ESA title


  • ACTIVITYFeasibility Study
  • STATUSCompleted
  • THEMATIC AREASafety & Security, Education & Training

Objectives of the service

In 2010, 263 million people were affected by disasters–110 million more than in 2004, the year of the Tsunami. By 2015, climate-related disasters, such as floods, famines and droughts, are predicted to affect an average of over 375 million people every year. Other disasters(such as earthquakes), and man-made conflicts, will affect many more (UK Humanitarian Emergency Response Review, 2011)

Climate change is leading to a rapid increase in both the frequency and intensity of natural disasters. At the same time phenomenal growth in world population and rapid mass urbanisation is placing pressure on natural resources and infrastructure. Protracted and widespread poverty and development inequality, as well as competition for resources, is driving increases in conflict and forced displacement. Effective responses can help mitigate the effects of man-made and natural disasters. 

Satellite systems provide a secure, resilient, always-on infrastructure crucial for dealing with such emergency situations. In particular satellite communications play a key role when terrestrial networks are unavailable. However, in many cases the fragmented nature of both demand and supply results in high costs, problems of interoperability, and inadequate quality of service. Major emergencies often expose a shortfall in available capacity. 

The SatResponse study investigated how new technical, commercial and operational models can be used to more effectively deliver satellite communications and other space-based application services  to Disaster Responders

Users and their needs

The target users for this study are European and International Disaster Responders. This includes: 

  • UN Agencies
  • International Organisations
  • NGOs
  • Civil Protection Authorities

SatResponse has undertaken a detailed analysis of the problems facing humanitarian responders using satellite services, focusing on operational and financial barriers to usage. 

The study engaged with disaster response organisations through a series interviews and workshops and performed a thorough survey of current satellite systems, their service provision models and the current market. 

A number of key priority challenges for disaster responders were identified: 

  • Procurement Support: Accessing the suitable best-value services in a complex market place is difficult. Purchasing advice, technical/regulatory support and expert brokering would improve the quality and value of delivered satcom terminals and capacity.
  • Demand Aggregation: For smaller organisations, a purchasing co-operative would improve buying power and allow access to the favourable Long Term Agreements that will enable service use.
  • Cost Control: Cost predictability and over-runs are big challenges associated with inappropriate or unknowing use of the satcom link. The problem is exacerbated by the proliferation of users and devices, and the growth in data intensive cloud services.
  • Improved Connectivity: Bandwidth guarantees, rapid deploy VSATs and higher data-rates would all be welcomed . The industry is innovating but disaster responders require better mechanisms for accessing new services at reasonable prices.
  • Improved Deployment: Rapid, assured access to services on a global basis is difficult given the variety of deployed systems. Industry support to access in-situ “pre-positioned” terminals and airtime would provide faster, cheaper and less disruptive access.
  • Enhanced Applications over Satcom: Some corporate enterprise services, cloud web-services and other specialist applications can experience performance issues when ran over satcom connections. Deploying value-added, satcom optimised applications would help field staff and communities.

Service/ system concept

SatResponse has used these findings to develop a vision and architecture for a future operational service for disaster responders. 

SatResponse concluded that an independent, multi-partner, not-for-profit entity would be the most credible service provider delivering services to approved disaster response organisations – who can in turn offer improved satcom enabled ICT services to their field workers, 3rd party humanitarian workers and affected communities. 

Services to subscribing organisations would be subsidised through consistent, transparent support from corporate and institutional donors in an agreed framework. The entity would be overseen by an independent management board of stakeholder and community representatives.

SatResponse would deliver two core sets of services: 

  • Expert Buyer Services: Offering individual brokering services, aggregated negotiations, specialist technical/regulatory advice and rapid access to available in-situ services. This would facilitate and subsidise connectivity offerings to humanitarians by industry – allowing better services to be accessed more cost effectively.
  • Gateway Services: Using a SatResponse gateway and lightweight field software to actively manage data traffic and prioritise specific approved applications. This would improve the use of available satellite capacity whilst allowing organisations to prioritise the needs of their field users and robustly manage their expenditure to allow vital services to continue to be delivered.

Space Added Value

Satellite systems by their very nature are indispensable in emergency situations. Their resilience, availability and independence of terrestrial infrastructure supplies crucial communication, reconnaissance and positioning services which would be otherwise impossible. 

SatResponse aims to work with satellite operators and their distribution partners to facilitate access to their services, manage pricing concerns and enable broader take up of satellite services. Importantly the entity would be open to all and managed to ensure that responders get effective access to the services they need. 

The increased utilisation of satellite communications by disaster responders by removing barriers is the key emphasis– which importantly is defined as an open technology and procurement platform available to the entire industry and user community. 

In addition a range of Earth Observation and Geo-located application services will be available via the SatResponse gateway – this will enable added value capabilities for responders such as enhanced situational awareness, rapid mapping and asset/personnel tracking. 

This activity draws inspiration from previous initiatives in the satellite Earth Observation domain. The International Charter on Space and Major Disasters ( was initiated by ESA in 2000, and is today a major international collaborative effort to provide satellite imagery in the event of a disaster. Similarly the European Commission funds the Copernicus Emergency Management Service ( to provide civil protection authorities and humanitarian aid agencies with disaster response mapping, derived from satellite imagery.

Current Status

The feasibility study has successfully completed. The analysis has shown that an economically viable, sustainable social enterprise can be set up which provides significant operational and commercial benefits in the procurement and managed delivery of satellite services for disaster responders. 

The team is currently building a demonstration project proposal to run a trial service in 2016-17. This would step-by-step establish a track record of value and encourage broad based support from humanitarians, institutions and industry. 

The consortium is working with stakeholders who have already expressed interest to determine the precise scope of a demonstration project, and is actively inviting expressions of interest from additional stakeholders. 

We believe it is not possible to reach the best solutions without support from the humanitarian community and satellite service industry. We look forward to working with you to help us take SatResponse forward.

Prime Contractor(s)


United Kingdom

Status Date

Updated: 06 August 2015