August 19, 2021


Activated for the 729th and 730th time after Haiti was hit by the recent earthquake and Tropical Storm Grace, the International Charter Space and Major Disasters supplied imagery from 40 satellites in its constellation, notably Pleiades imagery that proved a perfect match to the requirements of requesting organizations and data users. In particular, SERTIT, the French rapid-mapping department, generated a series of maps at CNES’s request identifying disaster-hit areas for Haiti’s civil protection teams.

In the event of a crisis like this, CNES is able to call on three sources of satellite data:
⦁    Tasked satellite imagery procured immediately via the Charter
⦁    Analytics from the CIEST scientific and technical expertise unit based on tasked stereo imagery to gain a clear scientific picture of ground deformations
⦁    Post-crisis monitoring through the Recovery Observatory (RO) project supporting short- and medium-term reconstruction

Image    Image    Image
12/10/2017 – 15:34 UTC    15/08/2021 – 15:42 UTC    16/08/2021 – 15:34 UTC

Les Cayes, Haiti – People leave their homes and buildings to gather outside in open areas for fear of aftershocks - © CNES, 2017, 2021, distribution by Airbus DS

Initiated in 1999 by CNES and ESA, joined shortly thereafter by CSA (Canadian Space Agency), the founding act of the International Charter Space and Major Disasters was signed on 20 October 2000 and it was declared operational on 1 November the same year. This unique example of successful international cooperation operating 24/7 today combines and coordinates the Earth-observation resources and expertise of its 17 member space agencies. The charter aims to respond to requests from emergency management agencies in affected nations, local authorities, civil protection agencies and the United Nations, for which it provides satellite imagery of disaster zones free of charge through priority tasking of more than 70 satellites to get information as quickly as possible to relief teams on the ground.

Since entering service, the charter has been activated 730 times in 128 countries. About half of these activations have been in response to floods or submersion of coastal areas, the other half in the aftermath of storms, cyclones, earthquakes, fires, volcanic eruptions, landslides, oil spills and even industrial accidents like the explosions in Beirut on 5 August 2020.

Thanks to the universal access principle adopted in 2012, more than 60 nations have the ability to directly send charter activation requests as authorized users. At the same time, the charter is training up new user nations. UNITAR/UNOSAT and UNOOSA can submit requests for assistance on behalf of unauthorized users. The charter has also signed an agreement with Sentinel Asia, a regional emergency response network providing Earth-observation satellite data to 28 countries in Southeast Asia. Consequently, every country in the world now has access to the charter’s services.

The CIEST scientific and technical expertise unit is coordinated by the ForM@Ter national solid Earth data hub and CNES. Its aim is to task urgent stereo optical satellite imagery to generate ground displacement maps and mass variation data in the event of geophysical hazards like major earthquakes, volcano eruptions and mass movements.

The Recovery Observatory (RO) project, initiated and led by CNES within the framework of the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS), aims to provide satellite imagery in support of reconstruction efforts in the aftermath of large-scale disasters. The first RO collected large amounts of satellite data to derive map products for recovery efforts after Hurricane Matthew, which left a trail of destruction across the southwest of Haiti in October 2016. This structure could be recalled into action at the request of international partners like the World Bank, UNPD and EU to support reconstruction in the aftermath of the earthquake and Tropical Storm Grace, aided by CNES working alongside numerous CEOS member space agencies (ESA, DLR, ASI, NASA, NOAA and Copernicus).

France’s SPOT and Pleiades satellites are the spearhead of this initiative, with their proven responsiveness and agility. In recent years, some 30% of disaster maps have been generated from Pleiades data.

Pleiades is a French very-high-resolution Earth-imaging satellite system capable of acquiring sub-metric imagery of any point on the globe in under 24 hours. Consisting of two satellites in the same 694-kilometre orbit, the constellation delivers dual-use imagery to civil and military users.

In addition to its great agility, Pleiades’ key asset is an extremely sensitive optical instrument that reduces the exposure time needed for each image, giving each satellite the ability to acquire up to 1,500 images a day.

As prime contractor for the Pleiades system, CNES contracted with Airbus Defence & Space to build the satellites and with Thales Alenia Space for the optical instrument. In Europe, programme partners Austria, Belgium, Spain and Sweden were also involved in satellite construction.

Pascale Bresson     Press Officer     Tel: +33 (0)1 44 76 75 39
Raphaël Sart    Head of Media    Tel: +33 (0)1 44 76 74 51