user uptake across different communities, for facilitating the development of new business models and stimulating innovation and new product/ service development in the downstream sector, for international relations of Copernicus as well as for communication and outreach activities.

The unit in this form is quite new, how does its mission fit with that of other units in DG GROW?

The overall mission of DG GROW is to develop the internal market in the EU, promote the competitiveness and innovativeness of European companies and to create the conditions for enterprises – particularly SMEs – to flourish and grow. Our unit’s objectives essentially mirror this overall mission and seek to apply it to the area of Earth Observation and space data. I mean this in the broadest sense as the innovative application areas for space data go far beyond the traditional space domain, including its combination with non-space data, and can cover sectors, which at first sight may not have much to do with space.

Consequently, we work together very closely with our colleagues across DG GROW. First and foremost, we work with our sister unit responsible for the Copernicus programme as our activities are intimately linked, we share the same objectives and we very much try to work as a single team. We also co-ordinate closely with other units in the space domain, such as our colleagues responsible for space policy and research or with those working on Galileo. Finally, we have close contacts with both the more sectorial units in DG GROW which can benefit from Copernicus data and information (raw materials and extractive industries are the first to come to mind) as well as those which are more horizontal (such as public procurement, innovation, digital and SME-related). This is only natural given that one of our main objectives is to bring the benefits of Copernicus and space data to other areas of society and the economy.

You have recently been appointed as head of this unit, what do you find has been your biggest challenge on taking over the reins?

I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of setting up the new unit, not least because we have an extremely motivated and hard-working team and because we work together with highly professional partners and stakeholders. It is always challenging to set up a new unit; in this case we operate on the boundaries of space, digital and numerous thematic areas, which means that often we enter completely new territory, try to look at approaches which have not really been tried before and for which there is no clear blueprint or guarantee of success. This implies a degree of risk and that’s probably the greatest challenge: to develop and apply a strategy without being sure whether and how it will work. The second challenge relates to the almost endless number of potential application areas for space data and information, especially when combined with other sources of data. Hence prioritisation and determining how to have the greatest impact with the means available becomes a key issue. This being said, it is also what makes the job so enjoyable.

Copernicus and “big data” have relevance for many other directorates in the EC, are you liaising with other DG’s and where do you see the main interest coming from?

In light of the digital dimension of Copernicus and its potential application across a variety of areas from the environment to transport to health to regional policy, co-operation with other DGs is essential. On data-related issues we work together closely with our colleagues in DGs JRC, CNCT and RTD. In particular, DG JRC has been of an invaluable help to us in analysing and developing our approach for data dissemination and access not to mention their involvement in the Copernicus land and emergency management services. With the public sector being the main user of Copernicus, we are also working on internal uptake by the other Commission services with a series of user DGs (e.g. MOVE, ENER, HOME, ENV, CLIMA etc.) to see how space data can best be used to help the development and implementation of their policies and what practical steps we can take to support this.


Copernicus is a European flagship programme; can you share your visión for what this means for Europe?

For me Copernicus is an excellent practical example of what the European Union and its Member States can achieve when we work together. Copernicus, Earth Observation and space in general is a natural area for co-operation at the European level: given the costs and the complexity involved, it makes sense to pool resources for mutual benefit and Copernicus is a very good example of this. As a consequence, Europe is well on its way to having a fully operational programme, which is a world-leader in its field and which will provide a constant stream of data well into the 2030s. This is not only a showcase for European technological excellence in space but also for products and applications derived from the data: products and information from the Copernicus services should provide us with a very good basis for different thematic applications. As importantly, Copernicus provides the planning certainty and predictability which different user communities – including the downstream sector – need to develop products and be able to rely on. When we consider that all this is made available on a free, full and open basis, I can only conclude that Copernicus represents an excellent example of a public good, which anybody can make use of and which offers opportunities many of which have probably not even been conceived of yet.

In a broader sense, when one considers that Copernicus encompasses both the space and digital domains, it is highly representative of two central pillars for economic and societal development in the 21st century. We are only at the very beginning of realising the potential it offers and Copernicus gives Europe a good position from which to benefit from these trends.

How do you foresee to ensure that the benefits stemming from the Copernicus programme are equally open to all European member states?

Copernicus has a free, full and open data policy and the data and information are already available to everybody across Europe meaning that everybody can already benefit. However, in light of the current and future volumes of data as well as the potential offered by combining Copernicus data and products with other sources of data, we are working on improving data dissemination and access. This is one of the key challenges of the unit and we are trying to – together with our partners in implementing Copernicus – upgrade the data dissemination and access system which would allow for quicker and easier access to the data and information as well as to the tools needed to exploit it.

EARSC represents the industry sector which delivers comercial services based on EO data. Companies have a strong interest that Coperncius can provide a lever for them to develop new business. How can we together ensure that the €7b already invested can deliver the expected increase in economic activity and jobs?

In my view, industry has a central role to play in ensuring that maximum benefits are derived from Copernicus. A significant part of our effort in the next years will focus on promoting the uptake of Copernicus data and products by the private sector to deliver further value-added products and services. The market for earth observation data is still quite young and much of the demand comes from the public sector. When we look at space-related markets as a whole (leaving the upstream sector aside for the moment), we see that a lion’s share of the value-added products and services pertain to telecommunications and satellite navigation with a much smaller role for earth observation.

