One of the interesting facets of the Space economy is that there was barely a hiccup due to the Covid pandemic. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that Covid gave a fillip to Space activities through increased use of services that could help governments, industries, and people to manage their activities in a severely restricted environment. Barring a slight reduction in government spending, the other activities continued apace. Now that we are nearing the end phase of the pandemic, these activities are accelerating.
The acceleration is being driven by the need to better utilize our resources and provide a better quality of life for the citizens. On the one hand there is a proliferation of satellites and satellite constellations, on the other hand, earth sensing is moving beyond optical and microwave imaging and looking at new sources like radio signals and sensing of greenhouse gases. In parallel, great strides are being made in the area of data analysis using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). Further, there is a coming together of both earth observations and communications that enables system agnostic data acquisition and delivery, and on-demand analytics which adds to the versatility of Earth Observation applications.
All these developments are adding to what Pierre Lionnet, Research and Managing Director at Eurospace, defines as the “upstream and midstream” segments of the Space economy. When it comes to the actual usage for different purposes, the calculations become difficult. Most cost benefit analysis look at future value if the information is put to proper use for the benefit of citizens. Here lies the rub. One factor is that the usage of Space to deliver services is only a part of the overall cost. Therefore, it is not correct to only consider the cost of the Space segment. The other is the reluctance to adopt the Space technology due to high initial cost, lack of transparency, and therefore, trust — particularly in the use of AI and ML.
That all these technologies are needed to help humankind to address the parlous state of our environment is a given. The Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has rung the alarm bells. The report, aptly named Code Red for Humanity, shows that the 1.5 degree Celsius limit may be reached sooner than later. As it stands, violent weather events like heat waves, storms, flooding, and landslides are already signaling the irreversible changes being brought about by global warming and climate change.
Clearly, public use of Space technology for disaster management is going to rise and become a significant part of the economy. The other uses will be in the monitoring of the environment for emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases and their control through legislation and perhaps even punitive action. Earth observations can also help in the location of alternate energy resources like wind farms, hydropower, solar farms, and perhaps even nuclear plants.
The trajectory of Space economy lies in the close cooperation between government and industry in Space applications to meet the challenges of the present and work towards a better and sustainable future.