Europe will monitor the impact of the coronavirus from space

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The program will look at sectors such as agriculture, air and land traffic, or pollution.

The satellites of the European Space Agency (ESA) will track from space the economic impact that the coronavirus crisis is leaving the world, through a program presented this Friday to monitor sectors such as agriculture, land and air traffic or pollution.

The Coronavirus Rapid Action and Earth Observation Program (RACE) is the result of a cooperation between ESA, based in Paris, and the European Commission, and aims to shed new light on social and economic changes “derived from the pandemic crisis.

Through the website http://race.esa.int, any user can access specific examples in which the images of the satellites of the European program Copernicus de Earth observations are used to analyze information that allows us to see economic recovery or pollution in different regions. The most famous example in recent months is that of air pollution measurement reports, data obtained thanks to European satellites.

“We have seen that during confinement the concentration of nitrogen dioxide, one of the gases that lead to air pollution, has fallen by around 50% in cities such as Barcelona, ​​Madrid, Milan or Paris,” said the director of the program. ESA observer Josef Aschbacher during the presentation. Thanks to the satellites, they also saw that, as soon as the confinement de-escalation began, the levels of air pollution returned to those recorded before the crisis.

Accessible to everything

“We want to make sure that investment in space brings benefits to each one of us,” explained the Deputy Director-General of the European Commission for Defense and Space Industry, Pierre Delsaux, who indicated that the project is in its first phase and the data and its applications will be updated with “exhaustive” work.

During the crisis, Copernicus images were used to monitor traffic jams and urge authorities to facilitate transfers. Also to analyze the surface of an asparagus production area in Germany, which allowed us to quickly see that production fell in April between 22% and 30%compared to the previous year, an economic loss of ten million euros in an essential activity for the city of Brandenburg. “We want it to be practical, that political managers can use it to decide what to do and where to act,” said Delsaux.

Global scale

“One of the lessons from this crisis is that Europe needs to be resilient and space is essential for it. We need to guarantee our autonomy in this sector,” he added. Delsaux stressed that this program helps to understand that space is “a fundamental tool for the economy “ and to end the perception that space is very expensive and its use incomprehensible to the general public.

The first tests of this program, which aims to be applied worldwide in an alliance with the US space agency NASA and the Japanese JAXA, which will be detailed on June 25, have also been able to analyze the impact on air traffic, the problems in the borders for the transport of essential supplies and even agricultural activity.

Beyond the coronavirus

Aschbacher explained that the system, which will be applied beyond the effects of the health crisis, allows us to know how to face “such a crisis” and to make predictions and simulations of what could happen if other parameters are applied in the observed models. Some twenty academic and industrial partners have intervened in the project, such as the telecommunications company Vodafone, the Airbus One Atlas service, the Catholic University of Leuven, the University of Bremen or the British service company Serco, among others.

The future of the program involves expanding the coverage of satellites, updating available data and launching new practical examples, for which they have also launched a contest so that the citizens themselves propose activities every week, in addition to the ambitious global extension of the project.