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Interview with Marco Casucci, Space Program, IPT-ESA member. EO development Local PA Sector

Publication date: 04.08.2024

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Interview with Marco Casucci, Space Program, IPT-ESA member. EO development Local PA Sector

How can space data be used to have a significant impact on-ground on the management of UNESCO heritage sites in the Veneto Region?

This is the question around which the 2024 edition of VeneTo Stars revolves, the Challenge launched as part of the Veneto Digital Agenda and aimed at young European innovators under 25.  The theme of this challenge, which follows last year’s successful and highly participative edition dedicated to agrifood, enhances the richness of the Veneto region, which boasts no less than nine UNESCO heritage sites.

The Challenge can also count on the support of top-level partners, whom we will be interviewing over the course of the weeks to address the issues related to this edition of VeneTo Stars.

After the first interview with Arianna Traviglia, we continue the series of interviews with Marco Casucci, a member of the IRIDE project, one of the most important Earth Observation satellite space programmes. IRIDE can count on an overall budget of about EUR 1.1 billion, which the Italian government has allocated by using PNRR funds (about EUR 800 million) and investing national funds (about EUR 300 million) to develop an Italian satellite constellation. In particular, IRIDE will offer 8 macro-services related to marine and coastal monitoring, air quality, land movement monitoring, land cover, hydro weather climate, water resources monitoring, emergency management, and security. Based on a number of different sensing instruments and technologies, IRIDE constellation will be unique and it can be considered “a constellation of constellations”.

How will the new satellite constellations be beneficial thanks to the space data they will collect?

“This constellation, IRIDE, is designed to be synergic with certain European constellations, in particular Copernicus, and also with other national missions that already exist. I would like to mention two of them: COSMO-SkyMed (which is based on a constellation of satellites equipped with synthetic aperture radar (SAR) working in the X-band, capable of seeing through clouds and in the absence of sunlight, ed), and PRISMA, which is somewhat less talked about but which plays a major role as it integrates a hyperspectral sensor with a camera. The sensors that will be put on IRIDE, and the orbits that will be used by IRIDE, will make it possible to obtain data that we do not have to date, but also to have a synergy to complement what is already being obtained from other satellite constellations. In particular, the sensors that will be placed on board IRIDE will guarantee the acquisition of much more data with a ground precision, what is called Ground Sample Distance, in line with the best systems in the world of both optics and radar, and in addition we will have a high acquisition frequency of the entire Italian surface.”

What could be, from your point of view, the contribution of satellite data for the protection of cultural heritage and UNESCO sites?

“Meanwhile, when we talk about UNESCO heritage sites, it is important to say that we are also talking about territories, about the environment. With all the sensors we already have and those we will have to acquire data on Italy, we will be able to take an accurate picture of the current state but also of the temporal evolution of many aspects. We will be able to see if there are any movements taking place in the terrain, if there are any changes in the ice cover and how fast it is shrinking. In general, the entire forest can be monitored and, thanks to satellites that are dedicated to monitoring aspects of vegetation, one can see the possible occurrence of stress situations, such as water stress, and intervene in a timely manner by having a large-scale view. The use of satellites, as opposed to other solutions, allows this whole range of analysis and intervention. We remain on the environmental theme, which, at this time, is very important: we can also carry out investigations and assessments on the damage caused by disasters such as storm Vaia (which destroyed 41 thousand hectares of forest, also affecting many territories in the Veneto region, ed). When we move, instead, to cultural heritage intended as archaeological sites and buildings, experts will be able to interpret the data provided by hyperspectral sensors and radar, to get clues about possible excavation activities, carrying out real surveillance, or about the movement of buildings. This makes it possible to carry out important verification activities: I am thinking of ancient walls, churches, or a city like Venice, which by its very nature has a subsidence movement (that is, a slow and progressive lowering of the bottom of a sea basin or continental area, ed)”.

From your point of view, why should a young European innovator participate in the VeneTo Stars Challenge 2024 and what opportunities can ESA offer to those who develop new ideas related to the use of satellite data?

“Let’s say this is also a topic I consider very important, in which there are two figures to distinguish: the researcher and the entrepreneur. In the field of research, thanks to the emergence of many new sensors and instruments, the space world opens up immense areas for manoeuvre. Clearly, seeing what the context of the Challenge is, being an expert in Space Data is different from working side by side with someone who has a high level of knowledge of what is looking for through satellite data. It is worth participating in VeneTo Stars because space is a world in which a lot is being invested. There are funding initiatives at all levels, both public and private, and this also applies to Italy. The niche of cultural heritage is very interesting because it is of immense value in Italy. It is necessary to have both imagination and concreteness to turn a good idea into a business. The key factor is sustainability over time, enthusiasm must be accompanied by the ability to ground this idea. In both ESA and ASI there are opportunities to obtain economic support for innovative projects, based on a business model and a business plan sustainable on paper and which can remain on the market for a long time”.

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