Planned megapro­jects to boost space sec­tor and in­spire fu­ture gen­er­a­tions

▶ Ex­pert ap­plauds the multi­na­tional push to come up with Hub­ble and ISS re­place­ments

The National - News - - NEWS - RORY REYNOLDS

A se­ries of megapro­jects are set to in­vig­o­rate the space sec­tor in the next decade, a top in­dus­try of­fi­cial has said.

Dr Alice Bunn, in­ter­na­tional di­rec­tor of the UK Space Agency and vice chair­woman of the Coun­cil of the Euro­pean Space Agency, said the James Webb Space Telescope and a planned re­place­ment for the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion were huge un­der­tak­ings only made pos­si­ble by na­tions work­ing to­gether.

She also said Emi­rati as­tro­naut Hazza Al Mansouri’s jour­ney to the ISS was “in­cred­i­bly well re­ceived” and showed what new play­ers in the space sec­tor could achieve.

“It’s re­ally im­pres­sive what the UAE has been able to achieve as a rel­a­tively late en­trant into the space sec­tor,” Dr Bunn told The Na­tional at the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum’s Global Fu­ture Coun­cils meet­ing in Dubai on Sun­day.

“They made some big prom­ises, and they’ve de­liv­ered on those big prom­ises.”

The James Webb telescope – an enor­mous satel­lite of gold mir­rors that will re­place the fa­mous Hub­ble telescope – is sched­uled for launch in March 2021 and cost about $10 bil­lion (Dh36.73bn) to de­velop.

Mean­while, the $150bn ISS is set for de­com­mis­sion­ing in 2028. A re­place­ment is un­der dis­cus­sion but is ex­pected to cost hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars.

“Space is still ex­pen­sive – you can’t get around it – but there are re­ally two classes of mis­sions emerg­ing,” Dr Bunn said.

“You still have these hugely im­por­tant sci­en­tific in­fra­struc­ture mis­sions. We’re talk­ing about what will be­come the re­place­ment to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion – that will be a global ef­fort.

“And next year we’ll see the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, the fol­low on for Hub­ble, which will en­able in­cred­i­ble ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

“Those mas­sive sci­ence in­fra­struc­ture projects will al­ways have a very wide base of multi­na­tional sup­port.”

But the cost of smaller space mis­sions is be­ing cut ev­ery year as sci­en­tists find ever-cheaper ways of reach­ing space.

In­dia’s Chan­drayaan-2 mis­sion to the Moon, which ended in fail­ure in Septem­ber, cost $140m, a frac­tion of the cost of any pre­vi­ous space mis­sion of its kind, while satel­lites are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly cost-ef­fec­tive, in­clud­ing some launched by high-al­ti­tude planes in­stead of rock­ets.

Dr Bunn said it was “be­com­ing much more ac­ces­si­ble for new coun­tries to join the space sec­tor”.

Na­tions join­ing the space sec­tor more re­cently, in­clud­ing the UAE and In­dia, are launch­ing their own satel­lites or us­ing the fa­cil­i­ties of big­ger play­ers, such as Ja­pan.

The UAE is sched­uled to send its Mars probe Hope to the Red Planet in July 2021, from the Tane­gashima Space Cen­tre in Ja­pan.

Space in­dus­try of­fi­cials are keen to point out that to­gether with the wide­spread fas­ci­na­tion for hu­man space travel, the sec­tor is also re­spon­si­ble for pro­duc­ing tan­gi­ble, real-life ben­e­fits that can im­prove lives.

“The chal­lenge go­ing for­ward is … how to shine a light equally on those down-toearth ben­e­fits of our space pro­grammes – en­abling com­mu­ni­ca­tions and en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits,” she said.

“Ninety-nine per cent of the data you need to gen­er­ate an ac­cu­rate fore­cast is from space. Over 50 per cent of the cli­mate vari­ables we need to even un­der­stand cli­mate can only be mea­sured from space.

“Then, equally things like nav­i­ga­tion. The ESA doesn’t yet have our own nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem. We’ve had an as­sess­ment that if we were to lose the abil­ity to use global satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems – the US GPS sys­tem – we would in­cur losses of $1bn a day.

“So it’s ex­tra­or­di­nary. Com­pa­nies’ eco­nomic frame­works are very, very de­pen­dent on satel­lite ca­pa­bil­ity al­ready.”

One in­tended con­se­quence of Maj Al Mansouri’s space mis­sion is the hope that school­child­ren might con­sider a ca­reer in sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy – be­com­ing the brains be­hind fu­ture mis­sions.

“It’s such a pow­er­ful tool. We had our own as­tro­naut four years ago and the up­take in [UK] schools, the up­take in public in­ter­est was ab­so­lutely ex­tra­or­di­nary,” Dr Bunn said, in ref­er­ence to Tim Peake, the first Bri­tish as­tro­naut to walk in space.

Getty

A sec­tion of the James Webb Space Telescope, a satel­lite that cost $10 bil­lion to de­velop and fea­tures gold mir­rors. It is sched­uled for launch in 2021

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