In response to the importance placed on global environmental issues highlighted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro and, in the European context, the creation of the European Environmental Agency (EEA), European industry encouraged by the European Space Agency (ESA), is proposing to the United Nations and their Environment Programme (UNEP) a satellite based telecommunication infrastructure called MERCURE.

The MERCURE network would provide UNEP with a modern global communication capability, for the transfer of environmental and administrative data between their different centres and between data bases and archives and users of environmental data. In particular, the network will make it possible for environmental centres in Developing Countries and countries in Central and Eastern Europe to obtain timely access to environmental data including maps and images acquired from, amongst others, environmental satellites. Other important data which will be made available through MERCURE, concerns environmentally sound technologies and methods to safeguard the World's renewable resources.

Today environmental data is transmitted through inefficient and expensive long distance telephony lines and by time-consuming deliveries by mail or courier services. The proposed MERCURE network will, however, be able to transfer all types of environmental data in a very short time and it will allow the recipients of the data to interact, in near real time, with the sources of the data. For example, in collaboration with distant data bases or processing centres the users connected to the network, can develop their own methods to obtain environmental descriptions of their regions, countries or local situations. It is therefore believed that the MERCURE network will stimulate the advancement of the know-how in handling environmental information leading to sustainable developments in this field.
Though a large part of the activities proposed under MERCURE concern the provision of satellite earth stations, an important aspect of MERCURE is the training of users, the development of products, procedures and methods which will make it very easy for the users to use the system. User friendly interfaces to the satellite network and the development of products and support facilities will help the users to take full advantage of the capabilities of the satellite network.

Standard interfaces and communication protocols for the transparent interchange of information will make it technically easy to connect the MERCURE network to facilities other than those of the UN organisations concerned. For example, the Global Environmental Data Network supported by ESA in collaboration with the Commission of the European Communities (CEC) could benefit from using physical links provided by MERCURE. In this context the satellite based data distribution network for the fast delivery of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) images acquired from the European ERS-1 satellite could use MERCURE channels to reach users outside Europe.

The United Nations (UN) are planning to implement a satellite based world-wide telecommunication network. Components of the MERCURE network could ultimately become elements of the UN network.


It is proposed that the MERCURE network will serve, in the first instance, UNEP centres, GRID nodes and users of environmental data in the Eastern and Western hemispheres. The traffic hubs in the network would be at UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya and at the world-wide regional centres of UNEP including the European Office of UNEP in Geneva, Switzerland.

GRID nodes and other users in the Eastern and Western hemispheres cannot be covered by the same satellite. The users in the Western hemisphere will therefore be served by an Intelsat satellite located over the Atlantic Ocean whilst the users in the Eastern hemisphere will be served by an Intelsat satellite located over the Indian Ocean.

The traffic hubs in Geneva and Nairobi will be able to communicate with one another through both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean satellites whilst, in general, the users in the two hemispheres will only be able to communicate directly with stations located in their own hemisphere.

In case the future satellite based telecommunications infrastructure of the United Nations provides facilities compatible with the MERCURE system, to serve the United Nations centre in Gigiri, Nairobi and in Geneva, the MERCURE facilities at these two sites could be re-deployed by the United Nations to other sites defined by UNEP.

2.1 Capabilities

MERCURE is specifically intended to provide efficient access to environmental data including maps and images for UNEP Centres in Developing Countries and Eastern Europe which suffer from poor terrestrial telecommunication means.

MERCURE will be integrated into the Local Area Networks (LANs) of the users when they exist at select MERCURE sites by means of dedicated PC-based MERCURE Server.


File Transfer

A Fax service

The service of network operation will be provided by Swiss PTT to UNEP who will be responsible for funding of those services.

Carriers from/to the UNEP centre in Geneva will be performed via the Main Station in Leuk using dedicated Category A type earth stations (7.3 m) to be produced and set-up within the project.

Operators at the Main Station will be able to communicate with all Traffic Stations in the network by means of dial-up vocoded voice circuit.

