Space Research Fund Calls
Space Research Fund 2020 call is now closed
The Malta Council for Science and Technology would like to announce that it is now receiving applications for the Space Research Fund 2019. Application deadline is 22nd May 2020 c.o.b.
Due to the current restrictions related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, applicants are not required to stamp or sign a hard copy of the application form at this stage. Each submission must however include a completed one page Letter of Intent (use template provided below), physically signed by the respective legal representatives. All submissions are to be sent to the council in electronic format.
The Space Research Fund continues to provide financial support for research, development and innovation in the downstream Satellite Earth Observation (EO) sector, specifically projects that deal with the processing and exploitation of data collected through EO satellites. The call is open to all Maltese legal entities under three funding modalities (De Minmis ; GBER ; State Aid n/a). Applicants are to apply under only one funding modality, making use of the respective rules and application template.
Applicants applying under the De Minimis Funding modality:
Applicants applying under the GBER funding modality:
Applicants with proposals that do not fall under State Aid (SA):
ESA resources available to all applicants:
In substantiating space-related awareness raising, the Malta Council for Science and Technology has sought to establish a Space Research Fund that provides financial support for research, development and innovation within the area of Satellite Earth Observation. This new funding programme, which is supported through the technical expertise of the European Space Agency through a formalised Implementation Arrangement, is indeed a modest start to capacity building within the sector.
The potential of Earth Observation (EO) data, including free and open datasets made available through Copernicus, the EU Earth Observation programme, can only be fully exploited by value-adding downstream services, which are tailor made to specific public and commercial needs. Such solutions, often encompassing research and development at the intersection of science and ICT, translate the unprocessed and raw data delivered from EO satellites and other in-situ sensors into information that is usable by the end user.
The Space Research Fund provides financial support for research, development and innovation in the downstream satellite EO sector, specifically projects that deal with the processing and exploitation of data collected through EO satellites. This is a concrete capacity building measure within the Maltese downstream Satellite EO sector within the prime objective of achieving a critical mass of knowledge within the sector. Grants are awarded on the basis of yearly competitive calls for 20-month projects.
Presentations associated with the previous call
Documents associated with the previous call
Previously Funded Projects
University of Malta & MTIP / September 2020 to May 2020
Coastal erosion is an unrelenting phenomenon which is of importance to the Maltese Islands as the coast is one of the most-intensely used and visited areas. Erosion along the rocky shoreline (98% of Maltese coastline) poses hazards to life, infrastructure and cultural heritage. The Coastal SAGE project involves a consortium composed of the University of Malta as lead partner and The Ministry for Transport, Infrastructure and Capital Projects (MTIP) as a partner, and will use remote sensing to detect and monitor rock tilting and motion, which may be precursors to hazardous coastal landslides. The MTIP, responsible for mitigating these risks, faces major challenges when tackling this multifaceted problem impacting diverse environmental and socio-economic interests. Current practice is deemed highly unsatisfactory, being predominantly reactive and driven by visual site inspections of reported danger cases. Research and development in the downstream Earth Observation (EO) sector is key to achieving a reliable and cost-effective monitoring of coastal erosion. Persistent Scatterer Interferometry (PSI) techniques utilize Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) onboard satellites (e.g. Sentinel-1) to provide millimetric deformation estimates.
However, SAR suffers from speckle noise, which if uncorrected will affect the PSI processing pipeline and the resulting deformation maps and their interpretation. In this interdisciplinary project, UM will use image processing and deep learning techniques to address two key aspects of the PSI pipeline: denoising of interferometric phase and phase unwrapping. We will integrate our denoising and unwrapping methods within the open-source StaMPS/MTI software, and use a combined Persistent Scatterer and Small Baseline approach in order to estimate deformation and displacement in 6 Study Areas around Malta and Gozo. These estimates will be validated through in-situ sensors. In addition, high-resolution Digital Elevation Models of all Study Areas will be acquired using LIDAR equipped drones, which will be used in the PSI pipeline. Physical models will be used to interpret the deformation according to the local geology and geomorphology. A risk assessment using environmental and socio-economic indicators will be performed, integrating the data derived from this project, with results mapped spatially to support a GIS service. This will allow authorities to monitor the hazards associated with coastal erosion in Malta, whose small size and prevalence of different geomorphological processes for coastal erosion make it an ideal testbed to prototype these applications. The project places strong emphasis on capacity building and dissemination across government and other stakeholders to achieve a critical mass of knowledge within the EO sector. It interacts with key stakeholders throughout, with training needs analysis and courses customised to target governance needs of different entities.
