By Lukasz Wilczynski
On April 12th 2023 Space Café Poland launched its first-ever episode. The Space Café Poland was hosted by Lukasz Wilczynski, President of Space Communications Alliance, and President of European Space Foundation, who invited Maciej Krzyzanowski, President and Chief Executive Officer of CloudFerro, to talk about IT technology driving innovation in the Earth Observation sector.
CloudFerro provides innovative cloud computing services for specialized markets, such as the European space sector climate research and science. The company has extensive experience in cloud services for storing and processing big data sets, and it builds and operates multipetabyte repositories of Earth Observation satellite data for leading European organisations, including the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), German Aerospace Centre (DLR). It is the largest company in the space sector in Poland and a major one in Europe. It is also the only Polish company in the space sector that has a status of a prime contractor for the above-mentioned institutions.
In his conversation with Lukasz Wilczynski, Maciej Krzyzanowski talks about his experience in the space sector, the power of cloud technology, and the use of Earth observation (EO) data to support the European economy. Maciej describes how EO data impacts social development and how useful it can be in everyday life. An important subject of the discussion are cloud services for major European initiatives such as Copernicus Data Space Ecosystem.
In the Space Café Poland, Maciej Krzyzanowski explains that for a long time data has been a driving force behind various applications in the space sector. Telecommunications, satellite imagery, and global positioning all rely on data transmission and processing. Despite its less spectacular nature compared to space hardware, such as a rocket starting in smoke and flames, it is the data that plays a key role in the space industry. Spacecrafts and satellites constitute the upstream segment of the sector and this is what people usually associate with space. But the true value of space missions lies in downstream activities. These include data retrieving, storing, processing, delivering, and extracting information from the data collected in space.
In the modern era, the volume of data is growing rapidly thanks to the development of advanced hardware producing vast amounts of data of high quantity and improved quality. For instance, the Copernicus Programme constellation of satellites alone generates approx. 25 terabytes of data every single day, i.e. 700-800 TB od data monthly. Such massive amounts of data need a lot of computing power to be processed. To handle this challenge, the industry has turned to cloud computing as a viable and efficient solution for managing and processing big data. As a company operating in the downstream segment and specialising in cloud computing and big data processing, CloudFerro is at forefront of this data-driven revolution.
Maciej Krzyzanowski explains that downstream activities focus on bringing the data acquired by satellites back to Earth, where data needs to be processed and transformed it into meaningful information for decision makers. This involves e.g. converting optical or radar images captured by Copernicus Sentinel satellites into usable formats, extracting relevant data such as meteorological information or ocean measurements. The downstream segment also goes beyond Earth observation. Global positioning systems (GPS) can be an example, where data collected by receivers and processed with sophisticated software is used for navigation. Even in deep space missions, data collected by probes, such as those sent to Pluto, needs to be processed, stored, indexed, and ultimately delivered to users in usable formats. Therefore, downstream activities play a crucial role in unlocking the value of space missions and enabling wide use of the data collected.
As the CEO of CloudFerro points out, satellite data is more and more accessible and widely applied by scientists and laymen alike across various sectors of the economy. This leads to a revolution in the satellite observation sector. One of major areas where EO data is effectively applied is agriculture. Optical imagery and other types of satellite data are utilized to determine types of crops, providing quick information to paying agencies. Satellite data can also be implemented in land cover monitoring, heavy industry, roads construction, and forests, to name a few. The data obtained by satellites using radar interferometry can even detect ground movements of just a few millimetres, allowing early identification of such issues as cracked pipes. In the area of weather forecasting, satellite observation plays a crucial role by providing essential information for meteorological applications. Satellite data can be leveraged to build long-term models for climate change analysis, food security assessments, monitoring illegal activities like unauthorized garbage dumps, and a wide range of scientific research endeavours. With easier access to satellite data, there is immense potential for countless applications that we may not even think of today.
