May 12, 2010

MEPs approve Earth observation satellites plan

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European Union satellites that observe the Earth’s surface for environmental and security purposes came a step closer on May 11 2010, when members of the European Parliament’s industry committee unanimously approved a draft regulation providing a legal basis for them, plus 107 million euro for initial operations in 2011-2013.

The regulation has still to be approved by the full European Parliament, probably in June 2010, a media statement said.

Like the Galileo satellite navigation programme, the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme involves developing the EU’s own infrastructure, but, unlike Galileo, it is funded solely with public money.

The primary purpose of earth monitoring is to provide detailed environment and security data, tailored to user needs.

“The programme should boost innovation, research and technological development, and also become a key tool for supporting biodiversity, ecosystem management, and climate change mitigation and adaptation,” the statement said.

Satellite observation data can help emergency services to deal with natural or man-made disasters, such as earthquakes, floods and oil spills, faster and more efficiently. This data can also inform decision making in range of policies including soil and water management, agriculture, forestry, energy and utilities, urban development, infrastructure and transport.

Funding for the operational phase

In the so-called “pre-operational validation phase”, GMES services were developed through EU seventh research framework programme projects.

To enter the operational phase, the programme now needs a new legal basis and additional funding, which the new regulation will provide, to start initial operations in 2011-2013, the statement said.

The EU funding foreseen for the three-year initial operations phase is 107 million euro, supplemented with 209 million euro from the seventh research framework programme’s “space” theme for accompanying research actions.

The GMES programme should be fully operational by 2014. Technical co-ordination and implementation will be responsibility of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Open access to information

Committee members strongly advocated open access to data gathered by satellite and this provision is included in the final draft, according to the European Parliament statement.

All information, except for security sensitive data, will be fully and openly accessible through a free-of-charge licensing and online access scheme.

This should maximise benefits for the widest possible range of applications and foster a “downstream market” for which small and medium-sized software companies can develop new applications.