The Commission, together with its Copernicus partners (ESA, EUMETSAT, the entities responsible for the services), is already delivering the essential: the data and information products. In the future, I see three main areas in which we are likely to act: first, improving the data dissemination and access system to facilitate the use of data by different users, reducing fragmentation and mutualising a part of the cost related to data exploitation and allowing for the development of new business models; second, measures to improve the development of innovation in the downstream sector be it through support to innovative ideas and companies, business development, the utilisation of a range of EU instruments from H2020 to COSME in this sector, improving the link between research and practical application, supporting the development of the necessary skills and competencies or supporting the internationalisation of European actors in third country markets; third, supporting demand by the end-users, particularly in the public sector to provide critical mass for rolling out innovative applications.

Access to the data and information coming from Copernicus is key, what plans do you have to improve Access to this by the private sector?

This is a key point as without a well-functioning data dissemination and access system, most other measures will not really be very effective. We are currently in the process of finalising our approach for the future together with the Member States and our partners in implementing Copernicus, but, in a nutshell, we will try to do two things: improve the performance of the existing conventional data dissemination system whereby the user can essentially discover and download the data; and increasingly start bringing users to the data by making Copernicus data and information available together with the necessary processing capacity and tools (most likely in a cloud environment) without users having to download it. Achieving the appropriate level of interoperability will also become key in this context.

In our recent position paper, EARSC has proposed to create a European Marketplace Alliance for EO Services as one means to help overcome the severe fragmentation of the sector which sees many small companies distributed throughout the EU Members States. In your view, how can this initiative best help the EC to meet the goals for Copernicus?

We are extremely encouraged to see an increased interest from private service providers and we very much welcome any initiative which helps to bring together supply and demand. I expect the key question and challenge for such initiatives will be the interaction between co-operation and competition. I also think initiatives such as the Marketplace Alliance can very much complement and fit with the approaches we are currently considering and we will seek to design any system in a way which not only leaves maximum room for industrial initiative but also allows to further build on it.

Contrasting the US and Europe we see very different approaches shaped by the different market conditions. In the US, investment has been made using demand pull through the NextView and EnhancedView contracts with DigitalGlobe. In Europe the investment has been made in supply-side push through building infrastrastructure and public entities delivering the Copernicus Services. So far the role of the downstream supply side has been largely secondary. Can you explain your perspective on this and how we may move to a more demand-led approach?

I think we need a combination of both the supply and demand side. I don’t think it is entirely fair to say that the approach in Europe has only been public sector driven. Just as our industry are constructing the space and terrestrial infrastructure so also a part of the delivery of the Copernicus services involves private sector actors. Similarly, our industry is able to benefit from the research programmes financed by the EU. I do, however, take the point regarding demand, which is still very much public sector driven and dependent on public sector financing. We will try to mutualise some of the costs related to the exploitation of the data so as to enable the downstream sector to focus on providing value-added services and to encourage the creation of environments where EO data and information and be combined with a host of other data to develop innovative products. At the same time, we will also try to maintain and consolidate the demand from the public sector to provide critical mass and to help us deliver on essential services.

Can you say a few words about how you view Copernicus in the context of international co-operation? What specific measures are being taken in this respect.

International co-operation is central to Copernicus and historically there is a strong element of bi-lateral collaboration with Europe’s key partners in Earth Observation or in multi-lateral fora such as GEO. This makes a lot of sense as many of the societal challenges, which Copernicus was set up to help address (e.g. environment and security) are global in nature.

Broadly, our approach to international co-operation has three main objectives: maximise the uptake of Copernicus data and information, bring international data and expertise into the data management system in Europe on the basis of reciprocity and help promote opportunities for European actors in international markets. More specifically, we have concluded data exchange arrangements with the U.S. and Australia in 2015 and this year we are focusing on Latin America and Africa.


In the US, the 2003 Commercial Remote Sensing Act has opened the market to private ventures leading to a number of new start-ups launching and operating EO satellites. By clarifying the boundary between the public and private sector with the simple principle that a commercial approach should be privileged whenever possible, the US government has liberated the private sector leading to new initiatives. Could you elaborate your thought on a possible European Commercial Remote Sensing Act?

I think it is extremely important for industry to have planning certainty and predictability in order to be able to plan investments into new products and services. Hence, I think it makes sense to bring clarity to what is a publicly provided service and what is left to the private sector and how the interaction between the two should take place.

Do you think it should be necessary to identify instruments that allow organising co-operation between EC DG-GROW and the EO industry sector in a more effective way? How do you perceive the role of EARSC in this respect?

I think it is essential for us to have an organised and structured discussion with industry and to be able to gain the industry’s views and feedback on the evolution and conditions in the market. We are taking steps to do this in a more systematic way and I think you are seeing evidence of this already. The Commission tries to achieve maximum inclusiveness when it consults with different stakeholder communities and we very much value EARSC as an interlocutor and the inputs which we have received through the different analyses and position papers.


Finally, looking to the future;

What do you see as being the biggest challenges facing you over the next few years?

