The Impact of Space Innovations on Agriculture, Life Sciences and Human Health

Space plays an important role in promoting human development on Earth. It can help to address global challenges related to climate change and preserving human health. For instance, research and development on the International Space Station (ISS) makes important contributions in the fields of life sciences, medicine, and food science. Space supports research, industry and the emerging new space ecosystem by addressing and overcoming scientific and technological challenges. As a result, it creates new opportunities for the development of advanced solutions, products and business models. These innovations sit at the heart of the emerging New Space economy. Private investment into these emerging businesses is increasing on a global scale, which leads to a process of increasing democratisation of space. The space sector is opening up to an ever-broader number of users by intersecting with other fields and industries. This allows more and more companies to expand their business models through space-based applications, deliver more value to their customers and advance quality of life for everyone back on Earth.

Successful businesses such as New Space start-up yuri, which now offers its services to the ISS, are a testament to these new opportunities. The German start-up offers a one-stop shop for microgravity research with the goal of enabling and expanding research activities and commercial applications on the ISS. The company strongly believes in the enormous benefits that microgravity brings to industries such as pharma, biotech, advanced materials and electronics. As a result of its ambition, yuri developed a simulation platform for micro- and partial gravity experiments as well as for preparation and post-flight analysis of experiments on the ISS. The company supports its customers in defining and preparing the experiments and organises the entire launch logistics as well as the operation and return of the experiments from space. Through its service package, yuri aims to offer low-cost mission prizes that will enable a much larger number of users from research and industry to conduct and benefit from space experiments in a micro-gravity environment.

Even greater potential for industry and society is offered by services based on satellite systems. Global satellite-based services are key to achieving sustainable development goals and helping economies and societies use natural resources efficiently and sustainably on a global scale. In recent years, the emergence of new companies that drive forward innovative business models, products and services to tackle connectivity, digital and climate challenges and accompany technological advances could be readily observed. These developments are raising expectations of cheaper and therefore more lucrative space activities, which has led to the above-mentioned increased involvement of new private investors. However, the majority of established space companies have also begun to adapt and develop new business models. They now understand the so-called New Space economy not only as a driver of innovation but also as a serious cooperation partner. New Space programmes, such as the development and operation of small and micro-satellites, mega-constellations of hundreds of satellites, small launchers, broadband, and the internet-of-things from space, open up a vast array of new technological, manufacturing and financial opportunities for all actors.

Another excellent representative of the new space economy is ConstellR. This German start-up is revolutionising the temperature-monitoring market through Earth observation services. The company is deploying a new satellite constellation that will allow for sub-daily temperature monitoring of the Earth’s surface. Through its sophisticated optical sensor system, ConstellR will be able to deliver land surface temperature (LST) readings with higher radiometric accuracy compared to other state-of-the-art satellite systems. LST data is the primary dataset for monitoring applications across different markets as well as the basis for many remote-sensing products. This includes evapotranspiration and water stress monitoring as well as crop yield prediction models. In order to provide meaningful data, such thermal infrared information must be provided daily, globally and at the level of a single field. Data like this is crucial to manage future food production in light of changing climatic conditions and increasing water scarcity.

The combination of different geo-information sources and their automated evaluation with artificial intelligence (AI)-based methods facilitates efficient added-value services along the entire value chain. Earth observation and satellite navigation systems are used in precision agriculture to optimise crop production by combining geospatial information – for example on land humidity – and applying high-precision agriculture techniques for spraying and harvesting. It is estimated that using GNSS/EGNOS and Copernicus together can help to increase yields by more than 10 per cent and reduce consumption of inputs such as fuel, fertiliser and pesticides by up to 20 per cent (United Nations, 2018). To achieve this, the sustainable and efficient use of satellite-based services must be deeply integrated into industrial value chains. Application developers, data providers, hardware manufacturers and users must work closely together to optimise the overall socio-economic impact and stimulate further innovation.

The potential for innovation can be found everywhere, from data generation in space to its use by end customers on the ground. One such example of the use of AI to increase the quality of Earth observation data is the start-up ClearSky Vision from Denmark. An inherent problem with satellite imagery is atmospheric disturbance, which makes the information gained from the images less abundant and reduces viability for tracking smaller changes through Earth observation data. To solve this problem, the company uses AI to remove clouds, shadows, and image artifacts from optical imagery. By combining data from multiple different satellites in orbit, ClearSky Vision is able to provide daily, up-to-date, cloudless satellite images and thus enables continuous agricultural monitoring.

INNOspace Masters is looking for innovative solutions and business models along the entire space value chains. Agriculture, biosciences and human health can benefit greatly from space research and satellite-based infrastructures. The competition is seeking research and development projects and experiments on the ISS, satellite-based services and new sensors and evaluation methods. Proposals for the INNOspace Masters should aim to enable sustainable and efficient applications and business models in space and on Earth as well as application areas and business models on the ground.

Find out more about this year’s challenges, benefits and the partners of the competition in the INNOspace Masters Webinar Series from 6 December to 22 December 2021.

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