There is only one vantage point in space that allows one to see the entire Earth and observe it to a satisfactory degree of detail. Satellites are able to continuously observe extensive areas of the natural environment and show the impact that human activities have on land, oceans and the atmosphere. Earth observation data therefore serves as an important basis for decision-making in the area of environmental protection, land use, monitoring of coastlines, disaster management and sustainable development. The benefits of Earth observation to society, the economy and science no longer need to be demonstrated.
The ESA's Earth observation programmes focus on three main areas: the development of science missions (Earth Explorers), the construction of sensors and meteorological satellites (in partnership with EUMETSAT), and the creation of the joint ESA-EU Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme, which includes the manufacture of satellites (referred to as sentinels) to be used in the GMES constellation. Alongside its own programmes, ESA collects and uses Earth observation data from numerous national and international missions. ESA also encourages the development of observation instruments and the manufacture of satellites. At the same time, ESA supports the scientific analysis of data and the development of associated products and services.
A large number of Swiss companies, universities, research centres and organisations are involved in ESA's Earth observation programmes. Swiss participation in these programmes is mainly intended to facilitate the acquisition of technological and industrial competencies needed to manufacture sensors and other instruments. Swiss participation is also intended to encourage the development of applications and the operational use of Earth observation data.