There are no second chances in space. When you send anything up into orbit, it has to be perfect. What goes up can’t be brought down to get fixed if things go wrong. And if it’s a manned mission, you’re dealing with human life. That level of rigour and precision yields many inventions that can be employed on Earth.
Space technology is at the forefront of innovation today, and a big part of what I do at the Singapore Space and Technology Association is about providing holistic support for companies in this field. For every single space mission, there’s a treasure trove of technology that can be transferred out of the industry for terrestrial uses.
“There are no second chances in space. When you send anything up into orbit, it has to be perfect”
Take satellites – our GPS systems all glean their data from satellites that provide geolocation tracking. Satellite communications are also essential for doing everything from sending a text message to making a video call. We’re living in the age of connectivity, but without satellites providing the technology to facilitate this, the communication wouldn’t be as seamless.
Another key invention that was originally created for space is solar panels. In the 1950s and 1960s, batteries were significantly larger and it was really expensive to send them up into space to power satellites. As the latter got smaller, better and more efficient, their power sources needed to follow suit – and that’s how solar panels were born.
With Lasik surgery, the guidance system that allows the laser to “dock” at exactly the right spot on your cornea without damaging your eye originates from space technology. Things in space move at thousands of kilometres an hour, so navigating a space vehicle into a specific spot is truly an exact science. Comparatively, the Lasik procedure is a piece of cake!
These days, space technology isn’t as esoteric or inaccessible as it once was. Many startups and multinationals are working to push the industry forward, and technopreneurs like Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos have really helped to democratise the industry and increase visibility.
Looking ahead, I foresee commercial space transportation – known to many as space tourism – being the next great revolution in the transportation industry. I think that the market for this will be point-to-point transportation, as we’ll be able to ferry people and goods at a much faster speed than current commercial air travel, and time is something we place a premium on in contemporary society. Once we improve the propulsion systems necessary for this to happen, it’ll be a game-changer.
– ILLUSTRATION BY STUART PATIENCE
This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine.