Rent-a-satellite: data on demand for developing countries

Jan Piotrowski

Jan Piotrowski
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net



Data has always been a cornerstone of scientific research, so it is no surprise that it plays a prominent role in scientific discussions.

However, a quick glance at the topics of this conference — the importance of biobanks to store genetic information and data protection, for example — give a clue to how the scientific community is beginning to see this product of scientific enquiry.

Creating data is no longer the problem (projects like the Large Hadron Collider already produce it in enormous quantities). It is how to use it effectively that matters the most.

How can data be pooled, organised and accessed are the questions now being asked.

One of these areas with vast, and underused, datasets is satellite imagery and measurements, according to Bart de Lathouwer, Director of Interoperability Programs, at the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), a member-funded non-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing access to geospatial information.

To help democratise this data, which was collected mostly with taxpayer money, the OGC launched Group on Earth Observations System of Systems (GEOSS) in 2005, he says.

Through the GEOSS portal, anyone with a computer can access data collected by the governments and international organisations of 89 Group on Earth Observations (GEO) member countries and the European Commission, with licensing conditions on some data being the only restrictions of use.

Now firmly established, GEOSS is turning its attention to the developing world, he adds.

“We want to build capacity for developing countries to build on what others have done before so they can reap the benefits on a limited budget,” de Lathouwer says.

In practice, this will involve capacity building, both in installing computer systems capable of making best use of GEOSS data, and training individuals to use satellite tracking software.

Successful collaborations with Chile will be followed by a number of developing countries, such as Uganda and United Arab Emirates, says de Lathouwer.

Not only this, but GEOSS is working to develop a satellite planning service, which will enable users  to track satellites and request data as they pass over head.

This will be particularly useful for organisations or governments without regular access to satellites in areas such as disaster management, where having rapid imagery of affected areas is essential for planning a response, says de Lathouwer.

This blog post is part of SciDev.Net’s coverage of EU Science: Global Challenges & Global Collaboration which takes place 4-8 March 2013, in Brussels, Belgium. To read further news and analysis please visit our website.

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