Inspiring the Next Generation of EO Scientists

Artist's rendition of a satellite - 3dsculptor/123RF Stock Photo

Artist’s rendition of a satellite – 3dsculptor/123RF Stock Photo

Last week, whilst Europe’s Earth Observation (EO) community was focussed on the successful launch of Sentinel-5P, over in America Tuesday 10th October was Earth Observation Day!

This annual event is co-ordinated by AmericaView, a non-profit organisation, whose aim to advance the widespread use of remote sensing data and technology through education and outreach, workforce development, applied research, and technology transfer to the public and private sectors.

Earth Observation Day is a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) event celebrating the Landsat mission and its forty-five year archive of imagery. Using satellite imagery provides valuable experience for children in maths and sciences, together with introducing subjects such as land cover, food production, hydrology, habitats, local climate and spatial thinking. The AmericaView website contains a wealth of EO materials available for teachers to use, from fun puzzles and games through to a variety of remote sensing tutorials. Even more impressive is that the event links schools to local scientists in remote sensing and geospatial technologies. These scientists provide support to teachers including giving talks, helping design lessons or being available to answer student’s questions.

This is a fantastic event by AmericaView, supporting by wonderful resources and remote sensing specialists. We first wrote about this three years ago, and thought the UK would benefit from something similar. We still do. The UK Space Agency recently had an opportunity for organisations interested in providing education and outreach activities to support EO, satellite launch programme or the James Webb Space Telescope. It will be interesting to see what the successful candidates come up with.

At Pixalytics we’re passionate about educating and inspiring the next generation of EO scientists. For example, we regularly support the Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society’s Wavelength conference for students and early career scientists; and sponsored the Best Early-Career Researcher prize at this year’s GISRUK Conference. We’re also involved with two exciting events at Plymouth’s Marine Biological Association, a Young Marine Biologists (YMB) Summit for 12-18 year olds at the end of this month and their 2018 Postgraduate conference.

Why is this important?
The space industry, and the EO sector, is continuing to grow. According to Euroconsult’s ‘Satellites to Be Built & Launched by 2026’ – I know this is another of the expensive reports we highlighted recently – there will be around 3,000 satellites with a mass above 50 kg launched in the next decade – of which around half are anticipated as being used for EO or communication purposes. This almost doubles the number of satellites launched in the last ten years and doesn’t include the increasing number of nano and cubesats going up.

Alongside the number of satellites, technological developments mean that the amount of EO data available is increasing almost exponentially. For example, earlier this month World View successfully completed multi-day flight of its Stratolliteâ„¢ service, which uses high-altitude balloons coupled with the ability to steer within stratospheric winds. They can carry a variety of sensors, a mega-pixel camera was on the recent flight, offering an alternative vehicle for collecting EO data.

Therefore, we need a future EO workforce who are excited, and inspired, by the possibilities and who will take this data and do fantastic things with it.

To find that workforce we need to shout about our exciting industry and make sure everyone knows about the career opportunities available.

The UK needs an Earth Observation Day!

Not sure if you know, but today – April 9th – is Earth Observation Day in America!

Any celebration of Earth Observation has our support, but this particular initiative deserves promotion as it’s focussed on inspiring students, and teachers, to engage with remote sensing applications; something that’s at the heart of our company too.
The event is the brainchild of a non-profit organisation called AmericaView; whose aim is to advance the availability, timely distribution, and widespread use of remote sensing data and technology through education, research and outreach, and sustainable technology transfer to the public and private sectors.

The day itself focuses on using remote sensing imagery and in-situ measurements to explore surface temperature for different types of land cover using Landsat imagery; as it’s freely available and has a historical archive. The AmericaView website has exercises and factsheets to support activities for kindergarten to year 12. In addition, AmericaView scientists, who have expertise in remote sensing and geospatial technology, support teachers in their local area by giving talks, helping teachers design lessons or being available to answer student’s questions.

We think this is a brilliant way to get students learning about remote sensing, and using lots of elements of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculums. We wondered why we don’t have something similar in the UK?

We know there are similar events, for example the Royal Geography Society has been running a GIS (Geographical Information Systems) Day for a number of years; and the National STEM Centre supported World Meteorological Day on the 23 March that looked at weather and climate change. However, there is far more to remote sensing and Earth Observation than weather. We need to promote the potential for the subject to support crop management, helping disaster response, forestry use, support water and marine management, urban planning, flood prevention … the list could go on!

Earth Observation offers huge potential to help our understanding of this planet and its natural resources. With the introduction of cubesats, swarm satellites, and last week’s successful launch of the first satellite of ESA’s Copernicus mission, data available is going to increase exponentially in the near future. It gives students opportunities enhance learning, and apply skills, in a variety of subjects beyond the obvious STEM ones. Remote sensing could be used in the teaching of geography, history and even politics. Couple this with the ambition to double the size of the UK space sector by 2020, Earth Observation could not only supports learning, but offers realistic opportunities for future jobs and careers.

We need to interest, excite and, most importantly, inspire the next generation of scientists in this country, and an educational based Earth Observation Day could play an exciting part of that development. What does the rest of the Earth Observation community think? Should we get our voice heard for an Earth Observation day here too?