BIOMASS recommended as 7th Earth Explorer

The European Space Agency’s Earth Science Advisory Committee (ESAC) has recommended that BIOMASS be selected as the 7th Earth Explorer mission. The recommendation was conveyed in a letter from Prof. Volker Leibig, Director of Earth Observation Programmes to Lead Investigators and Mission Advisory Groups. The letter references the ground breaking provision of P-band spaceborne SAR data that Biomass offers. Crucially, Professor Leibig also notes that Biomass has the potential to evolve into an operational system: something that is particularly attractive in an Earth Explorer mission.

I am a little surprised at the ESAC recommendation, but rather pleased. Biomass has excellent potential to deliver key environmental data to decision makers and researchers. At a presentation today in Sweden Lars Ulander, a member of the Biomass team, showed the diverse products and approaches developed for Biomass: Polarimetric SAR (PolSAR), Polarimetric Interferometry (PolInSAR) and Tomographic SAR (TomoSAR). Prof. Ulander demonstrated that the Biomass mission has the potential to not only provide valuable data products but will also drive SAR technology and analysis forwards. Biomass has yet to achieve the precision the team has identified as a requirement for the system (resolving forest height to <4 m) but tests have yet to include TomoSAR which should improve accuracy. Whatismore, P-band SAR could prove to have valuable additional applications in ice sheet sounding and sub-surface terrestrial mapping (particularly in arid regions).

Whilst I think the selection of Biomass by ESA at their meeting in May would be justified I feel particular sympathy for our colleagues who designed the CoReH2O mission. Professor Helmut Rott and his colleagues created an excellent mission concept and demonstrated it’s potential. I can’t help feeling a CoReH2O launch in 2019 or 2020 would be the crowning achievement of Prof. Rott’s illustrious career; it is a shame ESA couldn’t support both SAR missions (no doubt PREMIER is equally worthy but I am unfamiliar with that mission).

The decision is still open but surely ESAC’s recommendation will be the deciding factor: we’ll find out in May.

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