When the international EO satellites family gathering became… virtually real – March 2020

‘Team Australia’ (CSIRO and Geoscience Australia) chair the inter-agency Strategic Implementation Team (SIT) of the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) from 2020-21. (See more on our International Engagement page.)

Due to its international nature, CEOS was already used to operating virtually in some ways, with several CEOS secretariat teleconferences every year. However we also hold three face-to-face rendez-vous annually. The value of face-to-face meetings among senior space agency officials is mostly seen during bilateral meetings where new collaborations, opportunities and partnerships are forged. There is no better way to build genuine, personal relationships and international networks than when seeing and talking to each other in the same room, at coffee breaks and over a meal together.

Since last August, our CCEO team has been meticulously planning our SIT-35 meeting to take place in Hobart, Tasmania, 24-26 March. Everything was ready to go with a fully packed 3-day agenda at a great venue, a reception and even a CSIRO Marine Labs site tour… all this for our almost 70 registered attendees, coming from all over the world!

When a promising international week in (sunny) Hobart became a series of night teleconference calls from home…

Well, don’t get too excited… two weeks out a ‘Special Agent’ (i.e. COVID-19) decided to register as well. And this started to slowly disrupt all our plans, like many lives and events all over the world over the last few weeks.

Realising how international travel was increasingly impacted (preventing our guests to attend), we moved to Plan B: making this important meeting entirely ‘virtual’, something never done in the 25+ years of CEOS.  In addition to new logistics and cancellations to manage, we completely reshuffled and refined the agenda, and squeezed everything into two daily/nightly sessions covering only ‘essential CEOS business’.

The meeting was a success in many ways:

  • We transformed a face-to-face international meeting into online sessions (=in the middle of the night in Australia)
  • We provided technical information and guidance ahead of the meeting as much as possible (including a much appreciated ‘CEOS Virtual Meeting Protocols and Technical Guidance Document’)
  • 130+ unique people joined, often with 110 online at any one time, including CSIRO experts (Cindy Ong, Robert Woodcock, Neil Sims) despite these very tough self-isolation circumstances
  • Great and respectful discussions, decisions and outcomes, with no major technical issues

Our traditional CEOS Group photo, a Team Selfie for once!

We were delighted to see the meeting enabling CEOS to maintain its business with good discussion and progress, especially around our SIT Chair priorities:

  • CEOS ARD (Analysis Ready Data) Strategy for space agencies,
  • Increased coordination of satellite-based observations of the earth’s carbon & biomass stocks
  • CEOS activities to continue support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),

Despite all the professional challenges and sense of humour we are keeping up, we are very conscious that everyone is having a difficult time, and our thoughts are with everyone most impacted by this global health crisis. If this can be of any help: be sure that our satellites keep monitoring us and the Earth, and the community keeps working hard to deliver quality products to help us live in a more sustainable world!