CEOS Development Environment

From the Archive: The First Ten Years of CEOS

The following text is a speech by Lisa Shaffer (NASA), which was presented at the 8th CEOS Plenary in Berlin, Germany. The original text can be found appended to the minutes of the meeting, which can be found on the archived meeting materials page

We did it! We took an idea and made it into a reality.

Participants of the 8th CEOS Plenary in 1994, holding the photo from the 1st CEOS Plenary in 1984.

What was the idea? That the world would benefit from satellite operators working together in the planning and execution of Earth observation missions. The idea was based on a vision shared by people like John McElroy and Shelby Tilford, both of whom would like to have been here tonight.

The vision recognized the inherent interdisciplinary nature of satellite remote sensing. There is no such thing as a uniquely ocean satellite or land satellite or weather satellite. The Earth operates as a system and specific techniques for observing the Earth can provide useful information about many aspects of the complex system of our planet. Thus, rather than perpetuate discipline-specific groups, CEOS brought all Earth observation satellite operators together.

The idea was to serve the worldwide user community in the best possible way. Instead of building independently planned and operated satellites, each with its unique characteristics, user interfaces, data formats, calibration standards, etc., space agencies should meet and talk and share information about their plans and experiences. While we each make our own decisions in the end, we can make better decisions if we work together and learn from each other and use common approaches where they make sense. Where they make sense means from a user perspective, not just from optimizing a particular mission’s requirements. The Earth is too important to isolate a particular set of observations. We need to share the collective knowledge we are accumulating through our combined investment of financial and intellectual resources.

In addressing the first 10 years, I am here as one who participated in drafting the original terms of reference, one who has attended every CEOS plenary meeting except the April 1992 special session, and as a past chairman of one of the CEOS Working Groups. Thus, I feel obligated to recount a bit of history. In 1984, the G-7 Summit endorsed a report of its Working Group on Growth, Technology, and Employment, calling for coordination among remote sensing programs. John McElroy and Jennifer Clapp were instrumental in developing that language and working to have it included in the Summit declaration at Williamsburg.

A meeting was called by NOAA, chaired by John McElroy, then Assistant Administrator of NESDIS, to organize what was originally called the International Earth Observation Satellite Committee (IEOSC), merging and expanding the existing Coordination of Land Observing Satellites and Coordination of Ocean Remote Sensing Satellites groups. One of the major accomplishments of the first meeting was to change the name of the group to one that is pronounceable – CEOS. The terms of reference were adopted and two ad hoc working groups were created.

1984 was my first year at NOAA. I didn’t have nearly as much gray hair. As you can see from the picture from the first plenary, some of you had more hair. I had the job Brent Smith has now, and he worked at NASA in the office where I now report. All our agencies had smaller budgets and fewer programs. Our principal notion of compatibility and complementarity was to use the same downlink frequency for Landsat and SPOT so that ground station operators could use the same dishes to receive data from both spacecraft. We also began working on common data formats and common calibration standards for intercomparison of data. Those steps were relatively small, but very important. Even in 1984, we envisioned enormous intercalibration challenges that would come from the polar platforms, both within a given platform’s payload and between US and European and Japanese platforms. We were optimistic about the growth of Earth observing satellites and understood the severe criticism we would deserve if we didn’t consider international cooperation to optimize the value of the investments to come.

We haven’t escaped criticism by any means. Indeed, we are asked often by Congress and others why we don’t do more internationally. But CEOS has made an important contribution in the right direction. We have tried some things in CEOS that haven’t worked, and learned from our mistakes. And we have tried some things in CECS that are working marvelously well. Some are being demonstrated in the hotel lobby – the International Directory Network and InfoServer, the cal/val coordination or test sites and airborne campaigns, the Dossier, the Newsletter.

There are some people who deserve credit for the original creation of CEOS and its accomplishments over the last ten years. John McElroy was the father of CEOS, leading the remote sensing discussions within the G-7 context and chairing the original meeting. Jennifer Clapp and Ken Hodgkins worked with me at NOAA in setting up that first meeting. The second plenary was hosted by ESA, and Bob Pfeiffer was instrumental in securing ESA‘s commitment to CEOS. Several years later, Beb was also key in defining the concept for the CEQS secretariat and working with the US and Japan to develop the secretariat terms of reference which were adopted in London.

The Canadian Space Agency hosted the 3rd CEOS-meeting in Ottawa, led by Ed Langham. INPE, led by Marcio Barbosa, hosted a seminal CEOS plenary at which we decided to establish a role for Affiliates. The origin of this idea was a harsh reaction by a representative of one of the international programs who was invited to give a brief presentation to the CEOS meeting and said it was not worth a trip to Brazil to have five minutes on the agenda. That got our attention, and we realized that we needed these international organizations to be more than just occasional presenters, but to be integrally part of all CEOS activities. 

