The Living Planet Symposium 2022 (LPS22) is taking place now in Bonn, Germany. The LPS22 is one of the largest conferences dedicated to Earth Observations (EO) in the world, and brings together thousand of scientists and users of EO data. This year, it focuses on 5 primordial objectives, one of which is to nurturing public and private sector partnerships, its importance, expanding the EO user base, and increase access to funding and commercialization opportunities. This is synergistic to Europlanet’s interest in incentivising academic and private sector collaborations. The other five objectives are: understanding earth systems (climate and interactions), advancing future technology for EO missions (new era of observations instruments), enabling the digital transformation (data collection, processing, distribution and analysis), and supporting the green transition (for sustainable development).
You can find more information on this exciting symposium at: https://lps22.esa.int/frontend/index.php
Increasing interactions between the planetary science community and industry, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), can lead to numerous opportunities and synergistic relationships.
The expertise of planetary scientists in a broad array of disciplines, from atmospheric research to machine learning, can help industry to explore new product applications and markets, whilst industry’s focus on maximising commercial value from projects can support academics in accelerating and extending the impact of their work.
Space-related innovations can have global significance, and SMEs can be an important link in channelling these innovations to the economy of participating countries and into everyday life. Industry-academic collaborations can open new doors for funding, broadening eligibility for grants and participation in programmes, as well as co-funding of staff and PhDs. These partnerships can also facilitate pathways for academics that wish to transition to industry careers and provide opportunities for graduates and doctoral candidates to be involved in applied space research and innovation activities with an industry perspective.
The success of the Horizon 2020 EXPLORE project is one recent example of what is possible when industry, with its product-orientated vision, combines with academics’ expertise in innovative, complex processes. EXPLORE has received 2 million Euros of funding from the European Commission to develop scientific data applications using state-of-the-art Artificial Intelligence (AI) and visual analytics to enhance science return and discovery from planetary and space science data. Technical developments from the project will be adopted into the commercial partner’s product line and will potentially provide additional products and services for the industry.
The EXPLORE consortium has largely come about through collaborations developed in the Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI) programme, which has demonstrated how fostering industry and academic interactions is central to the work of Europlanet in supporting the community. To facilitate the formation of more such partnerships, a company database that includes up-to-date technical domains and contact details for private sector organisations with an interest in planetary research is being developed by the Europlanet industry team and validated through the Europlanet Society’s network of Regional Hubs.
Networking events and workshops organised in collaboration with the Regional Hubs, the annual Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC), and the Europlanet policy team, all provide opportunities to bring together academics, industry and policymakers, and for the planetary community to get involved. These activities put emphasis on the involvement of under-represented countries, linking them to leading European technological partners and, overall, widening participation in European planetary research and innovation.
EXPLORE project launched to develop AI and interactive visualisation applications in astrophysics and planetary science
An international consortium has been awarded 2 million Euros by the European Commission to develop novel applications that use artificial intelligence (AI) and visual analytics to exploit the vast datasets generated by astrophysics and planetary missions. Over three years, the EXPLORE project will develop these tools on a new virtual platform to create services and enhanced scientific datasets focused on galactic and stellar research, linked to the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission, as well as lunar exploration. The tools will be made available to the community through different cloud science platforms using open source licenses to stimulate uptake and ensure sustainability.
The EXPLORE Consortium is led by the French company, ACRI-ST, and includes eight partners from six countries. The interdisciplinary project brings together astrophysicists, planetary scientists, computer scientists, IT engineers & software developers.
At today’s kick-off meeting, Dr Nick Cox, the EXPLORE Project Coordinator, said: “The sheer volume and increase in complexity of data from space science missions, as well as the need to combine multiple data sets, requires an increase in both data management and processing capabilities. AI-based solutions and interactive visualisation techniques for big data are not just useful tools to explore the Universe but are becoming a necessity.”
EXPLORE will develop six scientific data applications to test methodologies and tools for space data exploitation on a collaborative cloud environment, the EXPLORE Thematic Exploitation Platform (EXPLORE-TEP).
Rather than focus on one main scientific topic, EXPLORE aims to foster synergies between different areas of space science. Four of the applications will leverage data primarily from Gaia, supplemented with data from other surveys, developing tools to help understand the evolution of our galaxy, the 3D distribution of interstellar matter, as well as to support the discovery, classification and characterisation of stars. The remaining two applications will integrate data from a range of international lunar missions to focus on characterisation of the Moon’s surface and potential human landing sites. A key objective will be to facilitate integration and visualisation of multiple datasets.
