A column by Marco Fuchs: thoughts about time and space

Why earth observation is essential

How satellites are helping us to learn more about the earth

April 1, 2019. Leaving our planet and viewing it from above is a spectacular and at the same time fascinating sight that has become possible with space technology. From above you can appreciate the sheer vulnerability of this tiny blue speck against the backdrop of the universe. The awareness of this vulnerability and, associated with this, the need to observe the changes on the earth even more effectively and precisely has been heightened through human space flight. Satellite technology is indispensable for this purpose. What’s more, it makes it possible in the first place to gain new insights into the condition of the earth by collecting data and facts. In this sense, earth observation helps us to learn more about the earth and perhaps find out more effectively and swiftly where it is heading.

With the launch a good week ago of the PRISMA satellite, which our subsidiary OHB Italia built on behalf of the Italian space agency ASI, we have gained another crucial Earth observation skill. What makes this satellite so special is its hyperspectral optical sensor. Hyperspectral technology allows us to observe changes in the earth’s environment more accurately and precisely. Researchers and other users will be able to use PRISMA’s capabilities in various areas. It will be easier to observe changes in the environment, we will be able to make better decisions on how we handle resources, the condition of crops such as cereals or trees can be observed more closely, environmental pollution will be easier and quicker to detect and, ultimately, it will be possible to answer with greater precision the question as to who caused it.

Our forays into hyperspectral technology make me really proud. There are currently only two projects for hyperspectral satellites worldwide – and both are being executed within the OHB Group. In addition to PRISMA, which, as already mentioned, was recently launched into space from Kourou, we are building EnMAP on behalf of the German Aerospace Center DLR. The observation instrument of the satellite is a brand new development and, from this point of view, technically enormously challenging. Measurements from space were previously not possible with the accuracy that we can now achieve with EnMAP. Data is recorded in 20 to 250 spectral channels, ranging from ultraviolet wavelengths to long-wave infrared. This technology delivers high-quality and, above all, more useful data for environmental monitoring in particular. Hyperspectral technology allows conclusions to be drawn on dynamic environmental influences. It is about being able to make qualitative statements about the development of soils or vegetation, for example.

For this reason, I am also convinced that the environment, including the weather and the climate, will gain enormous importance in the long term. Environmental monitoring from outer space will assume a dimension that we cannot even imagine at this point in time. It will acquire a permanence and complexity that will clearly distinguish it from all other areas. Reconnaissance involves three or four imaging sensors, such as high-resolution electronic optics, radar or infrared. Much more is involved when it comes to monitoring the environment. Indeed, I am convinced that, looking forward, we may possibly even use sensors that require a satellite constellation of their own.

In this sense, I am also very pleased that we at OHB can leverage our expertise in Earth observation technology to make a contribution to protecting and preserving the earth in the long term. The purpose of space travel is to derive benefits for the earth. When we monitor the environment, we seek to preserve the earth. By the way, weather satellites provide the most immediate benefit for daily life. That’s the most every-day form of information that you can currently get. And many older people still remember that for a long time the weather forecast had more to do with fortune-telling than with empiricism. Today it’s completely different. Weather forecasts have become reliable. They have become a science that provides precise predictions. In short: the weather is the most important day-to-day question that is of interest to us all. Everyone, in all cultures, in all situations, is interested in the weather.

Weather observation will therefore remain very, very important for a very, very long time to come. Business in satellites in this area will benefit from this because weather observation satellites have become much better in recent decades. The question is always the same: What can we observe, what insights can we gain and what can we deduce from them? Seen in this light, space has brought a lot to weather forecasting, but the weather has also brought a lot to space  – and of course to OHB, which is currently building the next-generation weather satellites MTG.


Personal details:

Born in 1962, Marco Fuchs studied law in Berlin, Hamburg and New York. He worked as an attorney in New York and Frankfurt am Main from 1992 to 1995. In 1995, he joined OHB, the company that his parents had built up. He has been Chief Executive Officer of OHB SE since 2000 and of OHB System AG since 2011. Marco Fuchs is married and has two children.