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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]  Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene



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 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.


The EU budget post 2020

The EC has published its proposed budgets for the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework Perspective 2021 to 2028 which includes an allocation for “space” of €16b. This will provide continuity for the 2 EC flagships; Galileo and Copernicus.

The main interest from the EO services sector is towards the Copernicus programme and it is great to see that this is assured. Copernicus has become the world’s leading satellite Earth Observation programme and is playing a strong role to help develop the EO services sector in Europe. The EC is currently consulting on the shape of the Copernicus programme in the next MFF and EARSC will provide a formal response to this question following a consultation with the industry in late June.

Continuity of data supply and the confidence that this will be maintained in the future is fundamental for businesses to develop. Whilst the return upstream is strategic the economic value is generated downstream where the return on investment is high. EARSC welcomes the strong commitment being shown by the EC and calls upon the European Parliament and EU Council to endorse this budget proposal ensuring that a sufficient part is earmarked and dedicated to the development of Copernicus.

Owning and operating space assets is a necessary pre-requisite but has little value to the public if the data is not exploited. With the overall goal to serve public-sector and government needs this should be assured through the services which Copernicus can deliver. Since the 2014 Copernicus Regulation, a cornerstone of the programme has been to leverage the investment to help develop the downstream sector. Hence, we also call upon the decision makers to ensure an adequate portion of around 25% of the programme budget is dedicated to the services, to user uptake and to the development and exploitation of the data being generated.

Blog from FIDAE 2018

Last week I have spent a very stimulating 4 days at FIDAE. The International Air and Space Fair is the foremost aerospace, defence and security exhibition of Latin America, which has become one of the most important business platforms of the region due to its long and successful experience. The fair took place between 3-8 April 2018 in Santiago (Chile) and at the same time, also hosted the Latin American Remote Sensing week (LARS) with a parallel programme. The latter event was a discovery for me, as it was exactly at that pavilion where most of the EO value providers in the region were represented in the whole exhibition.

The event also had as main organisers the matchmaking platform Business Beyond Borders, an initiative funded by the European Commission and coordinated by EUROCHAMBERS, and Eurochile Business Foundation. Within the matchmaking event, European and Chilean companies have gathered addressing business opportunities in the sector, as well as initiatives of the European Union in Chile. For this latest part, we have the opportunity to meet again with our Eurochile friends with whom we have established an excellent collaboration in the past months. We are now discussing the details of an MoU and how to join forces in different European and Chilean projects. EuroChile has just been announced as a Copernicus Relay and we shall help them understand how the European space arena works in their preparation of the Copernicus Relay activities.

Many countries in Latin America are now developing space-related programmes, which will lead to new business relationships with the key players in the area, therefore, we thought it was important for EARSC to be present at this event and to showcase the association activities and present the capabilities of the European Earth Observation providers. I also took the opportunity to collect helpful information about the space industry in Chile as it is one of the target countries for the current study on internalisation produced by the IDEEO project.

Given that EU have recently signed a Copernicus agreement with Chilean Government, EARSC would like to leverage on it and will work with stakeholders in the region to initiate discussions on future collaborations. There are so many actors in Chile and big enthusiasm around Copernicus however I think they still search for the next step to take this National strategy forward since they need to find a good level of political support. There is a strong academic/university interest, but there are also industrial foundations such as EuroChile which could help rally the various interests and provide a lever for growth on the back of Copernicus as part of the Copernicus Relays. During these days I met around 25 stakeholders from private and public side, in fact I was very happy with the organization of BBB/EuroChile as they were the chairs who created such an excellent platform and environment to meet and chat with cooperation partners. Thank you Eurochambers for giving us the opportunity to participate in FIDAE!

One strong message that came out was about awareness. Quite a few of the stakeholders attending the event wondered where they could get data from Copernicus, is that easy to download from the cloud, what type of processing could be done with it? how we could be more engaged? So what EC called “the network of Copernicus ambassadors: the Copernicus Relays” will have big opportunities for awareness campaigns; coordinating and promoting activities around the programme, its benefits, and opportunities for local residents and businesses. Reflecting on this afterwards with another expert, we discussed the value-adding community is the best target to be involved in those campaigns as they really know the final users.

