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.

Brexit - the end is Nigh.

I have stayed silent on Brexit for some time; watching the drama unfold and the chaos ensue in horror but without comment. Personally, I am unaffected unless major economic crises are a result (I have two pensions paid from the UK). A slump in the value of the pound will hit me, as my pensions are paid in pounds but I have taken some precautions against this and I do not see it as a likely long term issue.

The latest steps have been absolutely incredible and show the depth to which the lack of leadership has fallen in UK. It has long been clear that and skills that Theresa May’s has are not leadership and it has long been clar that her only goal is to keep her party together rather than to lead the nation. Otherwise she would not have focused all her efforts on trying to appease the right-wing ERG which seem in reality to only want a catastrophic outcome from which to benefit financially and politically.

The decision by the house speaker (the referee) not to allow a third vote on May’s deal is understandable but regrettable as it absolves her of the responsibility for further delay which would have been inevitable in any case if her deal was rejected for a 3rd time. That she wants a 3rd attempt to beat her party into submission is especially ironic given the refusal to entertain the idea of a 2nd referendum on the basis that the people cannot be asked a second time. A request to extend the article 50 leaving date seems inevitable but under what conditions will this be accepted by the EU27?

All the mature debate and decisions are being made in Brussels. Without some clear direction from the UK leadership a pause is not going to solve any problems. Without clear leadership no clear direction can emerge and all in government, parliament and the media are complicit in allowing this situation to have developed. No leadership is visible anywhere and especially from the two major-party leaders, May and Corbyn. No new party has yet emerged and if an election were to be held tomorrow I and I suspect millions of other Brits would have no-one to vote for, which is incredible, and from afar almost unbelievable, given that the overall mood in the UK is still balanced on the Brexit question.

It seems to me that there are only 2 real solutions. Either to exit now with no deal. Delay is not going to solve anything so let’s get the pain on both sides out of the way as quickly as possible. This probably still demands a short delay to allow better preparation but frankly it would probably be better for the crash to occur, for the pain to be visible for a shock to change the whole democratic system in the UK.

The other option is to defer the whole Brexit. This could be a very long extension (5 years?) or to withdraw the article 50. This would need to a “great debate” similar to that in France but conditions today would not allow that to take place in an objective way and especially credible way unless a new class of politiciens emerge and the media is somehow brought under control. A second referendum without such a process to educate the voters would risk the same un-informed outcome as last time – and I don’t mean the result, the decision, but the process.

Neither of these options can be very attractive to Brussels where everyone is weary of the mess. Whichever route is chosen, there are years of rebuilding ahead; for Brits returning to Brussels or to re-establish a working executive in London. It is hard to see the UK surviving and Scotland will get its independence and Ireland re-united.

So Theresa May’s legacy, enabled by David Cameron’s referendum is likely to be the break-up of the union ending over 200 years of history and changing Europe yet again. We are certainly living a historical moment. What a mess.

Building an eoSTORE

We were surprised last Friday to see ESA release an ITT to develop an e-commerce platform for micro-services”. We were completely unaware of this project although given the pre-announcement we should have been) and have had no discussions with ESA concerning it.

Two years ago, we studied the changing market for EO services and the idea to establish a Marketplace for EO services (MAEOS). We concluded that EARSC should develop eoMALL as a neutral, promotional platform which would enable European companies to promote their on-line services. We concluded that this platform should stop short of offering any e-commerce as companies wished to maintain their own capability. We came to this conclusion as we shall avoid at all times to compete with our members – the companies offering EO services. We did not wish to compete where companies such as CloudEO, Geocento and others have been working to build this capability.

After due consideration, we came to the conclusion that the best governance for eoMALL was under EARSC. There seemed no point in setting up another structure as long as EARSC is a netural, membership-based organisation. We fully acknowledge ESA support for the MAEOS study and for the subsequent project to develop eoMALL; which is currently in beta version and will make its first release in the next few weeks. This is rather later than we would have hoped but there have been various barriers to surmount along the way. A number of EARSC member companies have worked to help define the marketplace platform and their services will be the first on offer through it.

In the MAEOS study, we considered that each company needed to either offer the back-end, transaction processing themselves or to group together. There would also be the possibility for one (or more) company to set this up to offer a commercial service. Further, the DIAS were just being designed and it would seem evident that each of them will also need to construct, or join, a selling platform.

However, we foresaw that there could be room for several companies to come together (under a DIAS or independently) to develop what we called an eoSTORE which would then offer an e-commerce facility. It makes sense to reduce costs. Such an eoSTORE would integrate closely with eoMALL for the benefit of all the companies wishing to use these platforms and help boost the European industry which is our goal.

