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Space as a superpower delivering sustainable business for the good of humanity

"Space can be a superpower to deliver sustainable business for the benefit of all," Elia Montanari (Image credit: Shutterstock)
Since its inception, ESA Business Applications and Space Solutions (ESA BASS) has striven to put Space at the service of sustainability.

Elia Montanari, Downstream Business Applications, talks about how ESA welcomed the 17 Global Goals framework adopted by the UN in 2015 – and how this ultimately led him and the ESA BASS team on a revelatory journey of discovery… 

The 17 Global Goals are also known as the Sustainable Development Goals or ‘SDGs’. They provide a complete framework that aims to transform our world by tackling multiple challenges humankind currently faces. They aim to ensure well-being, economic prosperity and environmental protection by 2030 through sustainable development world-wide. 

 “While the framework is thorough and it’s clear that any sustainability impact is the result of small steps, I have always found it difficult to quantify the relevant impact that our 1,700-strong network of companies deliver through the ESA BASS projects and studies,” says Elia.

First stop: Networking and Nobel laureates

In his quest to capture the ephemeral SDG impact on any of the prescribed indicators, Elia plugged into his network in the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. The search bore fruit when he came across some prominent work by economist and Nobel neo-laureate, Professor Esther Duflo, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), notably her book entitled Poors Economics

Professor Duflo promotes ‘impact over ideology’ meaning that policy makers must understand the impact of a policy decision through simple experimental evidence.

The basic data and some simple statistics rapidly revealed that ESA BASS activities currently account for about two thirds of all ESA activities – with at least one SDG nomination reported on the ESA SDG portal, despite ESA BASS representing less than 1% of the total ESA budget.Elia Montanari,  Downstream Business Applications

Sustainability is the Holy Grail 

Further cross-data analysis identified 45 activities capable of delivering the holy grail of any business with purpose: business that is economically viable and sustainable in terms of one or more SDGs. 

It then became clear that Space can be a superpower to deliver sustainable business for the benefit of all,” said Elia.

This compelled him to venture further into the very source of the SDGs: “The epochal encounter happened in New York during the UN General Assembly in September 2019 but metaphorically very close to home,” he recounts. “A fellow Italian and from my home city of Ravenna –   Leonardo (Chief Operating Officer of Studiomapp) and I met in New York. This was the first time a representative of ESA and one of its companies were present at UN General Assembly side meetings.”

Angela Corbari and Leonardo Alberto Dal Zovo from Studiomapp (part of ESA BIC Lazio)Founded by Angela Corbari and Leonardo Alberto Dal Zovo in 2015, Studiomapp was created with the mission of leveraging space data and assets to help address the SDGs of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Angela and Leonardo opened my eyes by showing how artificial intelligence and satellite imagery can be used to provide solutions for addressing impact in SDG9 (innovation), SDG11 (smart cities) and SDG14 (life in water)

Ultimately it’s a machine employed for the good of all of us, using satellite images to find information on territory and the environment on a global scale.

It’s as a result of the work of Professor Duflo that Elia and his team are now engaging in further and deeper analysis about the impact of Space on the SDG indicators. In her MIT classes on the Foundations of Development Policy, Duflo teaches that the link of causality between a few basic but fundamental questions can be tested via thought experiments also known as randomised controlled trials.

It is also thanks to the achievements and excellence of companies like StudioMapp which are part of our ecosystem that Elia and his team will be able to quantitatively derive impact from these experiments.

The journey to deliver sustainable good through the power of Space has only just begun, so please get in touch if you want to hop on board!


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ESA Business Applications Final Presentation Day

The ESA Business Applications Final Presentation day took place this month at the DLR’s Headquarters in Germany, showcasing activities that have achieved outstanding results in the areas of energy, maritime and communications.

