ESAs BioPAL software is on GitHub

Software for seventh Earth Explorer mission on biomass in 2023 is released

Published on: 01/10/2021

BioPAL – The BIOMASS Product Algorithm Laboratory, released in April 2021, is set for mission launch in 2023

Photo by Vlad Hilitanu

In late April, the python software behind the European Space Agency’s (ESA) seventh Earth Explorer mission was released on GitHub. The mission team invites all developers to participate in improving the software by finding bugs or writing documentation. The software is open source in agreement with ESA’s open source policy..


Mapping biomass

The mission is intended to map biomass in forests where it is difficult for humans to measure it themselves, professor Shaun Quegan explains in a video on the BioPAL website. Quegan is professor at School of Mathematics and Statistics at University of Sheffield and the lead scientist behind the mission. His research includes measuring biomass of forests and detecting and quantifying tropical deforestation.


Understanding of the forests

In this seventh Earth Explorer mission:

The satellite will be the first P-band SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) sensor in space and will be operated in fully polarimetric interferometric and tomographic modes. The mission’s main aim is to map forest properties globally, but the sensor will also allow exploring subsurface scenarios (ice, desert).

- The project’s GitHub description

It is hoped that the data from the radar will lead to a better understanding of the forests, their changes, and their quantitative role in the carbon cycle. Current deforestation causes carbon held by the trees to be released into the atmosphere.


Open source policy in ESA

The open source policy in ESA is not a permanent requirement for all projects. Some projects benefit from being limited to the territory of the ESA Member States. When ESA has an open source policy it is with the following goals: To save cost, increase quality and innovation, avoid vendor lock-in, minimise duplications, maximise the return of investment and the benefits of using existing software under open source licence.



Final take-aways

  • BioPAL is the seventh Earth Explorer mission by the European Space Agency and it is based on open source software.
  • The mission’s radar will map the biomass of forests as some are difficult to examine from the ground.
  • ESA’s open source policy aims to create innovation and quality as well as minimise duplications, among other things.