ESA Ministerial 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GEOWeek 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missions for Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Value of EO

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

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

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

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

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

EARSC is 30!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EARSC and the eoSTORE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can EARSC offer to a contractor? Three things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.