 Industry participants present their final presentations at the DLR's Headquarters

The event was opened by Dr. Gerd Kraft (DLR Director) who introduced the role of DLR as a German research and development organisation, major contributor to the European space programmes (e.g. EO, SatNav, SatCom), and promoter of innovation through a number of initiatives in several domains (e.g. artificial intelligence, competition INNOspace Masters, the initiative SpaceMoves, networks Space2Motion, Space2Agriculture and Space2Health).

Dr. Rita Rinaldo, Head of Institutional Projects for Downstream Business Applications at ESA, presented the scope and objectives of the ESA Business Applications and Space Solutions programme (BASS) and introduced upcoming initiatives and future tenders. Among these, the Kick-Start scheme was highlighted as a successful instrument attracting SMEs and new entrants to ESA, supported by DLR.

All participants expressed positive feedback in relation to the event and interest in repeating it in 2020.

The seven teams presented their projects and engaged in inspiring discussions.   With an efficient use of innovative technologies (e.g. artificial intelligence, High Altitude PseudoSatellite, machine learning, concentrated solar power systems, microgrids), they have all provided valuable service propositions along specific business verticals, such as communication in deep sea, smart fishing, services for electrification in developing countries, communication for off-shore, snow forecast dynamics and hydropower assessment.

Anke Freimuth, Coordinator for ESA Business Applications of DLR, said: “Thanks to this event we were able to show a number of interesting projects addressing a very diverse range of topics at a different stages of maturity, such as Kick-Start-activities, feasibility studies and demonstration projects”.

The day gave us the possibility to show the multiple possibilities within the German Space Agency offered by the ESA Business Applications programme and how we can give newcomers the possibility to get in contact with the Agency and its different directorates,” she added.

Dr. Rita Rinaldo said: “The event showed how the investment made by ESA and DLR in the projects gave a high return in terms of socio-economic impact, with companies being able to reach the market and commercialise the services developed from what had been at the beginning just an initial idea."

We are proud that ESA has helped them reach that stage and we look forward in the future to a higher number of companies through schemes like kick-start, through dedicated initiatives to be undertaken together with users/stakeholders operating in specific sectors and through the BASS network”.


Industry presenting:

COLDSUN “Communication reLay for Deep-Sea for Deep-Sea Underwater Networks” by D3TN

GLAUCUS “Smart Fishing and Route Planning System”  by Deep Blue Globe

VIDA “Village Data Analytics” by TFE Energy

“Service enabled by HAPS” by Unisphere

COM4Offshore “Interactive communication and monitoring system for offshore wind energy ” by OHB

SnowSense “Integrated Service for Runoff and Hydropower Assessment and Forecast related to Snow Cover Dynamics in Remote Areas”  by VISTA

CSP-FoSYS “Concentrating Solar Power Forecast System for Participation in the Spanish Electricity Market using EO and Communication Technologies” by TSK FLAGSOL ENGINEERING GMBH 


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Portuguese Space Solutions celebrates their 5th anniversary at the 1st joint ESA Business Applications and ESA Space Solutions meeting

During the first three days of October, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) team of Business Applications and Space Solutions (ESA BASS) had their first joint meeting, in Coimbra, Portugal, gathering its network of partners. This event was also the perfect opportunity to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the Portuguese Space Solutions Centre.

ESA Business Applications and ESA Space Solutions network: “The power in Europe is that we work together”. Image credit:Luís Carregã


Inaugurated in late 2014, Instituto Pedro Nunes (IPN) was the first European Space Solutions Centre to host within the same entity and team the three ESA elements promoting downstream businesses: ESA Business Incubation Centre, ESA Technology Transfer Brokers, and ESA Business Applications Ambassadors.  The aim was to foster synergies between programmes and initiatives, and IPN has been a case study of how these tools can better foster national economies by the use of space technologies and satellite data.

In the past years, the results of combined efforts have been positive:

  • 30 incubated companies which allowed the creation of approximately 100 new jobs, with a total turnover of around 5 million euros and an export capacity of over 75%.
  • More than 30 space technologies identified with potential to be commercialized in non-space markets.
  • 16 ESA Business Applications small feasibility projects directly supported to create new products and services in terrestrial markets with an investment of 2.5 million euros.

