Open Earth Observation Exploitation Platforms, the Next Game Changer

The third edition of the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial Europe conference brought Open Source GIS users and developers together and fostered closer interactions amongst the European geospatial communities.

During the conference, speakers presented the different Open Source platforms that are changing the Earth Observation exploitation industry. We interview Salvatore Pinto, RHEA Group’s Exploitation Platforms Principal System Architect working at European Space Agency (ESA) and one of the conference keynote speakers.

The main takeaway of the conference, held in Paris, France on June 18-22, was the greater role of the user in the in-situ data collection to complement the Earth Observation Data and the need for a shift from traditional standalone systems to cloud technology and web platforms. During his presentation, Pinto addressed the benefits of Open Source software for the space industry and the scientific community in general.

“Open Source software stimulates innovation because you have a global network of developers providing ideas. It creates greater engagement and collaboration with the user. Ultimately you can reach a wider audience, and that is the goal of ESA, to make Earth Observation data available for as many people as possible,” said Pinto.

Forest Map

ESA’s Thematic Exploitation Platforms

Pinto shared his experience as principal system architect of ESA’s Thematic Exploitation Platforms, a collaborative, virtual work environment providing open access to Earth Observation data and the tools, processors, and IT resources required to work with them. The project launched in 2014, with the creation of exploitation platforms addressing seven main topics: coastal, forestry, hydrology, geohazards, polar, urban themes, and food security.

Some of these platforms have recently entered pre-operational phase for a selection of users, showing promising results. “What we see from the first success stories is that they have succeeded in building up a community for each the particular themes. We have observed that users are using them to find software, information, algorithms, etc. Another positive aspect is that scientists are now able to process the massive amounts of data without having to download them, which saves them time, and lets them focus on developing the algorithm” said Pinto.

Once fully operational, the platforms will become open for scientists and expert users to access the platforms. ESA is also studying the possibility of further extending the project to other areas.

“There are two main challenges for implementing Open Source software in the space community. One is the lack of continued developer support to maintain the software, and the other one is the complex legal aspects of Open Source software. It is important to cooperate with foundations of reference such as, for example, the Open Source Geospatial Fundation, of which FOSS4G is the main conference, which can help bring the community together and help with the legal aspect,” concluded Pinto.

'Open Source software stimulates innovation because you have a global network of developers providing ideas."
Salvatore Pinto
RHEA Group’s Exploitation Platforms Principal System Architect.

The challenges

The growing volume of Earth Observation data from space missions such as the European Copernicus program provides a unique opportunity for environmental science applications but also poses a major challenge for users and developers to achieve its full potential regarding data exploitation.

“There are two main challenges for implementing Open Source software in the space community. One is the lack of continued developer support to maintain the platforms, and the other one is the complex legal aspects of Open Source software. It is important to use foundations of reference such as the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial conference, which can help bring the community together and help with the legal aspect,” concluded Pinto.

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