Satellites to the rescue? & New space decade

In conjunction with this week’s trend alert, Opening Space, we are also publishing two older trend alerts to provide perspective of the developments in the space industry.

Both trend alerts by Sheila Moorcroft

Satellites to the rescue? 16 September 2009

Space research is often seen as a luxury, especially during hard times. However, a number of announcements indicate the benefits of an increasing role for satellites in air traffic control, economics, public health, disaster prediction and even energy production.

What is changing?

The US Federal Aviation Administration has announced that as of December 2009 planes flying in the Gulf of Mexico will be monitored using a satellite based GPS system not the old air traffic control system.

Street lights indicate growing local investment and wealth. Analysing and tracking photos of city lights at night may provide more accurate economic indicators than government economic data in some developing economies. According to the analysis of 11 years of nightscape photos, the Congo probably experienced growth in GDP of 2.4% rather than the fall of 2.6% that the statistics had indicated. Satellite data and images of mosquitoes have been analysed to indicate where to target the distribution of treated mosquito nets to protect people from malaria in remote areas near Mount Kilimanjaro. Malaria currently affects 500 million people a year, and causes between 1 and 3 million deaths. The health effects of climate change may be significant; new research may help predict where outbreaks of diseases such as cholera may occur based on indicators such as height of the sea, temperature and other data.

Water is becoming scarce; without it agriculture and industry alike let alone humans will not be able to survive. Measuring its use, availability accurately is problematic. Two pieces of research have provded accurate water pictures. One uses Evapotranspiration to measure the real amount of water being used in an area – as small as a field or a much larger region. Such measures mean that local users can agree how to share and use resources, invest in water shares, and if they have a greater allocation than needed sell it on into the market. It can also settle disputes about who is using how much. In northern India, a clear picture of drastically depleted underground aquifers was established, showing that the level had fallen by about 1 foot per year for a decade. If use is not managed effectively, the livelihoods of 114 million people will be threatened. A more long term application comes from Japan, where they are developing a$ 21 billion project to generate solar power in space then beam it to 300,000 homes via a 1-gigawatt microwave beam. A test model is planned for 2015.

Why is this important?

Practical applications of satellite data and research which benefit us directly can help counter the ‘space is a luxury’ arguments. The danger is that with budget cuts, essential, but very expensive, equipment will be excluded from future programmes.

Cost savings, however, may be a major benefit. Better air traffic control may enable better routing, and therefore less fuel consumption, as well as better safety. Predicting and tracking disease outbreaks, not only as we enter an era of uncertainty about the emerging patterns of diseases in a changing climate, but in the here and now, will reduce loss of life and improve living conditions for millions in the poorest countries.

The danger of conflict over resources, especially water, may increase as resources dwindle. Developing mechanisms to manage and track them, and not just water, more effectively is critical. For other recent satellite developments, e.g. on mapping mangrove swamps, predicting volcanic eruptions and locating missile attacks, please see Shaping Tomorrow Horizon Scanning.

– See more at:


New space decade 18 August 2010

We may be entering a new space decade as new companies, countries and technologies take us into space in new ways, relying on robots, solar power and 3D fabbing.

What is changing?

Technology transfer and innovation are an important part of the pay back; so are jobs.

The development of such levels of sophistication in robotics will create similar potential on earth. While creating sufficient jobs may be the focus of today’s political and social concerns, significant levels of skill and worker shortages are likely to hit many advanced nations over the next 10 years. Clever robots will be needed to fill the gap, and are already showing their capabilities as we have discussed in Robots learn to get very clever and other trends.

Sustainability and green technologies may be spurred on directly and indirectly by the developments for space. As sensor and systems technology increases, we may see more intelligent buildings and transport systems. NASA is integrating some of its technologies into a new building with control systems linked to people’s diaries and schedules so that rooms and resources can be even more finely tailored and controlled.

The new Russian Cosmodrome will create new jobs and opportunities in the remote regions of eastern Russia near the Chinese border; the manufacture and numerous launches of the various private space US programmes will boost employment as NASA cuts back.

The expansion of fundamental knowledge and science remain a critical benefit, as we move ever deeper into the galaxy and are able to understand not only our own climate but also the atmospheres, make up and climates of other planets. Europe and America are collaborating on a voyage to Mars, and aiming for asteroids and Venus too, while Japan is preparing to go to Jupiter.

But, while space has brought significant levels of collaboration – most visibly on the International Space station, the risk of conflict is increasing. As more nations look to the heavens for resources and energy and space capabilities such as deflecting asteroids become possible, so the potential for conflict in and doing harm from space increases.

With the range of developments and the move away from reliance on national programmes, watch this space is likely to be the message for the coming decade.

Why is this important?

The new space entrepreneurs are making significant progress. SpaceX recently had a successful test flight of its Falcon 9 craft; Virgin Galactica is making progress towards its target of commercial flights starting in 2011; Bigelow Aerospace’s space station is on target for a 2014 launch; Boeing is developing space taxis to link to the Bigelow space station from 2015.

JAXA, the Japanese space agency aims to have the first of many robots working on the moon by 2015. They will map and survey locations for more intensive robot ‘colonies’, starting in 2020. NASA also has its own space robot, R2 short for Robonaut 2 – a humanoid looking robot which it aims to send to the International Space Station in late 2010. Once tested thoroughly, its role will be to do some of the mundane but also some of the riskier maintenance tasks needed.

Creating the moon colonies for robots may not only be the task of robots, but also rely on remote controlled 3D fabbing, D Shape. The technology has already made sandstone buildings on earth; on the moon it would rely on moon dust. The question will be how well the technology can work in the vacuum atmosphere on the surface of the moon.

Solar power is also going into space. IKAROS, a kite-like, solar-powered structure or ‘solar yacht’, was successfully tested by Japan in May 2010. It is seen as a first step to creating solar powered flights to Jupiter. Shimizu Corporation is continuing with its plans to create a solar power station around the moon. The solar panels would collect power, which in turn is converted into microwave power, beamed back to earth and reconverted into energy.

The space race has more competitors. Apart from the commercial entrants, China, India, Iran, and North Korea have all joined the other main contenders the USA, Europe, Russia and Japan. In terms of space related scientific papers, there are 20 countries all of who have had more than 25,000 citations among scientific journals since 1999; the tops ones in terms of their relative impact are Scotland, Israel, Canada Chile and the USA, although in terms of numbers of papers the US and the UK lead.

– See more at:



One thought on “Satellites to the rescue? & New space decade

  1. Pingback: Opening Space | ShapingTomorrowBlog

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