Now, all this may be possible with the ESA project, but it creates a winner takes all situation which we have strongly tried to avoid. One possible solution would be to award a series of grants whereby several platforms could have been built. This would avoid the market distortion which a single tender will inevitably create. There are certainly other possible solutions as well. Our goal will be to ensure that the platform should work fully with eoMALL and that it maintains a competitive environment.

I should be very happy to have views from companies on this tender.

SME's and Jobs

A few years ago, I produced a report with Marc de Vries on the impact of the (then proposed) free and open data policy for Copernicus (then GMES). We called it GMES and Data: Geese and Golden Eggs as it looked at the trend towards open data and the impact this is expected to have economies and then linked this to the Copernicus Sentinel data. We argued that as the data had been paid for out of public resources, users (taxpayers) should not be asked to pay a second time. The title reflected the view that opening up the data had no cost but much potential benefit for SME's. The report was well received and certainly played a small part in convincing the politicians to introduce the FODP policy.

One of the principle arguments rested on research showing that job creation relies strongly on SME’s. At the time, in 2012, this was a relatively new finding. It followed the 2008 financial crisis where policies for re-starting growth were highly sought after. Many reports were published including one for the EC produced by EIM (a Netherlands consultancy) entitled “Do SME’s create more and better jobs?”

Recently, I came across some new research on the impact of SME’s on jobs and the economy. Classically, the mantra has been that “SME’s are the backbone of the economy”. In other words, it is the SME’s collectively which create new jobs and employment. The research around 10 years ago looked into the impact of SME’s on the economy and found that almost all net job creation came from SME’s.

Some further research shows that this mantra should be refined to “Young SME’s are the backbone of the Economy”. In a paper by John Haltiwanger, Ron Jarmin, and Javier Miranda “Who Creates Jobs? Small vs. Large vs. Young?”, the authors show this effect - which also seems logical since an SME which has not grown significantly after 10 years is almost certainly not going to suddenly change.

The report shows that the first year is the most significant and almost 50% of net job creation comes from these start-ups and close to 100% in the first 5 years. Note that this is net creation as 50% of the jobs created in the first 5 years of the start-up’s life are also lost. The turnover is even faster in older firms where the net creation is close to zero ie as many jobs are lost as are gained.

This underpins the EC policy towards Copernicus and the effort being put into the various incubator and accelerator schemes.

On a final note, I start to question whether the free and open data policy is the best one. The principles certainly are correct but as we see more power being concentrated in the hands of one or two giant corporations maybe the policy should be adjusted, or at least other measures should be taken to rebalance the benefits which these exploiters of surveillance capitalism enjoy. But this is more a question for society at large rather than just our space community.

Happy New Year!

I start by wishing everyone reading this a Happy New Year! have been rather inactive on this blog, so a first new years’ resolution is to try to write more! In part it is caused by the volume of work which, as we start another new year, it is good to reflect on the successes from last year and the challenges which we face over the next 12 months – which largely stem from the aforementioned success!

In 2018 we have grown from 5 persons to 8 and are now looking for 2 more to join us. I emphasise that this has not been our goal - it is absolutely not our goal to grow. Our goal is to do more for our members. To do this we pursue a mixed business model relying about 20% on membership fees and 80% on projects. All the projects are aimed at supporting companies in the sector – our membership - and we shall not take on work which does not reflect this aim.

The volume of project work is increasing but so is our membership and for the moment we maintain this 20:80 ratio business model. It is very important that we maintain our membership-based model and this is a fundamental philosophy of EARSC now and in the future. It also means that we shall not compete with our members for work. The activity of an Association is quite distinct from those of the companies active in the sector. We aim to provide excellence to those companies providing geospatial services which form the Association and so far I consider that we have been successful in that goal.

In the last 3 weeks of 2018, we have had news of 2 highly important wins of EC H2020 grants. One we are leading and in the second one, we are a leading partner in the team. Both are now subject to grant negotiation so I shall not say more about them for now. One comes under the umbrella of Innovation Support where the EC are encouraging cross-sectorial innovation. We believe that we have a very exciting and innovative concept that should help over 100 companies directly to make better use of EO and especially Copernicus data.

The second will increase our market outreach activity where we look to promote the sector and its capabilities. Both are quite large and should enable us to make a strong impact.

Overall, I refer to these 2 activities as fulfilling a theme of “from research to business” with the goal to help as many of the pilots as possible to become business ventures. The two projects are very complementary and should re-enforce each other as well as our major initiative called eoMALL (which will go live very shortly). Both projects should start in the 2nd quarter and more about them in due course.