“The entrepreneurship new space ecosystem is there, alive and kicking”, said Carlos Cerqueira, Head of the ESA Space Solutions Portugal, and “ESA Space Solutions Portugal was the spark that boosted it and made it a truly vibrant community”. 

Representatives of 20 ESA Member States gathered in Coimbra to foster businesses powered by space. Image credit:Luís Carregã


During three days, representatives of 20 ESA Member States, from ESA BIC managers, Technology Transfer Brokers and Ambassadors, as well as ESA staff gathered in the Portuguese student’s city of Coimbra to discuss the future of the network, share experiences, learn with each other as well as to identify the key success factors to foster downstream businesses, and align future join efforts. 

In the words of Frank Salzgeber, Head of Innovation and Ventures Office at ESA: “The power in Europe is that we work together. We have different nationalities, different ideas and different skills in our network, and by working together we know are more powerful.”

The programme included plenary sessions to the overall network; ideas exchange; hands-on collaborative workshops to discuss the future challenges of the network; sessions on ESA patent portfolio and available funding tools, optional programmes that could be of benefit for the Member States economic development; and parallel sessions to each profile expert (ESA BICs, Brokers and Ambassadors). Ultimately, all agreed that the newly joint teams have the power to promote key activities in 20 ESA Member States fostering innovation, entrepreneurship and new scalable downstream businesses. 

“In this room you could find the key experts from almost all Member States to support your business, within the plethora of ESA funding opportunities” said Nick Appleyard, the Head of ESA Downstream Business Applications.


The network shared hands-on collaborative workshops fostering new space businesses. Image credit:Luís Carregã


Beyond the joint meeting the event also brought industry and space tech providers / brokers together to discuss and match the needs presented by companies such as Ansell Portugal, Eletrolux, Martifer Renováveis, The Navigator Company, Prio Energy, Sellafiel, Sonae Inovação, Valeo and the Portuguese Centro Region Intermunicipal Community. This session provided the network more than 45 potential space to non-space tech transfer opportunities. 


Celebration of the 5th anniversary of the Portuguese Space Solutions Centre. Image credit:Luís Carregã


IPN also celebrated its own achievements and milestones of the past 5. New incubates were presented to the network, as well as national projects funded through the Small Business Applications Portuguese call and also success cases of technology developments from space down to Earth. The celebration was completed with an ESA BIC Portugal alumni graduation ceremony.

Overwhelmingly the feeling of the event was the importance of the joint efforts and complementary skills that will help to solve the network challenges in the near future.  


Author:  ESA Space Solutions Centre Portugal

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Protecting Polish forests from fire hotspots

A column of smoke in a National Park forest can cause chaos. During the dry season and when visitor numbers are high, a stray spark from a cigarette end or a campfire can spell the end of a holiday for tourists, closing areas of the park and even triggering the evacuation of a local town. 

SmallGIS’ sensing system localises and track forest fires remotely, allowing for faster and more effective fire-response planning.  Image credit: Shutterstock

Polish company and expert in geoinformatics, SmallGIS, are trialling what is locally a trailblazing solution developed under ESA’s Business Applications programme, using space data to spot and fight fires more effectively.

Known as the ‘Green Lungs of Warsaw’ Kampinoski National Park at 385.44 square kilometres is second largest park in Poland located on the outskirts of Warsaw and has the UNESCO status of a biosphere reserve owing to its valuable and unique ecosystem.  The park covers and protects the ancient Kampinos Forest which is strictly protected. The park has 1230 km tourist paths with 1 million visitors annually. Image credit: Shutterstock

In Poland, where national parks form a special fire danger zone, the Krakow-based company have rolled out a remote sensing system to support fire management activities. 

