OPAL User Guide

Note: Access will not be available until February 2021 when NovaSAR-1 has been officially launched as National Facility  

The NovaSAR-1 OPAL system is a web-based application that is used to prepare and submit proposals for new NovaSAR-1 tasking requests.

Before applying, proposers should first familiarise themselves with the following resources:

Last updated: January 2021


1. About OPAL

2. OPAL registration and login

3. Writing proposals

4. Previewing, submitting and searching proposals

5. Proposal assessments

6. Payback time

7. Publications and acknowledgements

8. Changes to OPAL

1. About OPAL

1.1 Using OPAL

OPAL is a web-based application that is used to prepare and submit proposals for new NovaSAR-1 image tasking. To run OPAL, you must be connected to the internet.

OPAL must be used to prepare and submit all acquisition request proposals. The only exceptions are high urgency requests, such as for emergency response, where proposers should contact the team here.

A proposal submitted via the OPAL system will consist of:

  • A cover sheet, created with the OPAL cover sheet editor;
  • An acquisitions table, created with the OPAL acquisitions table editor;
  • A zip archive containing: a proposal justification, created with the software of your choice and submitted as a PDF; an area of interest (AOI) in shp/kml/kmz format. For projects that require multiple AOIs, include a clearly labelled shp/kml/kmz file for each AOI.

The components required within an OPAL proposal.


To begin using OPAL, go to the NovaSAR-1 OPAL home page.

When a proposal round is open, the yellow box on the NovaSAR-1 OPAL home page contains key information about:

  • The name of the proposal round e.g. FEB2021;
  • The time window over which acquisitions can be requested – this is usually a two year period commencing one month after the proposal deadline;
  • The deadline for submitting proposals.

 1.2 OPAL supported browsers

The recommended browser for OPAL is Firefox. OPAL also supports Internet Explorer. Other browsers may also work but are not supported. If you are having problems using OPAL with your browser, please make sure you are using a recommended browser.

If using a Firefox browser, set the browser options so the browser will ask you where to save files. Note that for Firefox, the default option is to save all files on your desktop.

For Firefox on Windows, set the download option by opening the browser and clicking on:

Tools >> Options >> Downloads >> ‘Ask me where to save every file’

For Firefox on a Mac, set the download option by opening the browser and clicking on:

Firefox >> Preferences >> Downloads >> ‘Ask me where to save every file’

We recommend that first-time users create and save a dummy proposal cover sheet to test that your browser is working correctly.

1.3 OPAL proposal tools

OPAL provides a set of proposal tools that allow users to:

  • Register as a user and update user details;
  • Create, modify and save proposal cover sheets;
  • Create, modify and save proposal acquisitions tables;
  • Upload zip archives containing areas of interest (AOIs) and proposal justification files;
  • Preview, download and print a proposal as a PDF file;
  • Search the cover sheets of other successful OPAL proposals;
  • Submit, update and withdraw proposals during an application period;
  • Access their own current and previous submissions;
  • View proposal grades and comments provided by the Time Assignment Committee (TAC), who assess the proposals.

These tools are described in detail in the sections below.

OPAL also provides facilities that are available only to administrators and members of the Time Assignment Committee (TAC). These are not discussed further in this user guide.

1.4 OPAL file handling

Files created using OPAL
OPAL provides tools that allow users to create and edit proposal cover sheets and acquisitions tables. These files are saved onto the user’s local disk using specified filenames. Saved files can be reloaded into OPAL and edited as needed.

Files created using OPAL (cover sheets and acquisitions tables) are in XML format. Please do not try to edit the XML files without using OPAL – this is very likely to make the files unreadable.

Other required files
Other files required in the application can be created using software of your choice and should be uploaded in a single zip archive with a maximum size of 10 MB.

The proposal justification must be in PDF format and not longer than one A4 page.

Area of interest (AOI) files must be in shp/kml/kmz format. For projects that require multiple AOIs, a clearly labelled shp/kml/kmz file should be provided for each AOI.

More information about these files is included in the sections below.

1.5 Getting help with OPAL

During the application process, a set of on-line instructions can be viewed for each OPAL proposal tool. To view these, click on the ‘expand instructions’ link that you will see at the top of the relevant page.

If you are still having difficulties, contact the OPAL administrators at CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science by emailing novasarinfo@csiro.au with the word ‘OPAL’ in the email subject.

2. OPAL registration and login

OPAL may be used without registration to create and save local files. However, proposers need to be registered to submit a proposal to the CCEO, or to access previously submitted files. We strongly recommend that all co-authors included in proposals register with OPAL.

