Space serving our blue planet

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11 January 2019
A dedicated session at EU Space Week highlighted how Galileo and Copernicus contribute to the sustainable management of our oceans and provide support for maritime operations.
A dedicated session at EU Space Week highlighted how Galileo and Copernicus contribute to the sustainable management of our oceans and provide support for maritime operations.

The oceans represent 90% of the Earth’s biosphere and are essential to a range of economic activities with over 90% of world trade travelling via maritime routes. The oceans also play a central role in regulating the Earth’s climate. Global observation and monitoring systems are therefore essential to better manage the oceans and to achieve a sustainable blue economy. A dedicated session at EU Space Week on 6 December highlighted how the Galileo and Copernicus programmes contribute to the sustainable management of our oceans and provide support for maritime operations.

The half-day session addressed a wide range of aspects including safety at sea, search and rescue, optimised maritime transport, sustainable fisheries, renewable energies, security and society’s response to pollution.
EU seas – safe & clean

The 6 December session was chaired by Fabienne Jacq from the European Commission and the initial speakers outlined the overall context in which the EU space programmes operate. Helena Ramon Jarraud from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) described their mission “to ensure that EU’s seas were safe and clean.” The agency faces many challenges from people trafficking to illegal fishing and ensuring safety of navigation. All aspects were aided and new services enabled by the support provided from EGNSS and Copernicus systems.

This view was supported by Pierre Bahurel, Director General of Mercator Ocean International that operates the Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service (CMEMS). His talk focused on the ocean challenges relating to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in particular SDG 14 to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources. CMEMS delivered “a complete ocean information portfolio that is free, open and assessed” that both helped protect the oceans and enabled the sustainable realisation of marine and maritime jobs and growth.

The policy context of the EU space programmes was further developed by Elisabeth Hamdouch of DG GROW. “The marine environmental and maritime challenges are beautiful examples of how EU space programmes could add value by making useful tools available on an open and free basis for many different users,” she said.

Space as a tool supporting the EU’s energy package was praised by Adam Candy from Delft Technical University. He described the BlueRise project developing Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion technology as an appropriate renewable energy source for coastal and island communities. Space-based systems provided “the information to both understand the resource potential for the system – i.e. where to locate it - and also its local environmental impact,” he said.

Maritime safety

The opportunity for EGNOS to provide safer and cost-effective navigation safety in French coastal regions was described by Etienne Leroy of CEREMA, which has developed and tested an EGNOS-based solution for the French Differential GPS (DGPS) network. This is part of the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities - World Wide Radio Navigation Plan.

The French network of seven coastal stations needs to be modernised – could EGNOS provide a cost-effective solution? CEREMA made some initial tests and found that EGNOS augmenting GPS could provide the necessary availability, continuity and accuracy levels, without impacting the independent integrity scheme. In addition, cost analysis showed that the EGNOS solution offered a greatly reduced capital requirement and reduced maintenance costs.

An official commission for the establishment of the first operational French station is now anticipated in early 2019 with more stations to be equipped during the year.

The ability of the Galileo Search and Rescue (SAR) service to accelerate the detection of an incident and give more precise, life-saving positioning data was highlighted by Alain Bouhet from OROLIA Maritime. His company had led the GSA-funded HELIOS project to commercialise Galileo SAR enabled maritime and aviation distress beacons. The project had enabled certification for one aviation and two marine distress beacons and the first Galileo-enabled Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), launched in March 2018.

The use of the Galileo SAR service within the global SAR satellite system is already significantly improving the speed of response and the accuracy and reliability of SAR operations. “Galileo offers global coverage with near instantaneous detection and location,” said Bouhet.

“Response times are up to ten times faster.” And the unique Galileo return communications link from the SAR operator to the beacon ensures that victims know that the distress alarm has been received- and enables better survival decisions to be made.

Tethered drone

A further example of the potential of EGNSS and Earth Observation systems to combine to boost safety at sea was exemplified by Ricardo Rossi of Gruppo Sistematica who described the SARA project. This used a fusion of sensors and space technologies to improve surveillance operations at sea using a tethered drone acting as a ‘virtual pylon’ on the ship.

The drone is a semi-autonomous platform to aid search and rescue and surveillance using high EGNSS accuracy. The system enables cost-effective and extended surveillance that is reliable and fast to deploy. A proof of concept exercise has been undertaken with the Italian coastguard in the Bay of Naples using a low-resolution thermal camera to detect people in the water.

“Using a tether has a number of advantages,” claimed Rossi. “Including the ability to provide power for a continuous service and a continuous high-speed data link.” It is also a mechanical aid for landing the drone and ensures that the flight envelope of the drone is physically constrained, which eases issues around authorisation.

As well as SAR services a number of additional markets were foreseen for the device including border control, law enforcement, military applications and event or traffic management.

SAR demo

Earlier in EU Space Week, a press event introduced the media to the capabilities of EU space technologies in the maritime arena. On the morning of Tuesday 4 December, the GSA joined forces with the European Commission, the French Space Agency CNES, and the French naval authorities to highlight the various distress situations that can occur at sea and how Galileo, EGNOS and Copernicus are helping.

Demonstrations included briefings on the new Galileo SAR distress beacons and the SAR service itself as well as the Copernicus Maritime Security Service. An actual demonstration of the system at sea had to be cancelled at the last moment as the naval vessel and aircraft to be used were called away to a real-life emergency off the coast of Corsica, demonstrating that the Galileo SAR is fully operational and ready for action!

"This Search and Rescue operation demonstrated how beacons using the Galileo SAR service help to provide a faster and more efficient response for those in distress,” said Carlo des Dorides, GSA Executive Director. “With Galileo, a person in trouble can now be detected in less than 10 minutes. Today more than 500 million users are benefiting from a wide range Galileo services – and helping to save lives is one of them.”

Commenting on the event, European Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska said: “The EU invests in space activities to protect its citizens. Thanks to our space programmes, we can provide help to those who need it faster and in a more efficient way. EU space programmes are helping to save lives.”

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