University of Malta & Energy and Water Agency (EWA) & Silesian University of Technology (Poland)
October 2020 to June 2022
Malta has a semi-arid Mediterranean climate with high annual variability in the annual rainfall and high evapotranspiration rates leading to a low availability of natural renewable water resources for sustaining the production of drinking water, the water demand of agriculture and economic activities, as well as the needs of the environment. This, coupled to a high population density exerts a significant pressure on natural water resources and associated ecosystems. The Energy & Water Agency participated in the Water Over-abstraction and illegal Water Abstraction Detection and Assessment (WODA) project and concluded that earth observation (EO) imagery can be used for water resources management. However, the majority of agricultural holdings in Malta and Gozo are relatively small, with 75.6% of the agricultural holdings are smaller than 1.0 hectare each. Moreover, preliminary discussions with the Energy & Water Agency and Ministry of Agriculture revealed that dividing parcels (e.g. 10 × 10 m) in different small plots (also referred to as multicropping) is a common practice in Malta. Crop water demand can be estimated using evapotranspiration on a pixel by pixel basis, using the FAO model that uses in-situ measurements of wind speed, temperature, relative humidity and solar radiation. Alternatively, one can use remote sensing to estimate evapotranspiration without the need of installing a meteorological station in every field. Nevertheless, the thermal sensors equipped on existing satellites provide a coarse resolution (~100 m for Landsat-8 or 1 km for Sentinel-3). Moreover, vegetation indexes such as the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) suitable to estimate the crop coefficient are measured using information from the visible and near-infrared bands from Sentinel-2, which provide a resolution of 10 m. Both these resolutions are not suitable for small areas with the same crop type which is the case of Malta and other regions in southern Europe such as Cyprus, Greece and islands where land parcels tend to be even smaller than Malta. The sector problem area addressed by this project is that there is a need to increase both optical and thermal resolution to estimate the water volume used for irrigation at parcel level. The main technical objectives of this project are to:
- Develop a crop evapotranspiration estimation model using EO imagery and in-situ data from a sparse set of anchor fields for tomatoes, potatoes and vineyard;
- Increase the spatial resolution of B4 and B8 bands of Sentinel-2 by a factor of three to obtain a resolution of 3 m.;
- Estimate the land surface temperature at parcel level using Sentinel-3, NDVI and in-situ measurements from a sparse set of anchor fields.;
- Develop an open-source Web GIS water resources management platform which can be used to monitor water use at country level.
University of Malta / November 2019 to July 2021
Remotely sensed data are increasingly becoming an essential resource in applications to improve the quality of life and safety of citizens, for risk assessment, environmental monitoring, surveillance, scientific discovery as well as economic exploitation. The launch of the Ocean and Land Colour Instrument (OLCI) on board the European Space Agency (ESA) Sentinel-3A and 3B satellite platforms in February 2016 and April 2018 respectively, are opening a new era in coastal water remote sensing. The OLCI is dedicated specifically to oceanography and provides continuous long-term data flows to monitor environmental parameters with high accuracy and resolution, and to understand and mitigate the effects of climate change.
WaterColours is a new project of the Physical Oceanography Research Group (PO-Res.Grp) at the Department of Geosciences of the University of Malta. This was recently approved for funding by the Malta Council for Science & Technology, for and on behalf of the Foundation for Science and Technology, through the Space Research Fund that provides financial support for research, development, and innovation in the downstream Satellite Earth Observation (EO) sector. The project is intended to exploit satellite multispectral imagery for the estimation of ocean colour parameters in the Maltese coastal areas with an unprecedented detail within harbours, embayments and the nearshore open sea areas.
