The Space Wide Web is ready to go
The new space race is really underway after Richard Branson’s monumental first passenger trip to space, beating Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin passenger flight by more than a week. Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spacecraft did not cross the Karman Line, contrary to Jeff Bezos’ plans. It has, however, reached the edge of space, as defined by NASA. After 17 years, what an incredible achievement of vision, tenacity and innovation.
There is even more to space innovation than the nascent space tourism sector. A little out of sight, there is a growing space technology industry. Space technology is more important to modern businesses than most people might realize. It’s one of many other emerging technology changes that are happening quietly, off the radar of many customers.
The concept of space as a service has moved from real estate to orbit as software as a service models take the space industry by storm. Space has the potential to be the cloud beyond clouds, with entrepreneurs large and small creating a global ecosystem of space technologies spanning data and AI systems, aerial imagery, remote sensing, etc. Space technology also promises full global high-speed, low-latency Internet access, regardless of your distance.
Morgan Stanley’s space team estimates that the estimated $ 350 billion global space industry could grow to more than $ 1,000 billion by 2040. But there have been many obstacles to date, with more than ‘obstacles to overcome, mainly related to cost, complexity and concerns about space debris.
Space exploration is different now
Traditionally, access to space has been extremely expensive and has been primarily the responsibility of government space agencies. The fall in the prices of launch services after 2010 allowed significant competition in the space launch market that did not exist before. After the end of the space race, space flights were characterized by greater international cooperation, cheaper access to low earth orbit and an expansion of commercial enterprises.
SpaceX, for example, has demonstrated the benefits of reusable rockets. Developments applied from smartphone technology have reduced the form factor and cost of low orbit satellites. The features that a satellite needs, including fast processors, integrated cameras and various sensors, are already part of smartphones. As new technologies are developed and the sector becomes more commercialized, space will be the new frontier for business.
On June 30, 2021, Virgin Orbit placed seven satellites in their target orbits, a big step towards a smooth and reliable commercial launch service. On the same day, SpaceX’s carpool satellite launch service deployed 88 small satellites into orbit. The payload included international business ventures with use cases for Earth observation, location tracking, Internet of Things, and space-to-Earth data analysis.
With more low-orbit satellite launch missions planned, we’ll begin to see new digital infrastructure in the skies delivering new global datasets, abundant connectivity and innovative space-as-a-service solutions.
Satellites already produce terabytes of data on a daily basis. This will create significant challenges in dealing with the scale and complexity of downloading increasing volumes of data in a cost-effective and secure manner.
Amazon, Google and Microsoft have recognized this by establishing Ground Station as a Service offerings from their cloud platform services over the past two years. Ground Station as a Service provides satellite communication and control, data processing and large scale integration from AWS, Azure or the Google Cloud platform. There will also be new models of data networks to deal with this complexity and ensure that value can be derived from these new data sets.
Rocket science for human access
Space technology has the potential to democratize Internet access. About half of the world does not have internet access or broadband connectivity. One of the main reasons is that infrastructure connectivity is simply not available. As highlighted at the recent Mobile World Congress 2021, ensuring that everyone, especially those in remote locations, has access to quality connectivity is a basic prerequisite for digital participation.
SpaceX’s Starlink is developing a satellite network to provide low-cost Internet access to remote locations. Starlink is now providing initial beta services and hopes to have up to 42,000 satellites in its mega constellation. That’s a lot when you consider that there are just over 3,300 active satellites orbiting the Earth today.
China has also created a company to build a mega constellation of broadband satellites. Amazon’s Kuiper Project launches a low-orbit constellation of 3,236 satellites. Amazon aims to provide reliable and affordable broadband service to unserved and underserved communities around the world.
The parking and operation of satellite communication systems clearly allow these large players to extend their control over the communication infrastructure necessary to provide their services. Users will still need specially designed antennae the size of a pizza box to connect to the satellites. Another company, AST & Science, aims to provide a spatial broadband cellular network (SpaceMobile) accessible by standard smartphones.
Protect our planet
Earth observation has been around for a long time, but the ability to monitor at frequencies and precision high enough to detect even millimeter daily changes in the Earth’s surface does not exist. New advanced satellites promise this precision and currently offer detailed images at a resolution of 25 centimeters.
Thanks to the growing constellation of satellites combined with artificial intelligence and analysis of space-cloud data, we can learn much more about our planet in near real time. For example, ICEYE’s geo-satellites can quickly revisit any area of the globe, allowing repeat acquisition of ground track images from the same location multiple times a day.
The ability to identify and monitor changes in the millimeter range enables entirely new applications, including forecasting, preventing and responding to natural disasters, inclement weather, building collapses, floods, crop failures and to other disasters. Spire uses radio frequency data using radio occultation to provide a parallel model for predicting the weather by measuring ocean wave heights and the atmosphere. This helps overcome the challenges of imaging faces such as darkness and clouds.
There is an emerging market for innovative solutions offering data and images as a service that will provide increasingly deeper knowledge and insight into our fragile planet and how we can better protect it. Satellite surveillance will be a concern for privacy, but the benefits to the planet will outweigh the risks.
The space technology industry is not without its risks. Cyber security threats are to be expected. Satellites, for example, could be targeted by electronic warfare (jamming and spoofing), microwave weapons, laser glare and, more worryingly, cyber attacks.
With the increase in the satellite population, space debris presents a potential danger to all space vehicles, including the International Space Station. LeoLabs is developing a network of specialized ground-based radars to track assets in space and debris as small as two centimeters to solve this problem.
Explore the endless possibilities
Space technologies offer endless possibilities and what they can mean for business and, most importantly, for our planet – from the space internet of things to satellite asset tracking to Earth observation through the use of satellite technology. ‘AI with its vast data analysis capabilities to help us better protect and manage Mother Earth.
We are now at the dawn of an exciting new industry. Space opens up for everyone. Find out what this means for you.
The original article by Phil Brunkard, senior analyst at Forrester, is here.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CDOTrends. Image credit: iStockphoto / Aleksandra Malysheva