ESA's Alcantara: a bridge to international research partners
Science is universal language, which can serve as a bridge between cultures and extends beyond national limits. Researchers all over the world work together in their quest for fundamental knowledge e.g. on our origins, the evolution of our environment and the aspects affecting our quality of life. They also investigate the technology that will help us shape our future.
Space is also a world-wide enterprise with a global reach. At the European Space Agency, a 20-country multinational organisation, the thrill of people of all backgrounds and nationalities working together is a usual element in every project that is undertaken. ESA has built its success on such multinational environment in the last four decades. The Agency enables its member countries to work as partners, for them to develop programmes of interest to all of them. Beyond its member states, ESA also interfaces with international partners world-wide in ordet to carry out joint space missions, instrument collaborations, joint operations and data analysis.
Now, ESA plans to extend this cultural exchange to space R&D work by supporting cooperation between research groups in Europe and those based elsewhere, in study areas of mutual benefit. A number of ESA programmes participate and provide opportunities for such cooperation.
The need for this facilitation has motivated the creation of ESA's Alcantara (القنطرة,"bridge" in arabic) initiative: a dedicated instrument to support research promotion, that recognises the critical role in such effort of leading academic institutions inside and outside Europe. The initiative acknowledges the constraints and challenges that these entities often face in terms of e.g. administrative resources, and builds on previous successful ESA experiences.

Alcantara will be implemented within the ESA's General Studies Programme (GSP) ( and will provide access to partnership opportunities in ESA scientific and application programmes. The first ones to participate have been the Earth Observation programme, which has a long tradition of research partnerships e.g., though its TIGER initiative for water resource management, and the satellite navigation programme, that has the need to have research partners in regions of interest for the study of the propagation of the satellite signals (e.g. the equatorial regions). The GSP's main role is this domain is to carry out preparatory analyses, as it does routinely to help lay the groundwork for the Agency's future activities. The assessment studies undertaken by the GSP provide ESA and its member states with the necessary information on which to base their decisions about the implementation of new programmes and the future direction of space activities.

Announcement of opportunity 2012
PILOT STUDIES: Alcantara studies in the scope of ESA's Earth Observation Programme TIGER initiative
The Alcantara studies proposed in the context of Earth Observation (EO) have been developed and will be coordinated within the frame of ESA's TIGER initiative. The TIGER initiative assists African countries to overcome problems faced in the collection, analysis and use of water related geo-information by exploiting the advantages of Earth Observation (EO) technology. In order to realize this objective TIGER has established over the last 10 years a large scientific network of universities and research institutes, in order to understand the needs as well as to develop the specific knowhow and expertise required for Earth observation of water resources in Africa. The existing scientific network and the current ESA involvement in TIGER gives the context and support the proposed Alcantara studies.
COMPETENCE SURVEY: Ionospheric ground based monitoring network in low-latitude regions
The performance of positioning and timing from Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) and the satellite communications are impacted by signal propagation through the ionosphere.
Ionospheric activity in low geomagnetic latitude regions is far stronger and less predictable than anywhere else in the world. The equatorial anomaly regions located at ±20º on either side of the magnetic equator (see Figure 1), have the highest values of Total Electron Content (TEC), parameter directly affecting signal propagation effects like delay and Faraday rotation. Those effects occur on a regular basis during solar maximum periods. The availability of permanent ground stations to monitor the ionosphere is less dense in many of those areas, making difficult to forecast, alert, correct and mitigate the disruptive effects for users in those regions.
Alcantara Competence Surveys are proposed in the context of Global Navigation Satellite Services (GNSS) programmes in order to better understand the research capabilities, facilities, activities and plans relevant to the monitoring of ionosphere perturbations in low-latitude regions and local and regional level. The three regions addressed by the Competence Surveys are Africa (Ref: 12-401), South-America (Ref: 12-402) and Southeast Asia & Pacific (Ref: 12-403).



Regions of strong ionospheric activity at low geomagnetic latitudes