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Cashing in on Space Data

February 8, 2017 by Robin Meyerhoff

SAP and ESA, Europe’s “Gateway to Space,” give businesses an easy way to use the world’s biggest repository of Earth observation data.

If you want to know what’s happening on Earth, the European Space Agency (ESA) has your back. Every day dozens of ESA satellites generate around ten terabyte of data. Billed as “Europe’s gateway to space,” ESA is the largest provider of Earth observation information in the world, constantly monitoring the planet’s security and environmento

Until recently, that information was held under lock and key, unless you were a scientist with clearance to use it. However, in 2007, the European Union, which works closely with ESA and provides some 20 percent of its funding, changed its policy, allowing the agency to make its data freely available to the public.

This change has opened a new world of opportunity for ESA, the EU and businesses. Nicolaus Hanowski heads up the ESA Earth Observation Programme. He said, “When the EU decided a few years ago, that all that observation data was free and open, it triggered new possibilities for ESA and the industrial world.”

Particularly with the maturation of Internet of Things, Big Data and cloud technologies, the commercial sector now has effective ways to access this data and use it in real time.

Space Data Helps Business and Society

It works like this: Satellites, drones and other airborne “things” can transmit data, which is combined and turned into usable information by Big Data solutions like geospatial, real-time and predictive analytics.  Cloud computing makes it possible for the ESA to deliver specific sets of information to organizations that can use it to solve problems like: evaluating agriculture land use, managing gas pipelines and measuring the effect of climate change.

Hanowski explains ESA already has thematic data repositories including coastal, forestry, urban development, climate and hydrology.  “Our mission is to make the data consumable. We want to the uptake to be as big as possible — and economically influential. We need to understand what kind of data is interesting to commercial organizations.”

Once they understand key topic areas for businesses, ESA can combine its satellite data with additional types of airborne and ground data, to help companies bring new digital business models to life.

This is where SAP and its technology come in. Working together with ESA since last February, SAP recently released the Earth Observation Analysis service. Based on SAP HANA, now organizations can analyze historic and real-time satellite from ESA, which will help businesses better understand current conditions – and predict future situations.

Even more, the Earth Observation Analysis service predicts future scenarios, their probability, and potential actions to take. Farmers, for instance, will not only know about upcoming storms, but also how to optimize water and fertilizer use on their fields based on satellite information. Even better, the farmer can detect imminent onset of the common crop diseases — and start a preventive treatment immediately.

Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies, is one of the first companies using the solution. The increasing frequency of natural disasters like wildfires due to climate change pose a huge challenge for the insurance industry. By analyzing real-time and historic satellite data of wildfires in different regions, the Earth Observation Analysis service lets Munich Re more accurately calculate insurance risks and costs. Munich Re can use wildfire data to do predictive analysis; estimating the future probability of wildfires and potential damage to people, homes and business thus, minimizing costs for clients.

Dr. Carsten Linz heads up the SAP Center for Digital Leadership and led collaboration between ESA and SAP. He said, “Like many  organizations, ESA is going through a digital transformation and SAP is helping them pave the way by closing the gap between a traditional Earth observation institution and the digital business world.. ESA’s mission is to disseminate space data that is relevant to businesses – and was previously only available to scientists and data specialists. Hence, a major part of our work together is to make the information usable, accessible and secure, which is why the SAP HANA platform and our cloud technologies are so important to ESA.“

While commercial data use is a priority for ESA, Hanowski is hopeful that with SAP analytic services, they will be able to help unite scientific and relief communities on pressing topics like smart cities, food security, and water management.

Eventually businesses will use the data to improve efficiency and offer better products; ESA will gain a revenue stream; and NGOs and the public sector can use it to improve people’s lives. In other words, everyone wins.

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