European Space Scientists Unwilling To Release High-Quality Images From Publicly-Funded Rosetta Mission
from the it's-good-to-share dept
One of the most exciting scientific explorations currently underway is the Rosetta space probe, which succeeded in placing a lander on the surface of the comet 67P, and which continues to send back some astonishing pictures. But according to an article on the BBC News site, those pictures come from Rosetta's navigation cameras, not from the main science cameras, which produce higher-quality images. Here's why that's happening:
These images are subject to a six-month embargo to allow the mission team to make discoveries without being scooped.
That's strange, since Rosetta comes from the publicly-funded European Space Agency (ESA), so there is obviously a good case for them being released immediately, especially given the high level of interest from many people. But as the BBC article explains, it's not ESA that is holding things back:
The agency procures the satellite platform, the launch rocket and runs day-to-day operations, but the instruments that gather the data are supplied -- and funded -- via national member states.
Maybe, but the approach is looking increasingly anachronistic. That's partly because of a new kind of real-time public engagement with science thanks to the Internet; but it's also to do with changes in the way raw scientific data is made available. As an example, the BBC report mentions the data policies for the Sentinel Earth-observation satellites that ESA is building and managing for the European Commission:
Esa may drive the truck, but it does not own the merchandise in the back.
Giving scientists on particular instruments a proprietary period has become standard practice.
It provides the researchers with a head start, enabling them to be first to announce major discoveries and to publish the details in the top journals.
The credit and citations that follow boost their ability to propose future programmes and win further funding. This process has become central to the way they work.
The first of these spacecraft, a radar platform called Sentinel-1a, became operational late last year.
Even though the Rosetta team is still clinging to the older model, there's plenty of evidence elsewhere in science that sharing results does indeed speed up discovery -- and boost the economic return. For example, researchers working on the Human Genome Project (HGP) decided as far back as 1996 that all data from publicly-funded projects should be released immediately. According to a 2013 study, the HGP created $966 billion in economic impact and $59 billion in federal tax revenue; not bad for an investment of $14.5 billion by the US government.
All of its pictures are being given away free, with no priority access.
The view is that this will supercharge discovery and even create new businesses in Europe that can exploit the data.