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ERATOSTHENES: Excellence Research Centre for Earth Surveillance and Space-Based Monitoring of the Environment

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EXCELSIOR (ERATOSTHENES: Excellence Research Centre for Earth Surveillance and Space-Based Monitoring of the Environment)

Reporting period: 2019-10-01 to 2020-12-31

The EXCELSIOR project aims to upgrade the existing ERATOSTHENES Research Centre of the Cyprus University of Technology into a new Centre of Excellence for Earth Observation, which will provide an inspiring environment for conducting basic and applied research and innovation in the thematic clusters of Environment and Climate, Resilient Society, and Big Earth Data Analytics. Satellite observation and remote sensing are the major focal points of the Centre, and these will be used in an integrated manner with other techniques and geospatial tools.

The existing ERATOSTHENES Research Centre is established in Cyprus, a low performing Member State; and through the EXCELSIOR project, three leading European institutions (DLR, NOA and TROPOS) are assisting in upgrading it into a Centre of Excellence. Thus, the EXCELSIOR project responds to HORIZON 2020 efforts to overwhelm the disparities in terms of research and innovation performance in national and European level.

The new Centre of Excellence will integrate novel Earth Observation (EO), space and ground-based integrated technologies and this approach can contribute to a more sustainable and systematic monitoring of the environment, the timely detection of societal risks/threats and the growth of vital economic sectors. The ultimate goal is to foster the sustainable development in line with the International policy framework (EU Societal Challenges, UN SDGs, Sendai Framework, Paris Agreement) and provide critical information through end user products to policy makers, local, national, and regional authorities, citizens, and tourists.

The new Centre of Excellence will enable the provision of highly innovative products and services for the benefit of National, regional, and International public and private sectors, in the Space and Earth Monitoring sectors. This will be achieved through research and innovation excellence in the respective scientific and technological disciplines and collaborating with other Earth Observation industries, through which the new Centre will develop a pool of scientific expertise and engineering capability as well as technical facilities.

The specific objectives of the project are:
1. To increase the scientific and innovation potential of the upgraded Centre.
2. To motivate uptake of innovative scientific outputs.
3. To achieve sustainability and autonomy of the Centre of Excellence through diversified funding sources.
4. To position Cyprus as a European Focal Point for advanced Earth Observation research and innovation, addressing environmental and societal challenges from local to global scale.
5. To establish a strategic, multi-actor, mutually beneficial and long-term partnership network.
6. To address societal challenges and minimise risk to the public through research results in order to assist in the shaping of informed decisions.
The work carried out up to now by the EXCELSIOR project covered a range of activities, such as the establishment of the Centre of Excellence as a new and autonomous legal entity, development of the Centre’s strategic growth map and human resources framework, as well as equipment procurement, capacity building and knowledge transfer, communication and dissemination.
Main results achieved include the following.
- Formal registration of the new legal entity in Cyprus. The governance and organisational structure of the new Centre were also established, as well as a comprehensive policy for liaison with external stakeholders.
- Development of the strategic research and education plans of the Centre of Excellence. The framework for the business development strategy and growth path of the Centre were also developed.
- Development of the Human Resources framework for the new Centre of Excellence, the design and implementation of the Centre’s recruitment strategy; nine positions were advertised up to now by the Centre of Excellence and will be fulfilled after the formal accession of the Centre to the EXCELSIOR project.
- Preparation of the requirements and technical specifications for the equipment of new Centre of Excellence, such as the Ground-based Remote Sensing Station, the Earth Observation Satellite Data Acquisition Station and the Earth Observation Satellite Data Hub. Furthermore, new equipment was also installed in Limassol Cyprus. This was a PollyXT Raman/Polarization Lidar, provided by Advanced Partner TROPOS as part of their commitment letter to the EXCELSIOR project and the new Centre of Excellence.
- Development of a workplan on knowledge and experience transfer, which provides comprehensive guidelines for the knowledge transfer and capacity building activities that will take place between the Centre of Excellence ECoE and the Advanced Partners in the form of workshops, seminars, trainings and secondments.
- Assignment of roles and responsibilities in the newly formed thematic research clusters as well as setting scientific goals for individual research areas.
- Development of a communication strategy and action plan as well as of communication material. Furthermore, the First Annual International Workshop of the Centre of Excellence was organised as well as a series of invited talks, educational activities and participations in international thematic events relevant to Earth Observation and Remote Sensing.
- Participation in international conferences, scientific journal publications, and development of a Data Management Plan for the EXCELSIOR project.
A number of impacts were observed during the first reporting period of the project.

The greatest impact was observed in terms of Societal Impact. The ECoE, through the 86 activities, events, and meetings, that organised and/or participated in, addressed 22 thematic networks and 20 local networks. Additionally, 9 partnerships with public authorities, and 18 partnerships with Ministries and other governmental departments were created through project proposals, or the provision of services by the Centre of Excellence for the needs of Public Administration.

Moreover, a high Scientific Level impact was observed, since 32 journal and 32 conference papers were published, and 3 PhD dissertations were completed in this period. The h-index of the group consisting of 27 researchers is 47 and exceeds the target set by year 4 of the EXCELSIOR project.

There was low impact in the Human Capital Creation sector, and more specifically in the employment and/or hosting of researchers by the Centre of Excellence. This is reasonable as the Centre is still at early stage.

In the Innovation sector, there was limited impact of the ECoE during the first reporting period. However, patent applications for 3 services at are currently in progress, an impact that was not expected by year 4 of the project.

Finally, in the Direct Economic Growth sector, the CoE management team was appointed during the first reporting period. Additional positions are planned to be announced to employ new personnel from Cyprus and abroad. In terms of start-ups and/or spin-offs, the potential for the establishment of an ESA BIC in Cyprus is currently under study. Additionally, 14 partnerships were formed with companies and SMEs in project consortia. Overall, 38 project proposals were submitted and have secured a yearly average of €1,543,578.22 exceeding the goal of €5M set by year 4 of the project.
Registration for 1st online workshop of the EXCELSIOR project
Virtual booth of the EXCELSIOR and the ECoE at the European Researchers' Night 2020
PollyXT Raman/Polarization Lidar