Prof Dovi Poznanski of Tel Aviv University, who leads EXPLORE’s AI methodology development, said: “By putting together different experiences and backgrounds we introduce diversity and interdisciplinarity in the analysis of space science data. Today’s big datasets in imagery, spectroscopy and 3D mapping require sophisticated tools. However, there are common basic principles among the different fields, which means there is a vital need for cross-fertilisation if we want to optimise the most advanced tools.”
EXPLORE-TEP builds on the heritage of a platform designed by ACRI-ST and funded by ESA to facilitate and expand the use and uptake of Copernicus-Sentinel Earth Observation mission data.
Dr Jeronimo Bernard-Salas, of ACRI-ST and Deputy Coordinator of EXPLORE, said: “For astronomers it is becoming increasingly difficult to simply download all the data to their desktop and use their favourite analysis tools locally. Through EXPLORE, we aim to bring processing and analysis capabilities, accessible via existing and new collaborative working environments, to the data. This allows any user to exploit space mission and supporting ground-based data more efficiently and to effectively share their methods and results, thus ensuring science becomes more open.”
Ultimately, EXPLORE aims to apply the tools to other areas of space science, as well as to map business opportunities for potential market entry in other domains.
About EXPLORE Innovative Scientific Data Exploration and Exploitation Applications for Space Sciences (EXPLORE) has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101004214.
The six scientific data applications developed by EXPLORE are:
Galactic: • G-Arch: Galactic Archaeology • G-Tomo: Interstellar 3D tomography of dust and gas in the Galaxy
Stellar: • S-Phot: Stars and their blue infrared colour excess: signs of activity and circumstellar material • S-Disco: Spectral discovery of stars
Lunar: • L-Explo: Global multi-scale compositional higher-level products for the lunar surface • L-Hex: Human lunar exploration landing site characterisation and support
Launch of EXPLORE project demonstrates benefits of academia and industrial collaboration
In this guest post, Jeronimo Bernard-Salas of ACRI-ST introduces the EXPLORE project and explains the mutual benefits of industry-academia collaboration.
Academics often ask why they should collaborate with industry and vice versa. However, there are many advantages, opportunities and synergies that come out of academic and industrial collaboration.
Firstly, these collaborations can help identify and exploit the financial value of research. Companies are more product-orientated and are closer to the market, so they are well-suited to understand how researchers can valorise their work to increase the impact of research and innovation investment. These insights can in turn enable researchers to write better impact cases in their funding proposals, so they have more chances of success in future bids.
In addition, industrial collaboration can lead to new avenues of funding for academics. There are many calls now that are specifically targeted at industry-academic collaborations and others where they are clearly encouraged.
Participating in one collaborative project can also lead to other opportunities. ACRI-ST is part of the Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI), participating in the machine learning work package as well as the industry task to promote collaboration between industry and academia.
When we joined Europlanet, we thought that the best way to highlight the industry academic collaborations was to lead by example. ACRI-ST coordinated a proposal that has resulted in a success story with the EXPLORE project, launched this week. EXPLORE is a 2 million Euro project funded by the European Commission through the Leadership in Enabling Industrial Technology (LEIT) and Space programme in Horizon 2020. The project has eight beneficiaries, four of which are from Europlanet 2024 RI. Thus, being part of Europlanet 2024 RI facilitated putting the EXPLORE consortium together
EXPLORE’s main objective is to deploy machine learning and advanced visualization tools to achieve efficient, user-friendly exploitation of scientific data for astrophysics and planetary science. We will do this by developing six science applications related to lunar exploration as well as on Gaia galactic and stellar science. EXPLORE sits between data collection from space and ground segments, and the provision of these science data products to the science archives on cloud platforms. This example of an industry-academic collaboration that brings together different expertise, knowledge and backgrounds was very positively reviewed by the evaluators of the proposal.
From an industrial perspective, ACRI-ST and companies with similar backgrounds can see that the era of big data is transforming the way of how scientists approach their research and how data is analysed. New missions and facilities are generating a lot of data that are becoming too large and complex for local analysis. These advances in observations require equal advances in data management, analysis, tools and cloud computing. It’s in this spirit that ACRI-ST and other companies can provide services in different areas related to these new developments, for example, providing the support or data processing for mission facilities and ground segment services for new space, developing scientific data applications and automatic exploitation platforms.
Companies may also support research in other ways, for instance by funding or co-funding PhD students.
