EXCLUSIVE: Access to satellite data will help SMEs with ‘environmental understanding’

The European Commission's plans to provide "free, full and open access" to satellite data will help small-to-medium sized businesses (SMEs) further develop their environmental understanding, says the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Data gathered by Copernicus, Europe’s Earth observation system, is currently very expensive to obtain but providing free access to this data will allow businesses, researchers, citizens and policy makers to integrate greater environmental knowledge into “everything they do,” the EEA says.

In an exclusive interview, EEA’s project manager for Copernicus land services Hans Dufourmont told edie: “Up to now if you wanted to use satellite imagery you had to pay significant amounts of money. This has been a barrier for SME’s who have wanted to start using this data as an input source for all kinds of spatial analysis”.

The European Space Agency (ESA), who runs and develops the data now has an agreement with the European Commission to ensure that the data gathered from Copernicus is made available ‘fully, openly and freely’.

“The use of this data is very diverse. You can imagine all kinds of applications such as urban planification, detection and mapping of forest fires, flooding risks and monitoring, monitoring water quality in lake environments, surveillance of road infrastructures. The potential for application is growing every day,” said Dufourmont.

According to the EEA, one example of the practicality of this satellite data was on November 8 when the Copernicus Emergency Management service produced the first damage assessment maps for Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, helping relief efforts.

Other environment-related services from Copernicus involve monitoring Europe’s land oceans, atmosphere and climate change.

The agency says satellite measurements have improved environmental monitoring, allowing more evidence based policy and ultimately better environmental management.

In the past, most observations were made at ground level and interpolated to build up an overview.

The EEA said that often, this overview was “inconsistent and showed different things” depending on how and when each country carried out its monitoring.

In August, US space agency NASA announced that it is developing a giant solar-powered satellite that could provide energy to a third of the world.

In the shape of a tulip, the large-scale system, known as Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large PHased Array (SPS-ALPHA), will include thousands of curved mirrors that would bounce light from the sun onto photovoltaic panels.

Leigh Stringer

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