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Big Data from Space

21 November 2014

Climate Change, crisis information, digital humanitarians, disaster resilience, earthquake precursor, flood detection, forest monitoring, and green-house gases are just some of the themes where Big Data from Space plays a fundamental role and will change the way in which these themes are addressed. This emerges from the recent 2014 Conference on Big Data from Space, co-organised by ESA, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission, and the European Union Satellite Centre.

Big Data from Space refers to Earth and space observation data collected by space-borne and ground-based sensors. Whether for Earth or space observation, they qualify as being called 'big data' given the sheer volume of sensed data, now reaching the Exabyte scale. This is not the only qualifying measure however; there is also the velocity as new data is acquired almost on a continuous basis and with an increasing rate, their variety, delivered by sensors acting over various frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum in passive and active modes, as well as their veracity as sensed data is associated with uncertainty and accuracy measurements. Last but not least, the value of big data from space depends on our capacity to extract information and meaning from them.

Statement from Pierre Soille, JRC (pictured):

Pierre Soille"Big Data from Space is an emerging domain given the recent sharp increase in all three main dimensions of big data: volume, velocity, and variety. Fortunately, this increase is paralleled by tremendous amount of new developments related to big data in other fields and enabled by technological breakthroughs and new challenges in hardware and software developments, multi-temporal data analysis, data management and information extraction technologies. In addition, the recent multiplication of open access initiatives to big data from space is giving momentum to the field by widening substantially the spectrum of users as well as awareness among the public while offering new opportunities for scientists and value-added companies.

This is especially true for Earth Observation (EO) data with the public release of the complete archive of Landsat data by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and at an even larger scale, the ambitious and unique European Union Copernicus programme whose Sentinel missions operated by the European Space Agency will deliver free and open access to global data in the microwave and optical/infrared ranges. The first one, Sentinel-1A, has been launched on the 3rd of April 2014 and is already delivering high resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) global data every 12 days at a daily rate of 2.5 TB."

The Big Data from Space conference (BiDS), which took place from 12 to 14 November at ESA's ESRIN facility in Frascati, Italy, brought together researchers, engineers, developers, and users in the area of Big Data in the space sector. The focus was on the whole data life cycle, ranging from data acquisition by space borne and ground-based sensors to data management, analysis and exploitation in the domains of Earth Observation, Space Science and Astronomy, Climate Change, etc. Special emphasis was placed on highlighting synergies and cross fertilisation opportunities.

The main objectives of BiDS'14 were to:

  • contribute towards the identification of the priorities for a 'Big Data from Space' research, technology development and innovation agenda
  • widen competences and expertise of universities, research institutes, labs, SMEs, and industrial actors
  • foster networking of experts and users towards better access and sharing of data, tools, and resources
  • leverage innovation, spin in/off of technologies, and business development arising from research and industry progress

Statement from P.G. Marchetti, ESA:

"The Conference provided a snapshot of the current research activities, developments, and initiatives in Big Data from Space and concluded with recommendations to ESA.

Numerous contributions are addressing the volume dimension of big data from space, with emphasis on architectures and platforms as well mainstream technology and hardware developments including graphic processing units. The velocity dimension is driving substantial research and developments for the analysis of time series. The variety dimension transpires across most contributions where the data coming from different sensors or even non-sensor data are integrated and exploited. Numerous application domains are represented with emphasis on geospatial information extraction, climate science, and astronomy. In addition, the need to scale-up SAR data access, research and service support, and processing for the Sentinel-1 satellites is recognised by a session on SAR processing.

The Conference also highlighted new and emerging areas as well as areas requiring special attention to exploit the full spectrum of big data from space so as to foster the generation of new and reliable meaningful information for the benefit of users and service developers, increasing the opportunities for science and business."