Earth Observation Wants More Recognition

By | September 1, 2011 | Government, Via Satellite

The World Radiocommunication Conference in 2007 (WRC-07) adopted Resolution 673 on increased recognition of Earth observation and its applications. That resolution in turn led to a series of ITU recommendations, reports, conference and even a handbook on the importance of these services. Now the Earth observation community is seeking new and increased recognition at the upcoming WRC-12, perhaps culminating in a new article in the Radio Regulations.

Resolution 673 referred to a substantial body of work that already showed the importance of Earth observation. The immediate result was a series of new reports and other materials bolstering and updating that work. The goal now is to get governments to take this work into account and protect spectrum that these services use.

Not all these services are based on satellites. The ITU refers to operation of “terrestrial, oceanic, airborne and space-based observation networks.” Nevertheless, Resolution 673 notes that data from satellites are used globally, especially by national weather services and climate change organizations. In its November 2010 preliminary position on WRC-12 issues, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) commented that space-borne sensing has “an essential and increasing importance in operational and research meteorology…”

Reports flowing from the resolution also stress the role of satellites. For example, ITU-R Report RS.2178, issued in October 2010, noted that satellites provide “the most cost-efficient, if not the only, way to monitor the environment of the entire Earth…” Moreover, it cited other analysis claiming that Earth observation is the “number one satellite-based application worldwide.” This claim may have been exaggerated, as it applied only to non-classified government space investment and excluded both commercial and classified investments. Nevertheless, the sum of this information shows that Resolution 673 and efforts at WRC-12 to upgrade it are inextricably linked to the satellite sector.

The importance of Earth observation is not linked just to revenues or hard estimates of the value of the spectrum or the satellites. The ITU report stresses that benefits from Earth observation relate to society as a whole, including efforts to avoid the tremendous cost of natural disasters.

Resolution 673 seemed to limit the reach of the studies it called for by stating near the end that “neither new allocations nor additional protection would be objectives of such studies.” We are seeing a not so subtle shift in the more recent work to amend the resolution and reposition it for WRC-12 to protect spectrum used by Earth observation. And it is a dead certainty that if this resolution is adopted, the Earth observation community will rely on it to argue for additional or improved spectrum allocations.

For instance, the October 2010 ITU report modified its title to refer to the essential role and global importance of radio spectrum use for Earth observations. In a similar manner, amendments to the resolution prepared by the Europeans earlier this year would change the title of the resolution by referring to “the importance of spectrum use by Earth observation applications.”

Efforts to amend the resolution are moving forward. The Conference Preparatory Meeting discussed this item in its enormous report issued officially in May this year. The CPM report notes that “some administrations” support efforts to modify the resolution and add a new provision in the Radio Regulations urging administrations to duly recognize Earth observation.

How would that be done? At least the European conference preparatory proposals as of July 2011 would include a specific article in the Radio Regulations saying that ITU members recognize the importance of Earth observation related radio services. That article also would say “it is necessary” to take into account Resolution 673.

While Resolution 673 today speaks only in terms of increased recognition, the proposed amendments would specifically urge ITU members to take into account and support Earth observation radio frequency requirements. The immediate goal is to obtain better protection of the spectrum already used by the various Earth observation services. The end goal could include more and better spectrum. In its November 2010 position paper, the WMO explicitly stated that it encouraged the use of the Resolution 673 studies “to identify frequency bands for use in Earth observation activities, which could require consideration at future [radio conferences].”

The Earth observation community wants more recognition (and maybe more spectrum).

Gerry Oberst is a partner in the Hogan Lovells Brussels office.

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