EUMETSAT’s new DG talks next-generation satellites and embracing a balanced approach to innovation

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On January 1, 2021, Phil Evans became director general of EUMETSAT. Before starting at EUMETSAT, Evans was the director of physics programs for the Institute of Physics, where he was responsible for education, and science and innovation programs.

Prior to this role, he spent more than three decades in several senior positions at the UK Met Office, where he honed his technical skills in remote sensing and weather and climate simulations, and acquired experience in managing international collaborations.

Evans is bringing his experience and skill to EUMETSAT to lead the development of the organization, on the many satellite launches planned until 2033, and on the expansion of the services provided daily to users in many countries.

Meteorological Technology International spoke to Evans about the role and his plans for the next few years…

What are you most looking forward to as the new DG of EUMETSAT? 

I am lucky to have arrived at EUMETSAT at a very crucial moment in the history of the organization, when weather and climate predictions are more important than ever, and when the development of ‘new space’ is accelerating. These are challenging, and thus also interesting, times. I am looking forward to shaping EUMETSAT’s new strategy and guiding its implementation so the organization can thrive in this fast-evolving environment.

Some milestones are already planned and upcoming, like the development of the next generation of satellites: the third generation of geostationary satellites Meteosat (MTG) and the second generation of polar-orbiting satellites Metop (EPS-SG). These new generations of satellites are essential to ensure that we keep delivering the most accurate data to our users: satellites have a certain lifespan in space determined by their fuel consumption and the very harsh conditions in which they fly. We need to develop new generations almost continuously to ensure a continuous and accurate flow of data. The first of the MTG satellites will launch at the end of 2022, and the first EPS-SG at the end of 2023.

The future generations of satellites that will be launched after MTG and EPS-SG may have quite different specifications. The current development of private satellite fleets and microsatellites raises interesting questions for agencies like EUMETSAT. We need to find a way to stretch our thinking a bit and find a balance between innovation and the benefits of the larger reference satellites that we have implemented previously and that will remain essential.

I have taken an interest in what constellations of smallsats might offer for a long time but believe we should take a ‘system of systems’ approach where we maximize the benefits of the total satellite observing infrastructure.

EUMETSAT is a very strong organization and is a leader in its field. It is in a very good position to help shape the upcoming evolution while becoming even more innovative and resilient. The biggest challenge might be a cultural one. When there is a significant or even disruptive change, well-established and successful organizations sometimes struggle to recognize its significance and respond to it appropriately, which may also mean not overreacting to a new innovation for its own sake!

So I believe the main challenge for us and our member states at the moment is to have a measured approach and decide rationally what we want to do differently. In any case, such developments are an opportunity for us to do a better job and contribute to our member states and society in general in a more significant way.

What do you hope to achieve as DG of EUMETSAT? 

I have been incredibly fortunate to take over an excellent organization from my predecessor, Alain Ratier, and the DGs before him so really I want to build on their legacy.

First, and most importantly, I want to make sure that we deliver the MTG and EPS-SG satellites successfully. Second, I want to anticipate and be prepared for the new and innovative approaches in Earth observation that are currently emerging, such as combining our highly innovative new satellite systems with opportunities that might be provided by the so-called new space with miniaturization and small-satellite constellations.

Finally – and this is something on which the first two depend – to continue to develop the organization and its staff, in particular, I would like to improve our agility and the way in which we innovate and incorporate innovation.

What is one of your fondest memories from your career so far? 

I have been very fortunate in my career; there are too many fond memories to recount individually. However, the things that I have found most rewarding have very common features: first, working with brilliant people toward a common and shared aim and second, setting up new partnerships across institutional and international boundaries.

Why is the meteorological forecasting sector important to the global community? 

Forecasting the weather is extremely important for many social and economic sectors, for example for tourism, green energy production or agriculture.

The meteorological forecasting sector goes beyond just predicting the weather. It gives the scientific community and the whole of society information at different timescales and with various levels of precision and potential impacts.

It encompasses nowcasting – the monitoring and short-term evolution (a few minutes to one hour) of weather events with potentially high impact. It is essential for the forecasting of extreme weather events (so several hours or days ahead) that helps decision makers mitigate the consequences of hurricanes and other potentially dangerous events.

It also informs the scientific community with accurate and precise data on the climate over several years and even decades, thus allowing researchers to refine climatic models, make more accurate predictions and support decision makers with designing and implementing meaningful mitigation measures.

How is EUMETSAT participating in the fight against change? 

As a technical organization providing end-to-end systems for Earth observation, EUMETSAT has a crucial role to play in the fight against climate change. It provides accurate and pertinent data to the scientific community for climate modeling, and to policymakers to design and implement meaningful mitigation measures.

In close collaboration with its users, EUMETSAT designs the space-based systems that will fulfill their needs in the long term, sends them into space and delivers the data they provide in a timely way, 24/7.

Such projects are always run in partnership with other international organizations, among which EUMETSAT has a unique proximity to the end users of forecasting and climate-modeling data: this special relationship allows the organization to implement a two-way dialogue and to ensure that the observations and the data delivered are the most pertinent and accurate.

In addition, EUMETSAT, as a flagship organization, also has a responsibility to pave the way for a more environmentally friendly way to function. EUMETSAT implemented an internal green policy last year, but we need to think in a more exhaustive and coherent way about our carbon footprint, what our impact is and what we would like it to be.

What do you enjoy most about working within the meteorological community? 

The meteorological and climate communities are endlessly fascinating! The reliable operational exchange of Earth observation data must be one of the greatest achievements in international cooperation. It requires the integration of science, technology, computing and human expertise. And it is an endeavor that touches on almost every aspect of our lives, often in profound ways.

What are your three key goals for the next year as DG of EUMETSAT? 

My first goal is to listen! To really understand the organization, its staff and stakeholders to ensure I understand rigorously what makes it tick, what challenges it faces and how to make it an even better organization than it is today.

Second, I want to ensure that we are well prepared for the challenging and busy times ahead of us, and that we have the best-possible basis for delivering MTG and EPS-SG.

Last, but not least, the current societal challenges are too broad and the solutions too global to solve them alone, without strong partnerships. EUMETSAT must ensure that its partnerships in Europe and beyond are as strong and mutually beneficial as possible. Despite the limitations due to Covid-19, my final priority for this year is to ensure that we keep building on our current partnerships.

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Helen has worked for UKi Media & Events for more than a decade. She joined the company as assistant editor on Passenger Terminal World and has since progressed to become editor of five publications, covering everything from aviation, logistics and automotive to meteorology. She has a love for travel and property and has redeveloped three houses in three years. When she’s not editing magazines, she’s running around after her two boys and their partner in crime, Pete the pug.

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