To register with OPAL, go to the NovaSAR-1 OPAL Home Page and click on the ‘Register’ link on the left-hand side. Enter your email address, name, affiliation and a password for OPAL access.

A box may appear stating “There is at least one other user account with this surname in the system”. If you are not on the list please select the option “I am not on the list” and click on “Proceed”.

OPAL will allow you to register either one or two email addresses. The system will register you straight away and will then open a screen for you to log in.

OPAL user accounts are self-managed. Please keep your account details up to date. To change user-registration details, or to request a new OPAL password, use the links to ‘Update your details’ and ‘Change your password’.

To login to OPAL using a registered user account, click on the ‘Login’ link and enter your email address and OPAL password. An optional facility is provided that allows you to automatically log in when you reconnect on the same browser. You may log out at any time.

Unregistered users included in a submitted proposal will receive an email to invite them to register with OPAL.

For account problems, please contact novasarinfo@csiro.au with the word ‘OPAL’ in the email subject.

3. Writing proposals

A proposal submitted to the CCEO via OPAL will consist of three elements:

  • A cover sheet, created with the OPAL cover sheet editor;
  • An acquisitions table, created with the OPAL acquisitions table editor;
  • A zip archive containing: a proposal justification, created with the software of your choice and submitted as a PDF; an area of interest (AOI) in shp/kml/kmz. For projects that require multiple AOIs, include a clearly labelled shp/kml/kmz file for each AOI.

These elements are described in the following sections.

Submitted proposals must contain all three elements.

For the best chance of getting your proposal accepted without modifications we recommend that your AOI(s) are:

  • No wider than the swath width of your selected mode (we are unable to accept wide AOIs which require days of consecutive imaging as this will use a disproportionate part of the CSIRO capacity share).
  • Aligned to the pass direction selected (if applicable) so that full coverage of the AOI can be achieved.
  • No longer than 400kms in length.

If you are unsure whether your AOI is suitable please contact us before submitting your proposal.

3.1 OPAL cover sheet

Cover sheets contain general information about the applicants and the proposal. Cover sheets are created and edited using the OPAL cover sheet editor. Upon launching the cover sheet editor you may choose to either create a new cover sheet or open a previously saved cover sheet.

During the creation of the cover sheet, you will be asked to provide information about the proposal including:

  • Title

Give your proposal and appropriate Title

  • Proposal Keywords

Choose the keyword(s) that best define the application(s) that your project will address

  • Investigators

Enter the principal investigator for the proposal and up to 30 co-authors. Only one author is allowed per line. A maximum of 30 co-authors may be included on the proposal.

  • Acquisition date range

Enter the date range covering the full temporal extent of all the acquisitions you are requesting. The dates of specific acquisition windows and regular acquisition intervals for each AOI will be entered in the acquisitions table. The maximum allowable date range is one year.

  • Location of your Area(s) of Interest (AOI)

List countries, states, territories and/or regions of your area(s) of interest. AOI shp/kml/kmz files should be uploaded with the proposal justification.

You will also be asked to provide a proposal summary including:

  • A concise proposal abstract (up to 250 words) clearly stating the problem/idea/application and how you plan to use NovaSAR-1 to investigate it.
  • A clear and concise outreach statement (up to 250 words) that explains the aims of the proposed project avoiding technical jargon.
  • Additional Information 

Further information:

  • Adding investigators

The cover sheet editor provides a facility for selecting the contact information for the proposers using the OPAL register of users. The Principal Investigator will need to be registered on OPAL. Up to 30 co-authors can be added who do not have to be registered but contact information (name, email and affiliation) for unregistered users will need to be entered. . If you are a student with a supervisor they should be included as a co-author.

  • Page navigation

Cover sheets are created using a guided information collection process broken up into a series of pages. To navigate between the pages, use the ‘previous’ and ‘next’ buttons that are given at the bottom of the pages.

  • Multiple entry fields

Some fields allow multiple entries e.g. proposal keywords. To select more than one proposal keyword, select the first option then hold down the control (CTRL) key to select further options.

  • Proposal numbers and previous submissions

When a proposal is submitted to the CCEO it is assigned a proposal number. Please use this as a reference in any communications.

If you are submitting a new proposal for a project you have previously submitted e.g. for a project extension, enter the previous proposal number. You should provide the previous number even if your previous proposal was not successful.

  • Saving a cover sheet

Cover sheets can be saved at any time during the editing process and must be saved to your local disk prior to submission. OPAL will advise you if any of the mandatory fields in the cover sheet have not been completed. To save the cover sheet click on the ‘Save cover sheet’ button. This will save all of the information that you have entered.