I think there are two main challenges: first, improving and upgrading the data dissemination and access system for Copernicus and space data in general to improve its performance for users, to take advantage of the technological advances in ICT and to enable for new concepts of integrated data exploitation and value extraction to develop; second, to create the conditions for EO data and information to be increasingly used outside the traditional communities and to expand the size of the market for innovative products. You could summarise this as the challenge of being able to effectively bring together supply and demand side approaches in a coherent and inter-linked manner.

At the end of the interview, here is the opportunity for your final thoughts and how your activities could contribute to the future development of the EO geo-information service sector?

As I mentioned beforehand, Copernicus – with its full, free and open data policy – offers a unique opportunity for the EO services sector and we very much see our role as creating an enabling environment for industry to be able to take advantage of it. It is still a relatively small market largely driven by public sector demand but it does the have advantage of offering opportunities to conceive, develop and provide products and services which do not exist yet and for which there is a demand from different end users. This is, in my view, the main challenge for all of us.

Thank you in advance for the elements of contribution to the Interview and for sharing your thoughts and comments with the EOmag readers.

Andreas Veispak, an Estonian, started his career at PricewaterhouseCoopers working on and leading numerous projects across different sectors of the economy in fields related to economic development, strategic advisory, mergers & acquisitions, project finance, public-private-partnerships, due diligence and corporate recovery.
He joined the European Commission in 2005 where dealt with the automotive industry and was responsible for questions related to industrial competitiveness, energy and the environment. In 2010 he joined the team at Director General of DG GROW (internal market, industrial competitiveness, space – Copernicus and Galileo – entrepreneurship and SMEs). In the summer of 2015, he became the acting Head of Unit for Space Data for Societal Challenges and Growth at the European Commission with responsibility for space-related data, user uptake and new business models as well as international relations and outreach activities.
Andreas was educated at the University of Oxford, UK, where he studied Modern History.

a new H2020 project focussing on the integration of EO capacities in North Africa, Middle East and the Balkans.

The importance of regional initiatives that support coordinated, comprehensive and sustained EO information as an enabler for informed decision making is strongly recognised by GEO and Copernicus. Could you please describe how GEO-CRADLE contributes in that direction?

GEO-CRADLE, funded under the EU’s H2020 programme, has brought together a unique team of key players from a total of 26 countries, representing the EO value chain and combining extensive experience from past or ongoing projects in the regions of North Africa, Middle East and the Balkans (e.g. BalkanGEONet, AfriGEOSS, etc.). Building on the outcomes of such initiatives, GEO-CRADLE aims at establishing a multi-regional network of EO stakeholders that will effectively support the integration of EO capacities existing in these three regions. The ultimate goal of the project is to support the implementation of GEOSS and Copernicus in the three regions, whilst also raising awareness of the benefits of EO services amongst end-users, and promoting the uptake of market opportunities for EO companies, especially SMEs.

Representatives of GEO and DG RTD presenting the key priorities for the implementation of GEOSS and Copernicus in the three regions. (source: GEO-CRADLE KOM)

In supporting enhanced and integrated capacity building across these three regions what are the main challenges you have identified and how do you plan to address them?

Despite the important progress in the Balkans and in North Africa, in both regions, but even more so in the Middle East, there still exist several critical gaps when it comes to the assessment, coordination, and synergetic utilisation of EO services, skills, and data. This includes for example the ineffective and fragmented exploitation of available complementarities in EO resources and expertise, the inadequate engagement of the user community and stakeholders in the regions, the low involvement of the private sector and the limited public awareness on the benefits that EO can bring to the market and into people’s everyday lives.

In order to address these challenges, GEO-CRADLE plans to engage the complete ecosystem of EO stakeholders, advocate the benefits of EO towards addressing priorities in the domains of Climate Change, Raw Materials, Food Security, and Energy, and deliver a set of tools that pave the way for the establishment of region-wide EO services and project initiatives.

GEO-CRADLE in a nutshell

Could you please elaborate a bit further on the type of activities that the project will undertake and the concrete tools it will build?

The activities of GEO-CRADLE have commenced with the execution of a survey amongst key actors in the region that represent the supply side (i.e. raw data providers, value adders, GIS providers). The outcomes of the survey will help us construct an accurate and comprehensive picture of the EO capacities and skills in the three regions, which will be then analysed against the needs of end-users (through a series of interviews) to allow the identification of gaps. The analysis of the regional and national capacities will also help us to establish a novel methodology for the assessment of regional EO maturity and to identify the main priority areas that can benefit from the use of state-of-the-art EO data and services.

The next important step in our approach includes the execution of four feasibility studies, demonstrating how the regional priorities can be tackled by the GEO-CRADLE Network. These studies will focus on thematic areas of particular importance for the regions: Adaptation to Climate Change, Improved Food Security, Access to Raw Materials, and Energy. In parallel, GEO-CRADLE will set up a Regional Data Hub, which abides by the GEOSS Data Sharing Principles, and facilitates access to and dissemination of region-wide EO data.

GEO-CRADLE priority domains

Finally, the project will elaborate a roadmap for the future implementation of GEOSS and Copernicus in the region, with the ultimate aim to enable sustainable exploitation of the regional infrastructures and capacities as well as informed decision-making.

Given that end-users are the principal beneficiaries of the wealth of information that can be extracted from and delivered by EO data and services, their effective engagement in your activities could be considered critical. How does GEO-CRADLE plan to ensure this?

