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Space 4.0 is bringing more space under the ambit

The impact of Space on Geospatial Systems is to be expected. Space imaging has resulted in rapid creation of maps and is now tending to nearly real time mapping with the advent of constellations which image every square meter in hours not days. GNSS has enabled location activities and applications while space communications has made access to geospatial information global. So what will be new?

A look at the Space Policies of the leading space faring nations show a renewed commitment to the peaceful uses of space, interplanetary exploration and colonization and stronger cooperation with new entrants in the field through space based industry. NewSpace has become a catchword as entrepreneurs, many of them young first-timers, seek to conquer this frontier, both upstream and downstream. The use of space technology ranges from the determination of the vulnerability of different areas of the earth to powering wearables in the FIFA World Cup. Sadly, militarization of Space has also raised its ugly head as we head towards commercial utilization of the Moon and planets.
However, it will be some time before commercial entities on Earth grab a bigger slice of space imaging. Studies show that governments across the board dominate this market and it will not be before 2025 that commercial demand will at least become equal to the government requirements. Space imagery, GNSS, IoT, space and terrestrial communications will come together in an environment of Big Data Analytics, AI and Cloud and feed this commercial demand. Meanwhile ancillary services are also picking up as space transportation becomes a big business. In a lighter vein, it seems that the diameter of the American Space Shuttle’s solid boosters was decided by the width of a Roman chariot.

As demands pick up, space assets will become too valuable to be used and then consigned to a ‘death orbit’ once their lifetime is completed. Space situation analysis has become an important endeavor as space junk begin to threaten launch services and in orbit safety. With a thrust in manned missions to the moon and beyond also calls for a more sophisticated space situation management. Space detritus collection is already being tested and may become another commercial opportunity. Space maintenance and repair may become a major business where space assets may be refurbished and repaired to extend their life. It was done for the Hubble Space Telescope.

Prediction in this field is a dangerous game. In 1960, when NASA launched TIROS, the first meteorological observation satellite, no one could have imagined that in 57 years we would have satellite swarms looking down on the earth. When Arthur Clarke proposed three geostationary satellites in orbit for global communications in 1945 he predicted that it would take 100 years to achieve this scheme. Today there are more than 400 satellites in this orbit, aptly called the Clarke orbit.

So, are we looking at Space 4.0? Only time will tell.