Satellite data: A critical tool to win the space race

By Jordan MacPherson, Director, Product Operations, Park Place Technologies

The space race is on as it becomes easier than ever before to launch satellites, gather and crunch vital data – in real-time, from the edge. It is more than rockets and spacemen, it is about gleaning life-saving insights from above and beyond. We are witnessing a watershed moment as the world adapts to changing climates, braces through emerging conflict and seeks better futures, with satellites providing the full perspective. But even space is getting a little crowded – and the data demands are growing.

Private sector advances in space technology are transforming capabilities across the industry – accelerating the pace of transformation. While it once would have cost billions of dollars to launch a satellite, the costs have lowered to such an extent that more private companies can get involved in the space industry and reap the rewards – where traditionally only governments could afford to explore. This combined with the growing sophistication of satellite technologies means space data is about to have its moment.

Data means business and with satellites generating streams of data with cameras, sensors, and scanners – a whole new perspective is starting to form in the hands of private businesses. According to the Economic Survey 2021-22, India is capable of capturing a larger share of the global space tech pie and find more domestic applications solutions in areas such as geographic information system (GIS) after the government overhauled and launched new policies in the areas of space, drone and GIS solutions last year. The number of start-ups in the rapidly growing Indian space sector has more than doubled in the past year, the survey showed.

Where government’s traditionally used space data to monitor territory, conflict zones, refugee migration and weather systems, private sector companies promise a diversification of use cases – and to some extent, are picking up the slack from governments. Privatization of space data will benefit the government significantly including economic efficiency. While the private players could play their roles in commercial activities, launching weather, communication satellites etc., the government authorities could prioritize science, research and development, interplanetary exploration, and strategic launches.

But space data has major implications for industries such as agriculture – where weather patterns, air quality and sunlight can be detected and used to determine optimum conditions for crop growth. When it comes to managing transport for example traffic flows and planning for future urban growth space data will prove invaluable. Navigation in India may gain a new approach with the government’s urge to use its regional navigation satellite system called NavIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation).

Space data is also a critical tool as nations look to monitor and adapt to the climate in order to meet net-zero goals. For example, in India under the joint mission, NISAR – both ISRO and NASA are working to co-develop and launch a satellite that would monitor groundwater supplies and provide early warning indications of volcanic eruptions. It will also monitor ice sheet melting rates and their impact on sea-level rise. The Earth satellite will be the first radar imaging satellite to use dual frequencies and keep track of vegetation distribution changes across countries.

This is all possible because of our technological advances and staying ahead of the opportunity means staying ahead of the data-driven revolution. With 10 times the bandwidth, with data latency down from 300 milliseconds to just three milliseconds, and with 100 times better lens resolution, for example, satellites can do much more than broadcast TV and track the weather. But it is the cloud and edge computing infrastructures that enable the insights that will transform industries.

Space data is bigger than big data. To capture, process and manage that data will require even more agile resilient data strategies. Reliability is key and as the use cases grow and become more critical digital infrastructure will either be a hindrance or an enabler – depending on the level of investment and expertise put into the task. Working with trusted technology partners to power new space innovations and feed new possibilities is key for any space venture.

As curiosity peaks and new galaxies feel almost within reach, the world is seemingly evolving and growing under the gaze of thousands of satellites. As the industry takes off, it’s not the space tourism that most excites, contrary to headlines but the possibilities within reach to live better together on our earth. That is thanks to smart collaborations, digital technologies, and expert cloud management. Space data is too big to handle alone.

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