At EARSC we fully support the Regional industry and the wider EO community to establish a national strategy and are ready to work with any other national organisation which wishes to put a strategic plan in place, as one way of helping the industrial sector to grow.

I also had the great pleasure to discuss with the EU Ambassador in Chile, Stella Zervoudaki. She was fascinated “to see the innovative EO businesses with global ambitions that have the potential to add value to established networks and markets” and fully supported our partnership with Eurochile.

So many side events happened, and it will be time to follow up with all these business cards collected, meanwhile and in brief… it has been very good to see this sort of meetings under such a big event and maybe as EARSC we shall try to attend more to these events specially supported by the Internationalization strategy we are developing.

Keep an eye on us! We are going Global !!!

Blog written by Mónica

EARSC going International

We recently attended the kick-off of our new project IDEEO along with all the other projects under the Clusters Go International programme of EASME. It was quite enlightening and very gratifying to see how advanced we are in EARSC compared to other project teams!!

We are in the first stage of a two-stage process. In the first stage, we are funded to develop a joint strategy along with our cluster partners; Pol Mer Bretagne (PMB) and Cluster Lucano di Bioeconomia (CLB). This gives us 3 business focuses; Earth observation, off-shore and agriculture but we shall seek to broaden this as we go along with links to other clusters. The first phase is to develop a joint strategy and the 2nd phase – which we shall bid for this time next year – implements that strategy.

At the kick-off meeting the broad modalities of the EASME programme were explained and each project gave a short overview of its activities. When we talked about the trade missions and international links which we have made already, the reaction was strongly positive and we found ourselves being held up as an example of best practice even as we start the project!!

It showed how difficult it is for national clusters to develop the international links which are at the heart of each strategy. However, for EARSC, as we are already a European-wide organisation (we have become identified as a business network rather than a cluster), we have international links which we have turned into MoU’s with Japan, India, Africa and Australia as well as close working with Chile.

The latter link has been greatly helped by the EC intention to sign a data agreement linked to Copernicus. Indeed, we find it useful to elaborate our strategy in close alignment with the EC actions. If a data sharing agreement is signed, this can open the door for industry to meet local partners and establish business links. This has happened most recently in India when we were able to have EARSC companies present during the exchanges.

Further missions are planned for later this year and we shall keep all our members informed of the opportunities and with the support of the EC, open up business to business meetings and links in each case. Last year we were in Chile and Bolivia as well as in Japan and the US.

In addition to the Australian mission (see previous blogpost EU-Australia Partnerships) and those identified above, this year we shall be in Egypt for the bi-annual AARSE conference and in Kyoto for the GEO plenary. Other missions may be identified on an ad-hoc basis.

For next year and beyond, we have an EARSC Internationalisation working group which serves to set the priorities for IDEEO and other mission priorities. Keep an eye on our web-site for news and if you wish to benefit and/influence our programme; you can always become a member of EARSC!!

EU-Australia Partnerships

Last week, I was extremely pleased to accompany our latest trade mission with 7 European companies to Australia. The goal was to enable meetings between potential partners to work together on EO geospatial services in the context of the Copernicus agreement signed between the EU and Australia. One further partnership was cemented during the week through an MoU between EARSC and CRCSI.

Both Geoscience Australia and CRC for Spatial Information  (CRCSI) coordinated 4 days of meetings and I feel really proud that EARSC was able to work with them  during the week. Only recently has EARSC developed the capacity to undertake this type of support activity which we continue to expand upon.  I believe there is enormous potential to develop some deep and lasting business partnerships. Graeme Kernich and especially Phil Delaney, both from CRCSI, did a fantastic job in setting up the programme.

We started on Monday in Brisbane hosted by QUT with 30 Australian EO companies meeting with the 7 European companies who had made the trip. We learned that Queensland is very advanced in the use of EO to support state-wide decision making and I explained how Copernicus is set-up in Europe and what the potential partnership opportunities could be. There is a strong willingness to exploit the free and open data policy to promote business.