GEO Week 2018

The GEO plenary was held this year in Kyoto. Two days of side-events were followed by the 2 day plenary session. It was the first for Gilberto Câmara, the new director of the secretariat following the term of Barb Ryan who reached the end of her mandate in June.

We organised a side-event on the Value of Earth Observations which became a joint event with GeoCradle. It was very hard to put together this year due to late designation and difficulty of taking contact with potential speakers. Whereas last year in Washington there was a strong participation from the US side encouraged and led by NASA and NOAA, this year there was little connection with the hosts and the GEO secretariat were stretched. Maybe the success in Washington led to an overstretch as there were too many side-events taking place at the same time so spreading the audience very thin.

The workshop was around the importance of regional initiatives to demonstrate value to stakeholders. GeoCradle has been very successful in pulling stakeholders together in the Balkans, Middle East and North Africa. Our workshop had 4 sessions dedicated to the role of regional initiatives, how to pull more research results into business, how to demonstrate the value of EO, and finally how to develop a future approach. We had a good participation and good audience even if we had hoped for more.

The success probably comes from the group which it creates and to maintain momentum around the 2 initiatives. GeoCradle has now been accepted into the GEO work-programme and, even if the core project funding ends in November, various means will be used to sustain the network which has been built up, and this workshop placed some foundations for this. In the future, the goal will be to increase the spread of the network to other countries in the region.

The maturity indicators and its overall methodology has been one success of the project which is being proposed into other projects and to various organisations. It is useful for understanding the gaps which exist in resources and where to place the focus of energy to increase EO uptake.

In terms of the Value of Earth Observation, for us, it is centred on the Sentinel Benefits analysis which we work on. New cases are being developed including short cases which focus on the story rather than analysing benefits in economic terms. The first short case was published on Peatland Management in the UK and further cases will appear at regular intervals.

A workshop is being planned on this very important topic, to take place in the first week of July next year. It will be hosted by ESRIN, Frascati and will include an open review of our project work on value-chain analysis. More information will be posted on our web-site as it becomes available.

During the plenary several topics stood out. The focus on EO to support the UN SDG’s attracted a lot of attention. There are many initiatives going on here and a call was made for the GEO secretariat to make a stronger co-ordination between them. EARSC is following the activities especially that led by UN-GGIM and the project work under ESA with the goal to promote the industrial contribution and seek to increase commercial opportunities.

A new category of membership of GEO is foreseen. At present, only nations and international organisations can be members or participating organisations. For some time, GEO has wished to bring the private sector more into the picture. Hence an Associate member can be a company or national body. The rules are to be worked out with the goal to have many Associate members present at the next plenary which will be in Canberra, Australia next year. EARSC will participate to the working group looking at the rights and obligations of Associate members.

Gilberto sprung a surprise during his presentation launching his vision for GEO. He announced his goal to focus on in-situ data and to make this available through a curated cloud data-centre. He also announced that Amazon had made $1.5m available to start this process and an open call would be launched shortly to attract bids of up to $100k to contribute to this. It is a massive new departure for GEO which will bear watching very closely. It raises many questions on the future direction.

Alongside the plenary, we were able to hold a business event bringing European and Japanese companies together. The theme was on platforms and I’ll write about that next time.

EARSC History - Part 2

As I stated in the previous blog, for the very first years of the EARSC we have copies of minutes and letters coming from ESA which provide a factual reference of EARSC being established. From 1990 on, no such records exist as far as I know and so we shall need to rely on my memory and hopefully the recollections of others to recreate EARSC in the early years. I strongly encourage anyone who is able to add to what I write or correct my faulty memory to comment on the blog. Collectively, we should be able to get quite close to the real history! 😉

I first attended an EARSC board meeting in 1990. I was asked to go by my then boss (Bill Jackson) and the then chairman (Bruce Smith). The meeting was on Eurosense premises in Wemmel just on the outskirts of Brussels. It proved to be a defining meeting – but not due to my presence!.

Bruce was the chairman and the board had decided to engage some help with running the Association. There were two candidates present for the job of a part-time secretary general. One was a young lawyer from Germany called Bocham and the other was a very familiar face, Bill Trevett who was an industry stalwart working then and for many years before for Hunting Technical Services in the UK. These two were in competition for the role but with very different propositions.

Bochem was young and ambitious but knew nothing about the sector. He asked for (and got) a stipend of 1000ecu per day. Bill was nearing retirement and was ready to work for almost nothing but the pleasure of being useful. He had years of experience in the sector. He explained all this to me and to the rest and clearly hoped for my support. But I did not have any prior experience of this group and as I knew Bill personally did not push for him in the discussion. Of course, I voted for him but the majority felt that the job needed a lobbyist rather than a technician and as a result Bochem was engaged with a contract to work 1 day per month for EARSC.

