Coronavirus: A global perspective

From helping to monitor the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic to the eventual recovery, Earth observation data plays a crucial role, writes Agnieszka Łukaszczyk, Senior Director of European Affairs at Planet.

Photo credit: Planet Labs Inc.

By Agnieszka Lukaszczyk

Agnieszka Lukaszczyk is Senior Director of European Affairs at Planet

04 May 2020

In a world turned upside-down by the global COVID-19 pandemic, we at Planet are regularly asked how daily satellite monitoring of the Earth might be helpful. Viruses are not visible to the naked eye, let alone to a satellite orbiting hundreds of kilometres away in space. Still, there are important “proxy indicators” that satellites can see that are helpful in modelling, monitoring, responding to and recovering from infectious disease outbreaks.

By tracking the movements of goods, satellite imagery can be used to measure the economic impact of an outbreak and the rate of recovery. Today, many economic indicators lag well-behind actual behaviour, and only tell an aggregate story, whereas real-time geospatial data can help accelerate and focus recovery efforts. We are exploring ways in which we can do this in the months to come, as nations respond and recover from the pandemic. In addition, we cannot lose sight of the big picture, as the sustainability challenges we have been dealing with before the pandemic will remain afterwards.


Faced with an invisible and rapidly spreading virus, policymakers and researchers alike need data as they fight to control its spread and minimise casualties, while trying to continue to manage their efforts in monitoring the environment and making sure the economy does not collapse. The EO industry has proven invaluable for decision makers by providing a unique vantage point into COVID-19’s social, economic, and environmental impacts, all in near real-time, including through Copernicus —the European Union’s flagship EO programme.

Like other industry sectors, the unprecedented economic downturn presents an uncertain future commercial landscape. While in this respect the space sector is not unique, in our strategic contribution to a range of EU policy goals, we are. This is why, now more than ever, it is essential that Member States and the European Parliament continue to support Earth observation as a vital tool. To be clear: this is not a request for a hand-out, but an effort to maintain investment in industrial assets of strategic importance to the EU and its Member States.

"Faced with an invisible and rapidly spreading virus, policymakers and researchers alike need data as they fight to control its spread and minimise casualties"

Let’s not forget that the Earth observation industry significantly contributes to the growth of business in space and non-space economic sectors. Any changes to Copernicus’ budget following the recent announcements of a new Multiannual Financial Framework proposal would undermine the ability of governments, industry, and civil society to monitor, track and measure the increasing changes in our world, not least those due to COVID-19. In addition, a large portion of jobs and supply chain small businesses are located in Europe and could seriously suffer.

The next EU budget should continue to recognise the strategic role space and Earth observation play in meeting European and global challenges, such as pandemics and climate change. Our sector is committed to leveraging its infrastructure and offering our tools and insight to help decision-makers navigate through this crisis. We urge the Commission to ensure that the space industry and programmes are maintained to protect not only these critically important assets but the jobs and small businesses in our supply chains.

The journey ahead with COVID-19 and its related public health challenges will not be brief; it will unfold over the next few years, at least. Throughout, our goal will be to ensure that the unique dataset and capabilities offered by the EO sector have the greatest impact on reducing suffering, accelerating recovery and building future resilience. Our industry is committed to supporting the European institutions and Member States. We are all in this together.

Read the most recent articles written by Agnieszka Lukaszczyk - How Earth Observation can help us fight deforestation