European GNSS and Earth Observation: A promising convergence for sustainable development

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31 January 2018
The UN recognises the important role that Earth Observation and GNSS play in supporting the achievement of its development goals.

The European GNSS Agency (GSA) discusses how using European GNSS (i.e., Galileo and EGNOS) with Copernicus, Europe’s Earth Observation programme, can help the world meet its Sustainable Development Goals as set out by the United Nations.

On paper, Europe’s flagship space programmes – Galileo and Copernicus – serve very different functions. Whereas Galileo provides users with high accuracy positioning and navigation, Copernicus, an Earth Observation system, analyses and provides the characteristics of a given area. Both programmes create an array of opportunities for new applications and business ideas individually, but perhaps their true potential is found within their synergies. 

Although the joint use of Galileo and Copernicus creates opportunities in nearly every market segment, it is set to play a particularly important role in sustainable development. “While Galileo and EGNOS determine a precise position anytime, anywhere on the globe, Copernicus provides information on the Earth’s surface, its atmosphere and marine systems,” says GSA Executive Director Carlo des Dorides. “The joint use of both programmes unleashes an array of synergies that will undoubtedly have a substantial impact on sustainable development.”

Des Dorides’ remarks were made during his presentation at the United Nations’ High Level Forum on Space as a Driver for Socio-Economic Sustainable Development, held 6 – 9 November in Dubai, UAE. Jointly organised by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the United Arab Emirates Space Agency, the forum’s focus was on the use of space technology and, in particular, the combined use of European GNSS and Copernicus, in helping the world meet its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as set out in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The goals include ending poverty and hunger, ensuring healthy lives and quality education, promoting sustainable growth and reducing inequality – among others.

“Although Europe’s two flagship space programmes are capable of great achievements separately, it is through synergies that their true capabilities are unleashed,” says UNOOSA Director Simonetta Di Pippo. “The best results will be achieved when telecommunications, GNSS and Earth Observation satellites and services collaborate to achieve common goals and meet clearly stated user requirements.”

Supporting users across market many segments

The UN recognises the important role that Earth Observation and geolocation (provided by GNSS) play in supporting the achievement of its development goals. These services support a continuously increasing number of users in many different market segments. For example, one area already benefiting from their combined use is precision agriculture.

As farmers’ needs become increasingly sophisticated, they turn towards precision agriculture as a solution for higher productivity and farm profitability. While the technology has a variety of uses, the main application for precision agriculture is tractor guidance, where GNSS-based positioning applications can be used to guide a tractor around a field and minimise the effort exerted by a farmer. Moreover, Earth Observation satellites provide imagery of agricultural fields, along with radar, topographical and altimetry information. “When used together, the farmer benefits from an increase in efficiency and a decrease in labour costs,” explains des Dorides.

From providing the maps needed for finding the best locations for renewable energy infrastructure to outlining the most fuel-efficient flight paths, optimising road transportation routes and monitoring CO2 emissions, applications using both European GNSS and Earth Observation (such as Copernicus) provide the answer. However, according to des Dorides, the potential of this convergence goes far beyond the application level. “Integrated actions targeting application developers, data resellers, hardware manufacturers and end-users will further stimulate innovation and increase the use of space technology,” he says.

“This is where our focus now turns,” adds des Dorides. “I look forward to working with the UN as we enhance the convergence of European GNSS and Earth Observation data to create new solutions that will help us achieve our mutual sustainable development goals.”  

Joint study now available

The presentation served as a preface to a study on the role of European GNSS and Earth Observation in supporting the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The study, “EGNSS and COPERNICUS: Supporting the Sustainable Development Goals. Building blocks towards the 2030 Agenda”, has been jointly prepared by GSA and UNOOSA in the frame of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in July 2016 to develop common activities towards increased use of space data at application level. Specifically, the study investigates how EU space technologies support the fulfilment of the UN SDGs by means of examples and use cases. The analysis shows that all the SDGs are positively impacted by the benefits stemming from the use of EGNSS and Copernicus applications and that almost 40% of the associated indicators directly benefit from using the EGNSS and Copernicus services, either supporting the monitoring of the status of achievement of a given SDG or actively contributing to their fulfilment.

The study has recently been published, and is available for download here.

GEO-VISION: A Case Study in Synergy

Precise and up-to-date information on damage and needs during emergencies is key to plan and conduct response and rehabilitation efforts in areas affected by disasters. In this context, technology enables responders to better coordinate rescue missions and work efficiently as soon as they arrive in a disaster zone.

The Horizon 2020 project GEO-VISION aims to save lives and to protect critical infrastructures during emergencies and disasters by optimizing the use of satellite data ranging from satellite communication and navigation to earth observation.

How does it work?

The core of the project is a mission-critical visual communication software solution wherein the end users upload imagery of disaster-struck areas to disaster response and emergency management operators. Data from the crisis site are sent to the control centre using satellite communications or mobile networks, depending on availability.

Within the system, the operational pictures can be taken from Earth Observation satellites providing large scale aerial situation, from UAVs monitoring more in detail the affected infrastructures or from other sources such as smartphones of the crisis response teams. GNSS is used to provide trust in the data and in the communications by geo-localizing and time-stamping picture information. Trust countermeasures includes Galileo signal authentication for spoofing and jamming.

The project already resulted in the creation of three smartphone apps available for iOS and Android, with the end user group encompassing the United Nations, EU, World Bank and insurance companies.

Media note: This feature can be republished without charge provided the European GNSS Agency (GSA) is acknowledged as the source at the top or the bottom of the story. You must request permission before you use any of the photographs on the site. If you republish, we would be grateful if you could link back to the GSA website (

Updated: Dec 08, 2022