The Remote Sensing Fire Protection System integrates satellite technology with an airplane platform that uses thermal and optical sensors combined with GNSS.  The service grew out of a Geographic Information System Mapping (GIS) method which SmallGIS developed in the first instance to improve the management of timber logging operations – TIKKA Service.  

Now the state-of-the-art service has been adapted to help identify fire hotspots in Polish National Parks – namely the Kampinoski National Park where it is being piloted.

Due to the huge influence of human activities the park is affected by many unpredictable fires. 

“Local fire management teams now have vital support in real time from the remote sensing data service,” explains Piera di Vito, Applications Engineer at ESA. “The service generates VHR (Very High Resolution) Earth Observation imagery for the specified search area. A GNSS positioning system is used to assign the coordinates of the images registered by the sensors so that fire hot spots can be rapidly identified and their geolocation transferred to the mobile devices of the field team.” 

Mapping and tracking fires in real time

Highly detailed topographic and vegetation maps generated by data processing outputs from the plane sensors give vital clues for fire route planning. The maps, when overlaid with other map data give critical information such as fuel density, spatial distribution and fuel gaps – key factors involved in fire management decisions. Fire fighters have a better picture of how fast the fire will spread, where there are breaks in the path of the fire, such as treecanopies or corridors which could limit – or hasten the spread of the blaze. 

Airplane with multisensors. Image credit: SmallGIS

“Fire managers can make faster and more accurate decisions. It also makes firefighting work safer, reduces fire and smoke damage to the park and its users as well as reducing the time and cost of firefighting,” Bartosz Kulawik, Market Development Director, SmallGIS    

“The data processing on board during operational fly actions was the most important technical aspect of this project,” says Bartosz Kulawik. “The most critical part was building the data link as this solution had to be very fast at transmitting large quantities of data in order to allow early detection and maintain a current situational picture”.

The demonstration phase has been so successful that the commercialisation of the service in the National Park is now underway. 



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ESA to partner with AXA to harness the provision of seamless and sustainable healthcare

View of Earth's atmosphere from space - Image credit: AXA

On October 14th, 2019, ESA and AXA signed a Memorandum of Intent to work together for better Healthcare in Africa.

Too many people in emerging countries are unable to obtain affordable access to healthcare due to a lack of social security, while huge gaps in coverage exist that are not being met by public services or private insurance. To help tackle this issue, ESA is joining forces with AXA in a partnership that will enable ESA’s cutting-edge expertise in satellite technology, data management, artificial intelligence and digitization to be harnessed for the provision of seamless and sustainable healthcare.

The partners are exploring how to leverage ESA’s satellite technology to provide remote areas with Internet coverage, as well as back up for urban areas to ensure the sustainability of our service. ESA and AXA aim to use digital services and technologies that don’t even exist yet in western markets, such as medication delivery to homes, teleconsultations, the concept of health coaches, and more. The technologies could leverage much more reliable and affordable healthcare, at costs that would have been unimaginable just 10 or 20 years ago. So the benefits to millions of African customers are threefold: accessibility, affordability and quality.

The partnership will start in Egypt, but any service developed for one market can be developed for anywhere else. 

Hassan El Shabrawishi, CEO of AXA One Health expressed, “We signed our memorandum of intent between AXA and ESA, which is our first step. This memorandum is intentionally very broad because there are so many projects and technologies that ESA is willing to share with us”.

Nick Appleyard from ESA Business Applications and Space Solution said, “Healthcare in Africa is a good example of one of the common interests between ESA and AXA. The problems of infrastructure and access to health services can be greatly reduced by using satellite technology – and satellite services are available around the globe”.

AXA’s overall strategy of promoting healthcare in emerging countries.

Forming partnerships with public and private actors is at the core of AXA’s strategy. The Group is very keen to work closely with multilateral organizations on key topics, including health. AXA One Health initiative bases itself on the payer-to-partner principle, but doing so requires the support of an ecosystem of private, public and multilateral organizations, to achieve this aim of making healthcare more accessible for millions.

