13 February 2013, Lausanne, Switzerland - The campus of the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) played host to the first meeting of the new AP-Swiss initiative launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in partnership with the Swiss Space Office.

The mission of AP-Swiss is to help the Swiss industry be more competitive on the international market of satellite applications with a special focus on integrated solutions. Integrated solutions involve creating services for various user families by combining the functionalities of space applications areas that typically work independently from one another, such as earth observation, satellite telecommunications, and navigation and geopositioning. ESA has a special programme named IAP to foster the development and launch of integrated solutions.

The event was the first of its kind in Switzerland, with participation of high-powered innovators from the public and private sectors in Switzerland and the ESA itself. ESA supports a network of “Ambassadors”. Since late 2012 the network comprises a Swiss Ambassador, Professor Jose Achache, formerly Deputy Director General for Research and Technology at France’s Space Agency CNES and former Director of Earth Observation Programmes at ESA. Achache was also the first Director of the Secretariat of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO).

UNOSAT was invited to present two of its current activities that are also examples of how the technologies developed by space agencies and satellite manufacturers around the world can be used to give birth to useful solutions for international users like the United Nations and various national entities. In Chad, for example, UNOSAT carries out a leading project together with the Chadian government and the Swiss Development Cooperation whose objective is to map and help manage national water resources.

Olivier Senegas of UNOSAT, who coordinates the activities of this multi-year project, said, “this is an innovative way to blend satellite applications, mapping and GIS together with knowledge sharing and training. We also plan to help Chad create a master course that will ensure that the knowledge we create together will produce additional benefits for a long time.”

Speaking of integrated solutions, UNOSAT presented its fleet tracking solution named HumaNav. This system, developed with French private sector partner Novacom Services, allows humanitarian agencies and NGOs to track and manage their vehicles in real time anywhere in the world. Today the system operates on 1,500 vehicles. UNHCR, UNICEF, WHO , the Red Cross Committee, and several NGOs are using this system in a number of countries in crisis.

The meeting was a successful opportunity for many young experts and commercial entrepreneurs to assess the state of the art of science and technology driving a growing number of applied solutions. Some of these address primarily national interests such as energy, environment, and territorial planning. Others, like the ones developed and used at UNOSAT, serve the purpose to make the UN and its action more efficient.

Swiss companies have been involved in space programmes for more than 30 years even though not much publicity has been made about their efforts and successes. Switzerland has built cameras, motors and sensors. More than 80 Swiss firms took part in the realization of the famous ESA Envisat satellite launched in 2002.

Regarding the way forward, Jose Achache is convinced that, “the priorities for the future will be on applications and services for food security, water, and energy management, including the monitoring of the impact of extraction and production. Market opportunities are growing substantially in these areas.” He added, “UNOSAT is a good example of how a deep understanding of user needs associated with a solid technical capability can drive innovation and success.”

Photo 1: Jose Achache, new head of the AP-Swiss platform

Photo 2: Olivier Senegas of UNOSAT

Photo 3: One of the speakers from the Swiss satellite applications inddustry