As part of a long-term strategy (>10 years), the European Space Agency launched their new initiative EO AFRICA (African Framework for Research Innovation, Communities and Applications in Earth Observation), by the kick-off meeting of the EO AFRICA Research and Development Facility held on 1 March 2021. The initiative aims at building an African-European R&D partnership to facilitate the sustainable adoption of Earth Observation and related space technology in Africa, in harmony with the “Agenda 2063 – The Africa we want" of the African Union Commission (AUC) and driven by African research challenges and user needs.
The African Space Strategy of the African Union recognises the importance of Earth Observation as a crucial data and information acquisition tool to address Africa’s challenges. European EO satellites of the Copernicus Programme provide 1.2 petabyte data over the African continent annually that can be processed and utilised optimally only by using the latest computer technologies and developing advanced, scientifically sound information extraction techniques.
The overarching goal of the recently inaugurated EO AFRICA R&D Facility is to foster an African-European R&D collaboration enabling an active research community and creative innovation processes for continuous development of EO capabilities in Africa.
The R&D Facility will review the African EO research challenges and issue research calls for addressing the most relevant ones. It will offer modern cloud computing & digital tools for the researchers and support a range of collaborative activities and initiatives between the African and European research communities.
The R&D Facility is the EO AFRICA initiative’s flagship activity. Its first phase is implemented as a three-year project by a consortium of six partners:
- Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) of the University of Twente, the Netherlands. As the lead partner, ITC coordinates the Facility, contributes to the design and delivery of capacity development actions and stimulates the collaboration between African and European partners.
- CS Group, France, is the developer of the cloud-based environment to support the research and capacity development activities.
- CS Romania SA is providing the platform which serves as the central information hub for the Facility.
- Serco Europe, Italy contributes to capacity development in EO technology.
- TU Wien, Austria, supports the capacity development actions in hydrological applications.
- Vito, Belgium, contributes to the Facility with its experience in food security.
The project was launched on 1 March by a kick-off meeting in the virtual space. The first year will provide the basis and the framework for the long-term activities by implementing the cloud-based data acquisition and processing environment and preparing for the research and collaborative activities. From the second year, the research programme will start, and the collaborative and capacity development actions will be implemented.
Heritages from several forerunner activities provide a strong base for the EO AFRICA R&D Facility:
· Two consortium members were involved in the TIGER initiative of ESA in the last 15 years.
· Two other consortium members were the main contributors to ESA’s RUS platform and programme.
· All consortium members have already been involved in several relevant projects implementing African-European collaboration in EO.
But the most substantial parts of this base are the African and European EO communities, who’s cooperation evolved in the last decades, partly stimulated by the aforementioned activities. The EO AFRICA Facility aims at further strengthening the collaboration of these communities and promoting joint scientific results with an African focus.
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