When asked about CloudFerro expertise, Maciej Krzyzanowski comments that CloudFerro is the largest Polish company in the space sector and the only one with a prime contractor status for leading European institutions, such as ESA, EUMTESAT, ECMWF, and the German Aerospace Agency DLR. It specializes in providing the necessary infrastructure and tools for effective use of large-scale satellite datasets. The company offers services for massive data repositories storing hundreds of petabytes of data. Managing such vast amounts of data requires effective indexing and data discovery solutions, enabling users to locate specific datasets based on their needs. Once the desired data is identified, CloudFerro offers various options for processing and analysing the data. Users can either download it to their own computing systems or use cloud solutions for near the data processing. To derive meaningful information from the data, users can apply various algorithms or use artificial intelligence technology.
Maciej Krzyzanowski also elaborates on EO4UA initiative launched by CloudFerro to help scientists from Ukraine, which is currently facing the challenges of the Russian aggression. The EO4UA initiative partners provide expertise, EO data and cloud platform to help assess environmental losses. The primary focus is put on monitoring the ongoing situation in the country and analysing disruptions in food production and deforestation resulting from military actions (more on the initiative on http://eo4ua.org).
CloudFerro is also the operator of CREODIAS – a platform that provides online access to a vast repository of satellite data, including Copernicus and American Landsat data. Launched in 2018, CREODIAS offers a user-friendly interface where individuals can explore and discover satellite datasets of their interest. By leveraging extensive and continuously updated time series data, users can observe and analyse long-term changes of the area of choice. Additionally, the platform provides additional solutions that simplify interactive data exploration and analysis. While some IT knowledge may be necessary at a certain point, CREODIAS offers an accessible starting point for users who need to gain valuable insights from the data. The platform has now become the first commercial element of Copernicus Data Space Ecosystem – a new initiative of the European Commission built by a consortium of several European companies, including CloudFerro, to serve as a reference data source for Copernicus Programme. It provides immediately available current and historic data, enabling users to apply it seamlessly to their processing chains within milliseconds. The quick access and wide availability of data offer new capabilities such as observing long-term trends and conducting modelling. CloudFerro, responsible for data management, ingestion, indexing, and delivery, plays a key role in building Copernicus Data Space Ecosystem, contributing to the ongoing revolution in the sector of Earth observation services.
Asked about the challenges for the space sector in Europe and Poland, Maciej Krzyzanowski comments that when considering Europe’s position in the global space sector, it becomes apparent that Poland’s contribution is relatively small, constituting only 4% of the European economy. He also observes that even when Europe is one of the world’s largest economies, it does not consistently lead in all aspects of the space industry. As Maciej says, while Copernicus excels in continuous space monitoring, and Galileo stands out as a highly accurate positioning system, when it comes to new satellite constellations and Earth Observation satellites, European initiatives do not receive sufficient attention. In his opinion, the same applies to launchers and rockets, where Europe falls behind with fewer constellations which results in limited downstream business opportunities. Consequently, it is unlikely that European companies would be the first choice for American or Chinese counterparts seeking to share their data. What is important in his opinion, Europe has a prevailing culture of purchasing systems and generating new entities to run them instead of acquiring services from specialized providers. Adopting a service-oriented approach, as demonstrated by Copernicus, would offer numerous benefits boosting the growth of competencies, resources, and businesses (also in Poland).
In Maciej’s opinion, Poland should shift from building own processing centres to procuring data processing services from entities that specialise in this area. Furthermore, to match the proportion of financing space sector projects in other European countries, Poland should spend approximately 150 million euros annually for local projects, i.e. twice as much as it spends today. With an increased budget, Poland could develop its own observation capabilities, including satellite systems and downstream services, while also undertaking complex scientific missions like lunar mapping. By embracing the practice of purchasing services and investing adequately in the space sector, Poland could attract competences, experience, and ultimately establish itself as a high-tech economy.
Watch the whole conversation between Maciej Krzyzanowski and Lucas Wilczynski: