Brazil’s Space Chief Slams Earth Science Privatization

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The president of the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) on July 19 criticized efforts in some nations to create profit-making businesses out of the collection of satellite Earth observation data, saying the public interest demands that all data be freely and openly available.

“Let’s not play games” with data distribution, said Carlos Ganem. “We must all pay the bill.”

Ganem made his remarks July 19 during a roundtable discussion that included the German and Canadian space agencies, both of which have established partnerships with the business community to privatize, at least partially, the collection and distribution of satellite data.

Johann-Dietrich Woerner, head of the German space agency, DLR, said Germany’s partnership with Spot Infoterra for the distribution of radar data from the TerraSAR-X and TanDem-X satellites sets aside data for use, free of charge, for science and research purposes.

“We are collecting data with public money and we guaranteed its availability” for research, Woerner said. “We are not totally relying on the private sector.” Woerner said it is the German government’s responsibility to provide for the long-term availability of the data for research.

David Kendall, director-general for space science at the Canadian Space Agency, said Canada is likely to modify its relationship with the private sector as the government proceeds with the next-generation Radarsat Constellation mission. Whether that Radarsat Constellation will have a similar private-sector role as the current Radarsat system, for which MDA Corp. is responsible for commercializing data sales, is unclear.

Kendall said one oversight in the current Radarsat system is that it does not provide for long-term data storage and retrievability. Kendall agreed in an interview that this oversight could be corrected with or without private-sector involvement in Radarsat data distribution.

Jean-Jacques Dordain, director-general of the 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA), said the agency is also investing in data storage for its Earth observation satellites to ensure that researchers will have access to the data for years to come. The effort, he said, required an explanation to ESA member governments that at first questioned whether a space agency’s role should include data archiving.