Big data in orbit

Sentinels, the observation satellites of the European Space Agency, are actually data machines circling the earth. Big data at an altitude of 700 km. Every second one million square meters of the earth’s surface area are scanned. This data is used for computational models that can make a contribution to genuinely effective climate research.

T-Systems colleagues involved in the project are sitting anxiously in front of their computers in the middle of the night. The customer, the European Space Agency (ESA), is launching the Sentinel 1A, the first of six earth observation satellites, into space. Everything has gone smoothly: Data is being transmitted from the satellite to the data center in Frankfurt, Germany.
Today research in the natural sciences is not possible without extensive databases. The satellite and ground station data is the basis for research at several institutes in Hamburg that are dedicated to studying the earth’s climate. To process this data, scientists need supercomputers and big data solutions.

The more the better

Sentinel 1a uses radar to deliver precise images, even under cloudy conditions. The Sentinel satellites are part of the Copernicus Program and will constantly observe the earth’s surface. From an altitude of 700 kilometers – closer to the earth than any other satellite – they will transmit images of our planet’s surface to data centers on earth. Every six days, these images will provide a precise scanned view of the entire earth surface – with accuracy right down to each centimeter. The satellite images provide some insight into climate change, and whether the sea level and temperature are being adversely affected. Changes in the earth’s surface can be identified and studied in relation to agricultural matters and shifts in the earth. Sentinel-1A is equipped with radar technology that adds a new dimension to the quality and precision of the geo data it gathers.

Petabytes bundled in Frankfurt

To ensure that this data reaches ESA scientists and experts, the project team set up a powerful computer network extending from Svalbard in the north to Matera in the south and Gran Canaria in the west. A redundant DWDM-WAN spanning 11 European sites in Italy, Great Britain, France, Norway, Spain and Germany, with lines carrying up to 10 GBit/s, channel the data from the satellite to the twin-core data center in Frankfurt. T-Systems is responsible for all of the hosting in the data center. Every year Sentinel 1A will deliver up to one petabyte of data for processing.

Satisfaction among scientists and users throughout Europe

The processing and provisioning of data to ESA is the first step. In a forthcoming project transfer points will be established that will give all interested users access to the information stored in the data center via the Internet. This means that users in industry and public organizations can also benefit from the same image and geo data gathered for environmental scientists.

With this big data solution ESA is now in a better position to identify natural and environmental disasters so that appropriate steps can be taken quickly.

Let’s communicate big!
Günther Niederreiter

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