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Methods and tools for dual access to the EO databases in the EU and Russia

Final Report Summary - MEDEO (Methods and tools for dual access to the EO databases in the EU and Russia)

Executive summary:

As satellite technology has matured, Earth observation (EO) has emerged as an extremely important tool in environmental science allowing researchers to plot more accurately changes in the Earth's vegetation, sea state, ocean state, and ice sheets over vaster distances and greater timeframes. Yet beyond research purposes, EO information is already used in many aspects of everyday life, with applications spanning from weather forecasts to navigation, and from environment monitoring to security. The market of EO services is therefore growing rapidly and emerging as one of the main drivers of innovative development, both in Europe and Russia. Nevertheless, the exchange of EO data available in both regions is still a technical challenge. The consortium composed of the developers of only a Russian civil EO satellite system Resurs-DK and representatives of European EO research community and EO service industry aim to reduce technical barriers for the joint use of EO data available both in the European Union (EU) and Russia.

In particularly, the project implemented the following:

1. it structured and made publicly available internal data format used in the Resurs satellite system;
2. it developed mathematical methods for data conversion and several software toolboxes enabling independent EO service providers and geographical information system (GIS) developers to access to and use both European and Russian EO datasets from a single application;
3. developed the web interface for the collections of the Resurs satellite data, thus enabling access to and efficient search for EO images.

The major technical outcomes are tested and evaluated by integration into the real European and Russian applications and their validation in the context of provisioning real services to potential final users. The consortium also undertook steps to make the project results available to the prime dissemination audience - small and medium-sized enteprises (SMEs) working in the field of EO services and / or GIS software development.

Project context and objectives:

As satellite technology has improved, EO has emerged as an extremely important tool in environmental science; allowing researchers to more accurately plot changes in the Earth's vegetation, sea state, ocean state, and ice sheets over vaster distances and greater timeframes. Yet beyond research purposes, EO information is already used in many aspects of everyday life, with applications spanning from weather forecasts to navigation, and from environment monitoring to security. The market of EO services is therefore growing rapidly and emerging as one of the main drivers of innovative development, both in Europe and Russia. Nevertheless, the exchange of EO data available in both regions is a technical challenge.

This problem became even more obvious after launching the Resurs system, the first Russian EO system for civil purposes. It is capable of producing high-quality satellites images with linear resolution of approximately 1 m and unbeatable width of swath of 36 km in a single image. The new generation of the Resurs system, Resurs P, to be launched in 2013, offers in addition much richer sets of hyperspectral data. This information can serve as a complementary source of EO data improving, for instance, available coverage. European users such as environment and climate researchers will gain access to high-quality EO data of the polar and Arctic areas - zones critically important to shaping our climate. The format of EO data used in the Resurs system was developed in the former Soviet Union 25-30 years ago for military applications only under the conditions of isolation of international trends in the GIS technology. Moreover, traditionally, USSR and now Russia use a geodetic coordinate system different from the one used in the EU.

To address the task of opening access to both sets of data, the 'Methods and tools for dual access to the EO databases of the EU and Russia' (MEDEO) project was implemented by the international consortium and financially supported by the European Commission (EC). The project is an organic result of the EU-Russia Space dialogue launched in May 2007 - in fact, this topic was suggested by the EU-Russia working group on EO in the joint statement issued on 18 March 2008. The parties decided to 'implement a European Space Agency - Russian federal space agency (ESA / RosCosmos) data exchange arrangement in support of joint research projects in the areas of agriculture, forestry, earthquake precursors and Arctic regions. Encourage European and Russian research entities to participate in the upcoming Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) Space call in view of improving the base for implementing relevant projects'. The respective objective was thus included in the FP7 Space work programme.

Therefore, the fundamental project goal is to facilitate the exchange of EO data available in the EU and Russia and, subsequently, to radically broaden this market segment and enable new and better Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) services for European and Russian citizens, governments and businesses. The project aims to remove existing technical barriers to effective data exchange caused by decades of separation between the two research and technological development (RTD) communities. The main technical goals of the project are to:

- study and compare different EO data formats used by GMES service providers globally, including the data format used in the Resurs system. On this basis to make the Resurs data format publically available for all potential users;
- develop mathematical methods and software tools for converting EO data from the Resurs standard to the most widely used standards such as Geotiff and Image (and vice versa), including the conversion of the coordinate systems;
- integrate the developed tools into the GMES applications in the field of agriculture and forestry in Europe and Russia, thus technically enabling dual access to EO data from a single application;
- develop the Internet system enabling access to the Russian Resurs EO datasets and allowing the unique EO data collections to be brought to market.