During the first phase of the project, satellite-based climatologies and statistical trends for surface Chlorophyll-a concentrations and Total Suspended Matter (TSM) will be computed at a high resolution. Apart from the baseline variability of the biogeochemical properties, these results will provide very important markers of eutrophication as well as suspended sediment loading or starvation areas. In the second phase, ocean colour products will be operationally computed at a high spatial resolution by taking advantage of data from Sentinel-3. These full-resolution datasets will be integrated to other data layers to add to the already existing services offered by the PO-Res Grp. The generated Chlorophyll-a and TSM concentration maps will be embedded in an interactive downstream service that will relate the sea surface biogeochemical properties to water quality, and provide essential indices for the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). In-situ data will be measured for the calibration and validation of results.
All results will be made publicly available through an online portal that will embed Machine Learning and image processing techniques. These will automatically detect and highlight specific phenomenologies such as harmful blooms or areas with a high TSM content, and provide automated alerts of such events to the Environment Resources Authority (ERA).
WaterColours will provide an important opportunity and will help apply the current state-of-the-art methods to the Maltese coastal waters to create unprecedented slow time critical (STC) parameters datasets. Apart from further utilising and exploiting the COPERNICUS marine platform to produce tailor made services at the coastal scale, this initiative will strengthen the local capacity in the exploitation of satellite data, and paves the way for a stronger presence of Malta in the European space sector.
The success of the project will only be possible through collaboration between a core team from the University of Malta and a group of experts from the Italian National Research Council, Institute of Marine Sciences (CNR-ISMAR). The project is led by Dr Adam Gauci together with Prof. Aldo Drago from the PO-Res Grp. Dr Daniele Ciani and Federico Falcini from CNR-ISMAR are also part of this team. WaterColours will permit us to paint satellite derived ocean colour fields around the Maltese Islands with a finer paintbrush!
University of Malta / November 2019 to July 2021
The research project entitled ‘Earth Observation for Historic Building Conservation and Sustainability’ (EO4HBCS) is being coordinated entirely by the University of Malta, specifically by the Department of Conservation and Built Heritage Department of the Faculty for the Built Environment and by the Institute of Earth Systems. It aims at studying the behaviour of traditional unmodified roofs (built of limestone slabs on arches or beams, and with a lime-based “deffun” coating), traditional modified roofs (with insulation, membranes, etc), and modern roofs, as a first in Malta, promoting this as as a possible test-bed for the many types of similar structures elsewhere in the wider Mediterranean Basin.
The research will be using a combination of Earth Observation data with unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) aerial reconnaissance and in situ measurements of chosen historical buildings which fit the various chosen categories as mentioned above. These will be primarily located in the Valletta and Cottonera areas of Malta. Monitoring the temperature and related (moisture) parameters of these roofs will help understand the effects of modern “adaptations” on general building behaviour, primarily in the upper storey, and occupant well-being. It aims at utilising various remote sensing techniques as an important part of the study. Imagery data obtained from sensors mounted on low-cost UAV platforms will be fused with high resolution multispectral satellite imagery.
The studies will be based, in part, on studies carried out to date on modern “cool roofs” and “green roofs”. It will also include an innovative part in that thermal and other EO data will be used for the first time to quantify an effect which has for centuries been felt and appreciated by the occupants of such buildings, and to be able to present these data to decision-makers, conservation architects and users of such buildings. It is also hoped that lessons learnt from this project will be transmitted to neighbouring Mediterranean countries, where traditional materials, building technology and climate regimes are similar.
MCAST / January 2020 to August 2022
Throughout the whole year, south European countries experience dust-laden winds blowing from the Sahara desert, called ‘Sirocco” which cause “seasonal haze episodes” which sometimes even result in mud rain. There are various words which describe this natural activity, including Harmattan used in West Africa Region for the dust created from November till March or Ghibli as used by North Africans tribes which is normally caused in Summer season. The phenomenon affects society in different ways notably
- Transport and Communications – Affects visibility at airports and shipping lanes and radio communications
- Health – The dust in the air produces dry skin and cracked lips. It also presents more serious problems for asthmatics – and can lead to silicosis, a lung disease caused due to a high content of quartz in the dust.
- Generation of Electricity from PV Panels – The lack of visibility reduces the efficiency of PV panels hence the need for extra generation from the power stations.
