Why bother about space? After all it's above our heads, or is it?
Space programs provide an important variety of services to Australia. Innovation across the aerospace industry is an important aspect of Australia’s capability and is a potential catalyst for creating new and valuable spin-off technologies.
These include bio-engineering, robotics, optics, materials, software, electronics, power cells, ground control systems, data processing, communication and advanced manufacturing technologies. Project management, space education and training follow as important support structures.
There are four main applications of space technology, namely, remote sensing of Earth, communications systems, scientific exploration and tourism.
Remote Sensing of Earth
Remote sensing studies the atmosphere, oceans, ice and land and how they interact. This helps Australians to better understand the changing environment over a diverse continent and the surrounding seas. The work also assists our space industry to gain the best possible position in international markets for satellite systems, ground support stations and data services.
Remote sensing satellites provide images of the Earth in optical, infrared, radar and other types of electromagnetic spectrum channels. However, the unique properties of the Australian landmass require special observing techniques and processing for success. Scientists use satellite data in a myriad of ways, from monitoring vegetation cycles, studying earthquake deformations, forecasting the weather and climate modelling, through to mineral prospecting, fishing stock mapping, urban planning and nature conservation.
Satellite communications and multimedia now link with navigation systems enabling many services for global mobile terminals. Applications such as GPS, aircraft communications, shipping logistics, internet use, tele-medicine, and tele-education are all now commonly available. Broadcasting satellites provide direct regional television, radio and specialised local services.
Telecommunications satellites offer flexible, high-capacity routes for voice and data services, providing backup in the event of undersea cable failure. Defence satellite communications and monitoring provide the basis for intelligence, treaty observance and military deployments. Given the rate of change in the information revolution, space systems will play a major future role.
Scientific exploration, not only has a high value for social inspiration but also provides extremely valuable knowledge for industry and medical applications. Together with earth-based astronomy, space science helps us to better understand the solar system, our galaxy, the Universe and ourselves.
Special scientific instruments on spacecraft collect and interpret data on radiation levels, forces, magnetism and the electromagnetic spectrum of emissions. Bursts in the solar wind can disrupt power transmissions on Earth and also damage satellites. Investigation of the role of gravity in the evolution of plants can also lead to understanding the causes of demineralisation of human bones and muscle atrophy.
The pharmaceutical industry has interest in the growing of high quality protein crystals in space, while the study of influenza viruses in low gravity helps our understanding of Earth based biological processes. The study of space debris and the space environment and its hazards like meteor strike is providing new insights into space risks and threats.
Space tourism is an emerging opportunity and is providing the ultimate holiday destination for members of the public. It is a fledgling industry born out of necessity, yet driven by the same curiosity and ambition that took humanity to the moon. It has accelerated the development of commercially viable spacecraft launchers and is a growing activity, as is the growth of collaborative international space ventures, both public and private.
While individual dreams and desires are being fulfilled, tourism is increasing our reach beyond our home planet. Although inhabiting other worlds may be some time off, this is certainly a step in the right direction. Some believe spreading to other planets is a necessity to ensure survival of the human race, nonetheless, the excitement of planetary exploration remains the greatest of human adventures.