Our Annual Meeting took place last week on 18th June. My colleague Delphine MIRAMONT has written a short overview of the proceedings. It is our plan to establish a new blog over the summer where my (Geoff's blog) will move and sit alongside other blogs including a policy blog which will allow Delphine to write about relevant happenings in Brussels. Until that blogpage is ready, we'll introduce her blogs into my blog here. If you want any more information, do not hesitate to leave a comment here for her to reply to.

Policy blog by Delphine MIRAMONT

AGM – 18th June 2020

On the 18th of June 2020, EARSC organised its annual conference, gathering Earth Observation industry members and key European stakeholders, namely Mr Massimiliano Salini (representing the European Parliament), Mr Josef Aschbacher (European Space Agency), Ms Paraskevi Papantoniou (European Commission, DG DEFIS), Mr Kai-Uwe Schrogl (German presidency of the European Council) and Mr Chetan Pradhan (Chairman of EARSC).

The on-line event was very successful giving a comprehensive overview of the future of the European Space programme. Against the background of the Covid crisis, the guest speakers expressed their views and concerns regarding the governance and the budget of the European Space programme.

  • Industrial competitiveness and the EU Space programme: a holistic approach

Mr Salini, who was appointed rapporteur of the EU Space programme in 2018 by the ITRE Committee strongly believes that industrial competitiveness is key to a Europeanand digital strategy. Mr Aschbacher shared this holistic approach and regretted that the budget for the space programme would not cover all the proposed missions. Both speakers pleaded for a strong push for an industrial strategy at the European level, in which the EU space programme is a key element. As for the European Commission, Ms Papantoniou stressed the role of the member states in the governance of the post Covid-19 context and the importance of programmes such as Horizon 2020 to provide a strategic autonomy for Europe and boost innovation and resilience. She added that the priority is to federate more the European players to foster entrepreneurship.

  • Impact of Covid-19

Of course, the consequences of the Covid 19 crisis on the industry was one of the main topics discussed during our workshop. EARSC recently conducted a survey to measure the consequences of the pandemic crisis on the industry and the first results show a negative impact on the business in the mid and long term. In that regard, Mr Salini mentioned a letter[1] that he wrote to Thierry Breton, asking for a recovery plan for the space industry. explained that the coronavirus pandemic makes it more crucial for the European Union to commit to the €16b funding level which had been proposed in the context of the MFF compared to €14.9b in the revised plan. A letter[2] from EARSC to Commissioner Breton also highlighted the necessity of sustained funding to support the recovery of companies. At the ESA level, Mr Aschbacher also talked about the different support measures taken to help the industry (advances payments, faster processes…).

  • Copernicus programme

Mr Aschbacher reinforced the position of the Copernicus programme and strongly asserted that the Copernicus data and services will be helpful for the Green Deal and the digital strategy. He also mentioned the necessity for the industry to be prepared for the next phase of the programme. This statement is aligned with EARSC last position paper concerning the evolution of the Copernicus programme and the need to prepare in a timely manner for the Copernicus new services.

[1] Letter to the Commissioner Thierry Breton, Bruxelles, Massimiliano Salini MEP, Carlos Zorrinho MEP, Christophe Grudler MEP, Andrea Caroppo MEP, Damian Boeselager MEP, Evžen Tošenovský MEP,

Manuel Bompard MEP, 30/04/2020,

[2] Letter to the Commissioner Thierry Breton, EARSC, Bruxelles, 09/04/2020.

New US Remote Sensing Act

Recently, I read with interest that the US Department of Commerce has published proposals for revision to the export limitations for EO satellites and data supplied by US companies. The original restrictions were part of the Landsat Remote Sensing Policy act published way back in 1992. This was revised in 2006 in part reflecting the Commercial Remote Sensing act of 2003. Now the DoC wishes to remove many of the constraints which have been barriers for US companies in the global market.

The market has changed significantly since the last review (to put it mildly!). In 2006, public systems still dominated completely the EO satellite ecosystem. Since then, the launch of many systems by private companies has transformed the market so that data which a few years ago would only be available to military users, can now be accessed relatively easily. In consequence, the DoC is responding to pressure from the US industry to remove the barriers and enable them to compete more effectively in the market outside the US.

The emphasis has moved from direct control over who can have what data based on national security considerations to ensuring that the US has the capacity through an industry competing in the world market. This brings it much more in line with European policy which has relied for many years on its industry maintaining its competitiveness through export business. The revenue for EU space companies have been around 50% commercial and 50% governmental for many years whereas for the US the figure is closer to 20:80 for a much larger business underpinned by DoD budgets.

Now the US seek to move more towards the Europen model. As the DoC sees it:

Through the National Space Council, this Administration recognizes that long-term U.S. national security and foreign policy interests are best served by ensuring that U.S. industry continues to lead the rapidly maturing and highly competitive private space-based remote sensing market. Towards that end, the Administration seeks to establish a regulatory approach that ensures the United States remains the “flag of choice” for operators of private remote sensing space systems.