The aim of this research project is to use the Satellite Sentinel 5p datasets daily to predict the Saharan desert movement over the south Mediterranean region in advance at a very high resolution of 7x3km as opposed to 10x10km which are available today. The prediction model core algorithms will make use of the UV aerosol Index from sentinel 5p, and the prediction results are to be available for free online at a cloud Grid Geographical Information system, which will be created on purpose for this research study. Having such a system in place would be beneficial for the Malta Health Directorate, and the people at large, as the former would be able to inform the public ahead, who also would be able to check on a daily basis the Sahara Desert aerosols prediction for the days to come, and therefore precautions could be taken if necessary.
MCAST and MESDC / September 2018 to May 2020
Pixels and More (PIXAM) is a research project coordinated by the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST) in collaboration with the Ministry for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change (MESDC) which will make use of datasets supplied by Copernicus Sentinel 2 satellites. The project, led by Mr Steve Zerafa (MCAST), exploits the fact that Sentinel satellites provide full coverage of the Maltese islands every few days in 13 multispectral bands. The research seeks to develop deep learning algorithms that enhance the resolution and consistency of the satellite datasets. The algorithms to be developed shall help depict pixels patterns and aid in better understanding the dynamics of the local habitat, including mapping of selected crop patterns and soil moisture across agricultural fields and valleys.
University of Malta / September 2018 to May 2020
The University of Malta, interfaculty project entitled “SATellite data Fusion and Imaging Resolution Enhancement for coastal areas” (SAT-FIRE) is led by Dr Ing. Gianluca Valentino together with Dr Ing. Reuben Farrugia (both from the Department of Communications and Computer Engineering, Faculty of Information and Communications Technology) and Dr Anthony Galea (from the Physical Oceanography Research Group, Department of Geosciences, Faculty of Science). This interdisciplinary project lies at the intersection of satellite image processing, remote sensing, data fusion and hydrodynamical modelling. Two postgraduate students and a post-doctoral researcher will be engaged by the University of Malta through this project, to work on the data fusion and resolution enhancement, and the development of the registration algorithm, and to work on the improvement of hydrodynamical models for marine current prediction. The main objective of this project is to improve the spatial resolution challenges of current Earth Observation Satellite systems by fusing complementary data from different spectral images from Copernicus’ Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-3 data to improve both spatial and temporal resolution and quality of the satellite images. This will allow for more accurate predictions of marine currents, aiding divers, search and rescue operations and coastal monitoring.
Courses and Training Materials
11th ESA Training Course in Earth Observation
- Organizer: European Space Agency/ Malta Council for Science and Technology
- Location: Virtual Workshop
- Dates: 22nd to 26th March 2021
- Cost: Free for accepted registrants – participants are to cover any additional costs.
The European Space Agency (ESA), in cooperation with the Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST), is organizing a Training Course on Earth Observation to be held online between 22nd – 26th March 2021. The main aim of this course is to promote and disseminate Earth Observation (EO) technologies in various scientific and industrial fields providing theoretical information followed by practical software exercises on ESA and Copernicus datasets. The training relates to SAR for land classification and to SAR and Optical remote sensing for marine and atmospheric applications. The hands-on exercises will demonstrate the use of the Sentinels Application Platform (SNAP) software and the Copernicus Research and User Support (RUS) Service. Additional details available in the tentative agenda linked below. The Training Course is dedicated to researchers, students, PhD students and young professionals from Malta, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Lithuania and Slovakia that use EO technology within their research or work and would like to improve their knowledge of remote sensing. Applications from Malta are preferred whilst applications from ESA PECS (Plan for European Cooperating States) and ESA member states may also be considered. The official language of the course is English and all participants are expected to have a good command of such language.
Given the high number of qualified applicants, and given the fact that ESA can only provide access to a limited number of Virtual Machines (VMs), the organizers have decided to accept 30 regular participants (who will be given access to Virtual Machines and will get direct support from the trainers for the practicals), and reserve positions to observers (who will be able to attend the theory session and the demos of the practical exercises, but without access to VMs and without support from the trainers). Those applicants selected to be either participants or observers will receive more details about it. The materials of the course will, later on, be made available to the public, with indications on how to request a VM and, where possible, of which computer requirements would be needed to repeat the exercises on a laptop.
This article was last updated on: April 20, 2021