ESA's Heterogeneous Missions Accessibility (HMA) work yields EO Satellite Ground Segment Interoperability Manual

Contributed by: 
Pier Giorgio Marchetti, Head of Research and Ground Segment Technology Section EOP-GSR, European Space Agency (ESA)

The Heterogeneous Missions Accessibility (HMA) manual [1], freely downloadable from the ESA web site [2], provides a high level view on the results of several years of harmonisation and standardisation work in  the critical area of ground segment interoperability of Earth Observation satellite missions.  The coordinated effort of the European space and downstream industries, research centres, agencies and institutions has made a significant contribution to the definition of geospatial standards published within the Open Geospatial Consortium. Earth Observation systems are inherently varied in design, sensor and ground segment capability, to respond to different requirements from users, mission stakeholders and funding bodies. The risk of a babel of lingos for EO products, interaction modes and interfaces is very high. On the other side the societal, scientific and commercial exploitation of Earth Observation data and services for environment and security, demands that data and services can be readily published, discovered, accessed processed and used by a broad set of users.

By involving national space agencies, satellite owners and operators, the industry and research centres, the HMA initiative has successfully addressed the interoperability problem arising from the coordinated exploitation of national and commercial Earth Observation missions. Stakeholder collaboration within the HMA Architecture Working Group [3] has provided the forum to enable the harmonization and standardisation process to make the ground segment services and related interfaces interoperable, accessible and useful to a wide range of users. The participants in the HMA projects [4] engaged in the international consensus standard process for geospatial technology stakeholders, managed by the Open Geospatial Consortium, ensuring convergence of standards proposed for European Earth Observation ground segment systems with standards from the OGC, and related standards organisations such as the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).

An immediate benefit has materialised in the context of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) Programme [5]. This EU co-financed programme addresses global challenges in environment and security, relying on a fleet of European Earth Observation satellites, operated by various partners, including member states of the European Space Agency, commercial entities, international mission operators, and five new European missions named Sentinels [6] specifically  designed to address the operational needs of the GMES programme. The publication of HMA promoted standards within OGC has contributed to provide operational and sustainable user services, helped to avoid unnecessary duplication in technologies, and to establish a well-coordinated, cost effective and increasingly automated operations scenario.