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It is crucial, however, that we continue to learn more about our planet if we are to further understand the Earth system and its processes, enabling us to predict the effects a changing climate may bring. As our quest for knowledge continues to grow, so does our demand for accurate satellite data to be used for numerous practical applications related to protecting and securing the environment.
As a result, ESA's Living Planet Programme is comprised of two main components: a science and research element, which includes the Earth Explorer missions, and the Earth Watch element designed to facilitate the delivery of Earth Observation data for the eventual use in operational services. Earth Watch includes the well-established meteorological missions with the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) and also new missions focusing on the environment and civil security under GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) a joint initiative between the European Commission and ESA.
As part of the Living Planet Programme, the Earth Explorer missions encompass a new strategy for observing the Earth from space where missions are designed to address critical and specific issues that have been raised by the science community whilst demonstrating breakthrough technology in observing techniques. By involving the science community right from the beginning in the definition of new missions and introducing a peer-reviewed selection process, it is ensured that a resulting mission is developed efficiently and provides the exact data required by the user. This approach also gives Europe an excellent opportunity for international cooperation, both within the wide scientific domain and also in the technological development of new missions.
The family of Earth Explorer missions is a result of this strategy. Currently there are six missions in this category and a further six undergoing assessment study:
Through a new element of its Living Planet Programme, ESA will commit to facilitate the provision and use of information for GMES. This is a joint endeavour led by the European Commission and ESA to support Europe's goal regarding sustainable development and global governance, in support of environmental and security policies. The aim is to facilitate the acquisition, and distribution of all useful data and information. As such, GMES represents a vital part of Europe's contribution to issues affecting the global environment.
GMES is a relatively new initiative and as first step ESA is supporting a suite of Earth Observation-based pre-cursor services. This five-year programme is known as the GMES Services Element (GSE). The GSE supports the work of a range of users, including operational agencies, policy makers within government agencies, non-governmental organisations, key international scientific bodies and the public at large. The aim is to provide services which, at this time, focus on land and vegetation cover, forest monitoring, the marine, coastal and polar environment, maritime security, risk management, food security, atmospheric monitoring and humanitarian aid.
ESA is currently conducting a suite of activities to define more precisely the space component of GMES. Amongst other things, these activities include studies into new families of satellites called Sentinels and addressing the issues of standardising and improving Ground Segment infrastructures.
Turning data into operational services requires that long-term relationships are developed between research institutes, service organisations and user communities. ESA's Data User Element (DUE) aims to raise awareness with respect to the applicability of Earth Observation in day-to-day operations. ESA's Earth Observation Market Development (EOMD) programme complements the DUE by providing the framework within which to organise end-to-end service chains capable of leveraging Earth Observation data into commercial tools.