Global Emissions, Orbital Collisions and a Spotlight on the Moon - April 2021

Why space is becoming mainstream

This week, we look at how space is becoming mainstream, the growing threat of orbital collisions, the global spotlight on the Moon and how space tech is used for monitoring global emissions, as the 51st anniversary of Earth Day is upon us.

Seen from Space

Some notable developments in the space industry since the last edition of this newsletter.

  • Every company is a space company (or soon, will be!). That’s the conclusion, one can draw from the ETF (Exchange Traded Fund) Cathie Wood unveiled recently. If you are wondering why it includes agriculture, e-commerce and even software companies including Amazon and Netflix, think of how these industries could benefit from space tech, from more internet to more data, through satellites.

  • You know space is starting to become mainstream when a conventional tech conference, Viva Tech includes a space tech challenge: free launch with Arianespace, the European launch provider for the winning idea - to propose an innovative nanosatellite mission focusing on applications on Earth.

  • The quest for ubiquitous connectivity through satellites continues, with big funding rounds for US-based Astranis and South Korea-based Hanwha Systems, as OneWeb & SpaceX carry on with their plans of providing internet in the Arctic regions, even as they just managed to steer clear of a collision in orbit.

  • One way to reduce polluting the Earth’s orbit with more satellites is by not launching new satellites, but simply by extending the lives of existing ones. That is exactly what a recent mission has managed to do. Reusability is not just for Earth, but also in-orbit - actively servicing, refuelling and disposing of satellites.

  • Funding for space companies continues to grow in 2021, with about two-thirds of the amount raised by the usual suspects - SpaceX and OneWeb. As space budgets also continue to grow around the world, even in a pandemic-impacted year, it would not be an exaggeration to say that we are entering a golden era for space.

  • Looks like humans will most likely return to the Moon this decade, as SpaceX is selected by NASA to build the lander to enable that. Unlike the 60s, when it was a two-horse race, a lot more countries such as the UAE, South Korea, Japan among many others are interested in sending missions to the Moon as soon as possible.

Spotlight: Space Applications for Climate

A short briefing on some recent developments of applications from commercial space technologies for climate, particularly focused on emissions.

With the 51st anniversary of Earth Day coming up on April 22, I wanted to take a deeper look into how space applications can be used for climate. The most obvious commercial use case for space in climate is monitoring emissions, not only to observe but also to identify the source of these emissions. This is particularly true for methane - recent satellite observations of which are already becoming a reason for concern. They say, ‘you can’t fix what you can’t measure’, so unsurprisingly, we already have a bunch of commercial and institutional projects - GHGSat, Bluefield Technologies, Europe’s Sentinel-5P and CO2M, Environmental Defense Fund’s MethaneSAT and the recently announced, CarbonMapper by Planet, while companies such as Kayrros, Blue Sky Analytics among others are trying to make sense of this data. Only satellites can provide this type of data, with this level of precision, with this recurrence of observations. But, more crucially, can this lead to climate action?!

I am putting together a longer piece looking at what role space tech has to play in climate tech. So, please expect that in your inbox, in the next week or so.

The TerraWatch Space Podcast

Links to the recent episodes of my podcast aimed at demystifying space tech for those outside the ‘space bubble.’

Since the last edition of this newsletter, I have released two episodes of the podcast - one, with Namrata Goswami, a geopolitical analyst on the new space race, and two, with Doug Mohney, a writer covering the satellite and the IT sector for the last 20 years, on the developments in satellite communication - internet, IoT and beyond.

Subscribe to my podcast on your favourite app for some exciting episodes coming up - on exploring oceans and space, on diversity in the space industry and more.


At least one cool application of space technology on Earth that caught my attention

Whenever I read opinions about why we should not invest in space, I am quite glad that I have this section in my newsletter. Don’t get me wrong, this author is not completely wrong (as seen in this story about what is going on in Brazil), as we do need to be mindful of the cost of advancements. But, his case does not stand, just by looking at the impact space technologies have on life and business on Earth. Consider this case study from Togo, where satellite images are used to distribute Covid-19 financial help to people, by using indicators of poverty such as different roofing materials and road surfaces. Or this story, about how NASA’s instrument that was used to detect chemicals in space is being repurposed to become a sniff test for Covid-19.

If you are still not fully sold, just check out how Google Earth’s recently released timelapse uses millions of satellite images to show what we have done to our planet in the last 37 years (hint: it is both beautiful and scary ) - a perspective you cannot get from anywhere, but from space.

I will be watching a helicopter take off on Mars, and one of my favourite astronauts (Thomas Pesquet), launch to the International Space Station, this week.

In case you have any thoughts, recommendations or requests, just hit reply. See you next time!

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Founder, TerraWatch Space - Advisory Services & Thought Leadership in the Space Industry