Now the finances of EARSC then were even more precarious than they have been more recently. A budget was formulated and if I recall correctly, the membership fees of the Association were projected to be 1000ecu. Given the EARSC statutes, these could only be voted on at the AGM which must take place in June in Brussels, and then are effective from the following year. Unfortunately there is no record of what the fees were initially.

So Bochem was appointed in the expectation that added value coming from him would attract further members and develop the Association.

Now we can fast forward to the next summer. Bruce wished to step down as EARSC chair and the board asked me to take over. Still very naïve, I agreed and so in June 1991 I became chairman of the Association. Rob Beck took over as treasurer and I believe that Raider Wirum-Bye was the vice-chair but I am not certain. Andre Jadot joined replacing Yves Register from Walphot I reproduce who I can recall and would appreciate any additions or corrections to this.

EARSC Board 1991-92

Geoff Sawyer

Matra Marconi Space



R. Wirum-Bye

Fjellanger Wideroe



Rob Beck




Fred Hagman




Marcello Maranesi




Pascal Piau




Andre Jadot




Dirk Claeys








So we set off into next era of EARSC with a board of 10 directors and a secretary general working 1 day a week, from Germany and a very precarious financial position. We'll continue the story later.

EARSC - The beginning

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the meeting in Baveno to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the birth of the Copernicus programme. I wrote about how interesting it was to compare notes and perspectives on what happened at the event 20 years ago.

At the event, it was a particular pleasure to meet Claes Goren Borg who was the EARSC chairman in 1998 and Marcello Ricottilli who was chairman from 2000 to 2003. As a result, we had the 3 chairs from 1991 through to 2003 all together in the meeting! I was chairman from 1991 to 1996, Claes Goren was chair from 1997 to 2000, and then Marcello to 2003.

A little bit of EARSC history shown in the picture - and that set me thinking! For some time, I have been meaning to write about the history of EARSC; why not do this as a series of blogs? I hope that others who have been involved with the Association can comment and add their views. Let me start at the beginning……..

EARSC was started following an initial meeting held at the behest of ESA on 28th October 1987 in Paris. There were 50 attendees of which 38 were from 32 companies and others came from ESA, the CEC and some research institutes. We have no further record of this meeting other than the planning to set it up according to ESA memoranda.

The next event on record is the first General Meeting which took place on the 1st June 1989 in Paris. In the meantime, the statutes had been drafted under the leadership of Bruce Smith who I knew well at the time. Bruce was also active in the British Association of Remote Sensing Companies,  BARSC on which EARSC was modelled. According to the invitation letter sent out by Bruce, there had been a meeting of the steering committee in December 1988 at which it had been decided to register EARSC in Belgium as an “International Scientific Association”. Clearly there was a change of mind afterwards since EARSC is now registered as an International non-profit association (AiSBL) under Belgian law.

The minutes of the 1st General Meeting record that Bruce Smith took the chair and was elected as chairman for the 1st year. Rupert Haydn from GAF was elected as vice-chair and Bill Jackson (who was my boss at the time in Marconi Space Systems!) became the treasurer. The 1st board was elected including Marcello Maranesi (representing Telespazio) and the 1st board meeting was scheduled for 21st June.

The Association got off to a good start and the 1st General Meeting was attended by 25 company representatives. The first board was elected :

Bruce Smith

Smith Systems Engineering



Rupert Hayden




Bill Jackson

Marconi Space Systems



Rob Beck




Fred Hagman




Marcello Maranesi




Pascal Piau




Y. Reginster




Bill Trevett

Hunting Technical Services



R. Wirum-Bye

Fjellanger Wideroe



Some of this first board are still active and Marcello Maranesi is still an expert advisor to the EARSC board today. Rob Beck is still active running NEO and Fred Hagman, although retired, still appears at occasional meetings. I regret to have lost contact with the rest.

I could get to this point in our history using copies of documents that had been kept by ESA. We have no further formal records for the next few years. In this case, to continue the history, I shall need to rely on my memory and those of others who were involved at the time. But this is for the next blog on EARSC history. Anyone with any memories or valuable records of EARSC prior to 2004, please be in contact I should be delighted to hear from you.

At midnight (CET) on 29th March next year, the UK will cease to be a member of the EU. At a stroke, unless there is an agreement beforehand, UK becomes a third party to the EU, and the whole legal basis of the relationship with UK will change. What will be the implications for the EO services industry?

On the table is a withdrawal agreement (WA) which if agreed will prolong the application of EU law to the UK until midnight on 31st December 2020. This gives 21 months to negotiate specific agreements. As is well signalled, the WA is stalled due to the failure to find a solution which will avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Without the WA, the UK will crash out with no deal. In this situation, no-deal means no-deal!

