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EU enhances commercial access to Earth observation data

Businesses and research institutions will soon have more reliable access to commercial earth observation satellite data, according to a proposal presented by the European Commission in Brussels today.

It aims to ensure better access to high resolution earth observation satellite data (HRSD) in particular, which, together with HRSD-based applications, are an essential tool for environment monitoring, urban planning, agriculture, natural resources management and disaster and emergency management, as well as for security and defence. Today regulations governing commercial activities using HRSD differ between EU Member States. This situation creates obstacles to market development as it hampers access to data vital by related businesses: including data resellers, data processors, value-adding service providers and software developers. Today´s proposal aims to improve business conditions for such companies in Europe and to partially harmonise rules defining HRSD and related transparency and standards in the EU.

European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani, Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship, commented that: “The use of satellite imagery is an important and fast growing business. This Directive will facilitate commercial Earth observation and access to satellite data within the EU, accelerating the development of this innovative sector and the creation of new products and services. Our economy will benefit from increased competition by improving free circulation of satellite data throughout the EU.”

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The objective of the Directive on the dissemination of Earth observation satellite for commercial purposes is to facilitate the dissemination of satellite data in Europe and to establish a more reliable access to HRSD, while fully safeguarding security interests. The Directive will achieve these goals by introducing:

  • a common definition of HRSD, specifying which satellite data is considered high resolution and needs regulation and which data is already “business-ready”;
  • common standards for transparency, predictability, legal certainty and fair treatment;
  • common standards for efficiency and business-friendly implementation, in particular regarding the procedures used by Member States to regulate the dissemination of HRSD.

Next steps

This proposal will now be examined by the EU Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. If successful, Member States would then have to adapt their national law, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with this Directive by end of 2017.


Satellite imagery enables the repeated observation of any region on Earth, at different scales, and without breaching any territory sovereignty. The newest generation of Earth observation satellites offer very high resolution imagery (i.e. objects of less than 0.5 m are visible), daily monitoring and very quick access to the imagery.

Currently, the production and dissemination of HRSD by commercial operators is regulated by the countries in which they are registered. As HRSD regulations differ per country and lack of transparency and predictability, the HRSD value chain and customer businesses encounter difficulties.

The Directive covers the commercial side of EU space policy in Earth observation. It complements the Copernicus programme, which is the EU’s Earth observation programme. Copernicus will ensure the regular observation and monitoring of Earth sub-systems, the atmosphere, oceans, and continental surfaces, and that will provide reliable, validated and guaranteed information in support of a broad range of environmental and security applications and decisions.