By AROSE Chair, David Flanagan
Following the success of NASA’s first Artemis mission to the Moon we should ask what’s the value of space exploration? Why should we spend so much of our precious resources getting off Earth when there are so many issues to deal with at home, not least of all global warming and the increasing impacts of climate change?
Space technology touches many aspects of everyday life. Conveniences we take for granted were borne out of space exploration, including GPS, cordless power tools, computer mouse, phone cameras and infrared thermometers.1
Space innovations are also helping on-Earth industries decarbonise and fight the impacts of climate change. Everyone from insurers to urban planners use satellite Earth observations to forecast risk and make critical decisions about the designs of our cities. We are bolstering our resilience to natural disasters with satellite images and data that provide early warning of bushfires and floods.
Curtin University is leading the way in Australia with the Binar satellite program. The first of seven contracted CubeSats, Binar-1 was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a SpaceX rocket in August 2021, then deployed from the International Space Station.2
The Binar missions will allow us to see our home from a whole new perspective, greatly enhancing our understanding of Australia’s geophysical environment. This will lead to greater insights and better decision making across diverse areas such as water resource management, mine site design, fire and flood mitigation, and infrastructure development.
Australia is a world-leader in remote operations, particularly across our resources sector. Remote operations – utilising robotics, automation and artificial intelligence – reduce emissions and environmental impacts, lower safety risks and increase jobs diversity.
A core objective of remote operations collaborator AROSE (Australian Remote Operations in Space and on Earth) is to uncover and widen the application of Space capability across on-Earth industries. This approach is helping some of AROSE’s founding members to deliver on their sustainability and decarbonisation outcomes.
Global geo-data specialist Fugro is combining advanced remote operations capability with satellite imagery and communications to transform its ocean-going fleet of survey vessels. In 2021, Fugro used its first uncrewed surface vessel, the 12-metre Fugro Maali, to complete an entirely remotely operated nearshore inspection of three gas trunklines for Woodside’s North West Shelf Project.
According to Fugro, the program led to a 97% reduction in CO2 through reduced fossil fuel use. It improved HSSE outcomes by lowering offshore staff hours and enabled a more diverse workforce on the project.3
NASA recognises Australia’s expertise in remote operations and has asked the Australian Government to provide a Lunar Services Rover – a semi-autonomous robot on wheels – for a future Artemis mission.
Australia’s leading gas producer Woodside Energy has also formed a collaboration with NASA. Woodside and NASA recognise the mutual benefits of working together on robotics and remote operations.
NASA sees Woodside as a great test bed of robotics in harsh environments, as Woodside is doing similar tasks at its operations which NASA envisages doing on the Moon and Mars. 4
Investment in Space is also a significant economic multiplier. NASA estimates that for every $1 spent on the Space sector, an additional $7-$14 is generated in the broader economy.1
Some say the new space race heralds the next and most profound industrial revolution in human history.5
Perhaps more importantly, right now space innovations are helping decarbonise our most energy intensive industries, including marine, rail and road transport, heavy industry and food production.
Through the on-Earth deployment of space innovations and technology, industry’s journey towards net zero carbon emissions is well underway.
David Flanagan AM CitWA is the Chair of AROSE. He is also Chair of Battery Minerals Limited and Red Dirt Metals.
- https://www.greatbusinessschools.org/nasa/ see also https://spinoff.nasa.gov/