There are two main aspects to this matter. Firstly, GEO-CRADLE will strive to raise awareness amongst end-users and policy makers of the benefits that EO brings to various application sectors. This will be pursued through a series of engagement and outreach activities. The GEO-CRADLE portal, once fully launched will promote successful use cases from the region, inform on the value of EO data and services and support effective linking between the end-user community and the supply side. To give a concrete example, all planned GEO-CRADLE events will be marked by active participation of end-users. Thus, in the upcoming 10th GEO European Projects Workshop in Berlin (31/05-02/06), GEO-CRADLE will organise a session on the Regional dimension for GEO and capacity building priorities, where the testimonies from end-users will be presented.

Secondly, the project has already set out to capture and understand the concrete requirements of end-users in a way that is as much unbiased from the supply side as possible. In this way, the foreseen feasibility studies will be tuned onto the needs of end-users paving the way for the subsequent establishment of regional scale EO services.

The importance of the involvement of EO companies in the implementation of GEOSS has been increasingly recognised in a number of recent occasions. How does GEO-CRADLE aspire to ensure this and what are the main benefits that EO companies can expect from their engagement in the project?

In line with the strategy of GEO for the period 2016-2025, and the outcomes of recent workshops that were focussing on the respective challenges, GEO-CRADLE has put strong emphasis in the effective involvement of the EO industry and SMEs. First, we have invited and are keen to be joined in our consortium by EARSC – who has recently become a GEO participating organisation. EARSC’s participation shall ensure the appropriate platform for the representation of the European EO industry in the project, whilst also allowing the establishment of concrete links with other important activities run at regional level such as the Inventory of African EO Companies

GEO-CRADLE consortium: A unique team of key EO actors from North Africa, Middle East and the Balkans. (source: GEO-CRADLE KOM)

The benefits for EO companies and in particular SMEs participating in GEO-CRADLE activities are multiple. Firstly, they can become members of a large regional network of stakeholders that can effectively work together towards creating business opportunities, and generating EO services that meet regional needs. Secondly the will gain access to a number of tools promoting regional cooperation on EO-related activities such as the GEO-CRADLE portal and the Regional Data Hub. Thirdly, they can be informed through the GEO-CRADLE portal and our engagement activities about business and/or collaboration opportunities, networking events, and regional EO-related news. In that respect, a dedicated industry engagement workshop is planned to be held in Brussels in a year from now. Last but not least, companies will have the opportunity to participate in concrete consultation activities that pave the way towards a future regional GEO/Copernicus initiative.

With all this in mind, we invite EO companies but also all other stakeholders along the EO value chain, to closely follow our activities through our website, participate in our upcoming events, become members of the GEO-CRADLE network and support us in the implementation of GEOSS and Copernicus in the region.

Dr KONTOES Charalampos (Haris) holds the position of Research Director in the Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics Space Applications and Remote Sensing of the National Observatory of Athens (NOA/IAASARS). He received his Doctorate in Remote Sensing of the Environment (NTUA, 1992). He completed his doctoral studies holding a grant from the European Commission in the Institute for Space Applications of the Joint Research Centre at ISPRA (Environmental Mapping Group, JRC). Since 1992 he has been assuming responsibilities in managing Earth Observation operational & research projects, focusing on risk assessment and mitigation, risk monitoring and management, environmental resource management, and mapping in various territorial contexts and scales. He leads a research team with active participation in projects funded by ESA, EC Framework Programs, H2020, COPERNICUS, and GEO.

With his capacities as National Delegate in Space, he has been responsible for leading and coordinating interdisciplinary high level representations in several Decision Making Boards and Program Committees (e.g. ESA PBEO, EC Space Program Committees (FP7, H2020), COPERNICUS Committee, Space Advisory Committee). He assumes the responsibility of the National Point of Contact to promote ESAʼs CollGS initiative, coordinating the development and sustained operation of the first Copernicus data dissemination facility available in the SE Europe and the Balkans (the so called Hellenic Sentinel Data Hub). He has developed, and is currently assuming the responsibility of the Ground Segment facilities operated by NOA, for receiving in real time a multitude of EO satellite missions. He is author of more than 120 publications in reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Member of the editorial board and reviewer of highly ranked Scientific Journals (IJPRS, IJRS, SENSORS, IEEE Geoscience and RS). Member of the Advisory Boards of on-going EU and ESA projects. EC expert evaluator in the various framework programs (FP6, FP7, H2020).

GEO-CRADLE: Coordinating and integRating state-of-the-art Earth Observation Activities in the regions of North Africa, Middle East, and Balkans and Developing Links with GEO related initiatives towards GEOSS

Firstly, Mr. Steenmans, mainly for our readers outside of Europe, can you give us a picture of the European Environment Agency (EEA), what you do and what is your mission?

The EEA is an agency of the European Union. Our task is to provide sound, independent data and information on the environment to decision-makers and the general public, in order to support sustainable development and to help achieve significant and measurable improvement in Europe’s environment.

We are therefore a major information source for those involved in developing, adopting, implementing and evaluating environmental policy. Our main clients are the European Union institutions — the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council — and our member and cooperating countries. The business community, academia, non-governmental organisations and other parts of civil society are also important users of our information.