Since 2000, when a resolution was signed to co-operate between the EU and ESA, the EU has taken a stronger interest in space to the point where a new EU Space Programme is being proposed by the EC. The UK would clearly not be part of the programme without specific agreements which could be made. At present this would mean no participation to the 2 flagship programmes Galileo and Copernicus and no access to the R&D programme (currently H2020). Just to be clear, the UK would still be a member of ESA and able to fully participate to ESA programmes. This includes the technology development necessary for Galileo and Copernicus, but the UK participation would stop once EU funds were being used.

In the event of the no-deal scenario, many other issues will very rapidly become a real problem ie customs, goods transportation, aviation etc. It is no exaggeration to say that there will be chaos. Personally, I consider it completely irresponsible that the UK government is not setting out these implications which can easily be seen in the series of “Notices to Stakeholders” which have been published by the EC. The equivalent UK papers which started to be published last week are bland, lacking any advice and everywhere put responsibility on the EU to act. In these circumstances, participation to the EU space programme will be low on the list of negotiation priorities. At the outset of Brexit, I would have considered it highly unlikely that the UK would not participate fully to Galileo and Copernicus but the row which has exploded over access to Galileo and the announcement by UK that €92m will be invested to consider a UK GNSS shows that the outcome is less clear. It is also highly ironic given the UK opposition to the European GNSS programme back in 2000/2001 on the basis that the US GPS was adequate.

But, in the event of agreement for the WA everything changes and a comprehensive UK-EU deal becomes possible. UK companies get a good return out of H2020 being good partners to projects. One of the simplest points to negotiate should be UK participation to the European R&D programme. Indeed, it has already been announced that a shadow programme will be executed in the UK meaning that UK companies can be partners to H2020 projects - only that they will be paid directly in the UK (through a new agency I believe). Since there are many other third-party countries participating in H2020, it should not be complex to have the same or similar agreement with the UK. Longer term, UK will decide how much budget to allocate but in the next few years there should be no real change. Separate agreements are necessary for EASME and (I think) Erasmus+ programmes.

For our sector, Copernicus is the programme of most interest. Currently, as well as the EU28, Norway and Iceland have negotiated participation to the programme. In principle, after leaving, the UK can do the same if it wishes. In a favourable negotiating environment this should not be too complex.

In the recent UK government white paper, referred to as the Chequers proposal, the UK indicates its interest to continue partnerships in space and particularly in the Galileo and Copernicus programmes. The UK government has invested significantly in Copernicus since the start of the programme, both via ESA and via the EC. The UK industry has contributed strongly to the programme, in up-stream as well as downstream and both UK and EU can benefit if this were to continue.

Financially, it should be attractive also for the EU to maintain a UK contribution, whilst the UK would continue to benefit from the data and information streams which Copernicus and its Sentinels generate. The relationships with the agencies entrusted with the responsibility to deliver Copernicus Services would need to be negotiated on a case by case basis as their governance and legal base differ considerably.

In addition to supplying EU (and UK) decision makers with global, strategic, geospatial information, the Copernicus programme also has a goal to deliver economic benefits through the development of the downstream industry and commercialisation of services. The industry anticipates a renewed effort towards this goal as a result of the EU Space Programme proposal. In particular we look for:

  • greater use of commercially supplied data coming from investments made by the industry,
  • a shift towards the procurement of services rather than infrastructure,
  • continued support to the establishment of the industry through accelerator and other programmes
  • support (non-financial) to enter and develop export markets.

Much discussion will take place on this over the next 12 to 24 months in the lead up to the next financial period of the EU. If the UK is missing from these discussions both sides will be losers with the strong elements coming from the UK space activity missing from the considerations made in Brussels.

One further element will be the relationship with GEO; the Group on Earth Observations where both UK and the EU are members with the EC co-ordinating the European efforts. As this is an ad-hoc relationship it may be possible to continue but without H2020 or Copernicus agreements, the UK role will be seriously weakened.

EARSC membership is open to all European companies which will include the UK whatever is the final relationship. As such companies will be able to follow and to an extent influence the industry position. However, full participation of the UK in the programme through an Association agreement will be the only way in which the benefits can be maximised. I strongly hope that the current bluff and counter-bluff will soon end and the UK along with the EU negotiators will focus on the longer-term relationship.

Brexit - No Deal?