Benoit Claveranne, CEO AXA International and New Markets, commented, “Health systems in emerging markets are at a crossroads. As insurers, we have a role to play in expanding access to care and filling the gap when needed. We must adapt to these changes and provide health solutions that are relevant to local needs.”

The MOI will open the prospects of engaging into concrete projects within our respective programmes, to engage in the development of novel and sustainable services in emerging countries.


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Snow Patrol: Space assets supply missing info for snow monitoring

SnowSense provides critical input missing from snow monitoring until now. The service gives precise information about the water that is stored in the ground snow cover, such as in the mountains, northern countries or in polar regions.  (Image credit: Shutterstock)Information about the water contained in snow and its properties is of vital importance to multiple sectors. Whether for hydropower, for flood and avalanche warnings, or for general water resource management – this information holds the key to some fairly critical forecasting. Now a new service is taking the snow community by storm…

SnowSense is a Snow and Runoff Information Service created by Munich-based  VISTA Remote Sensing in Geosciences GmbH, with the support of ESA’s Business Applications Programme.

SnowSense snow station at the Millertown Dam, in the centre of Newfoundland, during moderate snow cover status  (Image credit: ANavS)

The solution, initially designed to help hydrologists working in remote and seasonally inaccessible areas with limited infrastructure or communication, integrates three space assets: Earth Observation, Global Navigation Systems and Satellite Communication.

“With SnowSense all three space components demonstrate their excellent potential for solving specific users’ needs for snow monitoring.” Olivier Becu, ESA 

SnowSense provides information on snow cover and the resulting hydrological dynamics, such as snow melt and run-off formation – dynamics which are extremely useful for those in charge of the reliable and safe production of hydropower and flood management. 

“Snow represents both risk and potential;  we are dealing with climate change and flooding…but snow is also energy, irrigation and food security. This the most important topic we’re working on.” Florian Appel, Head of Hydrological Services, VISTA

Snow is traditionally measured in terms of height, but this is of limited use to hydrologists as fresh snow is very light and over time it becomes compressed. The usefulinformation is what’s inside the snow cover and ultimately what will melt at the end of the season.

“The water stored in snow cover is known as the Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) and it’s the most relevant parameter,” explains Amir Ali Khan, Manager at the Water Resources Management Division of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, where the SnowSense demonstration took place. “The SWE is currently only measurable by using costly automatic stations or getting out in the field with snow mobiles or helicopters. In remote areas we often simply cannot obtain this information.” 

SnowSense fills a gap in current services by providing spatial and temporal data in high resolution through the application of Earth Observation and modelling. This allows for the creation of spatial SWE maps of regions as well as giving run-off information at specific points of interest for real-time purposes and forecasts.Left: User Ali Khan (Water Resources Management Division) and Florian Appel (VISTA) after installation of the first SnowSense station in St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador. Right: Snow station near the Bay d’Espoir Hydro.  (Image credits: VISTA)

“One of the key elements in this project is the use of a novel in-situ hardware component,” says Olivier Becu. “Based on GNSS signals, snow properties can be retrieved by an autonomous, easy installable, maintenance-free and low-cost design sensor.”

The utility of the service spans many more fields than hydrology with a broad appeal for governmental and research institutes/universities (weather services, snow physics, avalanches) as well as private and commercial applications.  There are also possible applications in areas such as logistics, transport and insurance. 

“User needs and requirements may differ from the standard SnowSense service, but a synergistic use of the in-situ hardware and the service we’ve developed would be possible,” says Florian Appel, Head of Hydrological Services at VISTA. 

Users and customers for SnowSense are primarily located in North America and Scandinavia, but also in all countries with significant snow cover and dynamics (more than 40 worldwide). 

