Space Products and Services
Science, Biotechnology, and Health Care
Low cost launchers, like SpaceX’s Falcon family, could have a significant impact on scientific missions, which typically rely on scarce public funds. Payloads from universities and research labs often “piggy back” on the launch of commercial satellites.
Space-based platforms provide unique opportunities for microgravity research and international scientific cooperation. The ISS, the space shuttles, Skylab, Russia’s Mir Space Station and Soyuz, and the Chinese Shenzhou have enabled microgravity research.
In 2005, NOAA requested $## million for scientific research to provide funding for internal research laboratories and partnerships with academia. In addition to gathering data through Earth observation satellites, NOAA research projects use space systems for communication and navigation such as the joint NOAA/NASA Altair Unmanned Aircraft System.
Telescopes placed in space have greater capabilities than those located on the ground. Light received by telescopes in Earth orbit does not travel through the atmosphere (which causes the characteristic “twinkle” in stars). Orbital telescopes are protected from vibrations and weather.
More than ## missions carrying scientific instruments, in the form of probes and rovers, have been launched into the solar system to study planets, comets, asteroids, and other phenomena. These instruments return valuable scientific data on the history and nature of the solar system. Recently, NASA launched the New Horizons probe in January 2006 to study Pluto.
Greater biotechnology research and manufacturing is among the far-term prospects (20-30 years) for space enterprise, given more affordable access and orbital platforms. However, there are several current applications of biotechnology to space science and exploration, including research efforts in food production, microbial ecology in closed space habitats, and sensors for monitoring astronauts’ health.
The use of satellite monitoring for infectious diseases supports the recent increase in funding and support for environmental diseases by organizations such as the UN Global Fund, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Many hospitals use satellite communication networks as back-up in case terrestrial line service is interrupted or in case of problems with the power grid. For instance, ## acute care hospitals in Connecticut use a system dubbed MedSat for such cases.
Space enables a variety of health and biotechnology applications including telemedicine, tracking of disease and allergy vectors, and biotechnology research. The OECD notes that telemedicine is one of the most promising applications of space telecommunication services. Trends of increased mobility and transport costs, along with military interest, are cited as demand drivers for space-enabled telemedicine.
VSAT (very small aperture terminal) networks can be used by governments for coordinating electronic voting and telemedicine. Venezuela recently used the Gilat VSAT network in its 2004 elections. Across the globe in India, satellites enable a telemedicine network that connects rural hospitals with specialty centers in major cities to increase the quality of healthcare.