The regulation shifts the process away from a control based on security factors to one which more reflects international competition. If a specific type of data is available from other sources (US or non-US) then the company seeking to sell its data will automatically be able to do so. The system is more transparent and much more flexible.

In consequence, European companies, which are currently leaders in the market, will face increasing competition from US players. The more favourable and more easily accessed sources of financing in the US, will also act to encourage non-USA companies to incorporate in the US.

What should Europe do?

The regulatory environment in Europe is very different to the US. Defence is a national competence and European nations have their own approaches to control. This has led to some restrictions for very high-resolution systems but nothing like the same barriers as have existed in the US. As a result, European companies have had a much easier ride when exporting either satellite systems or data.

Just as the US is removing controls, Europe does not need to impose them as was being considered by the EC a few years ago. Rather, other steps will be necessary to enable the European industry to maintain its edge. For, whilst the new measures will help US companies to sell data and services elsewhere, it does nothing to open up the US market to non-US suppliers. Here there is still work to be done.

In our recent position paper, we (EARSC) set out a number of measures which we hope the European Union will be able to implement. I wrote recently about innovation and how small measures can bring large rewards by linking industrial policy to other policy measures. I was explicitly referring to Copernicus where public needs can be met by private suppliers and in doing so, can open up business opportunities for European suppliers. The public sector can encourage companies to invest in innovative products and services by setting out its service needs and leaving the private sector to compete. The policy tool of anchor tenancy is a powerful one which can be even further developed by using pre-competitive procurement to stimulate innovative solutions. Overall, we seek to closely align industrial policy with other policies.

Our proposals were sent to Commissioner Breton - who is in charge of the DG Defence Industry and Space (DEFIS) - along with a letter setting out our supplementary views on the impact of the Covid crisis. Both can be found in the website library and we await with great interest to see how the Commissioner will respond to our suggestions.

I was asked yesterday if I thought that the public sector is doing enough to promote innovation (in industry)? I was participating in a workshop (on-line of course) looking at the results of a survey into SME’s in the GI sector. The survey had been conducted by the JRC and the on-line workshop replaced the physical one which had been planned for early April.

It was very enjoyable and left me regretting that we had not been able to meet and certainly have some really interesting discussions. The time available to exchange on-line and the singular nature of the exchanges means that topics are not developed as far as they might otherwise be. This was very much the case here where I really wanted to challenge some of the views and enter into more discussion. Others would almost certainly also have wished to challenge me!

The initial response to the question I posed above was that this is not the role of the government. Rather, the public sector is an important customer for geospatial services, and it is for the company to develop innovative solutions which then become a source of competitive advantage. Now of course, to an extent, this is true. An operational public department, maybe part of a local authority, has a limited budget and is only (rightly) concerned with results. But for me, this is a bit too simple.

In our (EARSC) survey of the industry, we find that the public sector generates around 65% of the revenues of the EO services sector. The JRC SME survey finds roughly the same for geospatial services. But this disguises an important and key fact. Some 50% of the revenue is coming from the public sector as a customer whilst 15% is coming from R&D or industrial policy activities. In other words, nearly 80% of the spend by the public sector is for services which they need for their public mission. We can go further because some of the R&D expenditure is to improve the services which they are themselves buying. So, of the 65% of sector revenues, around 85% is needed by the public sector.

The key point here is to distinguish between the role of the public sector as a customer and that as a sponsor. Indeed, the public sector confuse these roles themselves as may be seen in the organisation of the European Commission itself! Copernicus is a space programme coming under the DG for Defence Industry and Space. How much better and clearer if it came under a DG with responsibility for geospatial information – together with a geospatial agency to deal with operational aspects.

Returning to the question. As a customer, the public sector may not be directly concerned with stimulating innovation which is more directly linked with research ie Research and Innovation. But why not link the policies to get the maximum benefit from the public investments? In this way, customers in the public sector can stimulate innovation in industry (and academia) to help create a more competent industry with the capacity to compete in the global market. A mechanism does exist for this, but we should seek others as well. The existing mechanism is called pre-competitive procurement which is a policy which originates in the US, has been used in Europe but not enough in my opinion.

So, in answer to the question, yes, I think the public sector should and can do more to drive innovation in industry and by doing so improve the services which they make use of at the same time as helping the industry develop its own competence to compete in world markets. At this time of recovery from the Covid crisis, this can be an excellent tool to help rebuild industry.

Covid impact

I wrote previously about the Covid situation in Italy and some thoughts on how the situation might be brought back under control. Now one month later, many countries in Europe are starting to unwind slowly the confinement measure imposed – absolutely necessary in my view – to bring the pandemic under control. Some countries seem to have used the time to prepare for a test, trace and isolate system to maintain control whilst others such as UK and USA seem only to have been concerned with communications rather than a serious attempt to reduce the impact on their countries.

In Belgium, I believe the authorities are doing a good job. They are very transparent with the figures and how they are calculated and the only issue which concerns me is that the capacity for testing could be higher. The appropriate response to the pandemic has changed and with the system in place, no longer are national figures relevant and we should be looking for small local outbreaks which, like small fires smouldering after a major incendiary, need to be snuffed out quickly before they can take hold.

We have been conducting a survey of our members to see what impact the pandemic is having on them. The results show that most companies have adapted quite well to the situation by moving their production out of the offices and into employees homes and that few are suffering immediate problems. Most of their revenues are coming from contracts (rather than single product sales), most can be executed on-line and some are even seeing advantages coming from the shut-down. For example, it is much easier to fly survey aircraft at this time. There is also demand for information on natural resources and statistics linked to the pandemic.

However, most are somewhat fearful for the future in 6 months when contracts start to come to an end and customers budgets are squeezed due to many competing priorities. The first concern is for commercial contracts where private-sector customers will face cash-flow issues but public budgets will also be affected. In my view, they may also face problems with access to capital, as lending will be in heavy demand and competition fierce.

But with a crisis come opportunities and the EO services sector would appear to be in a position to benefit as well. The much-heightened awareness of security of supply chains will generate a need for more business intelligence to inform on bottle-necks, on delivery channels, and on capacity. The links between the crisis and environmental factors will increase the demand both for climate-related information and specific environmental / ecosystem factors such as deforestation, sustainability, pollution risk etc. And of course, the climate pressures, although ameliorated slightly in the short-term, will not go away and the need for more information linked to security and threats from natural disasters is likely to accelerate.

And a final thought, the crisis is going to drive significant M&A activity as companies with cash and buying power are able to seek out bargains. Will we see a wave of consolidations in the EO and space sectors?

At EARSC, we seek to help companies prepare for this changing world, firstly by surviving and secondly to offer the best products and services to as large a market as possible. We shall continue to do this. At the end of next month, I shall hand the role of secretary-general over to my successor – Emmanuel Pajot. I shall continue to support EARSC but just at a lower level of activity than at present. I’ll no doubt write about this again in the future. In the meantime, stay safe.

Coronavirus Update

China today reports no new cases. How did they manage to gain control over the virus to this extent? I came across this interview which explains how it was done. Basically, it involves testing, testing and more testing as we have already heard but crucially, the first test is to take the temperature and any anomaly is immediately isolated. No home quarantine since the first group to get infected is the family. So, anyone with a temperature was obliged to go to a fever clinic where they are tested further. Firstly, with a blood test to see their white cell count, which, if normal means no viral infection and they can go home. Secondly a test for the normal flu (if positive then they can go home) and then through a CT scan to detect any lung damage. If none is found, then again, they can go home. Only if that is positive, are they tested for the Coronavirus and if that is positive, then off they go to a quarantine centre to see how their illness will develop. These are the new hospitals which we saw being built in 8 days in Wuhan.

To support this, every person is required to self-test every day and to report the result and is tested whenever they go out and move around. This is backed up by the district manager who appears to play a crucial role in the process. Responsible for a district of about 1000 people, the district managers are close enough to each of them to know what they are doing. They are informed of the temperature of each person every day and of course know if people are breaking the quarantine in any way. These strict social controls seem to have been the key in China; would this be acceptable in Europe?

The key question is what measures are really necessary to control the spread of the virus? Is a complete confinement necessary? What degree of social distancing is effective? How free will our society be once the cases have stabilised? How many cases per 1000 people per week is an acceptable number? And on a more sinister note, what form of society will emerge from this whole pandemic?

I wrote 1 week ago about the situation and I included some of the curves which I have been tracking each day. There are many others doing the same thing, but I do not see them being talked about very much, even if they are key to understanding the situation – and knowing what to do later. One of the interesting factors is how the situation has evolved in different countries each taking different measures and reflecting underlying societal differences. I talk about China above, but South Korea has managed a measure of control without such drastic measures (through extensive testing and tracing of contacts) and Japan is a complete anomaly which experts are starting to try to understand.

It is important to understand that in this analysis it is not the absolute numbers which are critical as these depend on the test regime in place and many local conditions. But assuming that a country or region follows the same regime from day to day, the rate of change is the critical factor. Last week I posted the charts for Northern Italy and Lombardy. I am following 3 of the provinces which were locked down on 28th February and 2 which were locked down with the rest of Lombardy on 8th March. These are all trending downwards which looks as though the peak of new cases has passed and some control has been achieved.

Note this is a long way from being an acceptable rate. The number of deaths will still rise, lagging the number of new cases by up to 14 days – this is already destined. But if the rate comes down then it shows the measures are working.

No other European country (with the exceptions of Sweden and Denmark) is yet showing such a response and the daily cases continue to grow at rates between 10% and 20%. Germany seems to be one of the better ones whilst Sweden is lower despite not having a confinement strategy. Maybe these will be guides for the future although the Swedish government is coming under criticism for not doing more.

Happy to exchange views with people and I hope that I am not adding to your Coronavirus information overload in writing this short note.

EARSC & Coronavirus 2

So, as of today, in Belgium, as in France and many other countries in Europe, we are now officially confined to our homes. The temptation to go out has been removed by closing bars, restaurants and most shops. Fortunately, it seems that we are still allowed to go to the park to walk our dog as long as we don’t meet and socialise with any of the other dog walkers doing the same thing. This has to be the right policy at the moment as the first priority must be to bring the epidemic under control. Only then can we start to see what level of social interaction will be possible afterwards. There seems little doubt that we are in this for the long haul.