Today climate change and environmental issues are major factors determining the framework for international and national policy actions. How do you feel then overall about the use of Earth Observation to help these policy making? How important was the contribution of the Earth Observation to the latest SOER report on the assessment of the European environment’s state, trends and prospects, in a global context?

Earth Observation plays a significant part in assessing Europe’s environment. In 2015, the European Environment Agency released a report entitled “European Environment – State and Outlook 2015”, which analyses the state, trends and prospects of the European environment. Providing timely comparable information over large areas without the use of remote sensing is nowadays unthinkable. As such, the Copernicus Atmosphere and Land Monitoring services are among the key sources that contributed to the information presented in the report. In particular, the Copernicus Land Monitoring Service Imperviousness contributed to data that was used to highlight differences in urban sprawl between and within European countries, while the Urban Atlas provided detailed data for certain land cover and land use types, which was used to compare total green space in cities across Europe.


The EEA is the entity coordinating the pan-European and local components of the Copernicus Land Monitoring Service. How does and will Copernicus contribute to the EEA mandate?

The information emerging from Copernicus is integrated into environmental indicators and integrated assessments that feed into policy-making processes. For example, the EEA has significant experience with Corine Land Cover and Urban Atlas. The Copernicus programme offers a unique opportunity to ensure the long term and structural provision of more timely georeferenced information, thus complementing the aggregated data that is collected and made available by the countries through regular reporting. In that sense, Copernicus could become a game changer for land monitoring.

EARSC organized a workshop aimed at fostering the dialogue between all the European Entrusted Entities (EEE’s) and the private sector. The objective was to find a way forward for industry and the EEE’s to maximize the exploitation of Copernicus Services. We are now in the process to elaborate a roadmap together with the EEE’s, which will help on the Exploitation of Copernicus, where do you see the main priorities?

There are several aspects where improved dialogue between the EEE’s and the private sector would foster a broader use of the Copernicus services. First of all, I refer to the role of the EEE’s and industry in the production of the services: for the land monitoring service, the key focus is on the detection and mapping of changes of the biophysical Earth’s surface over time, in order to establish long term time series that facilitate reliable trend analysis.

In order to reach this objective, well-defined service requirements are needed, together with a fully understood and accessible work flow. This will ensure the high quality of the services, as well as their coherence and consistency, in line with the requirement of establishing time series. It will also allow for different companies to produce the services, following a fair and competitive market mechanism. Such competition may favour a shift towards the search for the best organisational setup, or the levels of automation necessary to make the difference in a competitive market.

I’d also like to highlight the opportunities offered by the Copernicus core services as a sound foundation for the development of downstream services. The European Commission, in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA), has committed to the long term deployment of the Copernicus programme, based on an open data policy. For the first time in the history of European satellite remote sensing, this offers a unique opportunity for industrial investments in customer-tailored downstream services. In order to support this logic over the coming years, it is important that industry provides feedback to the EEE’s on the requirements for the core services, and that the EEE’s in turn take these considerations on board when working on the evolution of the Copernicus service.

As a key user of the data, the EEA is one such interface between the image data and the knowledge created from it and used by European policy makers, businesses and other stakeholders. How you can help on leveraging the exploitation of the Copernicus services inside the EC?

The use of Copernicus services in the European Commission is primarily linked to a broad range of Community policies such as environment, agriculture, regional development, transport, climate action, energy and so forth. Typically the Commission’s thematic directorates-general expect the Copernicus services to support the policy cycle, be it policy preparation, policy implementation or policy evaluation. Increasing the use of the Copernicus services in the Commission is, therefore, linked to the extent to which the services themselves manage to provide information that supports policies.

The definition of land services is one example where this is already taken on board to support environment policy: the setup of the Riparian Zones service is clearly linked with the activities of the MAES (Monitoring and Assessment of Ecosystem Services) group, managed by DG Environment. Similarly, the Urban Atlas is a service that provides valuable input for DG REGIO in supporting regional and urban policies and, in particular, the multi-annual Cohesion Report for which DG REGIO is responsible.

What can we do to encourage or enable further industrial participation in the provision of services? How do you perceive the role of EARSC in this respect?

The key role we see for EARSC as an umbrella organisation for the Earth observation industry is to create a structural information exchange channel between the EEE’s and industry, which functions in an open and transparent way. This should help to ensure fair competition, broaden the scope of potential downstream applications, further the exchange of ideas on future developments etc. In addition, EARSC can be instrumental for specific initiatives that help improve cooperation between the EEE’s and industry, such as recent work on the definition of commonly agreed accuracy assessment methods for certain categories of land monitoring products and services.

Industry & Procurement

EARSC is collaborating with EEA on an expert workshop on validation and certification of land products. How important do you see this activity creating a common understanding and forming a set of guidelines? How will the EEA expect to proceed with appropriate quality control procedures and its integration in the production process of the services?

A commonly agreed procedure for accuracy assessment on a per product or service basis was identified as an important topic during the implementation of the initial phase of the Copernicus Land Monitoring Service. The lack of such commonly agreed assessments sparked discussions on how exactly to measure the accuracy services, in particular newly developed ones, such as the High Resolution Layers in the pan-European component. We therefore believe the best way forward is to agree the best and most reliable approach upfront, which will obviously differ according to the nature of the product or service. The EEA intends to include references to a procedure for accuracy assessment as part of the initial internal QA/QC during production. Independent from this internal assessment, we will nevertheless continue to perform statistical validation on the final outcome of any product or service.

It is important to underline that such a product or service based accuracy assessment is clearly different from a company oriented certification process. Guidelines on how the accuracy of any product or service is measured, directly determine the quality of the Copernicus services. As such they are considered more important for consistency and coherence than any company level certification model, which might tell us about the capacities of a company, but not about the intrinsic quality of the deliverables themselves.

We enter the era of big data where we perceive there will be many opportunities to exploit data from many varied sources in combination. How does the EEA see the big data challenge in view of its role as EEE for the land monitoring service?

It seems beyond any doubt that the big data era will bring a major paradigm shift in the use of remote sensing for the environment, including land monitoring. On an almost daily basis, we will be able to exploit long term time series of satellite observations of the Earth’s surface for change monitoring on a per pixel basis. These new techniques have already demonstrated not only a tangible improvement in the level of accuracy of land cover/land use change monitoring, but also make a wealth of data available for integration with other data and information services.

However, there is still some work to be done in Europe before we can expect the systematic exploitation of these large volume satellite data sets to be fully operational. Ensuring the accessibility of time series of satellite image data together with relevant in situ data is a serious challenge, one that requires an improved data storage and dissemination architecture.

Furthermore, the sheer volume of image data calls for a move of data processing from production entities to big data centres, with a focus on processing services instead of download services. But with data centres spread worldwide, the challenge will be to tackle issues such as harmonised user interfaces, data protection and even cyber security. The Web Processing Service is a first attempt at harmonisation, but clearly top level initiatives are required. This would avoid multiple initiatives that leave the end user with an array of interfaces to deal with, thus jeopardising the optimal exploitation of big data. The situation can be compared to the differences in Earth observation file formats back in the early eighties, when the software industry was forced to try to keep pace with non-harmonised developments.

What is the EEA doing to make its data available to private enterprise (as well as individuals) so that it can be exploited in this way?

The EEA applies a full, open and free data policy to all our data and information products. We have, of course, provided support to the European Commission during political discussions on the Copernicus data and information policy and are extremely pleased to be able to offer an open and free data policy. In practice, for the Copernicus Land Monitoring Service, this means that the full land monitoring portfolio is available to all commercial and public users via the portal in three different ways: online map viewing, Open Geospatial Consortium compliant web-services and download of all datasets.

What issues do you see in making environmental data available for open use? How can we ensure that this benefits the European industry?

Our approach is one of full transparency concerning the collection, processing and assessment of the information and knowledge in our data and information products, including full traceability of underpinning data in our reports. A full, free and open data policy, together with a full traceability of data sources has contributed significantly to the credibility of the EEA.


At the end of the interview, here is the opportunity for your final thoughts and how your activities could contribute to the future development of the EO geo-information service sector?

A major challenge for the coming years relates to the awareness raising of the availability of all these free and open services towards industry and other stakeholders in Europe and beyond. A good communication strategy will be required.

Chris Steenmans is Head of Programme at the European Environment Agency (EEA). He is responsible for the programming and strategic development of the EEA ICT and data management, in close cooperation with the European Environmental Information and Observation Network (EIONET).
He coordinates the EEA contributions to the European Earth observation programme (COPERNICUS), the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), the European Spatial Data Infrastructure (INSPIRE) and the European Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS) and the UN Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM).
He graduated at the Catholic University of Leuven (KUL) in 1981 as Msc Geoscience and was researcher at the Department of Cartography KUL until 1985. Before joining the EEA in 1997, he worked during 12 years in a number of private companies for providing remote sensing, data management, GIS and mapping services.
He has been actively involved in several international initiatives, including the European programme for Coordination of Information on the Environment (CORINE) for producing and providing access to European environmental datasets, the EU Programme of Community aid to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (PHARE) for the pre-accession strategy for the Central and Eastern European countries, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) for improving environmental monitoring, data and information sharing with South and East neighbours and the Russian Federation.

30 years of GAF: A long and successful history – the solid basis for an inspiring future
Customer orientation and excellence have been the driving forces behind the companys’ development towards a major European player in the Earth Observation field. The broad service portfolio has helped to establish a constant growth and made the company to perform excellently compared to many competitors – and also within the Telespazio Grouping. An outstanding positioning has been achieved in the Copernicus land service suite, in the demanding military and security markets, and the natural resource management consultancy field. It’s the volume of good ingredients and clients’ appreciation, that makes GAF bound for the future.

EARSC Company of the Year 2015

Last year was EARSC’s 25th anniversary when we intoduced the EARSC Company Award. This is the second year and the second winner of this now prestigious award is GAF AG. GAF is one of the longest-lived companies in the sector and this achievement was recognised by EARSC members in delivering the award to them this year.

This is for the company recognised by both peers and international experts as having made the most significant contribution to the growth of the EO services sector in Europe. Both EARSC members and the international jury selected GAF AG as the winner, please tell us what this means for you and how the important the prize is for GAF?

