Looking To Earth Observation’s Future

Artist’s view of Sentinel-3. Image courtesy of ESA–Pierre Carril.

The future is very much the theme for Earth Observation (EO) in Europe this week.

One of the biggest potential impacts for the industry could come out of a meeting that took place yesterday, 7 November, in Tallinn, Estonia as part of European Space Week. It was a meeting between the European Union (EU) and the European Space Agency (ESA) to discuss the next steps for the Copernicus programme beyond 2020. This is important in terms of not only continuing the current Sentinel missions, but also expanding what is monitored. There are concerns over gaps in coverage for certain types of missions which Europe could help to fill.

As an EO SME we’re intrigued to see the outcomes of these discussions as they include a focus on how to leverage Copernicus data more actively within the private sector. According to a recent Industry Survey by the European Association of Remote Sensing Companies (EARSC), there are just over 450 EO companies operating in Europe, and 66% of these are micro companies like Pixalytics – defined by having less than ten employees. This rises to 95% of all EO European companies if you include small businesses – with between 10 and 50 employees.

Therefore, if the EU/ESA is serious about developing the entrepreneurial usage of Copernicus data, it will be the small and micro companies that will make the difference. As these companies grow, they will need high skilled employees to support them.

Looking towards the next generation of EO scientists, the UK Space Agency announced seven new outreach projects this week inspire children to get involved in space specifically and more widely, to increase interest in studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. The seven projects are:

  1. Glasgow Science Festival: Get me into orbit!
  2. Triathlon Trust: Space to Earth view
  3. Mangorolla CIC: Space zones ‘I’m a Scientist’ and ‘I’m an Engineer’
  4. Institute for Research in Schools: MELT: Monitoring the Environment, Learning for Tomorrow
  5. The Design and Technology Association: Inspiring the next generation: design and technology in space
  6. European Space Education Resource Office-UK: James Webb Space Telescope: Design challenge
  7. Children’s Radio UK (Fun Kids): Deep Space High – UK Spaceports

There will be a total of £210,000 invested in these. We’re particularly excited to see the MELT project which will get students to use EO data to analyse what is happening at the two poles.

Each of these elements will help shape the EO industry in this country. With the UK committed to remaining within ESA, decisions on the future of the Copernicus programme will provide a strong strategic direction for both the space and EO industries in Europe. Delivering on that direction will require the next generation workforce who will come from the children studying STEM subjects now.

Both the strategic direction, and associated actions to fulfil those ambitions, are vital for future EO success.

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.

Stellar Space Careers

ESA astronaut Tim Peake, tests his NASA spacesuit, at NASA's Johnson Space Center, USA. Image courtesy of NASA.

ESA astronaut Tim Peake, tests his NASA spacesuit, at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, USA.
Image courtesy of NASA.

The UK space industry will get a publicity boost in the next month, as astronaut British Tim Peake goes into space on a five-month mission at the International Space Station (ISS). Being an astronaut is something many children dream about, although as less than six hundred people have ever gone into space it is a challenge to achieve. Working in the space industry on the other hand is something within the reach of everyone.

The space industry, often referred to as the space economy, includes space related services ranging from the manufacturing of spacecraft, satellites, ground stations and launch vehicles; through space-enabled applications such as broadcasting, navigation equipment and satellite phones; to user value-added applications such as Earth Observation (EO), meteorological services and broadband. The industry is worth £11.8 Bn to the UK economy and it’s growing at rate of just under nine percent per annum. It directly supports around 37,000 jobs, and indirectly another 100,000.

The shining star of the industry – irrespective of how much we promote EO scientists – will always be the astronauts. Tim will be the second British astronaut into space; our first, Helen Sharman, went up 1991. He was selected as a European Space Agency astronaut in 2009 and was chosen for his ISS mission in 2013. The next step is a launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in Kazakstan, in December.

Although we’ve said becoming an astronaut was difficult, it is not impossible. This week people were encouraged to apply to NASA to become an astronaut. Before you all rush off to send in your application, there are a few requirements:

  • You have to be a US citizen.
  • They are looking for pilots, engineers, scientists and medical doctors.
  • You’ll have to pass a long-duration spaceflight physical test.

If you want to become an astronaut, or indeed work in the space economy, education in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) subjects is crucial. Last week, at the Von Braun Symposium in America, they called for more STEM education and internships to encourage the next generation of the space workforce.

The European Space Education Resource Office in the UK (ERESO-UK) aims to promote the use of space to enhance and support STEM teaching, and they have set up a number of projects surrounding Tim’s mission and they are encouraging school participation. These include the EO Detective Competition to win a photograph from space during Tim’s mission, the Space to Earth challenge encouraging students to run, swim, cycle, climb, dance or exercise the 400 km distance from the Earth to the ISS and there are grants for innovative projects linked to Tim’s mission. The full details of all the projects can be found here.

The space economy is a wide and varied sector, it offers opportunities for anyone who wants to get involved. If you, or someone you know, is considering their first, or a change of, career, then go and whisper space in their ear. You never know, one of them may become an astronaut in the future!