Cover sheets that have previously been saved can be loaded back into OPAL for further editing.

The completed and saved cover sheet will be uploaded for submission with the other proposal components.

  • Cover sheet session

The cover sheet editor maintains a session on our server that remembers information that you have entered on previous pages. The session will expire if you do not progress to another cover sheet page within 3 hours. In this case, your cover sheet will be reset.

3.2 OPAL acquisitions table

Acquisitions tables summarise the acquisition(s) requested within a proposal. Acquisitions tables are created and edited using the OPAL acquisitions table editor. Upon launching the acquisitions table editor you may choose to either create a new acquisitions table or to open a previously saved acquisitions table.

Further information:

  • Adding a row to the table

To add an acquisition, enter the AOI name. New acquisition rows will be added automatically as you type.

  • AOI name

The AOI name must match the name of the uploaded AOI file, especially in the case of multiple AOIs. For example, AOI file names: Adelaide.shp, Canberra.shp, Darwin.shp, Hobart.shp, Melbourne.shp, Perth.shp, Sydney.shp; AOI names: Adelaide, Canberra, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney.

  • AOI Coordinates

Enter the approximate centre coordinates of the AOI. OPAL supports decimal degree coordinate systems. To convert from Degrees Minutes Seconds to decimal degrees please visit here.

  • Area of AOI

Provide the approximate area of your AOI in km². Proposers are expected to be familiar with Australia’s capacity share of the NovaSAR-1 mission. Large AOIs may be automatically rejected. If you are unsure whether your AOI is suitable please contact us for advice before submitting your proposal.

  • Defining imaging dates

Proposers should specify an acquisition time window and then define the frequency of images within this window. All dates/times should be in UTC.

  • Imaging start date

Enter the start date of your acquisition time window.

  • Imaging end date

Enter the end date of your acquisition time window.

  • Acquisition Interval

If you require images at regular intervals (e.g. every 1 month, 2 months, 6 months) please enter the interval here, otherwise, enter “Other” here and details of the dates should be included in the additional information section in the cover sheet. The most frequently we can offer images is once per month to allow opportunities for all users.

  • Imaging mode

More information on the imaging modes available for NovaSAR-1 is available here. The imaging modes are subject to change and additional imaging modes may be added in the future. We strongly suggest you check the archive before deciding your mode as there may be images available that could form part of your study and you may want to use this mode to keep your data collections consistent.

  • Antenna Pointing 

NovaSAR-1 imagery can be acquired with either Left or Right pointing. Indicate the preferred antenna pointing of your acquisitions or select not to specify. More information is available here.

  • Pass direction

NovaSAR-1 imagery can be acquired on both Ascending (South-to-North) and Descending (North-to-South) passes. Indicate the preferred direction of your acquisitions or select not to specify a pass direction. More information is available here.

  • Loading an existing acquisitions table

OPAL can load a previously saved acquisitions table into the current acquisitions table. The acquisitions will be appended to any existing rows.

  • Editing an acquisitions table

OPAL provides some simple editing tools for use with the acquisitions tables. To select a row of the table, use the checkbox next to the AOI name or via the selection buttons for ‘invert’, ‘all’ and ‘none’.

A set of selected rows can be manipulated by selecting one of the ‘manipulate rows‘ options. Rows can be inserted, moved up or down, sorted into right ascension order or deleted.

  • Saving an acquisitions table

To save an acquisitions table file to your local disk, click on the ‘Save acquisitions table’ button. This will save all the acquisitions currently listed in the table, including both selected and unselected rows. OPAL will advise you if any mandatory fields have not been completed.

3.3 Proposal justification and AOI files

The proposal justification and AOI file(s) must be uploaded in a single zip archive. The zip archive must not exceed 10 MB in size. OPAL will not accept larger files.

Proposal justifications can be created using any software but must be submitted in PDF format.

The proposal justification should include:

  1. A summary of the project and any related work or previous acquisitions (including from other satellites).
  2. Specific project goals e.g. test a particular hypothesis, develop a particular method.
  3. An explicit statement about how the proposed NovaSAR-1 acquisitions will address the project goal(s).
  4. Consider the following questions in your response:
    • Why is the project feasible given the amount of data available, the type of data (including acquisition mode) and the characteristics of NovaSAR-1, plus the capabilities of the project team.
    • Does the project demonstrate the potential for scientific excellence, for example, a step-change in the application of SAR data or scientific understanding, or potential for commercialisation? Explain how the project exploits the unique capabilities of NovaSAR-1.
    • Will the project impact upon the Science and Research Priorities identified by the Australian Government (Food, Soil and Water, Transport, Cybersecurity, Energy, Resources, Advanced Manufacturing, Environmental Change, Health) and what are the intended benefits.
    • How will the project contribute to strengthening and the growth of the Australian SAR community/capability, for example leading to new partnerships with other organisations or providing new opportunities for researchers that do not primarily work with SAR data.