One of the key instruments is H2020 where a call later this year will enable European and Australian companies to work together. Whilst Australia is a partner to H2020, this specific call under the space activity is aimed to strengthen international ties and as such Australian companies will be able to receive funding just as any European company. Whilst this funding is limited, if we can demonstrate successful co-operations, the programme line could be extended in the future. Paul Nugent and I explained how H2020 works and how teams could be set-up to respond successfully.

On Tuesday we moved on to Canberra, the political capital of Australia, and a meeting with Geoscience Australia to hear about their work and especially on the Data cube approach which they have pioneered. Adam Lewis explained the background and the opportunity to work together. Personally, I see a lot of potential there for an interesting project and commercial opportunities.

We also heard about Geoscape which is an interesting initiative by PSMA. Geoscape seeks to provide the answer to the question “What is at an address?” PSMA was established some 20 years ago to commercialise government-owned digital map data; which is a business model under threat from the open data movement. PSMA has taken the initiative to stay ahead by supplying high-resolution geospatial data across Australia. The main source of content is coming from satellites and PSMA are steadily adding features into the Geoscape product. It is definitely an area to watch with potential for international co-operation.

We were joined in Canberra by Andreas Veispak from the EC and were really pleased to have his direct support. One of the main interests in Australia is the access to and exploitation of Copernicus data. At the time of the visit, Australia was one of only 2 countries to have signed an agreement with the EU to access the Sentinel data and collaboration between enterprises will be a major achievement.

With this in mind, EARSC and CRCSI signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work more closely together. We are extremely pleased to have such an able partner to work with in Australia and look forward to realising some of the potential. We were also extremely pleased that the EC Commissioner Bienkowska was able to be present and witness the signature placing a political recognition to the potential for co-operation.

The signing ceremony preceded a special panel which discussed how to develop greater co-operation. Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska made a short introduction which was followed by a lively debate between European actors (Andreas Veispak – EC, EARSC - myself) and Australian actors (Kate Lundy – former senator, Adam Lewis – Geosciences Australia, Graeme Kernich – CRCSI, David Williams – CSIRO). Australia is making a great effort to free up companies to commercialise the results of research. They have managed to develop a whole space programme and convince ministers to establish a space agency despite not having and upstream (space manufacturing) capabilities. Commercialisation will be the key to enabling partnerships with Europe.

On Thursday we moved on to our last destination in Sydney; hosted by CSIRO. Here the focus was more downstream and a panel of companies using geospatial data and information talked about their needs. There was a strong awareness in the insurance, agriculture, mining and natural resources sectors as well as the public need reflected by governments. It provided an excellent exchange between suppliers and consumers.

What do I take-away from the week? Companies wishing to work in Australia or with Australian partners can do so. The world is shrinking with digital technology but this does not replace face-to-face meetings and those who made the effort to travel will have an advantage when it comes to doing business. This will not be the only opportunity and we are serious about developing the MoU with CRCSI. One very useful outcome is linked to an internationalisation project we have funded under COSME. IDEEO will set out a strategy for EARSC and 2 other clusters on how to promote international business in a co-ordinated way and focused on specific downstream sectors. The mission allowed us (EARSC) to identify a number of partners with whom we can develop our strategy which will benefit the whole EO community and EARSC members in particular.

Different parts of the EO and geospatial value-chains will see and be able to address different opportunities for co-operation. We consider that it was a highly successful and highly significant mission which we are pleased to have been able to put together. We see return visits as well as missions to other countries over the next years as we develop our mission to help the industry identify new business opportunities.

Copernicus for Agriculture


Last Monday, along with about 250 others, I attended the EC organised Copernicus for Agriculture workshop. It was a very good meeting with a lot of information exchanged on how Copernicus and Sentinel data is being used mainly to support agriculture policy.

It was billed as an industry workshop and at the entrance it was announced as “Copernicus / private sector”. Industry was strongly represented in the audience and the on-line survey conducted by the organisers suggested that around 45% of the attendees were from the private sector.

When it came to the speakers, the picture was rather different. Of the 28 who were on stage to present and/or to moderate sessions, only 3 came from the private sector. These were two established companies and one very new start-up less than 1 month old.

Ana Haas from Geoville gave a good overview of the services which can be provided by companies especially focused on serving international customers and particularly the International Financial Institutions. Heide Bakke from Vista talked about the products which they are offering in Germany. Vista has recently become 51% owned by BayWa a german commodities company which sees an opportunity to develop digital information services for the agriculture community. It would have also been interesting to have heard their perspective! Finally, Leon Hendricks from Bioscope talked about how data can be gathered and used for agriculture. Bioscope stems from several ESA projects and is targeted on serving potato farmers in Europe.

But the other 25 speakers where all from the public-sector and very much confirmed the picture we have. There is a great deal of research going on into the use of Copernicus to support CAP and national agriculture (and environmental) policies but very few real operational examples today. In the private sector it is rather the same when looking at public policy but very different in the area of precision farming. Here we know of many initiatives – Bioscope is a new one – which are focused on providing services to farmers. We shall publish a report touching on this in the next few days. This dynamism was not visible in last Monday’s workshop which was a shame. EARSC has some opportunities later this year to organise meetings which can consider the commercial market for agriculture services and we shall try to give a platform to these many start-ups which are emerging.

For future Copernicus focused workshops, EARSC would be pleased to help set-up and organise the agenda. Unfortunately, despite this being the case for earlier such workshops, it seems that the EC prefer to do this themselves and not draw upon the industry expertise. This feels like a lost opportunity for everyone.

Disruption in Space

I have spent the last week at the Geospatial World Forum (GWF) in Hyderabad. During that time I met many new people and had many illuminating conversations. There was a fantastic gala dinner with inter-continental music (Indian Jazz) and of course a lot of delicious Indian dishes. Overall, a demanding but rewarding trip.

The highlight of the week for us was the signing of an MoU between EARSC and the Association of Geospatial Industries for India (AGI). We are extremely pleased and proud to have the opportunity to work more closely with AGI and the companies which are their members. It represents a great achievement in our internationalisation strategy where we seek to help our members find new partners to develop business together. The agreement which was brokered by our good friend Sanjay Kumar, was signed by each secretary general of the respective associations. We were joined by members from both associations who witnessed the occasion.

It is just the first step and our next goal will be to set up one or two specific projects to work on. The agreement offers many possibilities building upon the EU Copernicus programme and that for EU-India for Action 2020.

Whilst in Hyderabad, I participated to the GeoBuiz summit which is the pre-event to the GWF. Here business leaders came together to discuss the geo inspired 4th industrial revolution (GEO4IR). In our panel we addressed the changes taking place in the space sector which are certainly no less significant than those taking place elsewhere. Satellites and space-based observations have a crucial role to play in the evolution of the geospatial business and the shift to on-line services will transform many business models.

I carried this theme also into the AI and IoT summit. Firstly, I observed that the promotional video exposed farm vehicles, homes, cities, cars and many other sensor platforms but not satellites! There are now thousands of satellites generating data and offering connectivity both for other sensors but also between them; satellites are definitely a part of the Internet of Things. Laser links, new sensors, on-board processing are all changing the way satellites work and communicate together. Oneweb will have 900 platforms in low earth orbit. Meanwhile, on the ground, new digital technology based on big data, cloud processing, machine learning and blockchain offer new services.

The traditional EO services businesses based on consultancy business models (one product-one client), risk to become replaced by those offering one service to many clients. How will this shake up the value chain will be interesting to see. Will the VA companies establish their own niche? Will they get absorbed in the upstream sector? Will the large digital players become dominant or will we see even further integration with more traditional sector-leading companies increase their span of operations with their existing customers.

It is clear that the next few years will be extremely exciting; a view expressed throughout the GeoBuiz summit! For the many new start-ups and existing value-added companies there will be some fantastic opportunities. The move towards services is getting stronger and it is clear that many are now positioning to take advantage of this trend.