SAF PR image

A new era of Satellite Application Facilities (SAFs)

Lothar Schüller, SAF Network Manager at EUMETSAT, talks about the SAF’s upcoming five-year plan.

SAF PR image
SAF PR image

Following the approval by the 97th EUMETSAT Council of a new funding plan for the SAFs that covers the 2022 – 2027 period, we met with Lothar Schüller, EUMETSAT SAF Network Manager, for a chat about the network and its way forward.

Last Updated

06 August 2021

Published on

06 August 2021

What is your experience with the SAFs?

Satellite Applications Facilities are formed by a group of institutes (meteorological services and other institutions) within EUMETSAT’s member states that are dedicated to processing satellite data for specific user groups or application areas on behalf of EUMETSAT.

EUMETSAT created the innovative concept of the SAFs in the early 1990s to distribute activities, product development, and software to other meteorological institutions within our member states. 

This network strengthened even further our ties with our main users, while allowing us to benefit from their existing expertise in specific areas and make use of their knowledge to deliver high-quality products.

I started working at EUMETSAT in 2004 as a scientific coordinator for the SAF network, which meant I was involved with the SAFs 100% from the beginning of my career here.  Coming from a university institute, I immediately felt the difference of working for an operational organisation, where I learned how much work is needed to convert a scientific idea into a reliable service for users.  Around seven years ago, in the course of an organisational restructuring, I assumed my current role as SAF Network Manager.

Lothar-saf
Lothar Schüller, SAF Network Manager at EUMETSAT.

The entities that are part of the SAF network perform the developments and operational activities necessary to ensure that certain user communities are delivered with the satellite data the way they need it: as a SAF Network Manager, I help making sure that the entire system runs smoothly so that the users get what they need and expect.

Being a focal point for the organisation of the whole network, what I enjoy most is making connections, which is an essential part of my job: connecting the users to the data and vice versa, connecting the different countries and institutes together, and connecting the engineers, scientists administrators etc. The diversity of disciplines, cultures, and people is the spice of my job.

What makes the SAFs unique?

EUMETSAT has a specific mandate from its member states to operate satellites and to deliver data and information products. The Satellite Application Facilities network is a unique concept that enables member states to participate in EUMETSAT’s activities as expert entities: the meteorological services themselves propose to EUMETSAT the types of products to be generated, based on their shared needs, and develop these services in a way that is beneficial for the entire community.

The SAFs have a long-term perspective, as the focus is placed not only on new developments, but also on ensuring the continuity of reliable data services. For this reason, the SAF network is embedded programmatically and financially in EUMETSAT’s mandatory programmes for geostationary and polar-orbiting satellites (Meteosat and EPS).

In practice, planning and funding for the whole network is organised in shorter five-year chunks called “continuous development and operation phases” (CDOP).

EUMETSAT’s 97th Council recently approved the SAFs fourth CDOP (CDOP 4), highlighting activities and budget for the next 5 years from 2022 to 2027.

The new CDOP is very important because it provides the framework for the SAFs to maintain the teams and continue and evolve their collaborative work over the next five years.

What’s changing in CDOP 4?

The new phase can be summarised in three words: continuityinnovationevolution.

During the period covering CDOP 4, EUMETSAT will launch its next generation of meteorological satellites: Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) and EUMETSAT Polar System – Second Generation (EPS-SG).

When the current generation of satellites was designed and the programmes developed, the SAFs did not yet exist as operational entities. This time for MTG and EPS-SG, the SAFs have been considered in the whole process.

For the first time, the SAFs have assigned responsibilities for “day one products”: the products that will be available to users from the first day the system is declared “operational”. This is a very important milestone as the SAFs will be ready to disseminate products right away for the benefit of the many users of our data.

They will thus ensure the continuity between products based on Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) and EPS – First Generation satellites, and the ones based on the next generation (MTG and EPS-SG).

Additionally, there’s a great element of innovation as the new generation of satellites will bring improved and new data.

The list of products is already very long as they come in different flavours and formats.

Taking into account products related to geophysical variables, the new era will cover 143 different variables, with six products coming to the SAF portfolio for the very first time.

To name just a few, we’ll have a new product related to icebergs and their number and distribution over time. A new sea ice index and new products on dust and air quality are also planned.

Cooperation with organisations outside EUMETSAT will also be high on the agenda, e.g. to create global satellite data records that combine data archives coming from American and Japanese geostationary satellites, in a great coordinated effort.

Finally, the new plan comprises progress and evolution.

The next generation of satellites will bring huge changes and an immense increase in data volume, requiring a huge jump in capabilities and more agile approaches.

As an example, we expect that software provided by the SAFs for numerical weather prediction (NWP) and in particular for nowcasting, are going to have more frequent release cycles in order to provide users with latest developments more quickly. This is particularly important when applications will suddenly use the full capabilities of our new generation satellites.

To face the foreseen increase in data volume, the SAFs (as EUMETSAT and the community in general) have to explore more effective ways to store, process, and distribute data. The new phase will see a significant evolution of cloud-based infrastructure currently in development at EUMETSAT and partner organisations, and the SAFs are involved both as users but also as contributors to these new data services.

This will change the way satellite data are processed and provided, and thus also the way we organise the work. The benefit for the users will be a more direct access to the information and the ability to tailor it to their specific needs.

What are you most excited about for this next phase?

The most exciting job will be to exploit the next generations of EUMETSAT satellites, MTG and EPS-SG, to the benefits of the users in the application areas the SAFs are responsible for.

My vision for the next five years is that at the end of CDOP 4, the SAFs will have demonstrated a seamless transition of services to the next generation of satellites and data, and the users will have noticed huge benefits for their applications, thanks to the new capabilities developed with the additional systems in space and on the ground.


More about the SAFs:

SAF MAP

Each Satellite Application Facility is a consortium guided by a leading entity (a national weather service) that brings together other weather services, universities, or operational institutions from various EUMETSAT member states.

There are eight SAFs and each of them covers a different area of applications and/or user communities: