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Editorial Winter 2014/2015

Last year, 2014, was a very exciting year for Earth Observation companies. We saw some massive changes in the market including the arrival of Skybox 1 & 2 data, the entry of Google via the purchase of Skybox Imaging, Worldview 3 being launched, the authorisation for the sale of satellite imagery with resolutions down to 25cm and the launch of several other initiatives aimed at putting more commercial imagery on the market.
In Europe, Astrium launched SPOT 7, Deimos II was launched, Blackbridge and E-geos announced next generation systems and the first Copernicus satellite – Sentinel 1 – was launched. The last of these, marking the start of the operational phase of Copernicus, promises further change as large volumes of data become freely available and available for free. 2015 should see the launch of Sentinels 2 & 3 further increasing the free data available.

When I was a young engineer in the 1980’s responsible for the design of the Europe’s first radar to be launched on the European ERS-1 we used to think ESA was the market for satellites. At the time, the space agencies were essentially the only customers and so naturally everything was focused around their needs. These were in turn largely determined by science and research. This attitude exists even today even if it has been largely changed by an appreciation of addressing a commercial market.

The telecommunications market was the first to emerge and indeed was already starting to do so with commercial companies buying satellites and selling communication services. In EO some early efforts were being made to sell imagery and companies were being set up to do so; but we were a long way from the point where a private company would build and launch a satellite on its own resources. Indeed, even today a fully commercial business model is quite rare.

So understanding the market is a fundamental requirement for commercial companies trying to do business. Similarly for policy makers, it is fundamental to understand the impacts of their actions; their policy decisions. The former requires a detailed survey of the market, the latter requires a detailed survey of the industry.

Two years ago, we conducted our industry survey 2013 which provided a more detailed picture of the EO services industry than we had before. Since then, many things have changed as described earlier and we have just launched our 2015 survey which will update the industry view and develop it further. In particular, we wish to be in a position to understand the impact of Copernicus on the industry and on the market and so this is a focus of our survey this time. We have already launched what we call the core survey to over 500 companies in Europe and Canada to gather specific data on their business. This will shortly be followed up with phone interviews for what we call the “full survey” which will explore some of the softer factors and strategic issues through a conversation.

But this time, we have decided to go further again.

According to the Impact Assessment published by the European Commission in 2013, Copernicus will create 9,000 direct jobs in the downstream sector. The EARSC survey will show the impact on the private sector but Copernicus is primarily a public programme with its first objective to provide public policy makers with information. Consequently, we are extending our survey to look at the benefits which Copernicus will bring to the public sector in terms of access to information, effectiveness and of course employment. In the next few weeks we shall launch a second survey questionnaire which will be sent to public bodies in Europe with questions on their involvement in Copernicus and the benefits they have seen or anticipate.

But, this is a global industry and European policy is that Sentinel data will be available on a free and open basis, not limited to European companies. Hence the 4th part of our survey will address companies world-wide to try to understand how much they benefit from access to these data. This is quite a challenge, not least because of language! The survey is in English as we think that most companies operating in the domain of EO services, as in the scientific field, will frequently use English. But a questionnaire in English can be quite complex and we are trying to restrict it to essentials as far we can consistent with gathering a good picture of the industry and how it is evolving.

We are happy to have some international partners to help us with this global survey including the GEO secretariat in Geneva, which will help distribute the link through their networks and maybe help gather some of the responses. It is too early to acknowledge everyone but I’ll write again on that once the results are complete.

Our goal is to have results available in mid-2015 and to publish a report which will be freely available. We have the support of ESA to conduct the survey and if any reader wishes to learn more, they can contact either EARSC or ESA-ESRIN to do so.

If you are someone from the private sector or from a public body in Europe reading this we very much count on you to complete the relevant part of the survey. Your contribution will be kept absolutely confidential to EARSC and only aggregated, anonymous results will be public. If you do not receive a request to participate and you think you should be included, do not hesitate to contact us

It is going to be quite a challenge to gather and analyse all the data we anticipate receiving but it is fundamental to understanding the sector and the impact of the policy makers actions towards it. It is one of our major projects; but not the only one and I’ll cover more of those in a future eomag editorial. In the meantime, I wish all eomag readers a successful a above all healthy 2015.

Geoff Sawyer
EARSC Secretary General