I wrote about Brexit only once before, immediately after the vote in June 2016. I hoped at that time that the vote could be reversed but could not see the mechanism as to how that possibility could arrive. Now it is possible to see a mechanism through the growing voices for a second vote, but less the wisdom of repeating a vote as, even if some polls show people changing their minds, it is not clear that a decisive result would be the outcome. A decisive result would be necessary to send a strong enough message and heal some of the wounds which have been opened. Another close result would leave everyone with a sense of frustration and an even more divided society. Further, the outcome is by no means sure; if voters fell for the lies told by the Brexiteers last time, why should they be immune a second time?

Leadership should have come from the government with clear explanations and advice on the various issues and possible outcomes. But the performance of this UK government has been inept. The result is a conspiracy of silence where no one will, or is capable to, explain the implications without project fear being invoked. Not one minister seems to have taken the trouble to really understand how the EU works. The strategy has been to insist that the EU changes its rules despite that the UK will leave! There seems to be no idea how an agreement should be successfully negotiated and no concept of what is or is not acceptable to the EU. It seems to be the classical image of the Brits that if Johnny Foreigner does not understand then shout louder.

I blog here about some personal views and I do this as a pre-curser to looking at the possible implications for the EO services sector. So, bear with me today and I’ll write again shortly on my view of Brexit for the industry.

Despite my own personal view that the UK should remain a firm and long-time partner and member of the EU, in the current situation, for me, the solution to all the issues is quite evident; UK should apply to join EFTA and hence remain a part of the EEA. At a stroke this would solve the problems of the border in Ireland, the supply-chain management issues for manufacturers especially for cars and aircraft as well as the import/export of food and livestock. It does not solve the issue of aircraft landing rights nor airport accreditation, but these should be possible through a side deal (although not exactly easy since both European Aviation Safety Agency and the European Common Airspace Area have very specific rules regarding membership). Unfortunately, Theresa May in her wisdom ruled this out as a red-line last January from which all the potential for chaos stems.

The EEA/EFTA option would preserve the UK participation to the single market whilst cutting links with the EU in Brussels. At a stroke it would suppress something like 80% of the laws stemming from the EU. However, its detractors consider that it has 2 drawbacks; it would not be possible to limit immigration since the EEA preserve the 4 pillars, and that since the rules for the EEA are set by the EU, it would mean the UK becoming a rule-taker. These are both anathema to the hard-core Brexiteers who wish to “take back control”.

However, neither assertion is really true and a more detailed analysis shows that this option meets most of the demands of the hard-wired Brexiteers as well as being mostly acceptable to those like myself who voted to remain. Happy to discuss this another time if anyone is interested! I consider that this solution is the only way to unite the British people.

But the current situation looks dire. The government has got itself into an impasse and seems to have no solution on how to extract itself. Two years have been wasted trying to paper over the cracks in the Conservative party. People talk about falling back on WTO rules in the event of a no-deal. Without going into detail, this is nonsense; a simple example, WTO has no influence over aviation which is managed by ICAO.

WTO rules mean that behaviour to one trading partner without any trade agreement, must be no more advantageous as to any other. This means that if the UK simply said we accept all imports from the EU even with no deal, it has to offer the same rules to the US, to China and every other country in the world! It will not happen. WTO has a provision to suppress its rules in emergency situations. Lawyers are arguing whether a no-deal would count as such. Even assuming it does, it could only be applied to food and medicine so all other goods could not be moved though the UK ports without risking international legal action. Not the best action when the country is setting itself up to be a new, preferred, trading partner! And of course completely disruptive to industry with its integrated supply-chains.

Further, for food and especially for livestock, Border Inspection Posts inspect the goods being imported. There is no BIP at Dover and many other major ports and where a BIP does exist, its capacity is very limited. A transition is essential to ensure free flow of goods. In the early days of a no-deal Brexit, new systems will need to be put in place. The only solution will be to limit the transfer of non-essential items meaning that trade will almost stop and certainly there will be very limited capacity for exports, as all effort will be dedicated to doing what is possible to maintain imported essentials.

No deal means that there is no agreement on the withdrawal agreement and hence no transition period when these issues would normally be solved. Like most, I do expect a solution to be found. Side-deals will be struck – on favourable terms to the EU of course, but the government performance up to now has been catastrophic and we should not be complacent as almost anything can still happen.

From a personal point of view, I do not expect to be too much affected. The most critical for me will be to preserve my own ease of movement around Europe. This should be satisfied by the agreement already reached between London and Brussels but could be disrupted if there really is NO deal. My fall-back is to apply for a Belgian passport for which I can qualify. The second area is the continued payment of my pension from the UK. UK law guarantees this, but I may face some difficulties with banking rights. The third area will be the future exchange rate since my pension is paid in pounds. Here a no-deal Brexit will quickly cause a sharp depreciation in the pound. However, I would expect that to be corrected within a reasonable period as the situation stabilises and moreover, the Euro is also likely to face its own pressures.

