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First, it was the wheel, then the printing press, then the internet. Could SpaceTech be the “next frontier” — the technological advancement that takes human civilization to a whole new level of progress? Although some view space research as nothing but a vanity project for millionaires with minimal benefits for the average person, it’s actually driving innovation forward for numerous sectors.
Space technology has already contributed to diverse inventions, from carbon monoxide detectors to memory foam. Today, four industries stand to benefit from SpaceTech: pharma and research, telecommunications, CleanTech and manufacturing. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
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1. Pharma and research
Pharmaceutical developments depend upon scientists’ ability to carry out trials on different solutions, and it turns out this is often easier in space. The microgravity environment up there offers all kinds of advantages by simulating our bodies and making it possible to do things like separate liquids and transfer heat. As a result, we can develop a broader range of chemical reactions and molecules.
The Israeli company SpacePharma is at the forefront of this revolution. From its miniature laboratories — found on spacecraft, satellites and even the International Space Station — the firm carries out crucial research at a lower cost than could be done on earth. While on average it costs $10 to $70 million to host a space lab, SpacePharma reduced the cost to approximately $2 million.
The company’s brilliance isn’t just in their research but the path they’re paving for all future companies in the sector, possibly including the world’s largest pharma and healthcare companies. For instance, research into how reagents become high-yield crystals in a microgravity environment could help to cure cancer. Stem cell research, anti-aging solutions and antibiotics are other areas in which SpacePharma’s space labs could accelerate research.
Not surprisingly, many of the biggest names in SpaceTech have recognized SpacePharma’s potential and established a relationship with the company, including SpaceX, NASA and the International Space Station — and its journey is only just beginning.
Because we live in a place with developed telecommunications infrastructure, it’s easy to forget there are many places in the world (and probably your own country, too) where reliable internet access sounds like a dream. It’s tough to put the proper infrastructure into remote and rural locations, but the use of internet satellites could change this and skyrocket internet availability. And best of all, it stands to be affordable.
We already had a glimpse of the power of space when Elon Musk moved his Starlink satellite above Ukraine to ensure the nation’s people could access the internet during tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
Then there’s the use of satellites for data transfer purposes. Putting satellites into orbit is becoming cheaper. They could help collect GPS data and satellite imagery to understand what’s happening on our planet — especially when combined with artificial technology that can make sense of all the information or model different scenarios. This has already helped us tackle the pandemic, and deforestation and agricultural yields are other possible applications.
Related: How to Monetize Space Beyond Expeditions and Research
One of the biggest problems humans face these days is climate change and ecological damage. Although there are ways space research can contribute to the problem — look at all the debris floating around up there from past projects — there’s also lots of potential for space to combat environmental destruction.
Recently, the United Nations has recognized the role of space in achieving its sustainable development goals. For example, many projects link to telecommunications, such as satellites to monitor emissions on earth. Also, ways to keep up the debris outside the planet have been investigated, such as the ELSA-d taking the floating debris using magnets and then burning them in the outer atmosphere layers.
The advantages of microgravity environments go beyond pharma — it can also help produce a wide array of other materials. NASA is already carrying out a range of in-space manufacturing projects, including 3D printing in zero gravity, creating more solid materials and components for manufacturing and ways to recycle plastics.
Historically, few materials we could manufacture in space were useful enough to warrant the expense, but this has started to change. For instance, the fiber optic material ZBLAN, which could reduce signal losses significantly compared to silica-based optical fiber, can only be made in space since gravity results in imperfections in the material. Made In Space, Inc. is already creating the material with promising results.
Related: What Traveling to Space Can Teach Us About Working and Living on Earth
The “next frontier” is here
Space technology goes far beyond expeditions to Mars or space tourism — current innovations could change countless industries and even human civilization.
Companies like SpacePharma and SpaceX are paving the way to a world where the sky literally isn’t the limit. Now, human researchers are no longer limited to experiments and innovations we can carry out under gravity and other earthly restraints. This holds the potential to solve many of the greatest problems we face today, from deadly illnesses to climate change.