Climate change tracking from space: From mono to multi-mission design 


Earth observation satellites provide valuable information on greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, melting glaciers, and other indicators of climate change, allowing us to take proactive measures to combat its effects.

Over the past 50 years, remote sensing via satellites has revolutionized understanding of the Earth and provided vital scientific insight, e.g. into the impacts of climate change. Earth observation satellites play an important role in monitoring deforestation, rising sea levels, and greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. 

Around 1000 Earth-observation satellites are in orbit, providing scientists with the essential data needed to detect environmental changes on Earth. Domino-E’s lead partner Airbus has a legacy in building many of these satellites and transform geospatial data into actionable insights. The fleet of satellites measures key atmospheric constituents, land and sea topography, air quality, temperature, humidity, snow and ice coverage, and more. Geospatial data collected by these satellites provides scientists with a better understanding of the Earth’s system and its evolution. Up-to-date observations help governments and humanitarian agencies prepare for and manage disasters, and generate environmental impact assessments for large industries. 

From mono-mission to multi-mission design in Earth observation

The need for Earth observation data is growing, hence the number of observation requests increases. This implies a better and more efficient use of Earth observation resources. One approach to tackle this challenge is a technical development from mono-mission to multi-mission design in Earth observation. Domino-E is one component of this endeavor, supported by the European Union.

“If you want to observe a large area, you need to find a proper way to coordinate multiple assets in Space and on Earth”, explains Gauthier Picard, a researcher at Domino-E partner ONERA, the French Aerospace Lab. “You need to find a way to coordinate your requests for observations and your queries for communication windows. If you have a large area, you need to split it into smaller ones. Then you can use different missions and satellites to take the pictures you need.” This leads to a classical problem in the mono-mission design of Earth observation: “For instance, if you want to monitor forest fires in the south of France during summer, you split that large area into districts according to the satellite footprints on Earth, and depending on their orbits.” Mission operators have to book every single satellite operation and need to decide, which of the missions they can use for a particular observation request. When they want to cover a large area on Earth, it gets complicated, and that takes time and resources. 

See Gauthier Picard’s presentation on challenges in Earth observation.

Efficient combination of data

This is where the multi-mission design that Domino-E will allow comes into play: “What we want to do in Domino-E, is to split the large area into smaller ones and then to assign their observation to different missions.” The multi-mission federation layer will make accessible satellite data of many missions and allow to combine it. Within Domino-E, ONERA focuses on the mission booking and the communication booking services, while Latvian partner TILDE works on a virtual booking assistant. The combination of multi-mission federation layer, an adapted booking service, and a language based virtual assistant will allow end users of Earth observation data to send their requests to satellite mission operators much more easily than before. And the booking system should make it possible to efficiently combine data from several satellite missions. 

Gauthier Picard sees a clear and simple benefit for the users of Earth observation: “They will get their images sooner.”