Space 4.0 connects people and contributes to a more sustainable planet

DLR and ESA are two of the leading space agencies in Europe. They explore space for the benefit of mankind and their environment. While more and more people are benefiting from the advantages of space technologies, an increasing number of institutional and private players are also becoming involved in the space industry. System houses, small and medium-sized companies and start-ups are now increasingly offering commercial space applications. Together with space agencies, they search for solutions for greater environmental and climate protection as well as for more sustainability on Earth.

Space travel is experiencing a leap into a new era. Humanity is making ever greater use of space and insights from space are driving the digital transformation of our life as a society, the economy and politics. The trend towards the commercialisation of space, known as “new space”, is also linking it to numerous sectors, creating new fields of application. Data from space offer numerous services, novel business models and innovative technologies that improve life on Earth. It’s about space-based communication, Earth observation and navigation. Government institutions use such data for climate protection and disaster response. They are the basis for a digitally managed, efficient and resource-efficient agriculture: countless areas are breaking into completely new dimensions thanks to innovative space technologies.

This transformation is taking place primarily through the use of satellites. Currently, there are almost 5,000 satellites orbiting the earth, and by 2030 more than 15,000 new satellites are expected to be launched into space around the world. These new Earth satellites weigh less than 500 kilograms and are often only the size of a shoebox. 8Source: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Luft- und Raumfahrt – Lilienthal-Oberth e.V. – DGLR – 8. December 2021). Nonetheless, they gather data uninterruptedly and thereby facilitate a wide range of applications that improve life on our planet.

Satellite connections process unimaginable amounts of data

Business models driven by data are increasingly reaching all sectors of the economy and are becoming more and more interlinked via space. Companies from a wide range of industries are making use of this data generated and made available by satellites. From smart farming and logistics to Industry 4.0, infrastructure monitoring and autonomous driving. Today, a person in Europe uses the services of around 40 satellites every day. The 28 Galileo satellites are particularly well known. They enable users to locate themselves via navigation systems on their smartphones and find the right route.

Space technologies were also able to cushion the impact of the pandemic. For instance, data from space was essential to enable home office and schooling, as well as private and professional video conferences for millions of people. It is only through the use of communications satellites that people can talk and even see each other in real time, regardless of their physical location.

Innovative companies build data highways in space

German space companies are currently working on using cutting-edge technology to transmit huge amounts of data from space. They use laser technology that enable particularly fast connections between aircraft, drones, satellites and ground infrastructure. This creates massive data highways that can transmit thousands of video streams simultaneously. These powerful communication channels are also essential  for the comprehensive surveying and data collection of the Earth from above.

Data from space provides a comprehensive view of our planet's climate and weather conditions. This opens up unique opportunities for the protection of the environment on Earth. Anna Christmann, the federal government's coordinator for the German aerospace industry, highlights the climate protection applications: "Satellites enable navigation using positioning services such as GPS and its European counterpart Galileo, they provide us with weather and climate data, classic Earth observation. When soil structures are analyzed, for example, this data can be used for agriculture." (Source: Interview Heilbronner Stimme -18 February 2022).

Smart farming is based on space generated data

Digitizing agriculture via space orbit provides accurate forecasts for crop yields. Thermal infrared cameras orbiting the Earth survey every corner of our planet. They provide temperature data of the Earth's surface. Such measurements identify when crops are suffering from drought based on their discoloration at an early stage - something unperceivable to humans. As early as two weeks before agricultural experts on Earth are able to detect the risk of crop failure, space observations already come into play. Today, central applications for satellite data involve navigation, as demonstrated in particular by the European satellite navigation system Galileo. They generate information for the precise application of water, fertilizers and crop protection products. This conserves the valuable resource that is water, thus contributing to sustainability and at the same time increasing the efficient management of arable land.

Earth observation satellites detect forest fires at an early stage

Data from space also helps in disaster preparedness and crisis response. Satellites enable preventive detection of parched areas, helping to prevent forest fires from starting in the first place. Dangerous sources of fire can be detected in real time by camera and sensor systems from space. These early warning systems reduce the time between the detection of the fire and the alerting of the fire department from two hours to just a few minutes. Authorities, emergency services and forest owners can then start engaging the fire early on, thereby making a significant contribution to the protection of life and nature.

Astronautical spaceflight improves life on Earth

Astronauts, women and men, study the sustainability of materials. Basic research conducted on the International Space Station (ISS) plays an extremely important role in this regard. German ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer is conducting space experiments in collaboration with the DLR. He recently mixed concrete in zero gravity on the ISS. The production of concrete generates high CO2-emissions worldwide. Findings from space generate new knowledge on materials, for example, on the hardening of concrete. Maurer combined sand and cement with simulated lunar dust to investigate the CO2-optimized use of concrete as a building material. On Earth, the results could lead to more sustainable buildings.

Independent access to space remains fundamental for the aerospace industry

There is one basic precondition for sovereign use of the many advantages and important findings from space travel: the safe possibility of reaching outer space! This is what the Ariane launcher stands for. It provides Europe with independent access to space - it reaches all relevant orbits and can carry payloads of every size into space. As a supplement to the Ariane rocket, small launchers are currently being developed to carry lighter payloads to lower Earth orbits.