Satellites aren't for space.
They're mostly for us here on Earth.
When people think "satellites", they think of the Hubble or fancy deep space technology when they're actually on the outside looking in. Their many applications actually favour us on Earth and can be directly applied to our biggest hurdles as a planet.
Earth's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 are the measuring stick of the challenges we face as a planet and what's required to overcome them. One thing is for sure, our eyes-in-the-sky can help a great number of them in two unique ways; Satellite imaging and communications.
Satellite Earth Imaging
SDG Goal 2: Ending World Hunger
The miraculous advances in visual imagery from space are nothing if not remarkable.
Satellites can tell us which crops are yielding best down to the pixel. Theis enable farmers to make better decisions on where resources need to be and when. This also helps cut the amount of wastage.
By using satellite imagery using a form of spectral bands like infrared, we can build on a database of vegetation that represents a body of knowledge for best practice in farming efficiency and productivity.
With farming and agricultural land making up nearly 40% of our entire landmass on Earth, the implication of having a more resourceful and impactful crop system is a no-brainer.
Satellite data is a unique and underutilised aspect of putting a dent in the food deficit we share as a species. Just floating by a mass of land will collect more visual data in a single rotation than we could in weeks or even months in a more traditional form.
Planet Labs has already begun taking this initiative daily.
SDG Goal 6: Clean Water
Much like the visual aspect of farming, satellites can enable on-time monitoring of reservoir levels for water. This enables communities to act sooner than later should levels begin to drop below what is recommended.
This is extra useful when we consider than entire countries can share water sources. With visual satellite data, these neighbouring countries can have a more transparent and fruitful conversation on the use of their shared water supply.
In locations such as Australia where water restrictions have become daily life, this method of water watching allows early warning against dangerously low levels of clean water. Meaning, we could ease and tighten restrictions on the fly with realtime data before they are dire.
Instead of flicking restrictions on and off like a light-switch.
SDG Goal 13: Climate Change Action
The most apparent signs of climate change are in the more inaccessible parts of Earth.
These remote places include ice shelves, pollution levels in large bodies of water, and dense deforestation or desertification areas.
A simply fly by with comparisons of previous data sets allows comprehensive, immediate evidence of change in our environment. With this data, we can hopefully mount more evidence on the need to act sooner rather than later.
SDG Goals 14 & 15: Life Below Water, Life on Land
On the water, visual data from satellites can aid in the tracking of illegal fishing practices which cost fortunes in manpower and resources. Special transponders that show the location of legal fishing vessels and are legally required to be turned on. Therefore, should fishing vessels be spotted from the air with no transponder, authorities will have greater insight into who is committing illegal fishing activities.
And most importantly, where.
On land, monitoring the effects of development or destruction from the sky can be curbed and alerted to the most appropriate authorities. Especially when we consider the many natural habitats of critically endangered species that are being harvested for land use and resources.
SDG Goals 3 & 4: Good Health & Wellbeing, Quality Education
Satellite internet can reach those whose internet access is unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable.
Healthy wellbeing and education go hand in hand as the higher populations are educated, the more conscious health decisions they make on average. Only half of Earth's 7.5 billion people have access to the internet, so the implications of access to the most powerful educational resource are obvious; more access to the internet means greater education means greater health outcomes.
Starlink and OneWeb, although controversial, are heading this charge at making global high-speed internet a reality within the next few years. Within remote regions where infrastructure and development are scarce, people can have access to better medical professionals and educators via satellite internet.
Satellites are an underappreciated and underutilised part of space technology. Why not use them to benefit mankind in our biggest challenges to be healthier, more efficient, more educated and less harmful to our planet?
If you've come this far, step a little further in supporting Australian space.
I solemnly swear to spread ARSE.