ESA is now almost half way through its term as chair of CEOS, the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites. This international organisation was created in 1984 under the auspices of the G7 – with the goal to coordinate Earth observation satellite missions among its Members. Members include space agencies that have active Earth observation satellite programmes; Associate Members include organizations that receive, process or use environmental data from space.

When ESA took over the chair in November 2001 from MEXT, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and NASDA, the Japanese space agency, it was given two specific priorities: developing a long-term (5-10 years) strategic plan for CEOS and preparing the contribution of CEOS to the World Summit on Sustainable Development that will take place in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 26 August to 4 September 2002.

When asked why ESA is a member of this organisation José Achache, the Director of Earth Observation Programmes and also CEOS Chairman during 2002 replied, “Membership of CEOS is the best way of ensuring that ESA’s missions are coordinated with those of other space agencies, and that data formats and data distribution are standardised. This is the best way of facilitating and promoting the exchange of Earth observation data; which is something ESA feels very strongly about.”

“CEOS has been set up to promote sustainable Earth observation services to support international policies, which is why we are interested in this important summit”, says Josef Aschbacher, the person responsible for coordinating CEOS activities at working level within ESA, “while the strategic plan for the next 5-10 years will help shape the future direction of CEOS. With the help of other CEOS members we are now in the process of preparing this for presentation at the next CEOS plenary meeting, which will take place at ESA’s space research institute ESRIN in November this year.”

This is a busy time for ESA as chairmanship of CEOS also includes co-chairmanship of IGOS-P, the Integrated Global Observing Strategy Partnership, which will hold its 9th plenary meeting at UNESCO on 31 May 2002. This year’s annual meeting focuses on the review of progress made on the IGOS Themes, which integrate the global user with the global observation community. Observations from space are a key data source of the integrated observation strategy.

In addition, the activities related to the preparations of the World Summit on Sustainable Development are discussed, where CEOS has achieved a major impact by ensuring that language favourable to space has been introduced in the Chairman’s text currently negotiated at the level of Ministers at the WSSD Preparatory Committee meeting in Bali, Indonesia.