Proposal resubmissions
Any proposal that is a resubmission for the continuation of a project (i.e. to extend the number of acquisitions) should also include up to one additional A4 page containing: a report on the project status; a list of the acquisitions to date; details of project outcomes including any reports, products, scientific publications and new collaborations.

Any proposal that is a resubmission of a previously rejected proposal should also include up to one additional A4 page detailing how the new proposal addresses previous TAC/CCEO comments.

Resubmitted proposals must include the proposal number assigned to the previously submitted proposal in the project title.

The following rules should be followed or the TAC may reduce the proposal grade:

  • The PDF file must not exceed one A4 page including figures and references.
  • Figures should be clearly labelled with descriptive captions.
  • Proposal justifications should be formatted such that they are easy to read on-screen and in print.
  • The proposal justification should be written in clear English and aimed at a scientist who is a non-expert in your particular field.

AOI file(s)
For projects that require multiple AOIs, you will be required to upload a clearly labelled file for each AOI. For example, if your AOI includes major Australian cities, upload a file for each city: Adelaide.shp, Canberra.shp, Darwin.shp, Hobart.shp, Melbourne.shp, Perth.shp, Sydney.shp.

4. Previewing, submitting and searching proposals

4.1 OPAL proposal permissions

Any member of a proposal team with an OPAL registration may submit, update or withdraw a proposal during an applications period.

4.2 Preview a proposal

To use the preview tool, click on the ‘Preview or submit a proposal’ link on the OPAL home page.

Using the browse buttons, upload each of the required application files:

  • A cover sheet, created with the OPAL cover sheet editor;
  • An acquisitions table, created with the OPAL acquisitions table editor;
  • A zip archive containing: a proposal justification, created with the software of your choice and submitted as a PDF; a clearly labelled shp/kml/kmz file for each area of interest (AOI).

Click on the ‘preview’ button. OPAL will then generate a PDF file containing the cover sheet and acquisitions table and open this in your browser. You may choose to save this file to your local disk by clicking on the ‘save a copy’ button (for Firefox and IE browsers).

4.3 Submit a proposal

To submit a proposal to the CCEO, you must ensure that you have prepared all components of the application:

  • A cover sheet, created with the OPAL cover sheet editor;
  • An acquisitions table, created with the OPAL acquisitions table editor;
  • A zip archive containing: a proposal justification, created with the software of your choice and submitted as a PDF; a clearly labelled shp/kml/kmz file for each area of interest (AOI).

Click on the link on the OPAL home page to ‘Preview or submit a proposal’.

Use the browse buttons to load in the three proposal files and then click on the ‘submit’ button.

Once your proposal has been submitted, OPAL will show you a web page that lists all your current and past proposals.

OPAL will send an email acknowledgement of the submission to any co-authors on the proposal with valid email addresses.

4.4 List, update, withdraw and access proposals

List proposals
To list all your current and previous submissions, click on the link on the OPAL home page to ‘List your proposals’. The top section of this listing will show any proposals submitted for the next proposal deadline. The bottom section shows proposals submitted for previous submission periods. This tool includes the TAC comments and grades for all proposals.

Update a proposal
To update a current proposal – First, use the link to ‘List your proposals’. Then click on the ‘Update proposal‘ item which is listed in the ‘actions’ column. You may then reload the proposal files and send them as an update to the same proposal.

It is the responsibility of the proposers to ensure that the correct files are uploaded. Please use the Update Proposals tool carefully! Note that updating a proposal submission will overwrite any files sent to the CCEO in an earlier submission. You should ensure you retain any files locally that you want to keep.

Withdraw a proposal
To withdraw a proposal, use the proposal listing as above and click on the ‘Withdraw proposal’ item, which is listed in the action column. OPAL will ask you for confirmation before doing this.

Access files from a previous submission
OPAL allows you to access and download any of the files from previous OPAL submissions for proposals that include you as an author.

To access previously submitted proposals, use the proposal listing as above. This will list the individual proposal files for each proposal, and a PDF file generated for the full proposal. To save these files to your local disk, click on the filenames and use the save options.

Receive email notifications of proposal updates
OPAL will send an email to all proposers when a proposal is submitted. To receive email notifications of further updates to the proposal, use the proposal listing as above. Then set the toggle switch under ‘Notification’ to ’email me if proposal is updated’. To stop further emails being sent set this to the ‘do not email me’ option.

