Earth sensing honours to Landsat ace, disaster agencies

18 November 2017

A Landsat veteran and the international group of space agencies tasked with marshalling satellite data for disaster response have been honoured by the US Geological Survey and NASA for contributions to Earth remote sensing. This year’s William T. Pecora Award winners are Darrel Williams, who worked for NASA for 35 years before retiring and joining Global Science & Technology as chief scientist, and the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters.

In its 15 November award citation, the USGS highlights Williams’ “instrumental role in the development of the Landsat 7 long-term acquisition plan to ensure that a robust, global and seasonal archive was acquired”. And, the International Charter for “providing free satellite imagery, data and information to the global community during times of crisis”.

At GST, Williams has worked on development of “lower cost smallsat solutions for Earth and weather observation”, according to his company biography.

ISS view of hurricane Maria 21 Sept 2017 (ESA)

 The International Charter has had a busy year; according to the European Space Agency, which in October took over the group’s six-month chair from the UK Space Agency, the Charter is activated about 40 times a year, but in August and September there were 16 activations, twice the monthly average, as hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the USA and Caribbean and central Mexico was hammered by a 7.1-magnitude earthquake.

UKSA summed up the challenge by noting the experience of Amalia Castro, who works in Guilford, Surrey as a remote sensing analyst at Airbus, which co-ordinates the Charter: “I was on call 24/7 for the whole week. I need to think which satellites will be best, what’s their resolution and prepare to task those satellites.

We had the potential for storms, floods, flash floods and landslides. I asked for data from 15 different satellites, from several different companies and agencies.”

The Charter was formed to provide rapid access to satellite data following natural or man-made disasters; since 2000 it has been activated in response to more than 520 disasters in 120 countries. ESA’s head of Earth observation science, applications and climate, Maurice Borgeaud, says: “Future challenges include the likely increase of the calls on the Charter, international collaboration with key partners running similar activities, and taking advantage of the ever-increasing availability of Earth observation data.”

Other Charter members include the space agencies of France (CNES, India (ISRO), Canada (CSA), Argentina (CONAE), Japan (JAXA), China (CNSA), Germany (DLR), South Korea (KARI), Brazil (INPE), Bolivia (ABAE) and Russia (Roscosmos), along with US agencies USGS and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and Europe’s EUMETSAT weather service. UK participation is shared by UKSA and the Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) spin-off DMC International Imaging.