RTD info logoMagazine on European Research

N 38 - July 2003
  MULTIDIMENSIONAL SPACE  -  Everyday life in orbit

Space is all around us. A growing number of satellite applications are finding their way into our everyday lives. They enable us to receive and transmit information worldwide, guide us when we travel, issue weather warnings, manage our environment, and watch over our security. They are creating new services which are fundamentally changing the functioning of an increasing number of activities. At the same time, avant-garde space technologies are a permanent source of innovation transfer in a multitude of fields.

The concept of the "SpaceHouse", proposed in prototype form by ESA's 'Technology Transfer' programme, illustrates potential architectural applications of high-resistance carbon fibre plastics developed in space applications.  ©ESA
The concept of the "SpaceHouse", proposed in prototype form by ESA's 'Technology Transfer' programme, illustrates potential architectural applications of high-resistance carbon fibre plastics developed in space applications.

©ESA
Europe has hundreds of millions of space consumers. The reception of satellite TV stations, long-distance telephony, five-day weather forecasts, the safe practice of certain sports with a 'high risk of distress' – such as sailing or mountaineering – all use the services of hundreds of satellites. Orbiting far above our world, they are nevertheless part of our individual lives without us being the least bit aware of their presence. 

The next steps along the road to this increasingly 'personalised' consumption are already being plotted. One will take shape with the implementation of the European Galileo project, the future guardian angel of the transport sector, which – among other things – will provide every individual vehicle with its own guidance and alert system. Other high-tech and very specific applications are also on the horizon – such as assistance to the visually impaired who could soon have access to some revolutionary new forms of identification techniques, and surveillance of the transportation of dangerous products.  

Building the Columbus laboratory module, the European contribution to the International Space Station. Space know-how is a motor for technological innovation with many very 'down-to-earth' applications.  ©ESA
Building the Columbus laboratory module, the European contribution to the International Space Station. Space know-how is a motor for technological innovation with many very 'down-to-earth' applications.

©ESA
Collective dimension
In addition to these individualised services, when it comes to the collective dimension satellite applications serve an even wider spectrum of activities. Earth observation from space is a fantastic management tool. In addition to Galileo whose essential mission is to monitor global flows of air, sea and land transport – a second major European project, the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES), is designed to develop and coordinate a range of space technologies providing a multitude of services. Protecting the land or sea environment, town and country planning, the prevention of natural risks, crisis logistics in the event of major accident, the implementation and management of agricultural, forestry and fisheries policies, and security and defence monitoring are all fields which will benefit from GMES.

A number of other sectoral applications are also being developed, in particular in the telecommunications fields – such as broad-band Internet access in outlying regions, telemedicine and tele-education.

The senor equipment on the Envisat satellite - Scientific satellites are packed full of detection equipment for all kinds of rays and signals in all frequency spectrums, both visible and invisible. These sophisticated and delicate devices are a permanent source of innovation, opening the door to many terrestrial applications, often biomedical, such as chemical cell signalling, detection of cancer cells, and endovascular curietherapy.   ©ESA
The senor equipment on the Envisat satellite - Scientific satellites are packed full of detection equipment for all kinds of rays and signals in all frequency spectrums, both visible and invisible. These sophisticated and delicate devices are a permanent source of innovation, opening the door to many terrestrial applications, often biomedical, such as chemical cell signalling, detection of cancer cells, and endovascular curietherapy.

©ESA
Space-Earth transfers
The influence of space on society is not limited to the services provided by orbiting bodies. Whether building launchers or developing the sophisticated devices carried by satellites, interplanetary probes and manned space flights, the aerospace industry shows an extraordinary capacity to innovate. This vast high-tech 'melting pot' gives rise to numerous terrestrial applications in fields such as materials science, energy, optics, laser technologies, telecommunications, and data processing

Since the early 1990s, ESA has operated a proactive programme designed to provide a systematic dissemination of innovations initially developed for space. Several hundred technology transfers have been realised in the framework of Spacelink, a network of European space industries. These cover a range of sectors, in particular medical instrumentation, automobiles, textiles and robotics. 


  A vast scope for telemedicine  
  Take an extreme case – thanks to a small satellite dish, a first-aid worker in a tent set up in the middle of a region devastated by earthquake can, through the use of pictures, arrive at a diagnosis and perform the necessary actions, guided by a specialist located thousands of kilometres away. 

If there is one crucial field the importance of which everyone recognises, it surely must be medicine. Yet it is also a field of constant change in which new knowledge and techniques have to be communicated to practitioners at every level. The concept of telemedicine is certainly one of the most revolutionary developments brought about by the advent of the information and communication society. And the ability to be 'everywhere at once', which is afforded by today's satellite transmissions, constitutes an unprecedented tool in the medical field.

Highly innovative, telemedicine is still in its infancy. But it is a uniquely promising sector experiencing strong growth which will surely ultimately find a place in medical practice everywhere.

To find out more [ http://www.esa.int/export/SPECIALS/Telemedicine_Alliance/index.html ] 

 


  Artemis, a star in the – gradual – ascendant  
  This is the prodigal son of European know-how in the field of space telecommunications. Packed with sensing and emitting devices incorporating revolutionary technologies, this geostationary satellite weighing over three tonnes marks the debut of a totally new concept of relay station, able to link up with other satellites in a lower orbit and to transmit vast quantities of data to Earth at record speed. It is opening the door to a vast field of applications – the transmission of multimedia content, simultaneous management of a high volume of mobile communications, and combined access to data supplied by various Earth observation satellites such as the highly modern European Envisat satellite which entered into service in 2002.

Artemis marks the debut of a totally new concept in telecommunications relay centres, able to link up with other satellites circling the globe in a lower orbit, and to send vast quantities of data to Earth at record speed.   ©ESA/J.Huart
Artemis marks the debut of a totally new concept in telecommunications relay centres, able to link up with other satellites circling the globe in a lower orbit, and to send vast quantities of data to Earth at record speed.

©ESA/J.Huart
But Artemis has made quite a comeback. A major 'hiccup' when it was launched by the Ariane rocket in July 2001 caused serious consternation in European space circles. Artemis went into an orbit at an altitude of 18 000 kilometres: 5 000 kilometres lower than the height required for it to operate efficiently. Fortunately, it had its own mini-system for xenon ion propulsion, a totally new idea intended to ensure its stability once in orbit. Thanks to this, European engineers were able to salvage their precious satellite. The operation, involving a delicate remote updating of the on-board software, slowly lifted Artemis to the planned orbiting height, at the rate of 15 kilometres a day. In January 2003 – 19 months later – it finally reached the right position, and is now fully operational as a relay station.

 


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