 “Under ESA’s Business Applications programme we have carried out successful demonstrations, patented the technology and installed hardware on the island of Newfoundland and in Quebec, with snow stations now operational in Germany and Switzerland. There is widespread interest for this service among the snow community – in fact we had sales and contracts established before the end of the project,” adds Appel.

With the first devices now sold in Europe and orders from key customers on the way, VISTA are now having discussions to establish a development partnership for the next-generation SnowSense Sensors. 



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Workshop on Space-Enabled Applications for the Mining Sector

A workshop on challenges in the mining sector and the potential of space technologies to address them will be held at ECSAT, on the Harwell campus on 28th November 2019 in collaboration with the Satellite Applications Catapult and United Nations Crime Institute (UNICRI).

Mining satellite. Image credit: ESA / Satellite Applications Catapult

The mining sector is pivotal to the world’s economy and recent infrastructure-driven growth in Asia has stimulated a significant increase in demand for commodities like iron ore, copper and coal (PWC, 2018).  Satellite technology can add value to the four major types of mining operations: surface, underground, dredge, and artisanal and small-scale (ASM). It can help to protect miners working in characteristically hazardous environments and to prevent risky illegal mining activities. Mining can have a severely adverse impact on the environment, leading to loss of biodiversity, erosion, and the contamination of surface water, ground water, and soil. Satellite technology can help mining companies, who face increasing pressures to report on indicators like water use and greenhouse gas emissions, to prove that they are undertaking activities to minimise environmental damage. 

Key areas of interest include:

  • Exploration: The search for new mineral resources relies on sophisticated exploration techniques. Satellites, drones and aircraft-based systems can help with the initial discovery of ores to mine.
  • Construction & Operation: Emerging technologies are expected to significantly impact methods of mineral recovery, processing, and transportation.  
  • Closure & Rehabilitation: Once a mining site closes, rehabilitation of the land and watercourses begins. Mines may require long-term treatment and remediation monitoring.
  • Commodity trading: To assess which commodities to invest and divest in, shareholders and investors must consistently monitor the mining sector and other external factors closely.
  • Illegal mining: Illegal mining can belong to large-scale organised crime or it can be a subsistence activity. The unregulated and illicit nature of the work has led to violence, corruption, and turf warfare. Satellite technology can help to prevent these problems.
  • Safety of mining workers: Mining is risky and hazardous. Accidents occur and workers can suffer from fatigue and injury. Technological advancements can help to improve the safety of workers.
  • Space Resources: the Moon, other planets and asteroids contain several different minerals and gases that could be used to provide raw material and resources to sustain human life. 

The day will include:

  • Networking opportunities.
  • Creation of a Mining Community, which will draw together the mining industry and innovators developing solutions using space.
  • Case studies and opportunities relating to the mining supply chain, illicit mining activities, and mining operations.
  • Showcases of space-enabled projects and Feasibility Studies.

Attendance is free of charge and open only to residents in the ESA Member States.

Registration is available here

Agenda of the workshop will follow soon. 


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European Space Agency – Torino Municipality Memorandum of Intent

The city of Torino and the European Space Agency (ESA) have signed a Memorandum of Intent (MOI) with the aim to support the development of services for smart cities, based on the utilisation of space assets such as GNSS, Earth Observation and Satellite communication, integrated with 5G networks.  

Following the MOIs already signed by ESA with Roma Capitale (the city of Rome) and the city of L’Aquila, Abruzzo Region and the University of L’ Aquila, the Memorandum signed with Torino municipality enriches an initiative, which is unique in its kind. The local authorities will provide requirements and needs for the development of the serviceswith a focus on four domains: law enforcement and emergency response, intelligent transport, cultural heritage and structural health monitoring. The local authorities will also provide links to their partners in the telecommunications sector and access to infrastructure or other assets to support the resulting studies and projects, which must in turn deliver innovation and socio-economic benefits for the local communities. 

The purpose of the Torino administration is to foster the development of innovative and high social impact applications in the urban context, while at the same time creating new opportunities for citizens and industry and establishing relations with international organisations and research centres. 