It is now widely understood that the goal of the measures is to bring the level of infections down to a point where they can be managed by the health services. To understand that we need to look to China and Korea which have managed to achieve control and the rate of infections has slowed to a manageable level. Testing, testing and more testing is their advice, echoed by the WHO.

How long can we expect it to take to bring under control? It seems to have taken about 4 weeks in both China and Korea. In China, a total shut-down in Hubei (around Wuhan) was imposed; measures which would be difficult to impose in Europe. In Korea, the response was less rigid, but the outbreak started in a religious group which allowed better tracing of contacts; contact tracing is one of the key tools to control the spread. In both these countries the rate of new infections has fallen to a very low level. Can this be maintained is the key question?

But how is Europe doing? Italy was the unlucky precursor where an outbreak happened in Lombardy (starting in Codogno in the province of Lodi). On 28th February, a lock-down was imposed around Lodi (then extended to Lombardy (8th March) and then around the whole country (10th March). Other countries have followed.

I have been keeping watch on the rise of the epidemic and in particular watching the rate of cases in key regions; Lodi, Lombardy and Italy. They may be interesting for others. I am writing on the 17th March, so figures are from yesterday and it is looking as though the number of cases is starting to fall. Fingers crossed that this really is the case. The new cases in Lodi have been around 40 per day compared to 140 3 days ago and around 80 before that. For Lombardy, the rate has fallen for 2 days in a row and the most recent figure for the whole of Italy is lower than the peak.

I am just making very simple analyses but using original data. Several sites are really helpful to keep track:


An analysis by a data scientist, Mark Handley at UCL London.

The second is particularly insightful as it is trying to rebase all the countries curves allowing for the differing conditions at the outset. The general rate of increase has been 35% (doubling of cases every 2.5 days) but this is falling to 22% and lower where measures have been taken (Italy overall is standing at around 11%). There is also evidence to suggest that the rate is different between warm and colder countries. But none of these have been showing the Lodi numbers which in theory should give the earliest counter-indication (these are sourced from the Italian Ministry website:

The Italian numbers are published each day at 6pm and, below, I give the current propagation rates for the key provinces in Lombardy. Lodi has fallen below 5% whilst Bergamo is falling rapidly and the overall trend is down as it should be. What is an acceptable level of increase? As a maximum it should be less than the recovery rate which I shall start to look at.

This is only the start, but it is essential to bring this thing under control or risk many more deaths than need be the case. We need to keep a watch on China and Korea to see if they can avoid a 2nd wave, and on Italy to see how fast a measure of control can be achieved under western conditions. After that, we may need to see regular bouts of social distancing until 60 or 70% of the population has been infected or a vaccine has been developed. Let us hope that the 2nd comes first.

Warning: I have no competence in epidemiology or in medicine in any way. I am simply reading, playing with some numbers and drawing what are possibly flawed conclusions. I am happy to receive comments and to exchange further on the subject for anyone interested.

As I reported in my last blogpost, EARSC staff are all still working; all from home and not all full time as arrangements are made with partners and especially with children. For the moment at least we can carry on almost as usual and facing many challenges to organise remote events. I am sure it is the same for our members. We should be happy to hear from you and we’ll continue to report here.

Good luck to everyone. We are all in this together.

EARSC and Coronavirus

You have probably seen that the Belgian Federal government decided last night to take some stringent measures to prevent the development of the CoVid-19 virus in Belgium. These included the closure of all schools, cafe's and restaurants and the limited opening of shops up until 3rd April.

The EC has also now decided that all staff should work from home and there will be no visitors.

As far as EARSC is concerned we in the secretariat are all affected by these measures in different ways and each member of the secretariat is adapting their way of working according to their specific situation. Those with children are most impacted.

However, for the moment at least, EARSC will continue to work normally - albeit with significant teleworking. We are working on projects and services where we can work remotely and continue to make progress - and are doing so. Some of our activities are directly concerned; most specifically for PARSEC where a Bootcamp was to have been organised at the end of March. With the agreement of the EC (as it is a contractual requirement) this was changed last week to being a virtual bootcamp and our team are exploring how best to manage this very great challenge to organise a virtual matchmaking type event. It is going to be very interesting to see how this works.

Another large project for us at the moment is preparing our annual conference ExpandEO. For the moment we are committed to going ahead towards the end of June, but no-one can say what the situation will then be and we shall certainly inform you of any change to this.

For other projects, we are working on certain deliverables and awaiting further legal information regarding the contractual obligations. We already know that incurred costs will be covered in the event of cancellation but for new events we are still uncertain.

Please contact us with questions if you wish and we shall keep you informed as usual through our monthly report, through our blog, through social media channels (@EARSC) and through any news on our website ( and our portal (

The situation will be reviewed on a daily basis and we shall inform you of any changes which may affect the service which we provide you with.

