Space technology originated from innovations here on Earth—a worldly touch, courtesy of Earthlings—on the final frontier. The International Space Station now has the capacity to build its own tools and accessories as needed with a 3D printer. Space technology might even help aid future missions to Mars. Meanwhile, NASA’s Juno spacecraft, which recently entered Jupiter’s orbit, has been equipped with a special camera that will allow civilians back home to remotely take up-close and personal snapshots of the Great Red Spot.
What’s less commonly known is that technology developed for the space program has had a major and continuing impact on several of Earth’s biggest industries. Tech transfer programs—in which governmental space agencies have aided in the commercialization of space-based technology through licensing and industry partnerships—have spun off many IT services powering a wide range of businesses. Telecommunications, healthcare, transportation, banking, agriculture, and energy all have roots in space-based technology. Here’s how a few of the most significant ones have transformed the world.
As you type away on your smartphone, you might take for granted the tech that enables the communication. Many of the communications services and technologies you depend on for your daily business and personal productivity—from email to text message and critical Snapchat updates—are linked to satellites orbiting Earth. They help relieve congestion in the internet backbone and deliver rich media to a vast number of users below. It’s hard to imagine what the internet landscape, and the countless innovations it makes possible, would look like without this essential access made possible by the tech gliding quietly above the planet.
In addition to providing core connectivity to places with a developed internet infrastructure, the satellites orbiting Earth also provide much-needed access to those without local broadband, improving the digital divide. This could also provide a variety of beneficial ripple effects, such as ensuring young people who would otherwise not have access to STEM education resources can access the tools they need to develop their skills in this area.
Advances in communication and collaboration technology have made telemedicine more viable than ever, allowing medical professionals to remotely deliver care to their patients regardless of their location. This helps people who lack ready access to in-person medical care where they live—and this advancement in healthcare delivery is made possible by space satellites, as well as geographic information systems (GIS). This could vastly improve the quality of life of many people who would otherwise face challenging obstacles to obtaining timely and urgent professional attention.
3. Disaster preparedness
As all IT managers know, disaster preparedness is a fundamental aspect of ensuring the business survives an emergency and continues to prosper afterward. Thanks to satellite services that assess emerging weather threats and provide support to disaster management teams—as well as vulnerable populations both in the disaster preparedness phase and during post-disaster response—it’s possible to save lives and avert tragedy in a way that wasn’t possible before.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting, Bringing Space Down to Earth, this technology was recently able to provide critical post-disaster help in the Philippines, which badly needed connectivity during its recovery from a massive typhoon, and during Syria’s ongoing humanitarian crisis. If Canada experiences a major natural disaster, like a hurricane or tsunami, the disaster preparedness support provided by space satellites and related services will be essential to affected people and businesses.
4. STEM education
Canada faces a severe shortage of skilled STEM professionals, despite its reliance on technology. However, through Space School, it’s possible for the next generation to find renewed interest in the applications of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in space. Young people who experience technology originally developed for space applications may become tomorrow’s IT leaders, spearheading the next generation of innovations on the planet we call home.
The next time you gaze up at the stars after momentarily looking away from your smartphone, thank the satellites whirring overhead. They—and many other technologies created with space exploration in mind—have had a direct and lasting impact on many of the developments in the modern world while building new businesses and helping passionate employees pursue their careers. No doubt, as the human race continues to explore, more space-based innovations will boldly take us into a future no one’s quite imagined.