How space technology can help fight global crises

While medical science and pharma companies have been at the vanguard to combat COVID, space technology holds immense potential with satellite communications and GPS to track, monitor and mobilise resources where most needed.
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Chances are that the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus is the only thing you have heard or read about from all possible sources in the past few months. The rampaging disease has virtually paralysed daily life as we know it. The prevailing threat to human order of life is so enormous that there is a need to use every available measure to defeat this crisis.

Of course, some obvious places that people have looked towards for solutions are biotechnology, medicine and pharma. Medical personnel have been on the frontlines fighting the outbreak. Pharmaceutical companies are not far behind, providing services with amazing efficiency at this critical time.

Many corporations are helping by contributing to the fund set up by the government for this very issue, while a few are leveraging their manufacturing expertise to produce ventilators and other critical PPEs. These are great examples of ingenuity and coming together of different industries to overcome the effects of this pandemic.

However, there remains another option that has perhaps not been fully utilised to its potential -- space technology. Advances made in space technology today allow for a multitude of applications.

There is space for more

Satellite communications, satellite navigation, Earth observation and other technologies have been making immense contribution to both the government and private sector efforts combating the spread of the virus.

Earth observation satellites can be used to monitor daily changes on the earth’s surface and the data can be analysed further to ascertain if there are trends that can connect spread of viruses and epidemics like COVID with various environmental factors such as temperature, humidity in the air, etc.

Global navigation systems like the Global Positioning System (GPS) rely on earth-orbiting satellites to provide geolocation and time information to GPS receivers anywhere on the Earth. These navigation systems are crucial during a calamity like COVID-19 -- be it using GPS to track locations of infected patients or monitor cargo transportation to large-scale disinfection sites.

Organisations like NASA, ESA and CNSA are using satellite technology to provide accurate and precise information such as monitoring food supplies and quarantine zones during this critical time. Satellite imagery and location data collected by these satellites from all around the globe are coming of great assistance to handle such global disasters that can cause severe consequences and pose serious threat to human life on Earth.

During the floods in Kerala, ISRO with the help of five earth-observation satellites was able to rescue thousands of stranded victims, provide support for transport networks, help affected cut-off villages and more. Similarly, NASA has been consistently tracking the melting of Earth’s ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. The findings of the analysis show the impact of a warming climate that indicates geophysical, hydrological and climatological disasters.

The way forward for India

Crises usually create room for rapid innovation and improvisation. Taking inspiration from the global arena, India should consider increased use of space technology than is being done today by catalysing and accelerating private innovation in the field.

India’s space program has focused on developmental missions right from the beginning and has earned its right to be considered as an established space player. With initiatives like ‘Gaganyaan’, the Indian government is showcasing its lofty ambitions and is very much in the right stead.

But we cannot hold the needle here. The idea is to move ahead and to move ahead fast. The question is how? Public-private collaboration, support through contracts and grants for startups, impartiality to both public and private efforts and a transparent and straightforward policy framework in space will help keep our country at par with other countries and global organisations. To remain competitive and relevant, we as a country have to approach this domain with more conviction, consideration and intent.

The country needs to formulate a well-defined space policy to safeguard its space-based assets and to help counter other threats along with making it inclusive for private companies to operate in the sector unhindered.

‘Space’ should not remain curbed for anyone in any manner. An absolute necessity is to take steps towards the creation of a private space industry ecosystem that will lead to greater transitional and multilateral activities.

The recent announcement for setting up IN-SPACe is a huge step in the right direction and shows tremendous vision and intent from the government. However, how things turn out is solely dependent on how it is executed. The associations and outsourcing initiatives would ultimately help ISRO's focus on avant-garde research to enhance India’s drive in outer space. It will also enable private players in this domain to get access to resources and gain recognition, which will further strengthen the bridge with global allies and show us in better light.

History has shown time and again that success is built on persistence and a willingness to adapt. The time is ripe for us as a nation to understand the potential of space exploration and include space technology and research into our core modules.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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