On behalf of all the EARSC team, I wish you strength to carry through this exceptional crisis and hope that you all emerge the other side with as little damage as possible.

Europe's Space Programme

As we start the new decade, a number of topics are stimulating the discussions in the space community and in Brussels. One of the first events of each year is the space policy conference in Brussels; this years’ is the 12th. One word is dominating the sessions’: defence. I noted last year that this topic was rapidly rising up the European Union agenda. This year it is not just spoken but is also written into titles of sessions and the topics from many speakers. It is of course reflected in the new Commission organisation which for the very first time has a Directorate-General (equivalent to a ministry) with space in the title and with defence as well.

The new DG-DEFIS, for Defence Industry and Space, is just taking shape. The director-general is Timo Pesonen (Finnish) working under the Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton. Changes to the organigramme have been announced and the set-up starts to take shape. The change has certainly led to a hiatus, to a period with a lot of uncertainty. This should all be dissipated as the new structure finds its feet.

The other major topic of the conference reflects a priority for the new Commission, the Green Deal. Space and Earth Observation will be a significant contributor to implementing the Green Deal and we shall devote a lot of effort to ensure that the contribution that EO services can make is recognised and integrated wherever needed. We are working on a new position paper looking at the next phase of Copernicus and I am sure this will feature quite strongly even if, at the moment, space does not feature strongly in the Green Deal documents.

Just before the Christmas, the ESA ministerial held in Seville, led to a record budget for ESA voted by its member states. The support for ESA investment into the Copernicus programme through the development of new Sentinel satellites was over-subscribed indicating very good support from Member States for Copernicus as well as the overall space programme. Hence it was a surprise when the EU council voted to reduce the budget for the space programme under the next Financial Framework.

For those less familiar with the set-up in Europe, the ESA budget will pay for the technology development of new satellites and sensors, whilst the EU budget pays for the operational spacecraft, part of the ground segment, data from the contributing missions and the services. Everyone has been taken by surprise by the unexpected decision to cut the EU budget by 20% but we shall follow the evolution very closely and intervene where we can put the arguments why this budget should be restored to its full level.

EARSC has also started the year well. The Board of Directors met on 22nd/23rd which included meetings with 3 important guests. Carlo Des Dorides who heads up the GSA (Global GNSS satellite systems Agency) which will become the EU Space Programmes Agency on 1st January 2021, spoke about how the agency will evolve to embrace some responsibility for the market develop for Copernicus and the positive relationship he sees with EARSC in the future. Josef Aschbacher, Director of Earth Observations at ESA spoke about his plans following the very successful ESA Ministerial, whilst Philippe Brunet, Principal advisor at DG International Development explained his new role and what it could mean.

I write this before the Chinese new year and so it leaves me open to wish everyone a Happy, healthy and successful 2020 and I hope to see many of you in various events throughout the year (you can follow on this blog and our website).

ESA Ministerial 2019

The ESA Council of Ministers meets this week in Seville to approve the programme plans of ESA and especially the budget allocations. EARSC has issued a statement supporting the ESA proposals and especially those linked to Future EO, Copernicus 4.0, In-cubed+ and for Global Development Assistance. These are all very important for our sector.

Studies have shown that for every €1 invested through ESA, a return of €3.8 is generated for the Member State. But for Copernicus, the benefit is a great deal higher as government is not only a sponsor but also a key user of the products and services which are generated. As a result, this benefit rises to €10 in socio-economic for European society in return for every €1 invested.

The EO services sector is crucial to delivering these returns. This is illustrated through 2 studies which EARSC has conducted and is conducting. The first looks at the European EO Services industry sector through our biennial survey of the industry. The industry comprises over 515 companies throughout Europe, with 8,400 employees delivering over €1.2b of revenue. The sector is growing at a rate of 10% per annum. The report is available on our web-site.

In this we find that the government sector makes up 65% of the revenue base for the sector. Of this 15% is for R&D actions and 50% represents government buying services to meet its own needs. Now maybe up to half of the R&D spend will also be in support for meeting government needs so we can safely say that more than 50% of the market is to meet government geospatial needs – ie government as a user. It also means that government provides around 10% of the total sector revenue as a sponsor for the sector. It is highly important to clearly distinguish these two roles.

In the study - SeBS; Sentinel Benefits Study - we work to analyse cases where Sentinel data is being used operationally to deliver benefits to a whole value chain; at the head of which is what we refer to as the Primary User. Our approach is to look at the use of a single product or service by this primary user and how that impacts along a value-chain. We have looked in detail at 8 cases so far which show a combined socio-economic benefit of over €200m per annum. But, in most of these the full potential has not yet been reached and both market and technology development will increase the use and value of the services. For these 8, we can identify a minimum potential of an additional €100m.

Furthermore, each case is based on one country and by extending the service to other countries, the benefits will grow significantly. We do not yet have enough evidence to support the further geographical extrapolation but it does seem to more than support the 10:1 benefit ratio given at the outset and can most likely justify an even higher figure.