Arthur Pryor and Dave Williams gave CEOS a big boost in 1992, linking it to the UNCED conference in Rio. Building on other European initiatives to bring environmental agencies together with space agencies, the UK hosted an interim meeting in addition to the Plenary, and produced a splendid CEOS “Handbook” that was distributed at UNCED. BNSC deserves credit for starting the CEOS Dossier, an invaluable tool that we all recognize as an important CEOS product. In the secretariat, Yukio Haruyama, Chu Ishida, Miss Misawa and ESA’s Huw Hopkins joined NASA and NOAA representatives in forming a strong team to support CEOS. Last year STA and NASDA worked tirelessly to support several CEOS meetings and to develop both the CEOS newsletter and the applications dossier. Volker Liebig and Heinz Seipel and their staff devoted great time and effort preparing this year’s Plenary and User Requirements Workshop as well. And on the U.S. side, I must recognize Brent Smith and Linda Moodie of NOAA and Peter Backlund of NASA, all of whom have been invaluable colleagues of mine in all aspects of CEOS development.

Besides the Plenary activities, the Working Groups have demanded a lot of effort and dedication over the last ten years. At NOAA, the Working Group on Data has had several chairpeople, starting with Bruce Needham, me, Greg Hunolt, Mike Mignogno, and now Levin Lauritson. Betty Howard provided the secretariat support to the WGD for most of that time, although Jeff Maclure started in that role and Jean Schiro-Zavela provides that function now. ESA was the original host for the Working Group on Cal/Val, with Guy Duchossois as chairman. CCRS took over a few years ago, with Dr. Susan Till, the current chairperson.

Without the dedication and hard work of all these People and their respective organizations, CEOS would not have much to reflect on. But fortunately, agency managers and individuals have believed in the idea that two heads are better than one, and only occasionally fallen prey to the counterargument that too many cooks spoil the broth. Indeed, here we are with quite a proud history, in my opinion.

Although my assigned topic is the first ten years, I would like to look ahead a bit as well. We have only just begun. We have created an organization, filled it with many hardworking and dedicated people, and developed relationships among us. This is perhaps the most significant accomplishment. Aside from the formal meetings of the Plenary or Working Groups, we have all developed a much deeper awareness of what other agencies are doing and we have created networks of contacts among us to share information, to ask questions, and discuss ideas. Not everything takes place in formal sessions or among all members.

As an example of our acceptance, NASA initially was rather lukewarm to the idea of CEOS in 1984. By 1993 when Dr. Tilford was leaving NASA and briefing Dr. Kennel, he told Charlie that if you only do one thing internationally in your first year, you must go to CEOS. We are now recognized as the place to be, the forum for addressing cross-cutting Earth observation issues, the opportunity for dialogue and exchange. In planning future Plenaries, in fact, we should deliberately leave some extra time for the multiple side meetings that inevitably need to occur and are squeezed into quick lunch hours or late evenings.

We know some of the issues ahead. We do not know exactly what we will be doing 10 years from now. It seems inevitable, and indeed desirable, that there be some more formalization of the commitments of various nations to long-term observation of the Earth. We are in an exciting period of research and development, demonstrating techniques and investigating basic processes of the Earth to know what can be observed, with what accuracy, and how to use the results in analytical and predictive models. Some weather monitoring capabilities are clearly operational and at the point of being taken for granted by the worldwide community. Many new systems for ocean, land, and atmospheric remote sensing are at various stages of development and acceptance. As these systems mature and are evaluated, some will be candidates for operational implementation as well. Governments, in a period of tight budgets need to show societal benefits from large investments. They are defining their strategies in both research and development, and in environmental monitoring with this need in mind. The international nature of future long-term observing capabilities is inevitable. How long- term capabilities will be defined, implemented, and managed is a key question for the coming decade. How do we learn from what we have done, both individually and collectively, and make sure that the limited resources each of our nations has to contribute gives the most benefit to our citizens and the rest of the world.

CECS clearly has a role to play in this debate. It is up to us to decide what that role will be, and it surely will evolve over time. CEOS is so large, and has such a variety of members and Affiliates, that collective action in this forum must be voluntary, based on the particular considerations each agency must make. CEOS could serve as the preparatory forum for a more formal institutional arrangement with legally binding relationships, once the way forward is more clearly articulated. CEOS itself could evolve into that more formal institution, or we may never go beyond best efforts, voluntary terms.

However we proceed, we should take pride in the fact that the first ten years of CEOS have cleared a path and established a strong foundation on which we can build with confidence, friendship, and success,

Thank you.

Lisa Shaffer