How will a no-deal or even a deal affect the EO services industry? I’ll come to this in the next few days.




Climate Change

In this summer of further record-breaking temperatures around the world, of more devastating, deadly fires in Greece, California, Portugal and elsewhere, of extreme floods in India and extreme temperatures in Europe, of drought conditions affecting agriculture in Australia and slashing the yield for potato growers in Belgium, few people can doubt that climate change is happening faster than ever. A recently, published report[1] talks about the domino effect with one climatic event triggering another leading to an out of control earth system and a “hothouse” earth. Two possible paths are envisaged (see figure); one leading to a stabilised earth system and the other to hot house earth where human life may not even be viable. Very soon, it may not even be possible to avoid the planetary threshold which leads to the dominos falling.

In this context, it was especially interesting to come across this report[2] thanks to my colleague Lef Mamais. It was published in the New York Times at the beginning of August and looks back at a 10 year period between 1979 and 1989 when political awareness grew concerning the impact of CO2 emissions on climate change. It reports the efforts of a few dedicated scientists to create an international agreement to limit CO2 emissions.

It charts the raising of political awareness of the impact of anthropogenic, climate change. Even oil and gas companies Exxon and Shell were convinced and resigned to diminishing fossil fuel use and starting to redefine their business model to adapt to a changed political climate. However, following the political failure to agree to CO2 reductions in 1989, the oil & gas industry changed tone; after all, if world leaders could not agree why should industry invest to change its business?

The story is well-presented, easy to read and shows just how close the world came in 1989 to an agreement to limit emissions. Since then, as much CO2 has been added to the atmosphere than in the all the years before 1989. The article concludes that the technology exists to limit global warming to 2 degrees, but the political will is still not there despite all the signs and extreme events. Maybe those fires and floods of 2018 will change views? Or maybe not.

[1] http://www.pnas.org/content/115/33/8252#F2  Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene


[2] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/08/01/magazine/climate-change-losing-earth.html

Baveno, GMES and Copernicus
Last month, I attended the 20th anniversary of the Baveno meeting which established the GMES programme which has now become Copernicus. The Baveno Manifesto was a landmark document put together by representatives of Europe’s space agencies under the guidance of the European Commission. EARSC was there represented by our then chairman Claes Goren Borg. It was great meeting up with so many friends (I shall not say old friends!) who were also there in 1998 and especially comparing notes on our respective perspectives of what happened 20 years ago.

GMES, for those who may have forgotten, stands for “Global Monitoring for Environment and Security.” The change to Copernicus came a few years ago in 2014, and I shall always recall an EC official proclaiming how changing the name to Copernicus meant that we now have a programme with a name that meant something! GMES was preceded by an initiative called GES (Global Environment System) which was supported by the then Research Commissioner Edith Cresson, and GES played its role by focusing the space agencies on the need to act. So, when the then Satellite Applications Institute (SAI) led by Rudolf Winter prepared to hold their annual Remote Sensing scientific meeting at Baveno in 1998, Herbert Allgeier, who was the Director General of the JRC at the time, took the opportunity to host a lunch with key representatives of the earth observation sector; the space agencies plus EARSC.

Those present agreed on the need to act and to prepare the document which became the Manifesto. It was followed by several months of passing draft versions back and forth – although only 3 formal drafts existed. This was a slower process than it would be today as mostly these were sent around by fax as email was not universally used!

Even detractors had a role to play to validate the efforts, and the result was the Baveno Manifesto which we celebrated 20 years later at Baveno 2018 on 21st June. Several of the “drafters” talked about the process. Alan Belward showed some of the draft text with mark-ups. Josef Aschbacher showed a powerpoint slide with changes to key points. But the highlight was the presentation made to the “fathers of Copernicus” who were many of the actors around the table at the famous lunch 20 years ago.

I must reserve a particular mention for Herbert Allgeier. If any one person could be called the Father of Copernicus it is he. One rather nice photo was taken (by Rainer Horn) at the Baveno celebrations. It features Herbert on the right, in the middle is Gerard Brachet and on the left is Pieter vanNes who was Herbert’s right-hand man at the time. These three played a major role in the creation of what is now the world’s foremost Earth Observation programme.

I don’t think any of us really knew what we were launching that day. There were a number of different views on what was needed which over the months of drafting were forged into a collective vision for Europe. This has been progressively sculpted into the Copernicus programme which exists today.

An appeal was made at Baveno 2018 to develop a renewed vision for Europe in Space. The EC has recently published its proposal for an EU Space Programme and I certainly hope that this can provide the framework under which a similar vision can develop and that this can include an industrial perspective and ultimately an industrial policy to really secure the programme. There is a reasonable budget associated to the proposal but, as it becomes more detailed, we should ensure that enough is allocated to develop the services and applications which justify the infrastructure investment.

