For more than 20 years, “Earth Observation” (EO) satellites developed or operated by ESA have provided a wealth of data. In the coming years, the Sentinel missions, along with the Copernicus Contributing Missions as well as Earth Explorers and other, Third Party missions will provide routine monitoring of our environment at the global scale, thereby delivering an unprecedented amount of data. This expanding operational capability of global monitoring from space, combined with data from long-term EO archive, in-situ networks and models will provide users with unprecedented insight into how our oceans, atmosphere, land and ice operate and interact as part of an interconnected Earth System.
While the availability of the growing volume of environmental data from space represents a unique opportunity for science and applications, it also poses a major challenge to achieve its full potential in terms of data exploitation.
In this context ESA has started in 2014 the EO Exploitation Platforms (EPs) initiative, a set of R&D activities that in the first phase (up to 2017) aims to create an ecosystem of interconnected Thematic Exploitation Platforms (TEPs) on European footing, addressing:
- Urban themes; and
- Food Security (under definition),
In short, an EO exploitation platform is a collaborative, virtual work environment providing access to EO data and the tools, processors, and Information and Communication Technology resources required to work with them, through one coherent interface. As such the EP may be seen as a new ground segments operations approach, complementary to the traditional operations concept.
The traditional ESA Ground Segment operations concept is based on moving data and tools to the single user, or to single user’s organization, therefore transferred many times, replicated in many places, and with data exploitation taking place at users’ premises. There is a loose user network, where the community (and collaboration) exists elsewhere within the EO ground segment.
The fundamental principle of the EP operations concept is to move the user to the data and tools. Users access a platform work environment providing the data, tools, and resources required, as opposed to downloading, replicating, and exploiting data ‘at home’. The user community is present and visible in the platform, involved in its governance and invited (and enabled) to share and collaborate. This virtual workplace typically provides access to:
- Relevant EO and non-EO data
- Scalable network, computing resources and hosted processing (Infrastructure as a Service - IaaS)
- A platform environment (Platform as a Service - PaaS), allowing users to integrate, test, run, and manage applications (i.e. processors) without the complexity of building and maintaining their own infrastructure, and providing access to standard platform services and functions such as collaborative tools, data mining and visualization applications, the most relevant development tools (such as Python, IDL etc.), communication tools (social network) and documentation, accounting and reporting tools to manage resource utilization.
- Application repositories or stores (Software as a Service, SaaS) providing access to relevant advanced processing applications (for example InSAR processors and the Sentinel Toolboxes)
The ESA EPs are furthermore implemented according to the following principles:
- Develop and employ open-source and freeware to the extent possible – to ensure reuse, avoid vendor lock-in, contain costs, and ensure openness
- Implement standards – to ensure interoperability
- Implement infrastructure independence – to ensure cost effective infrastructure sourcing, avoid vendor lock-in, and allow reuse of public and commercial available ICT
- Implement pay-per-use – to avoid capital investment, contain costs, and allow for cost-sharing
- Cater also to commercial providers – to allow (affordable) access to commercial software, data, and infrastructure when required
- Secure IPR – to ensure that users retain their own intellectual property rights
- Be Community and impact driven – implement with deep participation of the scientific and application communities, to ensure user buy-in
- Enable sustainability – propose funding and revenue models and sources to maximize the probability of economic sustainability of the platforms in operations phase.