Space technology is so much a part of the very fabric of our daily lives that we may not even recognise it, present as it is in so many of the activities that we take for granted today.
Space on Earth
We interact personally with space technology when we watch satellite TV, when we consult the weather forecast, when we pick up the phone to contact someone, be they on the other side of the world or just down the road, when we access the internet or hold a video-conference with work colleagues, when we check our in-car navigation system for routing information …
Satellite image data products and services are essential tools in increasingly diversified business applications such as agriculture and fisheries, urban planning, geological exploration, risk management. Rapidly produced and interpreted satellite maps are vital for humanitarian aid response and disaster relief activities. Satellite-based positioning and precise timing information is widely used in many industrial, public and consumer sectors, as diverse as transport, aviation, banking transactions and emergency services.
Space plays a key role in the social and cultural context. Space assets, with their capability to generate and transfer information at regional or global scales, are critical enabling factors for implementing and developing the ‘information society’, bridging the ‘digital divide’ to link geographically isolated users into the full communications infrastructure. This can contribute to bringing innumerable benefits in areas such as e-learning and telemedicine.
A driver of innovation
Space is a hugely fertile technology stimulator. Spin-offs have found their way into a vast array of innovative industrial and commercial applications – the construction engineering industry makes use of anti-vibration technology derived from satellite platforms and ground-penetrating radar for fault-detection; new ‘greener’ and less polluting uses and forms of energy first applied on spacecraft are attracting interest for terrestrial vehicles; highly sensitive instruments originally designed for use in space have been adapted to assist the medical profession, and results of physiological experiments to which astronauts are subjected – on breathing patterns, for example – are contributing to advances in medical techniques; the design and manufacture of textiles and clothing, particularly for comfort and security in extreme environments, is being revolutionised by the incorporation of materials and techniques conceived for use in space, and even sport is adopting space inventions, with, for example, stabilising mechanisms for skis … These are just a few of the seemingly inexhaustible range of technology transfers which have successfully come back to Earth, bringing not only benefits to society in offering greater choice of new, more reliable products but also concomitant economic advantages in the manufacturing and service sectors.