Network Management will be provided down to port level of the satellite network and includes the management of the Routers integrated in the MERCURE Servers under the SNMP protocol.
2.2 Earth Stations

In order to reflect the traffic requirements and the economic capabilities of the users of the network, the network will serve two types of earth station:

Category A:

This earth station is a transmit and receive station capable of serving all types of traffic (i.e. computer files, E-mail, facsimile, voice and video) transmitted in the network at digital rates up to 384 kbit/s. It will be located at or connected to the traffic hubs in the network, as well as at major UN/UNEP administrative centres. The equipment in the station will be modular in order to make it possible to adjust its capabilities (and cost) according to the requirements of the centre it serves.

Category B:

This earth station transmits and receives data at 16 kbit/s. It is capable of transmitting and receiving computer files, E-mail, facsimile and voice. It will be installed at smaller UN/UNEP units (e.g. remote offices of disaster relief organisations) and at National/Regional centres cooperating with UNEP.
In principle, the users of the Category B stations only communicate with centres equipped with Category A stations. Hence, the Category A stations will be equipped to communicate both with other Category A stations and Category B stations.

The Category A stations constitute the Subnet A of the MERCURE system whilst the Category B stations constitute the Subnet B.
All earth stations will be installed on the premises of the users close to environmental data handling and processing facilities.
The Category B stations will be especially designed to operate under harsh environmental conditions such as those of Developing Countries in the tropics. The stations will be easy to operate and they will be capable of unattended operation.
The traffic hubs at UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi and the Office of UNEP in Geneva will each be connected to two Category A stations pointed to the Atlantic and Indian Ocean satellites.
The sites of other earth stations provided under the MERCURE project, will be decided by UNEP in collaboration with their national and regional users.
2.3 Types of Data Transfers

The MERCURE network will support the following types of data transfers:
Computer File Transfer,
Document (Facsimile) and Message Transmissions (E-Mail),
Voice Communication, and
Video transmission

Computer File Transfer

In line with its objective, an important application of the MERCURE system is the transmission of environmental data in the form of computer files. The data contained in the files would represent maps, diagrammes and images of the earth's surface collected from, amongst others, environmental satellites.
In order to be able to transfer large files between Category A earth stations within a reasonably short time, it is proposed to transmit them at 384, or 64 kbit/s. Small files can be transmitted between Category A and Category B stations at 16 kbit/s.

Document and Message Transmission

The capacity in the MERCURE system will make it possible to transmit operational and administrative data in the form of facsimile and character coded text messages (i.e., E-Mail).

The broadcast feature of the satellite down-link will be drawn upon to transmit the same document to several destinations.

Voice Communication

Because of the often occurring difficulties in establishing and maintaining telephone calls via the intercontinental long distance switched telephony network, it is proposed to offer the user organisations the possibility of selective voice communication through the MERCURE system.

The Category A stations sited at UN/UNEP centres, will be capable of being equipped to communicate voice traffic through fixed assigned satellite channels. Via the local telecommunication infrastructure on the site of the station it could be connected to a PABX. The corresponding interface arrangements (e.g. multiplexers) are not part of the proposed MERCURE system.

Video Transmission

When the capacity in the satellite is not occupied by voice or data transmissions, earth stations in Category A can use the capacity to transmit and receive video signals at 384 kbit/s per channel with a quality corresponding to that in modern video conferencing systems.

The video transmission can be used to establish teleconference sessions supporting, for example, expert group deliberations and regional managers meetings involving participants in different locations. In addition, it can be used to enhance education and training of experts in centres equipped with Category A stations.

The users' video equipment is not part of the MERCURE system.

This modern, global communications facility will provide reliable and economic means to service the needs of Unep's constituents -especially the national governments particularly those of developing countries for timely, accurate and comprehensive environmental data and information.

MERCURE will enable UNEP to be a fully-fledged and active partner in the development of the "information superhighways"

MERCURE is to provide UNEP with the means to access the Internet via gateways at UNEP headquarters in Kenya, the Regional Offices in 5 other countries, other outposted offices, or the sites of major partners.

MERCURE will also enable the extension of these services into developing countries, resulting in their ability to utilize other resources residing on the global networks as well as those of UNEP. The organization will also be able to present, via public-domain network tools such as the World-Wide Web, global access by constituents to a uniform and coherent suite of information products residing at distributed sites around the world.

Editor: Ali Dinar,