The space sector has gone truly global and is becoming integral to addressing the global challenges as part of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), experts participating in the TRENDS Research & Advisory E-Symposium said here on Wednesday.
During the event – The Role of Space in Sustainable Development – experts discussed the technological advancements in space, the challenges and opportunities in international cooperation, and the future of space exploration. They also highlighted the value of the space sector in climate change and building a sustainable knowledge-based economy.
In her opening remarks, Simonetta Di Pippo, the Director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), said research shows that nearly 40 percent of the targets behind the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) rely on space technology. “This year is the start of the UN’s Decade of Action. Only 10 years left are on the clock. We need to do more for sustainable development, and we need to do it faster,” she said.
Simonetta said that a significant risk for sustainable development, in both the near and long term, is the widening digital divide between nations. “A collective, global effort is required to ensure that space’s part of the digital revolution does not contribute to deepening inequalities,” she said.
She also said that the space sector has a well-established prevalence for open-source data, and efforts are in place to make this data accessible to countries worldwide. “It is, of course, one thing to make data accessible; it is quite another to make it actionable. The journey from a satellite to a minister’s briefing notes is long,” she said, adding that we need to make this process administratively efficient.
Simonetta also emphasized the need for integration and said that we are witnessing profound changes across the full spectrum of space industries, businesses, and services. “While many of these space-enabled innovations are still in their early stages, their impact already propagates as they fuse with and amplify the existing ones,” she said.
Mentioning the Emirates Mars Mission, and the UAE’s ambitious space program, Simonetta said that UNOOSA welcomed the opportunity to work more closely with partners in the UAE on space sustainability issues.
“Less than a month ago, we opened a new collaboration with the UAE Space Agency to build on our shared commitment to ensuring space sustainability, both in the space environment itself and supporting sustainability here on Earth,” she said.
Dr. Peter Martinez, the Executive Director of Secure World Foundation, who has extensive experience in space diplomacy and the regulation of space activities, said space is a key factor in addressing global problems, such as climate change and global agendas such as the SDGs.
“Satellites can provide essential background for solving problems for Earth’s development. However, many no longer have a useful function and clog up within a cluster of orbital congestion,” Dr. Martinez said.
He also said that space is becoming more global as over 30 countries have national space agencies now, and more than 90 have launched their satellites. “There is great importance attached to space by a growing number of countries, and we have even had new kinds of actors in recent years. We also see new kinds of space operations, such as on-orbit satellite servicing,” he said.
Dr. Martinez also said that we need to develop norms of responsible behavior to avoid chaos and accidents in space. “The new status quo has also birthed many defense initiatives, which will see a boom in the industry growth,” he said.
Prof. Bernard Foing, a Senior Scientist at the European Space Agency (ESA) and Director of the EuroMoonMars program, Netherlands, said the space sector’s work could benefit the world community. “From the very beginning, we have tried to develop sustainable sources on the moon for the benefit and betterment of mankind,” he said.
“In 2017, we developed a lunar rover called ‘Etna,’ under a program dedicated to developing robots for harsh space environments. We are also aiming for the first women on the moon by 2024,” Foing said. He, however, also highlighted some critical challenges associated with the moon village implementation.
“We have to survive and come back. We also have to balance our curiosity of exploring the unknown with the resources readily available and at our immediate disposal,” he said, adding that we are not only partnering with governments, but also with users, which has its own challenges.
According to Foing, global space research will be crucial to tomorrow’s scientists’ training and development. “Transnational collaborative projects can bring international innovators together and address some of the most urgent challenges we face,” he said.
Masayuki Goto, the Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at Space Cubics, said although the space industry is still at an immature stage in terms of business applications, there is immense potential for future growth and innovation.
“Big data from space is important for agriculture. Space can monitor the entire Earth and the environment on the ground. There hasn’t been enough focus on big data analysis, so if we increase our efforts, it can benefit the agriculture sector,” Goto said, adding that the private sector and business interest in space are a good sign for the sector.
Fatima Al Shamsi, Space Policies Specialist at the UAE Space Agency, said the UAE has worked hard to ensure sustainable progress of the country’s space sector from the very beginning and that the aim is to have a sustainable research program besides ensuring manufacturing capabilities.
“We came up with 13 space activities that will drive our strategy for the next ten years, including R&D, manufacturing, ground segment operations, and value-added services. We also made sure our strategy is aligned with the Centennial Plan 2071,” Al Shamsi said.
Representing the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center, UAE, its Senior Director of Space Engineering Department, Eng. Amer Al Ghafri, said the Hope Probe to Mars would be an outstanding success that will provide invaluable information about the planet. “Thanks to the outstanding capabilities of the UAE’s space program, we are very confident that we can continue leveraging the full potentialities of new space technologies,” Al Ghafri said.
Bianca Cefalo, the Space Systems Thermal Product Manager, Airbus Defense, and Space UK, said satellites already have the remote-sensing capabilities for locating subterranean water. “As a considerable amount of data has already been gathered, we need global collaboration to enable scientists to analyze and use this data,” Cefalo said.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Ahmed Al Astad, Scientific Advisor at the TRENDS Research & Advisory, said that the symposium gave a unique opportunity to learn about two very important subjects – space and sustainable development.
“They are both critical for the survival of humankind, for the future of science, and for expanding human knowledge boundaries. We thank the United Nations, and other agencies, for their important role in advancing space technology and sustainable development,” he said.
The E-Symposium was live-streamed at TRENDS YouTube channel and other social media platforms.