The final frontier of space technology

Synopsis:  Emerging tech is helping leverage space for various terrestrial uses.


Technological innovations are now driving space activities and research. The space industry is using technologies like 5G, advanced satellite systems, 3D printing, big data, and quantum technology in its activities according to a report by Analytics Insight.

It is also helping scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs reduce project time and cost. Further, implementing advanced space technology is critical since several services like weather forecasts, remote sensing, satellite television, and long-distance communication rely on space infrastructure.

Two critical shifts that are driving the space industry are miniaturisation of satellites and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for understanding the dynamics of the universe.

How the miniaturisation of satellites will be beneficial?

Reduced Latency: Smaller satellites orbit closer to the earth and are more flexible than larger ones. Proximity to earth means that the transmission time of data to the base station is faster.

Saves Energy: The energy required to run such satellites is lower.

Produce High resolution images: As camera technology has also miniaturised, the satellites can take much better photos of the earth with higher resolution than large satellites which orbit much higher.

Ease of Maintenance: Since the cost is lower, these can be replaced easily, or their software updated more efficiently.

Sustained Mass production: Miniaturised satellites allow for cheaper designs and advancements in industrial technologies enable their mass production.

Better alternative: Startups develop small satellites that enable space companies to conduct missions that are difficult with large satellites. Moreover, small satellites are well-suited for use in proprietary wireless communications networks, as well as for scientific observation, data gathering, and monitoring the earth using the GPS.

How the use of AI will benefit Space sector?

The use of AI and machine learning (ML) in space activities helps to understand the data being generated by satellites and terrestrial observatories.

Scientists and astronomers are constantly trying to make sense of space phenomena and events. It can take months and years to understand spatial activities.

Algorithms can be trained to understand signals and analyse the different types of lights which are generated by stars and planets.

Researchers say that the accuracy of reading the data can be over 90 per cent, often higher than by humans and in less time.

For example, the Vera Rubin Observatory in Chile which is expected to become operational this year will use a 3200-mega pixel camera to observe the night skies. It will photograph the entire sky every night and store over 80 terabytes of images every time.

Over a period of 10 years, the car-sized camera of the observatory will capture 60 petabytes of data. No scientist or even a team can possibly analyse or understand this data without the help of trained algorithms.

What lies ahead for India?

The launch of the Indian Space Association can accelerate the domestic ecosystem build on the success of the Indian Space Research Organisation.

Many startups in India are at the leading edge of using emerging tech for space exploration and knowledge generation. The use of such technologies will be unique for India especially with the opening up of geo-spatial mapping for the private sector.

Source: This post is based on the article “The final frontier of space technology” published in Business Standard on 18th October 2021.

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