Copernicus kicks off Sentinel data access revolution

Sentinel-2 image from March 2017 of Lake Maggiore (ESA)

23 June 2018

With 12 terabytes of data coming from its Sentinel satellites every day – that’s 10 petabytes yearly – Europe’s Copernicus Earth observation programme is in the perhaps enviable position of being a victim of its own success. So to ensure that users can exploit the free, full and open data that is the hallmark of Copernicus without being overwhelmed by the cost and complexity of download, storage and processing, the European Commission is funding the deployment of five cloud-based platforms that will provide – free of charge – centralised access to Copernicus data, and pay-per-use storage and processing tools.

Formally launched at an event in Baveno, on Italy’s Lake Maggiore to mark the 20th anniversary of the meeting there which proposed the comprehensive EO programme now called Copernicus, the five new Data and Information Access Services – or DIAS – are now open, to provide one-source access to a searchable catalogue of imagery and measurements. Users can still download Copernicus data directly from EU portals – and there are well in excess of 100,000 registered users, plus many more accessing data through partners such as NOAA in the USA – but the DIAS are expected to “revolutionise” the way the data is accessed. Elżbieta Bieńkowska, European commissioner for the internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs, said the vast quantity of data coming from Copernicus was a barrier to use by entrepreneurs, small companies and start-ups, who could not sustain the investment in information and communcations technology needed to work with so much data: “This is a crucial initiative to make sure that all users…can enjoy a seamless access to Copernicus data.”

The five DIAS consortia selected late last year are: CREODIAS, led by Creotech Instruments of Poland; Mundi, led by €12 billion-revenue big data and cybersecurity company Atos; ONDA – the Italian word for “wave” – led by Serco Italia; Sobloo, led by Airbus with Orange Business Services and Capgemini; and WEkEO.

WEkEO – “we” as in its partners, k for knowledge and EO for Earth observation – is a bit of an outlier, with none of its partners being profit-making companies. Behind the effort are Europe’s meteorological service EUMETSAT, the intergovernmental European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) and Mercator Ocean, a Toulouse-based non-profit ocean analysis and forecasting company which is also contracted to run the Copernicus marine information service.

Sobloo sums up the DIAS concept succinctly, describing its platform as “an open geospatial community for people looking for data and related services, as well as developers looking for a dedicated environment to create new applications… Today’s platform opens to first functionalities and datasets; in the coming months, it will evolve to integrate more Earth observation and geo-information layers; analytics and a full offer of services.”

Speaking to Geoconomy at the Baveno event, Eumetsat data scientist Lothar Wolf says WEkEO offers an “open and federative” architecture, meant to help users who want to increase their visibility in the EO applications community or even to share tools and information. EUMETSAT’s description of the platform explains that the name WEkEO is pronounced “wikeo” as it “gives a nod to the Wikipedia reference portal and the idea of a collaborative platform”.

Wolf sees the three-year contract period as a test of providing access and uptake, after which the European Commission will re-evaluate; all five DIAS are unlikely to be renewed for the second phase of the programme, he reckons. So, requirements include ensuring users can make a “seamless” transition of their stored data and outputs between DIAS should they wish or need to change to another service.

The Commission is funding basic operations, granting the five DIAS a total of up to €15 million over five years. Bieńkowska describes the arrangement as “seed money”.