As well as the technical measures enabling access to and use of the Resurs data, the project aims at informing the communities of potential uptakes (above all - developers and providers of GMES services in Europe and Russia) about the project outcomes and designing a sustainable business model allowing the operators of the Resurs datasets to enter the market and provide Resurs satellite images to potential users.

Project results:

The first project task was concerned with studying the differences in data formats used in the Resurs system and European GIS systems and applications with the aim to develop the conversion methods. In fact, 2 principle differences have been identified:

- the way a raster image is coded and the structure of metadata accompanying the satellite image in the Resurs system does not correspond to such widely used standard formats as Image and / or GeoTiff (used in such GIS systems as ENVI, ERDAS, etc.);
- the geodetic coordinate system used in the Resurs system applies different models of Earth and types of geodetic projections, which leads to the situation when the same object on the Earth surface has different geodetic coordinates in the Resurs system and in European GIS applications.

The project developed the methods allowing for each pixel of the raster image to calculate the respective spatial coordinates using so-called rational polynomial coefficients (RPC). Moreover, difference in the coordinate systems can be compensated by using different coefficients of the RPC polynomials for defining the spatial coordinates of the same object in different coordinate systems.

As a result of this activity the following outcomes have been obtained:

- the theoretical basis for the image conversion mechanism was created. The developed methods were later used to develop the conversion software;
- the specification of the format of data used in the Resurs system was published as an open public web resource, thus allowing any third party developers to directly use Resurs data.

On the basis of the initial study the partners have developed two data conversion programmes allowing converting Resurs images to Image / GeoTiff formats and vice versa. The software can be integrated into any third party GIS application or can be used as a stand-alone tool for a single image conversion.

In order to test the correctness of the conversion tools operation and evaluate the applicability of the developed technology in a real-life setting, the Russian partners and the Greek SME Aratos exchanged the images received from Resurs and RapidEye satellites respectively. Moreover, the Resurs image covered the territory of Greece, the RapidEye image covered the territory of Central Russia. After the conversion both images have been imported into the GIS applications used by final users in both countries (Disaster Control Centre in Greece and Forestry in Russia). The comparative analysis showed that the conversion tools work correctly guaranteeing high precision coordinates transformation and correct re-coding the visual data between data formats. Moreover, the converted images have been used for solving practical problems related to disaster control and forestry. For instance, the converted RapidEye image covering the fragment of the Ryazan region, central Russia, was imported into the respective Russian GIS application and combined with several information layers. The resulting maps have been used in order to assess the damage resulting from the extensive wild fires happened in the summer 2010 and implement re-planning of the forest district structure. Similarly, the Greek partner used the Resurs image for its flagship GIS application.

Another important project outcome is the web system developed by the colleagues from Russia allowing visualization, search and selection of satellite images from the collection of the Resurs data. The interface was deliberately made similar to the one of the EOPortal of ESA, so the European customers familiar with this resource will feel comfortable working with the Resurs collection. The system allows to comfortably select necessary images and make an order to the operator of the collection, Earth Monitoring Centre of the JSC 'Russian space systems'. The access to the web system is provided via the project website.

To sum up, the project eventually offers the following outcomes open for the communities of potential users:

- structured and web-accessible description of the Resurs data format allowing any third party to develop the own software tools for the Resurs data access and transformation;
- the set of data converters allowing transformation of Resurs satellite images into the commonly accepted standards (Geotiff and Image) and back. The project also provides the guidance on how easily integrate data conversion in new GMES applications;
- web-based interface to the Resurs dataset allowing any potential user willing to acquire Resurs satellite images to browse the collection catalogue, make orders and receive the needed data with or without conversion.

The end-users of these EO datasets are: public authorities involved in a wide range of monitoring services such as agriculture (e.g. yield assessment), environment (e.g. pollution control), disaster management, cadastre; and businesses working in such areas as mineral resources exploration, construction, communication and navigation. The end users and main beneficiaries are ordinary people who can obtain wider ranging and better public services, diverse and quality products, and services offered by commercial providers.