As we analyse more cases, we plan to address the question of extrapolation and we shall also extend the consideration of benefits to other dimensions such as better regulation, innovation and entrepreneurship creating new jobs and the contribution to scientific advancement. These will go along with the socio-economic benefits and also the socio-environmental ones.

The European EO services industry works alongside ESA to exploit the investments made in the upstream sector. The subsequent downstream benefits are significant, and we really encourage ESA ministers to support the ESA investment plans and agree the new programme proposals to be tabled in Seville. The stakes are high to maintain a European lead in the sector but then the return on investment to Europe is very high.

GEOWeek 2019

The Melbourne cup had just been run and some 300 delegates were living the excitement of the race, standing around, sipping wine or juice and discussing business. This was the focal point and culmination of a year-long effort to prepare a strong, European industrial participation in the GEO Plenary in Canberra. It was a great success and enormous thanks to Eva, Phil and Graeme of Frontiersi, our partners in Australia and to Natassa and Rory from the EARSC team.

Prior to the race itself, 5 European and 5 Australian companies had presented themselves and after the race, a B2B event was arranged where each had a table at which to sit and meet prospective business partners. These tables seemed to be very busy for a long time into the afternoon. I hope some business relationships will emerge from those talks. I was really pleased to hear that this had indeed been the result for at least one company following the B2B event held last year at the GEO Plenary in Kyoto.

The last week has been the GEO week in Canberra and I am on my way back to Brussels. It has been a good week for EARSC with a number of successful events. We had 10 companies that were in Canberra under the EARSC delegation and as many as 10 further European companies which also participated through national delegations or through projects. We had been working with Frontiersi since the venue was announced and also with the Australian space agency in order to maximise their meeting opportunities throughout the week.

This year, the efforts of the Australian hosts to engage the industry were great. The industry track, introduced for the first time, included a much more extensive exhibition than had previously been the case, a number of dedicated workshops to gather industrial views and of course the EU-Australian business meeting held around the Melbourne cup.

Next years plenary will be held in South Africa in Port Elizabeth. Although we do not have a partner this time, we do have a number of good contacts in the South African Space Agency. We have assurances that the industry track will be maintained and made even better and we shall hope to take even more European companies to the 2020 GEOweek. Where else can you have the opportunity to meet with geo-aware representatives from 109 countries around the world? Further, if industry starts to attend in force, it can become a primary, global event in the calendar where global stakeholders and industry can meet to discuss business.

However, a message to my industrial colleagues, do not think of this as a sales event. It is not, it is a marketing event where you need to go to understand the clients needs. It will be pointless to list off all the products and services which you can offer. The chances of making a direct connection are rather long. But if you consider it an entry point into those 109 countries then it offers the potential to help you in export business and to develop international partnerships. Plus, if it develops in that way, other public representatives from the 109 countries will also be encouraged to attend which will make the meeting even more interesting.

As EARSC, we shall seek to maximise the opportunities which you may have to engage and to expose your company. For all who were there, let us have your views and feedback on what was good for you and what could be improved. There is a strong will within the GEO community to engage more with the private sector and a recognition that industry has a strong role to play in creating the Global Earth Observation System of Systems; serving society globally. As industry, we have a great opportunity to shape the relationship and create business partnerships. I look forward to seeing you next year in Port Elizabeth!!

Missions for Europe

There was an extremely high demand and many were refused registration, but I was one of those able to attend the Research & Innovation days organised by DG RTD in Brussels earlier this week. It was a really large event with some 3000 researchers converging on an old industrial site decked out for the occasion. It was certainly an interesting and unusual location – but worked fine. Attendance had been restricted and I understand that “thousands” who had wished to attend were not able to.

The goal was to promote exchange and consultation with the European R&I community to gather views and give the final shape to the Horizon Europe programme; the next framework programme under the 2021-2027 financial period. It provided an opportunity to meet with EC officials dealing with the various parts of Horizon Europe but whilst a lot of networking was going on, the sheer numbers meant that meetings mainly took place in the various workshops being organised as finding individuals was difficult unless you knew that they were present. Even so I did manage a few “random” useful meetings in addition to those with EC people.

I think the most striking part and one of the new features of Horizon Europe is to introduce 5 missions. These mark the key difference from H2020. Each will set out major societal goals linked to global challenges. According to the EC web-site:

A number of missions will be included in Horizon Europe the next framework programme and these will specifically target global challenges. The target would be clearly measurable and need to be achievable with a portfolio of research and innovation measures.

The missions will not incorporate R&D directly but rather will draw upon that within the overall programme. This means that they will play a strong role in shaping the programme elements. The missions are seen as grandiose, setting out European goals and meaningful by citizens. They are likened to the 1960’s Kennedy mission to place a man on the moon and return him to earth before the end of the decade.

I joined a workshop on the mission for adaption to climate change. This is a new subject for me as we normally focus on mitigation and resilience. But here the goal is to offer measures which would kick-in if climate change mitigation is not effective. One participant considered it is like setting a plan B for humankind and the planet.

