Space StartUp: Climate Change Monitoring Using Satellites

Vikas Nath. Launch Pad 2016. International Space Development Conference 2016, Puerto Rico. 18 -22 May 2016


ISDC Launch Pad 2016 : With NASA, Breakthrough Prize, Final Frontiers Design, Integrated Space Flight Service, Astronauts4Hire, and Messaging for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (METI)

The key to understanding and taking action on climate change is data. 30 years of satellite-based climate data has provided groundwork for various UN treaties on climate change. It led the Geneva-based Inter governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to conclude in 2007 that “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”

Interestingly the interest in using satellites for climate change came about with decline in inter-planetary funding of the NASA in the 70s due to economic stagnation in much of the Western world and spurred scientific interest in the Earth’s climate. Until then we had better remote sensing maps of our neighboring planets than Earth!

Today, NASA has more than a dozen Earth science spacecraft/instruments in orbit studying all aspects of the Earth system. EU, India, China and Japan too have their own space crafts collecting climate data. However more countries need to become space faring and launch their own satellites as more real-time observations and action is needed to tackle climate change. This requires opening up of the space sector and lowering the entry point to working on space related projects.

Satellites can help countries mitigate and adapt to climate change by providing a new way to look at cropping patterns,  water usage, energy generation and greenhouse emissions through global view of vegetation, water and atmosphere. This can aid planning and monitoring of projects aimed at reducing our carbon footprint.

Space sector has long been considered as an exclusive domain of national governments. But it is no longer so. The success of start up companies like SpaceX, Planet Labs, and  Skybox Imaging Inc. (later acquired by Google and rebranded as Terra Bella) has changed the perception and opened the sector to Space Start Ups. Final Frontier Design is a start up which makes space suits for NASA and the commercial space industry. The first 3-D printer on the International Space Station was made by a boot-strapped space startup “Made in Space” at NASA’s Ames Research Center. MaxQ became Canada’s first accelerator for space startups while India recently launched its first student built smallsat “Pratham”. The company “BeeHex” whose founders were commissioned by NASA to develop palatable foods for astronauts’ deep space mission to Mars, has commercialized a device that can 3D-print pizza.

The growing demand for small satellites and satellite swarms juxtaposed with greater availability of  Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) technologies in space sector is a good sign and should enthuse more youngsters and entrepreneurs to look to space to solve the inter-generational climate change challenge.

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