Finally, not everyone can get an academic job. If academics work more with industry, the transition for researchers who need to find a job in industry will be much easier. The skills that are required to become a successful scientist are very similar to those that are required to be successful in industry. It’s a really important message for early career researchers that there are many opportunities in industry and there are many different kinds of jobs, so if they can find what they like or what they’re good at, it’s possible to make the transition.
Innovative Scientific Data Exploration and Exploitation Applications for Space Sciences (EXPLORE) has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101004214.
About Leadership in Enabling and Industrial Technologies
Aiming at new and breakthrough technologies, this part of the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme contributes to boosting competitiveness, creating jobs and supporting growth.
The emphasis is on areas of research and innovation with a strong industrial dimension and where mastering new technological opportunities will enable and drive innovation. The objective is to achieve the EU Industrial policy goals, which represents an important component of the EU Strategyfor Key Enabling Technologies (KET).
The emphasis for Leadership in Enabling and Industrial Technologies (LEIT) actions will be on:
Research and innovation to strengthen Europe’s industrial capacities and business perspectives, including SMEs
Public-private partnerships (PPPs)
Seizing the ICT opportunities
Contributions to solving Societal Challenges and to Focus Areas
Cross-cutting aspects, like international cooperation and responsible research and innovation.
The involvement of industrial participants, and of SMEs in particular, is crucial in maximising the expected impact of the actions.
In the news, we often hear about New Space companies and their goals to ‘revolutionise’ the access and use of space. Think, for example, of Blue Origin and their planned Blue Moon lunar lander. These new opportunities to access planetary bodies are not, however, always considered in the planetary science community as serious options.
We wonder: are private space companies overlooked because there is some uncertainty as to whether they will eventually launch? Is it worth considering such opportunities when we think of the future of planetary science?
Here at the EPEC Future Research Working Group, we want to explore whether New Space companies will affect how we do research in the future. To find out more, we spoke with Dr Thorben Könemann, Deputy Scientific Director of the ZARM Drop Tower Operation and Service Company at the Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) in Bremen, and Dr Erika Wagner, payload sales director at Blue Origin in Kent, Washington.
‘Complementary’ is the keyword that Dr Könemann uses to describe the opportunities provided by New Space companies. His engineering team at ZARM integrates and supports microgravity experiments that have also flown onboard Blue Origin’s reusable launch vehicle, New Shepard, and Dr Könemann has been involved in those experiments from the beginning.
‘Blue Origin provides complementary access to space with a different set of boundary conditions for the payload than was previously available,’ Dr Könemann says. ‘Examples of such boundary conditions are: payload mass, duration and quality of microgravity, performance of the vehicle, and finally pricing. The availability of a new option increases the chance of finding a launcher that meets the requirement of an experiment and thus the chance to obtain an opportunity to fly.’
Although those experiments are generally more focused on microgravity research and less on planetary science, ZARM’s experience of becoming involved with Blue Origin still gives us lessons that can be applied to planetary science.
Through talking to Dr Könemann, it is clear that today, we are not necessarily witnessing a radical change in how space missions are developed, but rather an increase in the ways that space can be reached and studied. Flights provided by Blue Origin’s suborbital New Shepard rocket are an example of such new methods.
Dr Könemann states, ‘ZARM reached out early to potential new launch providers a decade ago. We not only contacted Blue Origin but also spoke to other upcoming companies, some of which don’t exist anymore.’
Therefore, even though the flight opportunities from new space companies for planetary science beyond Earth do not exist at present, it does make sense to establish relations with these companies early, so as not to miss out on these new opportunities later down the line.
Looking at the future and at rockets that can reach deep space, Dr Wagner says, ‘Blue Origin will be able to bring a considerable mass and volume of payload onto the surface of the Moon with the Blue Moon lunar lander. This would offer the opportunity to build heavier and more voluminous instruments.’
This is somewhat contrary to the trend of miniaturisation. It is the view of the EPEC Future Research WG that being aware of these opportunities from now will enable the community to develop instrumentation that makes optimal use of the new diverse platforms when they become available (and planning space missions is a long process – check out our series on the ESA Voyage 2050 white papers).
Dr Wagner also explains that of the 100 experiments to have flown on New Shepard, only 3 were funded by European agencies. Thus, it seems that there is a slower uptake on commercial opportunities in Europe when compared with the USA.
Dr Wagner suggests, “If early career researchers want to see an increase in this uptake, they could enable this change by advocating for the potential use of these new opportunities.”
We conclude that new space companies could provide further opportunities in the future to reach our planetary destinations. To make the most of these opportunities, however, it helps to establish connections early, and early career researchers can encourage a move in this direction by advocating for links between planetary science and future launches by private space companies.