The EU Copernicus Programme and the Raw Materials Sector

Copernicus is a major European programme with the goal to improve global monitoring for the environment and security. Images from Sentinel satellites are generating vast volumes of data which is being turned into geo-information by 6 dedicated Copernicus Services. How can the mining and raw materials sector benefit from the use of this European asset?

At a recent meeting organised by the European Commission, EARSC and Euromines discussed this question. It was agreed that benefits could be significant and that we should make some joint proposals to the Commission as the two representative bodies (Euromines and EARSC) working together can provide an excellent basis from which to identify suitable actions.

Figure 1: Satellite image processing for structural geology: a – conventional Landsat 321 RGB, b – inverted Landsat 321 RGB, c - high discrimination lithology image, d – wadi map © OTM and WestrenGeco

Imagery taken from satellites benefits us in many ways, but for many years, the limited number of very expensive satellites has made imagery expensive and difficult to access. Now, more and more satellites are being launched, and as imagery is becoming much easier to access, attention shifts to the information which it can provide. Furthermore, data coming from the public satellites like Copernicus is available on a free and open data policy which makes it even easier to develop new products and to deliver them in an efficient manner.

Previously surveillance was the almost exclusive domain of governments. Now lower cost satellites are democratising space and making imagery available to everyone. Big data technologies are in turn making it possible to process and distribute the information more easily and most importantly to enable the combination of many different data types. These data and information are serving citizens and businesses alike – as well as governments.

The mining and raw materials sector is no exception. EO services have been long used by mining and raw materials companies to help in exploration and to monitor what is happening in the environment around their operations. The ability to gather this information quickly and accurately gives the possibility to transform business in ways which we are only just starting to understand.

In the past, products have been bespoke, i.e. each one developed for one customer. This is expensive. Now, with more and more data sources, we are seeing the emergence of on-line products and services which serve many customers. This new paradigm (for the sector) is set to transform the way companies work and how consumers can obtain information on their environment.

Types of products used by the mining sector have been land surface cover maps in conjunction with geological surveys to prospect mineral deposits, maps of remote infrastructure (roads, water, landing strips etc) necessary to support mine development, environmental monitoring of water catchment areas, rivers and vegetation to detect any pollution or its extent, and sensitive biological sites as well as other habitats to meet regulatory requirements.

A few years ago, EARSC started working with the International Oil & Gas producers association following a workshop organised by the European Space Agency (ESA). This led to the creation of a group called OGEO where experts from the EO sector meet regularly with oil and gas experts. This led to a comprehensive study which identified 230 challenges (or problems) which the oil and gas companies face and which may be addressed at least partially through the use of satellite imagery.  92 EO products and services were identified which could be used to address these challenges. These can be found at a dedicated web-portal called EO4OG.

Many of the challenges for the mining sector are the same as those for O&G, and certainly many of the same EO products can benefit mining companies whether exploring or exploiting mineral resources. If EO service companies are to serve effectively sectors such as the mining and raw materials industry then knowing the sector needs becomes a must. We are setting the goal to construct a new Marketplace to help customers easily find the services they need. It will embrace high quality certified products as well as lower quality but cheaper ones. Service level agreements will be set out. One key will be meeting procurement rules of commercial companies (as well as governmental users), and another is the sustainability of a service where commitment will be needed if operations are to become dependent on information. Business intelligence is expected to become a growth area.

An on-line business model will also make use of big-data technologies to protect the IPR in data. This could mean yet another advance where data collected by companies as part of their operational processes can be monetised through its use in commercial services. Some data is too sensitive to open up for use by others, but a large part of it is not, and a new platform can make this a commercial possibility.

Working together, we should be able to explore these options and develop our understanding of what may be possible. Copernicus is real, it has been paid for out of our taxpayer funds, and we are enthusiastic about exploring its use to benefit both citizens and businesses such as the mining sector.

Figure 2: EO4OG products sheets (

EARSC is the European Association of Remote Sensing Companies; a not-for-profit organisation founded in 1989 and based in Brussels. Currently, we have 85 member companies from 22 European countries covering the full value chain of activities from satellite operations and data delivery through value-adding and the delivery of geo-information. EARSC represents the Earth Observation services industry in Europe with a key objective to help companies develop their business. For more information, go to or contact


Geoff Sawyer
EARSC Secretary General