In the first of UKspace’s series of articles celebrating World Space Week 2020, Inmarsat Chief Technology Officer, Peter Hadinger, says that satellites impact our daily lives in many hidden ways.
Most people appreciate that satellites provide precise references for navigation, communications to remote places and pictures of our changing planet, not to mention the all-important distribution of sport for TV. But, while satellites high overhead expand our reach to the world, they have also played a critical role in other parts of our daily life – ones not normally associated with satellites.
As a satellite technologist for nearly 40 years, I’ve had the chance to see the profound influences this industry has had in the introduction and perfection of new technology. It is often said that “space is hard”, but it is precisely that difficulty that stretches engineers and scientists to create and improve technology for space. The phone you carry today is small because the radio electronics inside it had to be highly efficient to use on power-limited satellites. Your WiFi reaches further because satellite signals are weak and place a premium on low noise. The batteries in your appliances live as long as they do because they were life tested for space. The photos you take use a sensor technology that was perfected for spy satellites. The laptop I write this on has its processor cooled by thermal technology that came from space.
Perhaps most profound, the solar panels that will power the “green revolution” of the coming decade were perfected years ago in pursuit of highly efficient satellite power. Satellite designers – faced with the challenges of operating at great distance with long, un-serviced life – have perfected these and many other technologies, often starting with nationally-funded research budgets that stretch from millions to even billions. The satellite industry often reaps a long-term reward as commercial uses ramp the scale of production of these technologies by orders of magnitude, improving both cost and reliability along the way.
The everyday economic and life-improving benefits that derive from investment in the high-cost, but high value, realm of exotic new space technology are ones that should not be lost on national policymakers (or our friends in the mobile phone community). As budgets are trimmed and spectrum sold, it is as critical as ever to “make space for satellites”. Our future depends on it.