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Thematic Exploitation Platforms overview

The Thematic Earth Observation Exploitation Platforms were conceived with the purpose of allowing data, infrastructure, tool, algorithm and knowledge owners to share their assets, allowing users to easily get access to satellite data and extract information out of them without the need to download any dataset.

This availability of all the needed ingredients in a shared collaboration environment represents a unique opportunity for science and applications but also poses a major challenge in realizing its full potential in terms of data exploitation. In this context, ESA started the EO Exploitation Platforms initiative with the aim to create an ecosystem of interconnected Thematic Exploitation Platforms (TEPs) on European footing, addressing 7 main themes:

  • Coastal
  • Forestry
  • Hydrology
  • Geohazards
  • Polar
  • Urban
  • Food Security

In short, an Earth Observation (EO) Exploitation Platform (EP) is a virtual, open and collaborative environment, which brings together EO and non-EO data, computing resources, tools to support data exploitation (processing, data mining, data analytics), algorithm development, collaboration and communication (e.g. social networks, fora), and market place functionalities. This environment provides the ground for different types of stakeholders to perform a wide variety of tasks and achieve their objectives:

  • Researchers: developing their scientific research based on EO data, sharing proven algorithms for the benefit of the community
  • Software Vendors: offering toolboxes which support the exploitation of EO data
  • Service Providers: offering scalable operational services to the community
  • Infrastructure Providers: offering the computing resources needed for the data exploitation
  • Data Owners: providing input data products (EO or non-EO) to the platform
  • Thematic knowledge owners: sharing their expertise with the community
  • End Users: consuming resources available on the platform, deriving higher-level information, eventually sharing the derived information on the platform, therefore earning revenue or recognition.

The fundamental principle of the Exploitation Platforms operations concept is to move the user to the data and tools. Users access a collaborative work environment providing the expertise, algorithms, data, tools and resources required, as opposed to downloading, replicating, and exploiting data ‘at home’. Not only does this allow to accelerate the “time to market” for science results and application demonstrations, it also allows to perform activities at an unprecedented scale. The user community is present and visible in the platform, involved in its governance and invited (and enabled) to share and collaborate. This virtual workplace typically provides access to:

  • Relevant EO and non-EO data
  • Discussion fora to share experience and knowledge
  • Scalable network, computing resources and hosted processing (Infrastructure as a Service – IaaS)
  • A platform environment (Platform as a Service – PaaS), allowing users to integrate, test, run, and manage applications (i.e. processors) without the complexity of building and maintaining their own infrastructure
  • Standard platform services and functions such as collaborative tools, data mining and visualization applications, the most relevant development tools (such as Python, IDL etc.), documentation, accounting and reporting tools to manage resource utilization.
  • Application repositories or stores (Software as a Service, SaaS) providing access to relevant advanced processing applications (for example InSAR processors and the Sentinel Toolboxes).

The ESA TEPs have been implemented according to the following principles:

  • Develop and employ open-source and freeware to the maximum extent possible – to ensure reuse, avoid vendor lock-in, contain costs, and ensure openness
  • Implement standards– to ensure interoperability
  • Implement infrastructure independence– to ensure cost effective infrastructure sourcing, avoid vendor lock-in, and allow reuse of public and commercially available ICT
  • Implement pay-per-use– to avoid capital investment, contain costs, and allow for cost-sharing
  • Cater also to commercial providers – to allow (affordable) access to commercial software, data and infrastructure when required
  • Secure IPR– to ensure that users retain their own intellectual property rights
  • Be Community and impact driven– to benefit from strong participation of the scientific and application communities, to ensure user buy-in
  • Enable sustainability – to be able to propose funding and revenue models and sources to maximize the probability of economic sustainability of the platforms in their operations phase.
  • Facilitate knowledge sharing – to offer, via the provision of collaborative tools, the possibility to share data, algorithms and experiment with other users of the platform or publicly on the web.