Space technologies – What’s new out there?
Photo credits: ESA-NASA
Space tourists, Mars and Moon missions, and robots that serve humans at International Space Station (ISS)…those pictures are not coming from a sci-fi movie script, not any more. With the rapid development of space industry, we enter the fourth industrial revolution, and next generations have to be prepared for such a change.
Nowadays everyone is concerned about the topic of “robots vs humans”. What if in future robots will take over the jobs from people?
On one hand, humans are able to cope with unexpected situations and perform complex tasks. Through public relations, people in space sector can serve as an inspiration or a role model. With robots, on the other hand, it is possible to perform actions that require taking more risks (for example working in harsh environment like open space). Robots can increase accuracy and repeatability of actions with the same precision, and will not complain about the same action repeated again, and again, and again…
What is important to see is combined actions performed by robots and humans. For example, during an assembly of the ISS, CSA Canadarm 2 – the 17-meter-long robotic arm, being manipulated by an astronaut, was extensively involved in the assembly of the orbiting laboratory. With the game by Canadian Space Agency, become an astronaut behind the commands of a virtual robotics mission! Try it now: http://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/multimedia/games/canadarm2/default.asp
In terms of ambitions to colonise other planets, robots can play essential role to support humans’ live. Robots can act as scouts preparing for human arrival and supporting humans during their stay on a surface of the Moon or Mars. To learn more on the topic why we send robots to space, see this article https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/space-robots/en/
Our future is not all about human space flights – it is also about how space industry can make research affordable to everyone. The technology that might resolve the issue is now emerging in the space sector and is called nanosatellites. Remember, that a launch is paid by kilograms – the heavier the object to be launched, the more expensive it becomes. Due to their small (between 1 kg and 10 kg) weight, nanosatellites lower the costs for a launch of research equipment to the Earth’s orbit. That is why there is a growing interest since the invention of nanosatellites. Just to compare – there were only a few nanosats’ launches per year, while in 2017 the number of launches performed was 294! (Source)
Here is how a SunCube (a special type of a nanosatellite) looks like when deployed on orbit, in comparison with a coin (Image source). Its dimensions are 3x3x3 cm.
To learn more about nanosatellites’ technology, visit this webpage https://www.nanosats.eu/cubesat.html.
In addition to a cheaper alternative to an ordinary satellite launches, one more advantage of a nanosats is that the technology enables to shorten the time between technology development and space demonstration, which can lead to more quicker testing and collecting more data, thus progressing in research and development of space technologies.
With this technology space industry also contribute to education, for example, with NASA’s initiative called Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/smallsats/elana/index.html
Space technologies and careers
“What is the future of STEM? We enter in digital age, and this is a favourable time for STEM professionals to play important role. The focus is now on a continuous adaptation – for students it is not about acquiring new knowledge, it is about learning to learn.” – a quote from the speech of Eric Morel de Westgaver, Director of Industry, Procurement and Legal Services, ESA, at Switch to Space event, 8 October 2018 in Brussels.
Space technologies is highly demanding field when it comes to properly trained and qualified professionals (engineers, scientists, and project managers). In order to attract and train (in future) more young professionals in this field, we need to present the whole variety of career opportunities and information about possible careers in the field to young generation already at a level of school education. The great resource for teachers is the career booklet developed within the EU Space Awareness project – it can be found in the Scientix repository here: http://www.scientix.eu/resources/details?resourceId=21974.
The information presented in the blog post is partially based on the presentations from “Space technology” section at the Switch to Space event that took place on 8 October in Brussels, Belgium.
Written by: Dr. Anastasiya Boiko, Project Officer at European Schoolnet and STEM professional.