But what should be the targets and does setting some risk to undermine efforts at mitigation? For accepting adaption targets is linked to accepting that certain levels of climate change are inevitable. Maybe they are (inevitable) but at what levels? Too low and the adaption measure may be inadequate; too high and they may be unnecessary. Then what should be the measurable goals? If plan B is being executed is it against the criteria of survival? Not very attractive! How about a green domestic product? Some discuss natural capital accounting; is this different? What about using a happiness index as in Bhutan and in some Scandinavian countries?

I have the impression that these “missions” could become very important. Whatever the goals for the mission on climate change adapation, EO will have a strong role to play as it will in all the other missions as well. We’ll provide an analysis of Horizon Europe and where it is heading in due course as well as our views on where EO services can be considered.

The Value of EO

A major workshop took place in Frascati over 3 days. Hosted by ESRIN, it was organised by ESA, USGS, NOAA, EC, Fourbridges and EARSC on the subject of how to improve the measurement of the Value of EO. Around 60 experts from around the world and covering several important disciplines gathered to exchange views on how to develop clearer, stronger and credible messages for policy makers and citizens about the value of the investments being made in EO technologies. A series of round tables discussed the stakeholders’ needs, the experiences from other domains and then the value coming in 5 different areas; socio-economic, environmental, regulatory, innovation and entrepreneurship and scientific advances. A large number of cases were exposed from many speakers and covering many countries and several continents.

For more information, details are on the SeBS web-site; proceedings and presentations will be available in due course.

From EARSC perspective, it gave us an opportunity to highlight achievements from the SeBS project where the 10 case studies now completed were used to illustrate benefits in each of those 5 areas. It gave us the opportunity to compare and contrast the methodology which we use with that of others and also to identify a number of areas where improvements can be made. We anticipate that the GeoValue community, which formed the heart of those attending can be extended to improve these benefits analyses and to provide better evidence for policy makers.

The scope of the activity was explored. At previous workshops, the focus has been on SeBS like cases including different approaches from the different players. In this workshop we also started to look at other types of analyses mostly linked to or stimulated by the 5 themes. So as an example, the innovation and entrepreneurship theme had led to a dedicated analysis by EARSC into start-ups but also stimulated comments from Canada, Australia and South Africa about the industrial landscape. So it is possible that more knowledge can be exchanged on survey methodologies which could be extremely helpful to enable comparisons at the global level.

A side-event is planned for the GEO plenary in Canberra, to report on the findings of the workshop, to discuss evolution of the common effort and to encourage others to join the GeoValue community which is now also a part of the GEO work-programme. We shall be pleased if you can join us.

EARSC is 30!

Tomorrow we start the 30th annual general meeting of EARSC!

We have a celebratory cocktail with many friends in the evening. We shall be in the Natural History Museum so shall be standing amongst the dinosaurs!

This year, we have moved this annual event onto a new level. ExpandEO provides two full days of events and workshops with parallel sessions for much of tomorrow. The number of registrants is about double that of previous years, so it looks promising. It should be really exciting; we have a fantastic line up of speakers for both days. You may still register at and I hope that you are able to join us.

Tomorrow we have a workshop dedicated to the opportunity presented by OCRE (an EU project sponsored by DG Connect under the EOSC). Here companies can learn how they can get their products and services accepted for offer to European researchers via the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) via central framework contract. It will be a new form of procurement and one which we think has very high promise. The OCRE team will be presenting on this and then listening to the views of the companies.

We follow this with two EARSC groups meeting in parallel. The first will be the first meeting of a group dedicated to promoting and opening new opportunities with local and regional authorities. Currently these represent between 7 and 9% of the overall market; there is a lot of room for improving this. Companies involved in the Eugenius initiative will be describing this and some 35 companies have registered to be a part of the group.

The second parallel group is the small companies forum. It will be the second such meeting of the group which allows companies with less than around 20 employees to meet and exchange, peer-to-peer. We have 2 speakers from the EC as well as 3 experienced entrepreneurs who have built their companies; Rupert Haydn from GAF, Giovanni Sylos from Planetek and Will Marshall from Planet. It is a great opportunity to understand the problems each of them faced to est up and grow their companies; with the added twist of a US perspective coming from Will. We have about 25 companies registered for this event.

After the cocktail in the evening and the formal AGM to start the second day, we move to maybe the highlight which is a conference entitled “A Day with EO”. 19 speakers are lined up to give their perspective on what access to satellite products and services means for their particular organisation or industrial sector. It should be very user focused. We are also user focused and will introduce a novel - we believe innovative - approach to the conference by telling a story to link the presentations together. “A Day with EO” will be the story. We have around 120 registered for the conference which is great; but we can always accept more!

If you will be there, I look forward to meeting you. If you are not there, then I am sure you will regret it! Look out for the announcement for ExpandEO 2020, coming soon…..

EARSC and the eoSTORE

Returning to the ESA ITT to develop an e-commerce platform also referred to by us as an eoSTORE. After having talked with many companies about their views, what should EARSC do?

The ITT presents us with a strong dilemma. I hold to a strong principle that we should not compete with members. This principle accompanies our change in business model away from one based on Membership fees to one which is driven by projects. We are still firmly a membership based organisation both according to our statutes and reflected in our actions; any project work we undertake must benefit the collective of members and not one company.