The project assumes that the use of the project results will be organized in the way that the EO data operators in Russia will offer Resurs images in a similar way to those organised by ESA (see for instance the eoPortal at online). A similar web interface for the Resurs collection is now available. The web interface will allow easy and visual interpretation of the metadata of raw images available. The images chosen by customers can be then ordered and supplied to them by the Resurs operator. Additionally, the operators will provide so called RPC polynomials to be used for e.g. producing digital elevation models. European users (typically users of GMES applications) will be able to import the satellite images into their applications and use them the same way as they currently use those images received from ESA EO data operators. Similarly, the Russian users will be able to convert the ESA owned images provided in either Geotiff or Image formats into the set of files in the Resurs format and use them in their applications. Full openness of the data format specifications will allow any third party developer of GMES applications to incorporate the converters into any new application to be developed for final users.

Potential impact:

The benefits of this cross-border collaboration are obvious: both Europe and Russia possess extraordinary capacities in the field of EO and have the potential to lead this high-tech market. At the same time, analysis shows that this market is strongly dominated by the competitors (the United States foremost). By joining forces and enabling exchange of information and technological cooperation, the parties will be able to convert their technological advances and significant RTD investments into economic success. MEDEO represents a significant effort to improve openness towards each other, to establish a dialogue between researchers working in the field and to facilitate further cooperation.

MEDEO will therefore create a technical bridge, in the shape of newly developed convertors, allowing the use of EO data from Russian and European sources from a single application. This will soften the problem of incompatibility the EO data formats in Russia and Europe. Moreover, the friendly web interface opens up the large collection of Resurs images already available to the Russian customers for their European colleagues. This result is especially important as the new member of the Resurs family, Resurs-P, equipped with unique hyperspectral sensor capable of simultaneous high-resolution and hyperspectral imaging of the same fragment of the surface, will be launched soon. This source of EO data will enable new monitoring capabilities, especially for environmental purposes (e.g. remote pollutions sensing, detection of particular types and status of vegetation, parameters of ice, etc). European users such as environment and climate researchers will gain access to high-quality EO data of the polar and Arctic areas - zones critically important to shaping our climate. Environmentalists monitoring oil slicks on the sea surface will be able to combine satellite data from European and Russian sources and update the information more frequently. All parties involved in disaster management (including wild fires, earthquakes, and manmade catastrophes) will have up-to-date, quality information on the situation in the crisis area.

The project results have been made available to the potential users in several ways:

- the project public website (see onlne) provides web access to the information on the project and main outcomes, such as the specification of the EO data format of the Resurs remote sensing system, web interface to the collection of the Resurs satellite images, downloadable conversion software;
- the principle project outcomes have been demonstrated at the Berlin Air Show ILA 2012, Aerospace Conference and Exhibition, in September 2012;
- the Greek partner, the European company specialized in satellite downstream value added services, promoted the project through the European Association of Remote Sensing Companies (EARSC);
- the Russian consortium partners (developer of the Resurs system, as well as the famous Soyuz launcher, Tsskb Progress and the developer of the data processing system for Resurs, Ryazan State Radioengineering University, Institute 'Photon') promoted the project results to the Russian Space Agency RosCosmos, thus stimulating more openness of the relevant Russian space research and exploration efforts for international cooperation.

With regards to the European participants of MEDEO, they plan to capitalise on the experiences and technical knowledge gained thanks to the project. Access to the Resurs (both Resurs DK - flying, and Resurs-P - planned for launch in July 2013) EO data will enable them to operate with high-quality EO data in order to develop solutions for various domains. The prime target for TUBerlin and ECM Office will be environment monitoring technologies, particularly after the launch of RESURS-P carrying a hyperspectral sensor. This will enable new applications for remote detection and monitoring of various pollutants, measurements of such indicators of biological conditions as e.g. oxygen concentration, water transparency, etc.

List of Websites:

Contact: Professor Klaus Briess (TUBerlin)
Institut fu¨r Luft- und Raumfahrt
Technische Universität Berlin
Sekr. F4
Marchstraße 12-14
10587 Berlin
T +49-170-3218955