Searching proposals
This tool provides access to the proposal cover sheets and acquisition tables of all accepted proposals. To search for proposals, click on the ‘Search proposals’ link on the OPAL Home Page and fill in your search criteria.

5. Proposal assessments

Proposals undergo a technical assessment by a Time Assignment Committee (TAC – described below) on their potential to contribute to science/industry/innovation. Proposals also undergo a prioritisation assessment by the CCEO. Assessment outcomes are released approximately 1 month after each proposal round closes.

5.2 Implementation review by the CCEO

Once a proposal round has closed the CCEO will initially review the AOI, the requested imaging frequency and any further imaging refinements to determine the:

  • Capacity share usage – if your project will use up too large a share of the CSIRO Capacity then we will contact you to see how this can be refined before passing it on for technical review.
  • Ease of implementation
    • how specific are the requirements – are they broad enough to allow for the requested volume and/or frequency of images to be acquired and are they narrow enough to reasonably include in the acquisition plan
    • are there clashes with existing or other submitted projects and can these clashes be managed
  • Proposers are reminded that higher priority will be assigned to proposals led by Australian proposers, and for studies over AOIs within Australia. 

The CCEO review will not directly affect the TAC scoring but if there are multiple projects with similar scores that are being debated by the TAC, the ease of implementation will affect the outcome.

5.2 Technical review by the Time Assignment Committee (TAC)

The Australia NovaSAR-1 Time Assignment Committee (TAC) is appointed by the CCEO. The TAC encompasses members of the CSIRO SAR Community of Practice and the CCEO Advisory Committee. The TAC is supported by a group of external readers who are appointed by the CCEO and are drawn from both the national and international communities. TAC readers review a subset of the proposals relevant to their area of expertise. All TAC members and readers operate under a set of agreed procedures and responsibilities.

Each proposal is typically reviewed by three individuals, at least one of which is a TAC member and two of which may be TAC readers. TAC readers and members provide grades and comments for their allocated proposals using the following guidelines:

TAC technical score
5 outstanding proposal
4 well above average proposal
3 reasonable proposal
2 below average proposal
1 technically/scientifically unfeasible proposal

5.3 Assessment outcomes and acquisition scheduling

After the TAC’s grades and comments are finalised, an email is sent to all proposers for that round (and who have valid email addresses in OPAL), informing them that the grade and comments can be viewed in OPAL.

The TAC may choose to initially award reduced time allocations if a small pilot study is required to demonstrate success before a large project can commence. Note that all projects, especially those requesting imagery for more than one year, will be subject to review as the CCEO see fit, to ensure that projects are best aligned with the objectives of Australia’s NovaSAR-1 capacity share.

Scheduling of imagery requests will be subject to a rank that combines both the TAC technical score and CCEO implementation review.

The CCEO’s ability to fulfil NovaSAR-1 image requests is dependent upon prioritisation with other NovaSAR-1 capacity share partners. There may be instances where, due to existing imaging commitments or restrictions on Australia’s NovaSAR-1 capacity share, proposers are asked to adjust their imaging requirements. Resolutions will be sought on a case-by-case basis and the proposer may be asked if it is possible to postpone or reduce the scope of the study.

For queries on proposal scores or comments, please email novasarinfo@csiro.au, with the word ‘OPAL’ in the email subject.

6. Payback time

The CCEO reserve the right to use Australia’s NovaSAR-1 share for high priority applications, such as for natural disasters or national security purposes, when deemed necessary.

The CCEO will endeavour to avoid clashes between planned observations and emergency or opportunistic image requests. The CCEO accepts no responsibility for any consequences arising from images that are not collected or delivered. However, if planned acquisitions are displaced under these circumstances, a reasonable attempt will be made to replace the acquisitions lost. Replacement acquisitions will not displace other scheduled acquisitions. Replacement acquisitions are assigned the same priority as the originally planned acquisitions.

7. Publications and acknowledgements

Before receiving NovaSAR-1 data, users will be required to sign an End User Licence Agreement.

Users who obtain NovaSAR-1 data via the CCEO must acknowledge the CCEO and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL), who operate the NovaSAR-1 satellite, in any publications.

The following text should be used:

The imagery used in this publication/report/product was sourced from the NovaSAR-1 satellite, owned and operated by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL), pursuant to a licence between SSTL and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and was obtained via the CSIRO Centre for Earth Observation.

Please email novasarinfo@csiro.au with the details of any publications that include NovaSAR-1 data obtained via the CCEO.

8. Changes to OPAL

Any changes or updates to the OPAL system and OPAL User Guide are recorded in this section.