Look to Space Tech for Sustainable Investing
By Bob Huxford
In an era where investments are increasingly about more than just returns, investment into space technology might just be the thing to save us all from the potentially devastating effects of climate change and other environmental crises. That doesn’t mean paying to hop onto a Space X shuttle to Mars as soon as the Earth starts getting too hot to handle. It is space tech that is crucial to us improving our understanding of the planet on which we live and where to focus our efforts to best resolve the most pressing issues for humanity.
Understanding and Combating Climate Change
Satellites and the technologies they carry are the key systems by which we measure changes in climate, the retreat of the ice caps, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the rates at which sea levels are rising. It was satellites that first noticed the hole in the ozone and they’ve been improving our understanding of the climate ever since.
Avoidance of Natural Disasters
Satellites and associated technologies can also help us better predict, and avoid, the most damaging effects of freak weather events such as hurricanes and heatwaves, providing early warning systems to enable us to get to safety and reduce the extent and cost of damage. Imaging from space also helps us monitor and control secondary natural disasters once begun, such as forest fires, that have wreaked so much havoc in recent years from Australia to California.
Direct Reduction in Carbon Emissions
GPS technology has directly helped us reduce carbon emissions. It helps us get from A to B in the most efficient way possible and this is not just for road travel but for air and sea as well. Fleet management companies, which use GPS to route fleets of vehicles in the most efficient way possible, claim they help reduce their client’s carbon emissions by up to 25%. Technologies adapted from space research, such as solar power, developed for the NASA International Space station, have also greatly aided in reducing carbon emissions and several countries are working on space-based solar power to improve collection rates and expand the collection period while freeing up land down on Earth.
Monitoring and Protecting our Flora and Fauna
Satellites can track the damage we’re directly inflicting upon the plants and animals in our environment. They can map deforestation, track illegal fishing vessels and poachers and monitor wildlife habitats, populations and changes in migration patterns. They can also see where waters are being polluted, where illegal mining is damaging environments and help spot the potential for man made disasters before they occur.
Improving Crop Yields and Access to Clean Water
Alongside monitoring the weather – crucial to agriculture - satellites can monitor the quality of soil and the health and rate of growth of crops, helping farmers know when to plant, water, fertilize, use pesticides and harvest. They can also monitor water supplies, ensuring water from reservoirs can be diverted to where it’s most needed when detecting the warning signs of a potential drought. The resulting uplift in production has the potential to put an end to hunger.
Providing Access to Information for all
Satellites have of course given us mobile communications, as well as the small thing of the internet, which has been perhaps the greatest leveller in terms of democratising access to information and helping to lift huge swathes of the world population out of poverty. However, almost half of us, around 3.6 billion people, still have no internet access and so there is much more to do. Such is the importance of this potential transformative effect that the UK Government recently backed OneWeb who are locked in a race against SpaceX’s Starlink to deploy the technology.
Investment into improved launch technology; ongoing miniaturisation of satellites to lower their cost and make them easier and cheaper to launch; improving imaging accuracy and countering vibrations that can spoil line of sight; increasing transmission speeds; better analytics etc., the list of avenues for investment goes on and on.
With the involvement of private enterprise in space constantly increasing traffic there is a need for solutions to help reduce space debris as well. This can cause accidents and potentially derail future space projects as they become ever-more complex. The good news is that regulations, and adherence to them, are improving and better disposal techniques, such as directing rockets back to Earth where they naturally burn up in the atmosphere are more frequently being adopted. Some space tech companies are also working on developing solutions for this very problem, such as LeoLabs, which can trace space debris as small as 2cm.
There is much progress still to be done and much investment required if space tech is to solve our biggest problems, but, by helping us to monitor, measure and model what's happening in ever finer detail, and enabling us to effectively communicate this information across the globe, space tech can improve our chances of taking appropriate action.
Long gone are the days that space was the sole domain of Governments’ and private investment has an important and exciting role to play. With Bank of America predicting industry growth of 230% this decade, from $424 billion today to $1.4 trillion by 2030, this could be a win-win situation for ethical investors.