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Enabling & Support

About the Earth Observation Envelope Programme (EOEP)

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ESA / Enabling & Support / Space Engineering & Technology

What is it?

The Earth Observation Envelope Programme (EOEP) is the backbone of ESA activities in the field of Earth observation. It presents a stable planning environment within which new types of environmental sensing technologies and the missions that will fly them are prepared.

Peering back at the Earth from space has proved a powerful tool for scrutinizing how our fragile home world has been changing over time. Of course, the precise view available depends on the type of sensor that does the looking. Through the EOEP a diverse series of innovative instruments and missions have been designed and readied for flight, with the intention of targeting specific scientific and monitoring challenges of the Earth system.


The EOEP is made up of two main components, broadly equivalent in scale:

  • The Earth Explorer component involves the development and launch of new types of Earth observing spacecraft, aimed to respond to the requirements of the scientific community through new sensing technology.
  • The Development and Exploitation component includes all preparatory activities for future missions, including Earth Observation Preparation Activities (EOPA), Earth Watch Definition (EWD) and Instrument Pre-Development (IPD). They cover end-to-end preparation of missions, from new sensor and spacecraft technologies to overall mission architecture and supporting science studies. This component addresses both science-themed Earth Explorer candidates as well as operational Earth Watch missions.

Why is the EOEP needed?

The EOEP serves to develop new sensors and missions...

The EOEP serves to develop new sensors and missions, including those required for sustaining the development of future operational services, harnessing the well-established synergy between basic science and applied technology in the field of Earth Observation.

Both basic science and European technology developments are served by the EOEP's Earth Explorer missions. These are missions developed in close consultation with the Earth sciences community, and may also serve as technology demonstrators for European industry.

The EOEP also backs preparatory studies for future operational missions, known as Earth Watch missions, including future EUMETSAT missions as well as new missions for environmental monitoring. Finally, the EOEP is developing standardised ground segments and data storage suitable for a multi-mission environment.

How is it implemented?

The EOEP is run as an optional ESA programme through successive five-year periods – the current EOEP-3 runs between 2008 and 2012 - offering a flexible, long-term, rolling environment for the planning of new activities, exploitation of results, contingency response and continuity of missions.

The Earth Explorer component operates by seeking out mission candidates through a mechanism involving a competitive call for ideas followed by a scientific peer review process carried out by ESA's Earth Science Advisory Committee (ESAC) and a down-selection approved by the Earth Observation Programme Board (PB-EO). Competitive development and supporting research follows through initial study phases. There are two types of Earth Explorer: larger Core and smaller-scale Opportunity missions. The EOEP incorporates the definition, development, launch and operations of Earth Explorer missions.

The Earth Observation Preparation Activities (EOPA) and the Instrument Pre-Development (IPD) are the innovation engines of the EOEP as to new technologies, developed within instrument, mission and system studies that follow the recommendations of scientific or operational users. The preparatory studies address also Earth Watch missions, although these go on to be developed under separate programmes.

In particular the EOPA activities guide the development of new technology through also ESA's Basic Technology Research Programme (TRP) and General Support Technology Programme (GSTP) and identifiesrequirements for pre-developments.

Technology development priorities are largely inspired by mission concepts: as an example, the BIOMASS candidate Earth Explorer exploits P-band SAR radar observations for assessing the global distribution of forest biomass. To meet the mission objectives the required antenna surface is in the range 70-100 square metre. This unprecedented antenna size requires the development of new lightweight deployable antenna technologies.

Other technology projects are of more general application within Earth observation, such as more performant optical and radar systems, and developments in on-board processing, communications and attitude control.

What benefits does the programme deliver?

Fundamental scientific research often requires or gives rise to new technology and applications. That has been true of Earth observation for meteorology, as a widely known example – ESA's first experimental meteorological satellite launched in 1977 eventually led to the formation of EUMETSAT, the European organization for the exploitation of meteorological satellites, which operates a fleet of operational weather satellites providing daily forecasts to millions.

The scientific benefits of other types of Earth observation are well established. Remote sensing has gone a long way to bring the hazards of climate change, environmental degradation and resource depletion to public awareness. But tackling these threats requires a more sustained vision; and this is coming from a new generation of Earth Watch satellites built to provide operational information services to policy-makers on the state of our planet.

These satellites include forthcoming EUMETSAT missions as well as the Sentinel series, which represent the dedicated space element of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES), a joint initiative of ESA and the European Union to integrate all available ground- and space-based monitoring tools, in the service of European policy goals, sustainable development, and to improve the security and quality of life of European citizens.

In effect, the EOEP is setting the future of European Observation, following this familiar route from basic research to applied technology. The new designs pioneered by its Earth Explorers are available for further operational uses, and new spacecraft and systems are being created which will define the shape of Earth observation to come.

How to get involved?

Earth Explorer missions are selected and defined in close interaction with users by means of open Calls for Ideas and of User Consultation Meetings at the end of each preparatory phase. Information about these events is published on the Earth observation pages of ESA’s website.

The procurement processes for EOEP are based on open competition, following the principle of georeturn – Member States receive a balance of contracts based on their programme subscription levels. Procurement of research and development activities in Earth observation technologies follows ESA standard procedures, with Invitations to Tender (ITT) available on ESA's EMITS website.

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