Op-ed: The Golden Age of European Earth Observation

Op-ed: The Golden Age of European Earth Observation

In the past two decades, European priorities for space have had a clear focus: not about a race to space, but about making what we do in space relevant to humans down on Earth. Last month, the world watched as Europe launched their latest satellite, Sentinel-5p, making the Copernicus program fully operational and collecting terabytes of data per day.

When coupled with the operational Galileo program — Europe’s position, navigation and timing constellation — Europe has realized its two-decade goal of an independent Earth observation program for the environment and security, turning the page to begin the golden age of European Earth observation.

The timing of this next chapter in Europe’s story in space is auspicious, with these large, strategic programs reaching their peak coincident with the growth of new commercial ventures. In 2017, more than 100 Earth observation satellites were launched in a single year, the first time this has ever happened. Hundreds of satellites provide concrete social, scientific and economic benefits to billions of individuals.

This is truly a global sensing revolution coming from the commercial space sector, with miniaturization and mass production of satellites complemented by the data computation and analytic ecosystem to build novel commercial products. The European Commission is now setting its sights on realizing the greatest benefit that can come from these signals for society, from treaty verification to disaster response. With forward-leaning policies to make these data a global, public good, Europe is stimulating commercial uptake of these information feeds and creating a context aware application market.

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