In the frame of the present cooperation, the Torino municipality will make available their own competencies as well as assets from the “Torino City Lab” project. Torino is keen to host experimentations and development of new solutions involving the existing aerospace ecosystem and new industrial actors. 

Companies based in ESA member states will be invited to develop application solutions based on the integration of space assets and 5G to meet the needs and requirements of user communities in one of the most ancient cities in the world. The municipality needs in domains such as law enforcement and emergency response and cultural heritage will be the driver for the development and demonstration of space and 5G based services which present a strong potential to become commercially viable in the short term.

“The Torino ecosystem, which has always been a leader in the innovation sector as well its expertise and know-how, is growing. The purpose of the present collaboration is to promote and to support the aerospace industry domain where Torino has always excelled. Torino is an ideal environment where new services based on the utilisation of space technologies can be created, developed and tested. These services can have not only an economic but also a social impact for the city. It is expected that such innovative experimentations will expand also at national level.” 

We have a unique opportunity to create new models of cities capable of seizing the opportunities that we recognize today, through the exploitation of latest-generation technologies", explains the Innovation Chancellor Marco Pironti. “The present collaboration fits and contributes to the vision we have for our city: each PA has the role to support their own ecosystem, strengthening it and helping it grow; establishing new cooperation and enhancing competencies from an economic, technological, social and ethic point of view.” 

“In the frame of the European Space Agency 5G initiative, we are enthusiastic that Torino has joined other smart cities/regions in Italy and Europe in an initiative that is placing them amongst the pioneers of space-based 5G services”, commented Rita Rinaldo, Head of Institutional Applications Projects in the ESA Business Applications Programme.

 “We are pleased to offer, thanks to the agreement signed with Torino, the opportunity to companies to implement pilots in the city. The projects will demonstrate the advantages which space technologies integrated with 5G can bring to citizens in domains such as security, cultural heritage and mobility”.  

The cooperation will be announced on 25th October in Torino, in the presence of the Italian Minister of Innovation Paola Pisano, Torino Mayor Chiara Appendino and ESA and ASI representatives. 


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DAMMINGS – keeping dams safe via satellite

There are almost 900,000 dams in the world – 58,000 of which are registered as large dams according to the International Commission of Large Dams (ICOLD)  Above: The Bhumibol Dam in Thailand. Photo: Shutterstock

Dams have been the source of some of the deadliest structural failures in history. They hold vast amounts of impounded water and are capable of suddenly unleashing tremendous destructive power, leading to massive loss of life and capital. This was tragically demonstrated in early 2019 when the Brumadinho dam in Brazil failed, killing 248 people.

Keeping dams structurally secure is paramount to the safety of local people and the economy. Now an ESA-backed consortium led by Telespazio VEGA UK and its partners, is bringing to the market an ultra-high accuracy solution for the Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) of dams.

Dams are often built in remote locations, making manual surveillance difficult and expensive: frequent monitoring to assure their structural integrity is not always feasible and may even be impossible due to weather conditions.

Dammings sensor. Photo: Telespazio VEGA UKDAMMINGS is a comprehensive satellite-based solution that responds to dam or reservoir hazards by delivering an accurate, reliable and cost-effective service, managed remotely. It combines different space-based solutions, which augment or replace conventional monitoring techniques (notably manual surveying) in favour of continuous and automated applications.

The service is composed of two innovative space technologies: GNSS 3D real time monitoring of a discrete number of points; and persistent scatterometer interferometry (PSI). The two are complementary and offer important advantages over traditional methods. The GNSS-based service gives real-time monitoring of motion at multiple selected critical points, while the PSI measures larger area ground movements at longer intervals e.g. of one or more months.

In detail, the GNSS-based service provides real-time measurements utilising low cost hardware and advanced processing to achieve its accuracy level, whilst also delivering alerts on motion above pre-defined thresholds.  The PSI solution allows monitoring over a broad region encompassing the reservoir surroundings, such that motion from neighbouring areas that could affect the reservoir can be assessed.