This principle applies equally to the development of an e-commerce platform or more accurately to the operation of the future platform. But in this case, these two principles come into conflict. We wish that the investment benefits the European industry and not a European company. But if even one company is interested to develop and operate such a platform then we run into conflict with our principle of not competing. In cases where this can arise, the EARSC board must take the decision on whether the collective interest outweighs one or two companies own interests.

The only way to avoid any conflict would be to do nothing; and indeed this is one option. However, we set out a strategy 2 years ago in the proposition to develop a Marketplace for EO Services (MAEOS) which we believed was the best one to help European companies address a new market in on-line services. This included the eoSTORE which we deliberately separated from eoMALL to avoid exactly this issue of competition between EARSC and its members.

Maybe we made a mistake in simply leaving eoSTORE development completely to the market. Maybe also the market has taken longer to develop than we had envisaged; the introduction of eoMALL has certainly taken longer than we should have liked. But, we are where we are, and the ESA ITT poses questions of us and others which need to be resolved quite quickly if we are to the risk of market distortion which I highlighted in my first blog on the subject.

EARSC has three real options (if we rule out doing nothing);

  1. We could lead a proposal on behalf of the community. This would be a very aggressive response and one which I think is inappropriate for EARSC. In reality, I should prefer not to be involved in the contract at all.
  2. We could participate to any proposal which will lead to a development which will benefit a collective of companies. In this approach we would participate to the proposal provided that there would be at least 3 EO service companies behind it. We could even bring all members to the table in a collective governance model.
  3. We could support any company putting together a proposal provided certain conditions are met. We may have some difficulty without ESA help to ensure that those conditions are met once the contract is awarded.

Those conditions would be twofold: that the new platform should integrate with eoMALL and that it should benefit the industry collectively. This could follow either of the approaches I set out in my last log ie the project is run by a partnership of companies or the platform is developed independently and licensed to any company interested to use it later. In this way the ESA investment benefits the community.

What can EARSC offer to a contractor? Three things:

  1. To gather the collective requirements of the industry. Here the basis exists in the MAEOS group of EARSC members which is participating to eoMALL.
  2. To help prepare the governance of the operations. This should involve a collective of companies working together and could be under EARSC or not – to be decided during the project.
  3. To give guidance and advice in IPR. With a collective approach and depending on the governance selected, this could differ.

The EARSC board meets on Monday (1st April) and this will be on the agenda for discussion and to take a decision on how we should proceed.

I return to the subject of the ITT to create a platform for micro e-services issued last week by ESA. By my reading, the objective is to create what we called an eoSTORE in our study of the Marketplace for EO Services (MAEOS) 2 years ago. After study and consultations, we split the Marketplace into 2 parts just like a shopping centre (Mall). The first part is the surrounding infrastructure, eoMALL, with a very sophisticated guide to find the services for which a client is looking. Once found, they are directed to one or more shops where they may buy the service. In our case, the EO service provider. Several service providers may come together to create an eoSTORE.

We talked about the example of looking for shoes. When the client enters the shopping mall they search based on whether they look for shoes or trainers; do they want the trainers for the gym, running, for hiking boots or trainers for style. Do they want a brand or a generic? As a result of the answers they may be directed to a high-end brand store (Nike), a general shoe shop (Geox), a specialist sports store (Adventure) or a bulk store (Decathlon). We (EARSC) build and run the Mall whilst the companies build and run the shops.

EARSC is a neutral player and is owned by the companies which are members. Hence all the companies offering their services through eoMALL have a stake in the service. It is a form of co-operative and in my view is the only business model which can really work. On the other hand, when it comes to the selling transaction, most companies prefer to handle this themselves.

We foresaw that several companies could come together to offer combinations of services. These could be specialised or simply complementary. In doing so they could increase the attractiveness of their respective offers as well as saving costs on the transaction processing. This is where we see the e-commerce platform fitting as an eoSTORE.

But, as I said in my previous blog, if one service company is successful in the tender to ESA, we see a lot of danger of market distortion, inconsistent with our Marketplace visions expressed in MAEOS. Hence, we take the view that the e-commerce platform needs to be run by several eo service companies and, to offer maximum benefit, it should be fully compatible with eoMALL. As a way to achieve this, I can see two different possible models:

  1. A group of companies come together to develop the e-commerce platform. It could then be operated in multiple forms by each company, or as in the eoSTORE vision, operated by them in co-operation. It would link to eoMALL as well as company web-sites and enable the sales transaction to be executed for all the partners. Several governance models would be possible to be explored.
  2. A single company is charged with developing the e-commerce platform, but which is not itself offering eo-services. It would then make the e-commerce platform package available to companies to each install as they wish. The business model would be based around licensing and supporting the software and not selling the services.

At EARSC we are willing to play a role in this so maintaining the views of MAEOS. We have talked with a number of companies which have approached us and would be happy to talk with others. I hope during this week, to be able to express further how we believe we can proceed.