The European Commission (EC) has launched an initiative to develop Copernicus Data and Information Access Services (DIAS) that facilitate access to Copernicus data and information from the Copernicus services. By providing data and information access alongside processing resources, tools and other relevant data, this initiative is expected to boost user uptake, stimulate innovation and the creation of new business models based on Earth Observation data and information.
In response to the requirements laid down by the EC and approved by Participating Countries, ESA has launched a call for services to establish the DIAS with the aim to deploy operational access platforms in early 2018. In parallel, EUMETSAT is building up a DIAS in a stepwise approach and aim at first functionalities to be available in the same timeframe.
Copernicus is a flagship space programme of the European Union. Through the Copernicus Services it offers full, free and open access to data, models and forecasts related to the monitoring of our environment. It also makes satellite data from the Sentinel constellation available on a free full and open basis. Copernicus is an operational programme that, beyond its benefits for the environment, also provides important contributions to emergency and security services in Europe. For obvious reasons, access to some of this information is restricted.
When all Sentinel satellites are operational (Sentinel-1A and 1B, Sentinel-2A, and Sentinel-3A are at the time of writing), they will deliver in excess of 10 petabytes of data each year. Information from the Copernicus services, derived from the Sentinels, other satellite data as well as information from the Copernicus in situ component, add to the total amount of geospatial data generated or made available by the Copernicus programme. This makes Copernicus the third largest data provider in the world, creating great opportunities, but also presenting great challenges. The European Commission has ambitious plans to tackle these challenges in a big data enabled environment, and for that purpose, has decided to launch the Copernicus DIAS – Data and Information Access Services. The DIAS will kick start the development of a European data access and cloud processing service, open for entrepreneurs, developers and the general public to build and exploit their Copernicus-based services.
Copernicus data and information is for the most part full, free and open. By mandate of the European Commission their production and distribution is ensured by selected institutions across Europe, the so-called Entrusted Entities (EE).
Sentinel satellite data are distributed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT). There are several access mechanisms to the Sentinel data, tailored to the purpose they will be used for. Both ESA and EUMETSAT operate data access ‘hubs’ for on-demand, open access to Sentinel data. In addition, EUMETSAT operates EUMETCAST, a service that systematically pushes satellite data and other information to subscribed users via either terrestrial data lines or, for areas of the world with limited internet connectivity, via satellite link. A few other data distribution mechanisms exist and are tailored to serve specific and restricted user groups such as the Copernicus Services.
Copernicus service data and information can be accessed through dedicated access portals set up by the EE for each Copernicus service. Like the ESA and EUMETSAT portals they each require a dedicated login.
National access mechanisms for Copernicus data exist in some European Countries. They are called Collaborative Ground Segments and focus on the distribution of data and information, sometimes not only from Copernicus, that is of particular usefulness to national users. Some of these facilities do or plan to offer hosted processing services close to the data. Often they offer a user interface in the national language. However, most of these Collaborative Ground Segments currently only allow download or, in some rare cases, exploitation of the information accessed through a web mapping service (WMS). Anyone wanting to further process the data will have to compute and visualise the data with software on their own computer.
No cloud processing service is currently offered by Copernicus to its users. However, some commercial initiatives have emerged and offer the processing of some Sentinel satellite data in the cloud.
In addition and outside the strict Copernicus context ESA through its own programmes supports the development of Thematic Exploitation Platforms (TEPs). These TEPs are using a broad range of EO data, including Copernicus, and allow the processing of (not only) satellite data for specific themes like forest monitoring or polar applications.
The European Commission has identified a widely shared need to access the Copernicus data and information close to processing facilities that allow further value extraction from the data. As this need is shared across Europe and in order to avoid duplication of data storage activities across Europe, the EC has identified the opportunity to federate this common need and respond through a dedicated service approach that is complementary to the traditional data download. This service approach, the DIAS, will offer access to Copernicus data and information close to processing facilities and, through this, create the possibility to easily build applications and offer added-value services.
In order to foster the competition and the development of creative solutions, the EC has decided that, there would be a minimum of three different DIAS, operated by different consortia. The main DIAS components are the back-office infrastructure and the DIAS interface services through which the user-established front office components can be connected to the back office infrastructure. The DIAS-provided back office is the scalable computing environment in which users can build and operate their own services based on Copernicus. The back-office will give unlimited, free and complete access to Copernicus data and information, and any other data that may be offered by the DIAS provider. The DIAS interface services encompass tools and services that will make it easy for the users to create their own applications. The environment should offer scalable computing and storage resources to the users at competitive commercial conditions. Finally, the providers of the DIAS will provide support to users, and making sure their access to the DIAS data runs smoothly.
Small and large companies, entrepreneurs and developers will then be able to create their own front offices and engage with each other to build flexible value chains based on the DIAS computing and storage resources at a competitive cost. They will be able to develop their own applications based on the free Copernicus data, and any other data made available through the system.
Scalable computing and storage resources have been shown to lower the barriers to entry for companies to build applications and services. Moreover, because the DIAS back office will be complemented by the DIAS interface services that are created with the purpose of handling Copernicus data, the tools it offers together with complementary commercial offers that will emerge as part of the front office environment will make it easier for all users, including the ones without expertise in Earth Observation or Copernicus services, to fully take advantage of the wealth of information Copernicus makes available.
In the future, users will thus have full and free access to Copernicus data and services through the DIAS, and will, at commercial conditions to be determined by the DIAS providers, be able to process the data and information to create services for their end users. This offering will complement existing portals that may consider installing their offering as a dedicated front office and take advantage of the DIAS themselves.
In summary, through its scalability, its additional layer of cloud processing, tools and complementary data the DIAS concept will boost the development of applications and services based on Copernicus to facilitate the integration of satellite data and information into services that benefit all levels of society. Competition amongst DIAS providers will stimulate innovation and avoid lock-in situations for the Commission and for users alike.
A significant number of consortia have recently submitted their proposals for the ESA-led DIAS, thus demonstrating the interest that stakeholders, and in particular industry, have in the ground-breaking and game changing concepts underlying the DIAS initiative.
The results of this competition should be announced during the summer and the providers retained should declare their DIAS “open for service” in the course of the first half of 2018.
To read more about the different services data access, click here.
To read more bout Sentinel data access, click here.