The EC proposal covers the next 7 years. Let’s try to ensure that it leads to a vision for the next 20 years. See you in Baveno 2038!

Ps: Just a final, special word as the 21st June was the day when one of our EARSC key people (they are all key!) gave birth to her first daughter. So, in 2038 she will be 20 years old and I am sure that if Natassa has anything to do with it, Artemis will be a true space girl maybe celebrating at the 40th anniversary of the Baveno Manifesto. Who knows?

Intergenerational Wealth

I rarely blog about matters unconnected with EARSC and the EO sector but this one is an exception based on personal views.

I came across this chart recently. It comes from a report looking at intergenerational wealth produced by the UK Resolution Foundation which is chaired by David Willets - former Research Minister who was largely responsible for initiating the strong space investment in the UK (but this is the only connection with the space sector).

The chart shows the household expenditure across the generations. What stands out is the very large difference for the proportion of income spent on housing. Indeed, whereas for my generation (the baby boomers) at age 30 around 40% of us owned our own house, today (for the millennials) it is less than 20%. Overall home ownership has dropped from 72.5% to 63.4% over the last 10 years (source tradingeconomics.com). Other statistics show that, for the generation under 30 today by the time they are 40, they will spend 64 hours more per year in commuting than we did at the same age. That is nearly 2 working weeks just travelling to and from work and less time spent with their families.

The report concludes that facing significant deficits in health spending in the UK the traditional approach of asking the next generation to pay for the former just cannot work. Already, the millennials are less able to buy into home ownership, cannot afford to set aside enough for their own old-age and yet are facing the prospect of higher taxes to pay for my generation. This cannot work. The UK is not alone in this situation, it is faced by most developed countries to a greater or lesser degree.

I grew-up in a golden age without i-phones, computer games, cheap flights to weekend destinations and many other consumer goods, but whilst making life more agreeable they are not basic needs according to Maslow’s pyramid. We had home ownership, final benefit pension schemes and a free at source health-care system – and scientific progress means that we live much longer. My generation decided upon a social model which is not sustainable and which is leading to greater inequality between the have’s and have not’s.

It will be unpopular amongst the older generations and especially pensioners, but somehow and by some means we shall be forced to pay for this Ponzi scheme of expectations stemming from, us, the baby boomers.

I add just one further observation, that it is the pace of change which is causing the majority of problems. Given time we can adapt. Some individuals adapt faster than others (and can benefit from the confusion if their judgements are accurate), but as a whole, society needs time to accept change. If I look at the UK at the moment, the “ruling class” as represented by the current government are completely out of touch with the real situation facing the country. The lunatics are in control of the mad-house and Brexit is headed straight for the rocks. Where are the leaders who can get to grips with the coming crisis hoping that they are not like those in the Handmaid’s Tale[1].

[1] The Handmaids Tale is a book by Margaret Attwood, recently realised as a TV series currently entering its second season. It describes a dysfunctional future where women are objects and the ruling class are religious fanatics. All freedoms are lost except for the hypocritic ruling class.

EARSC & EuroChile

Last Friday, on behalf of EARSC, I signed a Memorandum of Understanding between EARSC and EuroChile Business Foundation. Mr. Vicente Caruz, President of Eurochile signed on their behalf and we are delighted to extend our international co-operation to Chile.

EuroChile is a venture set up by the EU and the government of Chile to promote business co-operation. Through the MoU we expect to be able to offer opportunities for business and technology transfer. Chile is considered as an important partner and is one of our priority countries within the IDEEO project. This has been re-enforced by the signature by the EC regarding access to Copernicus products and services.

We have so far been able to support activities in Chile on 2 occasions. Firstly, last year when we accompanied the EC together with a number of EARSC members to a 2 day workshop on Copernicus. Then secondly, earlier this year when we participated to the meetings organised around FIDAE 2018. Next steps will be to organise a focused workshop in Chile and to examine possibilities for an inward mission of Chilean companies to Europe.

EuroChile is also a Copernicus Relay and we shall support them in that venture with expertise and networking to try to maximise the impact which Copernicus can have on government services.

Many thanks to the Chilean Embassy in Brussels and His Excellency Raul Fernandez Daza for hosting this ceremony. We were really pleased to be with you and really look forward to increasing links between companies in Europe and Chile. A big thank you as well to the other actors from Chile, from DG Environment and the EU External Action Service for coming along and to making it such an enjoyable occasion.


Jose Aravena, Geoff Sawyer, Viente Caruz, His Excellency Raul Fernandez Daza.