An Overview on the Bilateral Cooperation Between Italy and Kenya for Earth Observation

Earth observation (EO) capacities and products are essential for the economic growth of the African Continent. Indeed, EO data are crucial to monitor water, crops, climate anche and for the management of resources. A recent report of the World Economic Forum relating to ‘Six Ways Space Technologies Benefit Life on Earth’ demonstrates the importance of EO to support and to enhance our life on Earth as well as to better respond to the challenges of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2015 (Resolution A/RES/70/1), and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


On October 24, 2016, Italy and Kenya renewed the ‘Luigi Broglio’ Space Centre Agreement, located in Malindi. The agreement includes five Implementing Protocols addressing various topics such as (i) support to the Kenyan National Space Agency; (ii) establishing a regional centre for Earth observation; (iii) access to Earth observation data and scientific data; (iv) training and educational activities; and (v) telemedicine.

The following part addresses two of the Implementing Arrangements relating to the access to Earth observation data and the establishment of a Regional Centre for Earth Observation.

According to Article III.2 of the ‘Luigi Broglio’ Space Centre Agreement, the Parties shall “establish in Kenya a Regional Centre for Earth Observation dedicated to receiving, storing, processing and dissemination of remotely sensed data, including a mirror site for remote sensing applications […]”. Paragraph 3 of the same Article specifies that the Parties shall “promote the role and activities of the envisaged Regional Centre for Earth Observation in all the initiatibbes related to the Earth Observation projects and services, such as the ‘GMES & Africa’”.

The Implementing Arrangement on the ‘Establishment of a Regional Centre for Earth Observation’ provides for a bilateral cooperation between Italy and Kenya (articles I , II, III) for giving the requisite equipment and infrastructure for acquisition, processing, access, dissemination and archiving of Earth Observation data, products and services, the formulation of specific policies for EO data, products and services access and use, knowledge and technology transfer in data acquisition, processing, dissemination and archiving as well as research and development.

The Implementing Arrangement relating to the ‘Access to Earth Observation and Space Science Data’ specifies that it is necessary to set up a supplemental framework to promote access and use of data from past, ongoing and future space programmes undertaken by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and to ensure that the access and use of EO data and distribution are pursuing under each specific mission data policy. The Arrangement indicates, according to article 3, the access and use of data from the following missions (but not limited to): COSMO-SkeMed, MODIS, Terra&Aqua, Landsat, ERS2, ENVISAT.

The following part deals with the missions data policy previously mentioned. Regarding COSMO-SkyMed, the private company e-GEOS assumes the distribution and commercialisation of COSMO-SkyMed products throught appropriated licenses. Moreover, the General Conditions for the Provision of COSMO-SkyMed Products indicates that the user recognizes that COSMO-SkyMed is a dual system and that it is subject to constraints; for instance, the fact that Italian Government or the competent national security authorities reserve the right to prevent the acquisition and/or distribution of COSMO-SkyMed Products.

As regard MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spetroradiometer), it is a key element abord the Terra and Aqua spacecrafts developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Terra MODIS and Aqua MODIS are viewing the entire Earth’s surface every 1 to 2 days, acquiring valuable data. These data improve our understanding of dynamics and phenomena occurring on the land, in the oceans, and in the lower atmosphere. They also enable to assist policy makers and to facilitate decision-making about the protection of our environment. MODIS data are transferred to ground stations located in New Mexico. MODIS products are available from several sources.

Landsat programme (from Landsat 1 launched in 1972 to Landsat 8 launched in 2013) is also developed by NASA with the Department of the Interior. The Landsat 9 satellite is being developed with an hypothetical launch in 2021. Landsat data access are made available for download at no charge from GloVis or the LandLook Viewer for instance. Newly acquired products from Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 become available for download normally within 12 hours after data acquisition.

ERS and ENVISAT are two programmes elaborated by the European Space Agency (ESA). The ERS-1 mission ended on March 2000 and ERS-2 was retired on September 2011. ENVISAT was ESA’s successor to ERS. It was launched in 2002 and ended on April 2012. ESA missions data access policy are fully available to users, as well as to Copernicus users, and are free of charge. The corresponding EO data collections are made available under a free dataset policy only requiring a registration for data available online. It also exists a restrained dataset that includes products not available online but on demand. The data is generally provided free of charge, and requests the submission of a Project Proposal.

Lastly, in the framework of ‘Africa and GMES’, the African Union (AU) Commission signed a Cooperation Arrangement with the European Commission (EC) on June 2018 to foster and to strengthen AU’s access to Earth observation data from the Copernicus Programme. Copernicus is the European Union’s Earth Observation Programme. Its data access policy is based on the principle of free and open access to data obtained from the Sentinels satellites as mentioned in articles 23 and 24 of the Regulation (EU) n.377/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 3 April 2014 establishing theCopernicus Programme.

Earth observation applications are of utmost importance for the development of the African Continent, and the establishment of a future Regional Centre for Earth Observation, as specified in the Agreement between Italy and Kenya, will support and facilitate the access to EO data in order to sustain the management of  natural resources and by improving decision-making processes through the use of EO data and derived products. Furthermore, bilateral and multilateral Cooperation Agreement in this field are also needed, in terms of infrastructures and capacities, to allow the installation of receiving stations, to upgrade existing software and to strenghen access to EO data.

This contribution is a first outline on Earth Observation data policy access in Africa, and in particular in Kenya. Further research and consideration on the relevant issues have to be undertaken in order to promote and to foster the access to EO data to developing countries.



Dr Anne-Sophie Martin is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in International Law and Space Law at Sapienza University of Rome. Her doctoral research focused on the legal aspects of dual-use satellites. She received her LL.M. in Space Law and Telecommunications Law from the University of Paris-Sud XI (France) and her Ph.D. from Sapienza University of Rome (Italy).