What we call the Earth Observation downstream or probably a bit more precise, the Geoinformation service industry was and still is partly characterized by a number of companies or semi-public institutions which have the one great business idea on which to grow a very ambitious development plan. Often such enterprises are hailed for innovation, making a lot of marketing noise and finally after some years disappear or re-arrange their profile completely.

This is not the story of GAF. We try to deliver something sustainable – though we do not forget about the advances in technology. My staff and myself believe it is remarkable that we have been selected after 30 years of existence – in an environment where the new buzzwords (Cloud Computing, Big Data, EO Smallsats) would naturally attract much more attention: we are very proud to be now one of the “officially” recognised European leaders in the EO service domain.


Tell us a bit about the history of GAF AG, how the Company was started and how it has grown over the years?

It was October 1985, that Rupert Haydn, with the support of an international development consultancy firm and the Wittelsbach Compensation Fund, founded the company with an initial staff of 5 – the only “operational” satellite instrument at that time was the Landsat Thematic Mapper with unbelievable 30 m resolution! It was soon obvious that even with the advent of the SPOT system featuring 10 m and then many others, growth had to be generated also by other “neighbouring” technological enablers plus a number of well-educated application experts. In 1996 the subsidiary Euromap was founded in order to secure exclusive access to Indian satellite data, which is now an integral part of the company following an upstream merger of Euromap into GAF in 2014. In 2003 the majority of company shares was taken over by Telespazio and today the company is a one of the most successfully operating entities within the Telespazio Group. The staff has grown from 5 to 220, and so have the revenues accompanied by solid profitability.

Please tell us a bit more about what GAF AG does? What are the key markets that GAF AG addresses?

It’s the marriage of technical excellence with a profound application/market knowledge that is special to GAF staff – for this reason we do have not a typical “Sales” or “Business Development” structure, we rather mobilise a technical expert with sales and project management experience. The person selling a solution or project is normally the one implementing it and making the customer service. Our services are all spatial data production and analyses, starting from a variety of satellite data reception and distribution (not only our Indian sensor flute), mapping and monitoring, GIS and spatial software systems down to consultancy services how to best use these services for better decision making or an improved administrative purpose. And we cover in similar intensity fields like agriculture, forestry, mining, oil&gas, infrastructure, environment and climate change topics. An important activity – of course – for GAF are the defense and security markets, where we believe to have the most complete one-stop-shop in Europe. Instead of talking too much about beacon activities I may refer you to our news section on our website.

What is beyond GAF’s expertise, can often be addressed by using our Group resources or long-lasting partners in the research or industry arena.

When the company started in business, what specific idea, purpose or vision was the driving force?

It was the convergence of several ideas:

1) the concept of using satellite data for resource management in remote areas much more effectively than by traditional field surveys only,
2) the utilization of digital image processing techniques to extract subtle reflectance features from CIR airphotos, and
3) to earn money by letting the staff develop their own project areas.

What has been the greatest challenge the company has encountered and how was it overcome?

There have been many, but this one comes just to my mind: GAF is a bit exotic with its massive out-of-Europe experience, mainly in the developing world. One of these larger projects has been a 4 years capacity building project for the Ministry of Mines and Energy in Kabul. As one can imagine it was not easy to find highly specialized experts to stay for years in an unstable environment. It took us massive manpower research, 2 missions to KBL and a 6 months internal planning and decision-making process to finally negotiate a workable contract. The solution has been a senior key expert from Zimbabwe, when asked if he would have a problem to work a long time in Kabul, he responded: “If you have lived a long period in Southern Africa you would not ask this question…”

What do you consider are the most important competences of GAF that help you succeed?

In short: Put staff in positions where they perform best, high flexibility thru our multi-role system, a family-type environment and last not least putting the customer first. Though we belong to a big industrial grouping, many EO service works are tailor-made for SME structures. Too much strategizing destroys sometimes the chances to be successful in a highly competitive environment.

What do you see as the main challenges facing GAF-AG in the next 1-2 years?

In our opinion, the market outlook for the EO service industry has never been so inspiring as it is now. Coming from the spatial resolution “revolution” now down to 30 cm, we think the next step is the repetition dimension with large constellations of micro/small sats. It is up to us to design and implement completely new information services. A lot of noise is currently made about highly automated analysis platforms, yes, we believe here are a lot of advances possible. However, it is our experience of more than 1000 projects successfully completed, to really sell a safe service to a customer the human interaction is and will be still an important factor.

Market Views

The three disruptive satellite startups: Planet Labs, Urthecast and Skybox Imaging, continue to make headlines following the recent move by Planet Labs to acquire German-based Blackbridge geospatial companies, including its RapidEye suite of core offerings. In June, Urthecast agreed to pay €74.2 million for Spain-based Elecnor SA’s Deimos Imaging unit, which operates Deimos-1 and Deimos-2 satellites. Exactly a year before that, Skybox Imaging was bought by Google for €450 million in cash.

How do you think that these deals will affect your business? what do you think mean they mean for European companies?

We do have too few details on these deals and the rationale behind – it might be sometimes more simple than we think initially. One thing is the deal, another the business concepts driving such acquisitions. It appears on the surface that again the US industry somehow is starting to buy into successful European firms and developments. I am sure the background is more complex and players from other nations are playing their role in some of the deals.

In our view the key will be not the novel systems per se but rather the know-how around novel information services generated.

Are there lessons for GAF or other European companies to be drawn from them?

There are so many other initiatives and there are since long plans from the public side, we need to use everything available in form of a multi-mission platform to base our service offering. The Client needs a reliable and affordable information service and normally does not care about the technicalities, systems used or if they are derived even only from traditional in-situ data.

What are the main issues you consider may affect the evolution of the market you are addressing and where do you see the greatest opportunities for growth?

From the Copernicus program we will have not only direct service contracts for the industry, but on a medium-long term we will see a plethora of new public/commercial applications based on existing service lines. It has its dja vu: the COFOR (cost for reproduction) distribution era of Landsat data 20 years ago with the result of a strong increase in EO data utilization. Thanks to hard work GAF is today in a prominent position to assist in value creation from the Copernicus opportunity.

For the aspects outside Copernicus, I have to repeat a bit: the temporal resolution by maintaining a high-very high spatial resolution. If we add to the end of the decade also the hyperspectral dimension and the unique features of SAR-monitoring, all coupled with automated data screening/change detection algorithms, we will see a completely new market scenario. GAF is heavily preparing for this, and we collaborate intensely here with e-Geos (SAR) and the most important optical system operators such as Antrix, Airbus Defense, Blackbridge, Digitalglobe/EUSI.

Are there particular threats which you see for your business?

Appropriate procurement procedures are still in the minority in many tenderig processes. Some public and commercial clients believe EO services can be procured like washing powder or cars. Typical is a low entry barrier in technical merits, and after that only price counts, sometimes even adorned by liquidated damages. This is totally inadequate for complex servicing contracts where experience, know-how, a sound technical workflow and a good project management is required.

This type of cheapy-procurement could even destroy the EO service market in a longer term!

At the moment, innovation seems to be on everyone’s list of things to promote, what is your perception of innovation in the EO services sector? How do you approach innovation within GAF AG?

Means for us to look for new ways to improve the quality of our services and make them more efficient – and to bring completely new products and services to the market. All this under very practical aspects. We believe the best innovator is a staff member who knows the customer, the technologies, the process, the economics and his own and the colleagues’ capabilities. We have a large number of such people in the company and try to give them enough freedom to innovate in their daily work or participate in cross-Group innovation actions. It is key for us to leverage on our staff for continuous improvement. Besides in-house innovation we are very happy to have intensified development actions with the DLR Earth Observation Centre located next doors in the past years – a perfect example for a fruitful industry/R&D-centre co-operation.

EO Service Development and Stakeholders

In the EO services sector, governments can have a strong influence over the way business develops. Aside from being a good customer, what’s the one other thing governments can do to support the development of the sector?

It is small, incomplete list that comes to my mind:

1) Apply the correct procurement method, put more emphasis on quality and sustainability
2) Provide separate budgets lines or at least some moneys for pilots
3) Exclude non-industrial players from bidding to avoid unfair competition

EARSC is the European trade association dealing with the geospatial services sector; what for you are the main benefits of EARSC membership?

For GAF, EARSC is the most important membership in a professional association. It is the European industry platform that does not hesitate to clearly express an industry view towards EO service customers, financers, politicians and non-industrial EO players. And real practical advances come from the service industry! EARSC’s record of activities is impressing, for instance to promote qualification schemes in a small and heterogenous market where a customer can be sometimes not sure what he gets for his investment, or as an another example, its arguments for more industry participation in the Copernicus atmosphere and climate change service lines.

What do consider is the main issue for EARSC to address today on behalf of the European EO services sector?

I think EARSC should elaborate with the big public customers an advisory scheme on how to choose a specific procurement method based on EU law. This would help all company members, the client side, and most important, the European taxpayer, to receive a lasting and real value for money.


Finally, what can you say about your outlook for the sector and how companies in this sector should be positioning themselves?

Regarding EO there is a great future ahead and GAF as one of the largest service companies in Europe is just one example of what can be achieved. Our premier European raw material is brainware, a constant improvement and solid performance. Though I became 60 this year, I am looking forward extremely interested and I would be pleased to see a really wide commercial market being established by the aid of the dramatic technological developments ahead.

Peter Volk, CEO GAF AG

Dr. Peter VOLK has graduated in applied geology at the Faculty of Geosciences (Chair Prof. Bodechtel) in Alpine sedimentology, tectonics and remote sensing in 1982. Working on a research project lead by Prof. Bodechtels’ Deputy Dr. Rupert Haydn using Earth observation, Geophysics and GIS for mineral exploration in Southern Spain, he received his PhD from Munich University in 1985. During and after his thesis he was active as geotechnical engineer in a local firm before joining (again) Rupert Haydn in the freshly founded GAF in 1986 as expert for image processing and EO land applications. During his long history at GAF he developed and managed many research and application projects ranging from geology, water, agriculture, environment, regional planning and cadastre in more than 30 countries with a focus on Africa and the Arab world. In 1991 he became Head of department and proxyholder, in 1993 member of GAF management board, in 2004 he was promoted COO of the company and followed Dr. Rupert Haydn as CEO in 2007. He further acts since 5 years also as country manager for the Telespazio Group in Germany with more than 650 staff working in the two companies Telespazio-VEGA Germany and GAF.