Accelerating the Space Economy With Cloud

Image credit: iStockphoto/NiseriN

Having a purpose that is larger than ourselves is universal — we all want to achieve something to be remembered for. Protecting the planet and our species fills this need rather well. We must and should do better for our planet and the next generations, and historically, when challenges arise, humans are great at innovating to solve them.

We have rapidly developed technology that provides solutions to many of the threats to our existence, and technology helps our world in thousands of ways that we often take for granted, including cutting emissions, increasing food supplies, reducing waste, saving energy, developing medicine, protecting wildlife, and improving education, to name just a few. These solutions are obviously all terrestrial, but when we look up, beyond the skies, to see how the global space economy can help our planet, things get really interesting.

A new golden age

We are on the cusp of a new golden age of space exploration. Space travel will become more accessible, and our understanding of the universe will expand beyond what we dreamed was possible just one generation ago.

Since we first put a person on the moon in 1969 using less technology than you have in your smartwatch today, innovation has significantly driven the cost of space exploration down. Lower launch costs, advances in technology, identification of new ways to use space data, and greater public interest are accelerating the growth of the space industry.

Worth USD424 billion today, this sector will be worth more than USD1 trillion by 2040 and is projected to be worth around USD3 trillion by 2050, according to Bank of America.

The barriers to space travel that only big governments could once cross are now gone. In the coming decades, we will see more and more private individuals, companies, and organizations joining the cosmic party as the entrance fee to space is made more affordable.  

These are indeed exciting times. Today it costs one-fifteenth of what it cost 15 years ago to build a viable spacecraft and one twentieth to launch it. And today, companies don’t need to build their supercomputers or run data centers for their space programs; instead, the cloud makes designing, testing, running, and analyzing space missions easy and affordable. With the cloud, we can handle a hundred times more data than we could 30 years ago at a fraction of the cost, with huge processing power accelerating the innovation that has brought us to this point.

The landing on Mars of NASA’s Perseverance Rover earlier this year was a huge step forward. The insights that the rover is generating using cloud technology are being done faster than ever before thanks to the cloud and are just a hint of what is to come as we broaden our exploration of space and our universe. 

The growth of the global space economy — the broader value chain created by space research, development, manufacturing, and space-enabled products and services — will continue to accelerate, using cloud capabilities beyond just ground infrastructure for companies to process and analyze data from satellites. Using advanced tools like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), reinforcement learning, and deep learning, companies are already rapidly improving spacecraft and satellite design, running simultaneous virtual testing and bringing development times and costs down exponentially. The ability to use the cloud to run operations and mission control, with cloud-based software helping spacecraft operate autonomously to improve mission safety and success, is another accelerator.

Today, we have specialized databases in the cloud designed for specific purposes, which can be orders of magnitude faster than general databases, making big data analysis easier and quicker. We also have processors designed for specific tasks, making bespoke solutions to very singular problems available at reduced cost on the cloud.

Along with miniaturized Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, 3D printing has fascinating possibilities in the space economy. This includes the ability for autonomous robots to one day be deployed into space to print infrastructure and habitats ahead of missions, for example, which will make it easier and cheaper to build on other planets. The speed of innovation right now is spectacular, and the pace will keep gaining momentum as our cloud compute power grows.

Looking down for the planet

To apply technological solutions to Earth, scientists at the forefront of the space economy have some very clever ideas. One approach looks at the key to life — water.

Regarded as the most important and most telling of the elements, water is a great way for us to understand the state of our environment. In a joint multinational project that NASA is working on with Indian, French, Canadian, and U.K. space agencies, two satellites will soon be launched to monitor the world’s water.

By mapping Earth’s water every two weeks, scientists will be able to monitor even the smallest rivers and then predict droughts and floods using ML. This will help warn people of impending threats and direct natural resources where they are most needed for the best possible outcomes.

Cloud technology is also helping farmers become more productive. Australia’s Farmbot uses sensors and data from space to help farmers save up to 90% of their water via 4G. Farmers worldwide will soon be able to use satellites and the cloud to analyze radiation spectra emitted by plants to see if they are in distress and use IoT-connected farming equipment to deliver water to save specific crops. Coupled with ML to predict crop vulnerabilities, farmers will also drive gains in crop yields while reducing costs and environmental impact. And when 5G is widely adopted, connectivity will be even more widespread and seamless, bringing new solutions to a wider and much faster network.

In less than ten years, 6G may enable IoT to be used in countless unimagined ways as machines begin to communicate with each other in real-time. At this stage of a hyper-connected world, it is easy to imagine being always on the cloud — the cloud will become a brain that is available on-demand to help solve problems and find solutions to the environmental and other challenges we all face.

Space is not the final frontier. It’s our next frontier — our next challenge in a race to build a better planet. Space has become more accessible, and more of us are joining this race using affordable cloud technology to find creative solutions to problems here on Earth. The exploration of our small corner of the universe requires massive computing power, which the cloud provides in a frictionless way, allowing even the smallest space ventures to compete with the traditional industry titans.

The technology we have created and the pace of innovation over the last three decades have been nothing short of miraculous. We are moving further and faster than ever to grow the space economy and save our planet.

Tom Soderstrom is the chief technologist for worldwide public sector at Amazon Web Services (AWS).

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CDOTrends. Image credit: iStockphoto/NiseriN