Monitor data can be made available in real time through a secure web portal, where graphics of the current situation as well as historical records are shown, including combination of PSI and 3D GNSS motion vectors. Photo: Telespazio VEGA UK

Davide Coppola, Technical Officer of the project at ESA says: “DAMMINGS brings strong benefits to customers, including the ability to flag dam monitoring issues early, increasing operational efficiency and saving customers’ money. The system also includes rapid alerting in emergency situations and where there is anomalous movement detection.”

Geraint Cooksley, Head of Geo Information at Telespazio says: “These systems are invaluable to those who operate dams or are responsible for their inspection and maintenance, as they lead to improved situational awareness that can help customers to understand and maintain the health of their infrastructure. DAMMINGS has a huge market potential: approximately 40,000 dams would be suitable for monitoring with our solution.”

Commercial roll-out is now underway, with initial sales of the developed services branded as “SUMMIT-SHM”.  This year has seen the installation of sensors on-site in Peru, with further commercial installations expected over the next three years.

“ESA was extremely helpful in supporting the development of the two space services. This support has allowed us to understand, engage with, and demonstrate the value of our services to large dam owners and operators, and has helped us to take a product to market for which there is a high demand.” Geraint Cooksley, Telespazio

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Summer School: The new Space Camp

The UK Space Agency and ESA Business Applications teams organised the Summer School with support from the Satellite Applications Catapult.

UKSA Summer School at the ESA ECSAT conference centre

In August 2019 a 3-day summer school was set up for aspiring entrepreneurs with the ESA ECSAT conference centre turned into a space lab and accelerated learning zone aimed at getting more young people on a Space trajectory.

Space is one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK – it’s estimated an eye-popping 30,000 new career opportunities could be created by 2030. 

The Summer School was a follow-on pilot from the SatelLife competition, run by the UK Space Agency. (Now in its third year, the competition encourages young people to think about how satellites affect our everyday lives and learn more about the careers available in the sector.) 

Participating in the competition has led to job offers, extra funding and even support to build prototypes.

Winners from the previous three years, aged between 11 and 22, were invited to take part in the SatelLife Summer School programme.  

This could be you!

During the 3-day event, held at ECSAT, winners learned about the spectrum of career opportunities in the space sector. They were given insider info on funding opportunities in the sector and on how to build a business. Lectures on intellectual property and CV workshops were neatly interspliced with elevator pitches and some yoga to keep the space-life balance and the energy flowing. Code club sessions (Raspberry Pi anyone?) and confidence in public speaking were also on the fast-paced agenda, which of course could not have concluded without bit of role-play. 

Space recruits/summer school students now fully versed in the art of pitching, took these newfound skills across campus for a bit of networking as they visited some of the facilities on the Harwell Space Campus, such as Oxford Space Systems.  

“Over the last few days we have been working with a fantastic bunch of young people who have great ideas. UKSA and ESA understand the huge potential of the commercial opportunities of satellite applications – we hope we’ve equipped Summer School students with the skills to be the innovators and entrepreneurs of the future.” Emily Gravestock, Head of Applications Strategy, UK Space Agency.

"To succeed as an entrepreneur you need more than just an idea. You need the energy and the personal skills to carry it through. These young people have it all, so we can't wait to see them in the headlines in the years to come" Nick Appleyard, Head of Business Applications at European Space Agency

The UK Space Agency and ESA would like to thank the following for their support: Chris Hobbs, Emma Haskett, Gemma Wilson and Ilias Pattas from the Satellite Applications Catapult, Adam Brocklehurst from K2IP, Belinda Elliot from Bluestream Recruitment, Rohima Crook from CodeClub, Stuart Morrison from Mistermetric, James Brayshaw of Planet and Armando Rojas Gómez from Oxford Space Systems. 


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