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Europe Needs a framework for Earth Observation

Setting space funding priorities is a problem on both sides of the
Atlantic. While the US struggles with whether to keep operating two of
the most extraordinary space missions ever undertaken – Voyager and
HUBBLE – Europe is reaching a turning point in 2005 with a key European
Space Agency (ESA) Ministerial conference and the definition of the
European Union‘s 2007-2013 financial package.

“Europe Needs a framework for Earth Obseervation” was published in Space News dated May, 16th 2005.

Setting space funding priorities is a problem on both sides of the
Atlantic. While the US struggles with whether to keep operating two of
the most extraordinary space missions ever undertaken – Voyager and
HUBBLE – Europe is reaching a turning point in 2005 with a key European
Space Agency (ESA) Ministerial conference and the definition of the
European Union‘s 2007-2013 financial package.

It‘s easy to identify what Europe‘s priorities have been in the past.
In financial volume, priority number one has been access to space, i.e.
launchers and space infrastructure centered on the international space
station, with a total in excess of 40% of ESA’s 2005 budget. Meanwhile,
the satellite sector has been weakened, with many programs cancelled or
delayed in Earth observation, science and telecommunications . all
assets in direct service to the citizen.

In that sense, the ends . biosphere
knowledge and protection, space exploration, better services for the
citizen and science – have taken a backseat to the means.

Since 1960 the world economic activity has
been multiplied by six, while the world population has doubled. This
rapid and unique development has been accompanied by a tremendous toll
on natural resources and ecosystems. In less than three decades the
number of natural disasters has been multiplied by 2.5 and the number
of victims by 3. Disasters killed 500 000 people and caused $750
billion of damage over the 1990-1999 decade. Earth as a planet is
threatened, humans are not properly protected and human knowledge of
Earth systems is far from complete. We are lacking observation taken on
a sustained, systematic, and operational basis. In some areas, data
collection is decreasing. Although the development of suitable
technologies and the awareness of the socioeconomic benefits of Earth
Observation are progressing, in Europe the Earth observation industry
is facing severe threats.

While ESA plans only a small number of
Earth observation missions, industry faces technical risk and complex
political and market forces in a sector in which governments are major
players. Satellite capabilities are declining and strategic European
technologies are at risk of disappearing. Earth stations receive mostly
non-European satellite data, value-added companies face a paucity of
European-source data and increased vulnerability in data access.
Operational continuity is not assured. Users and government
decision-makers face a lack of strategic and critical data, limiting
their autonomy.
New directions are needed in space funding. Earth observation is
increasingly recognized as a public good and the use of remote sensing
data, telecommunications and navigation services can deliver enormous
and rapidly increasing public good benefits to the global economy.

A new strategy for Earth Monitoring must
consider science, operational and commercial elements. It should be
based on the following pillars:

1. Science

The main emphasis must be on the Earth and
the solar system. Earth Science, which is an optional program at ESA,
should be a mandatory program allowing industry to invest rationally
instead of counting on lobbying or luck –

- as was recently the case with the selections in the ESA Earth Observation Preparatory Program.

2. Operations

A coherent overall strategy for GMES must
be designed. Priority should be given to deploying satellites for
visible/near-infrared ocean and coastal-zone monitoring (where there is
no successor for oceanographic ENVISAT payload), land observation of
the LANDSAT and Spot type, and risk management, all featuring dual use
for civil and security applications. Failure to establish a
comprehensive observation baseline and commit to continuity of
observation systems will hamper the achievement of environmental
treaties targets. Indeed the fulfilling of international conventions as
well as sustainable development policies is relying on such
capabilities. Finally one could create a defendable business/economic
case only if data continuity is assured.

The main segment of commercial space-borne Earth observation today
is constituted by high resolution imaging, whether in the optical or
radar domains. The number of existing and planned high-resolution
systems in North America, Europe and Asia for the next ten years is
substantial and thus availability of data seems secure. The situation
is more complex in the market for data and services. The Earth
observation data market is small by itself. The real market will result
from the synergy of Earth observation, positioning, and
telecommunications systems.

3. Support for the satellite sector

to space is now assured in Europe. It remains a worthy goal, but it has
cost tremendous amounts of money and eclipsed satellite programs that
could be more useful in terms of applications, innovation and

There is in Europe no industrial policy
for satellite-derived applications. National optional participation in
programs such as GMES, or Global Monitoring for Environment and
Security, and the ARTES telecommunications research program have been
gutted in favor of launch vehicle programs. The situation must be

4. International Collaboration

The need for a large variety and quantity
of complementary environmental data to monitor the planet strongly
argues for international coordination. The joint ESA-NASA initiative in
the science-focused Earth Explorer/ESSP framework is an excellent move
in this direction. The GEOSS-GMES links should be the next step
forward. It is also encouraging that at industry level links between
U.S. and European companies are being established.

5. Framework

While multi-source funding is essential, a
single coordinating body must be identified. In Europe, EUMETSAT, which
has efficiently consolidated the Meteosat program and has begun early
work on a third operational Generation, is a good model.

6. Financing and timing

The cost of environmental damage should be
kept in mind when thinking about the cost of satellite surveillance
systems. The cost of a recent oil-tanker sinking alone is about 10
billion dollars. A 10-year European budget of this order for Earth
Science and GMES would be reasonably small compared to the benefits
they bring.

Clearly separated budgets must be
established for the science/research element and for the operational.
As presented earlier, the budgets specifically allocated to the
development of the Earth observation space segment must also be
accompanied by budgets for the information and telecommunication
infrastructures in order for a proper access to data and a suitable
deployment of services to happen.

What is needed is a GMES pilot phase
integrating these elements, without waiting to identify all the future
end users willing to pay to deploy and operate the infrastructure.
There should be no illusions: This will remain a public investment for
many years to come.

It is time to reassess our space priorities to put the industry more completely at the service of the citizen.

Paul Kamoun

EARSC Chairman, European Association of Remote Sensing Companies

Eberhard Parlow

EARSeL Chairman, European Association of Remote Sensing Laboratories