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Introducing the Earth Observation Principal Investigators Team

09 Nov 2023

Third Party Missions (TPMs) are Earth Observation (EO) missions that are owned or operated by other agencies. ESA has an agreement with these third parties to distribute data products from their missions to scientific users, or for services in pre-operational phases. 

ESA’s TPM arrangement has been operating for over 45 years, providing EO data to users in Europe and worldwide for research and pre-operational applications development, and includes over 60 instruments on more than 50 missions.

To facilitate Principal Investigators applying for ESA and ESA TPMs data and ESA Announcement of Opportunities, the agency created the Earth Observation Principal Investigators (EOPI) team, meaning that in order to help develop the user community, Principal Investigators (PIs) lead teams of scientists that study how best to use all these data, in various applications that could be of good use – from agriculture, climate and sea studies, to desertification and more.

These PIs are the pioneers of the operational applications that we see today in many EO-based services worldwide.  

The EOPI reviewers make-up the team that continues to review all Announcement of Opportunities and Proposals, which are submitted to ESA.

Meet Raffaele Rigoli

Raffaele Rigoli, from the SERCO group, is the Coordinator and Head of the Earth Observation Principal Investigators team.

Born in 1975 in Reggio Calabria, Raffaele holds a Master’s degree in Electronic Engineering from the Mediterranea University of Reggio Calabria. 

He started working in ESA in 2004, providing support on Earth Explorers and Envisat’s mission products catalogues, and to ESA’s Satellite products ordering and user-service systems.

In 2009, he joined the SERCO team supporting the Directorate of Earth Observation Programmes in the Science, Applications & Climate Department (EOP-S), also undertaking the responsibility of the EOPI tasks.

Profile of Raffaele

ESA: How did your studies shape your job choices?

Raffaele:  Already during my studies, I dealt with subjects such as remote sensing and signal theory with great interest, particularly when we explored the study of SAR (synthetic Aperture Radar) sensors. After my graduation, I continued to further delve into these topics, taking a Master’s in Telecommunications and Earth Observation, and so I was very happy when I was offered an internship at ESA, which allowed me to start my sought-after “space” career.

ESA: What does your role as scientific reviewer of TPM proposals entail? 

Raffaele: The scientific evaluation of project proposals for satellite data of TPMs and for ESA Announcement of Opportunities is one of the tasks of my job, which I carry out with great enthusiasm for ESA’s EOP-S department, in support of ESA EOP-G. 
This involves the careful reading of all received proposals. To do this, I continue studying to keep myself updated on the most important techniques and applications for satellite data exploitation. 

ESA: What are the challenges and successes of such a role, and what do you enjoy most?

Raffaele: Every day we receive project proposals from users all over the world, and I am the first to give an evaluation from a scientific point of view—this makes me proud on one hand, but also makes me feel very responsible to try to do my job in the best possible way. This in order to help PIs of the scientific community obtain the great advantages of ESA programmes and have access to the data they need and use them in the most correct and efficient way. 
Sometimes we receive in just a brief time, a big number of project proposals and it becomes challenging to give everyone an outcome in a short time. We really want for our evaluation to be an added value for PIs. 
As a further task, I also follow the progress and final reports of the projects and I am very pleased when, for example, our PIs obtain excellent results with the data provided and perhaps publish their results in scientific journals of high impact.

ESA: Any last thought on your overall experience?

Raffaele: I really enjoy this role and even if it can be quite stressful at times, it is always interesting and stimulating to see how the scientific community exploits satellite data, and different and innovative ideas and approaches, which often drive to excellent scientific results. 
What I most like and is really important for my job is the relationship and collaboration that I have with my direct colleagues and with those involved in all other tasks that I do for ESA. 
In particular, for EOPI tasks, I am very glad and enthusiastic to have Fabrizio on my team. I believe that our complementary roles intertwine perfectly, and he is always ready to brilliantly transform our ideas into new tools and technological solutions, which improve the way we work. 

In general, I am also proud to work for Serco within ESA in such a stimulating and vast international environment, and to give with my commitment and effort my small contribution every day.

Meet Fabrizio Pera

Fabrizio Pera is the IT support manager and developer of ESA’s Project Evaluation Support System (PESS). Born in 1992, Fabrizio already has more than ten years’ experience in the development of web applications and IT solutions, acquired with various work experiences gained in the IT field, and is today a point of reference for the entire SERCO team that works in support of EOP-S.

He started working for ESA in 2016, joining the Serco team in support of the Directorate of Earth Observation Programmes in the Science, Applications & Climate Department (EOP-S), while also being directly responsible for the development and IT security of tools for the EOPI team.

Profile of Fabrizio

ESA: What does your role entail? 

Fabrizio: My role mainly involves developing and maintaining web applications and IT tools in response to ESA requests, and evaluate, in collaboration with my colleagues, the best solutions to make our work increasingly efficient and of good quality.

ESA: What are the challenges and successes involved in your job tasks? 

Fabrizio: The challenge is to handle incoming requests for new IT or web application tools in due time, , while the reward is managing to develop new concepts and ideas to make them operational and available to ESA and our team’s colleagues.

ESA: What do you most enjoy about this role?

Fabrizio: I am pleased when I see that my hard work turns into something useful, which helps my colleagues work better and meets ESA's requests. I like working with my team in designing and developing new ideas and solutions, for example with the EOPI-PESS tool (which is only accessible to the scientific committee members evaluating proposals for ESA TPMs and AOs, and enables the scientific and feasibility review of all proposals), and consulting with my colleagues, which is always productive and stimulating.