A View from Down Under
International Space University's Southern Hemisphere Space Program
The class of the inaugural session of the International Space University’s Southern Hemisphere Space Program, from nine different countries.
Imaging Notes and Executive Director of the Secure World Foundation, an organization devoted to the promotion of cooperative approaches to space security.
, is editor of
This January, 43 individuals from nine countries came together in Adelaide, Australia for the inaugural session of the International Space University’s Southern Hemisphere Space Program (SHS-SP). The five-week long SHS-SP, in partnership with the University of South Australia (UniSA) and co-directed by ISU faculty members Dr. Scott Madry and Michael Davis, is the latest in ISU’s expanding set of educational programs. It provides an opportunity for participants, especially those from the Southern Hemisphere, to gain an international, interdisciplinary and intercultural education in outer space activities. Participants ranged from senior undergraduates to those with advanced degrees and varied in age from the twenties to over fifty.
This unique group of individuals first spent three weeks in interdisciplinary lectures and workshops on space law and policy, engineering, satellite communications, remote sensing and space science, among other topics. The remaining time was devoted to developing a white paper, the focus of which was to recommend future directions for space activities in the Southern Hemisphere. For the purposes of SHS-SP, the Southern Hemisphere was defined as all the countries with territory south of the Tropic of Cancer. This modest expansion of the term Southern Hemisphere allowed the inclusion of most developing countries to be considered by participants.
This author served as the chair of the white paper preparation, with the able assistance of co-chair Juan DeDalmau and ISU faculty member expert Dr. Noel Siemon. This educational effort started well before participants arrived in Adelaide, as we gave each an assignment to research the most important needs of a specific country or region, to relate those needs to the UN Millennium Goals, and to arrive in Adelaide with that information in hand. Many Southern Hemisphere countries confront multiple challenges, from gaining sufficient and timely access to food and water to obtaining affordable health care and the resources necessary to respond to natural disasters. Space systems have a proven ability to help meet these needs.
Armed with their preliminary results, as soon as they arrived, program participants got right to work sharing the information they had gathered and planning their approach to the task at hand—developing a white paper with recommendations on how best to meet the needs of Southern Hemisphere countries or regions through appropriate use of space systems.
The resulting document is a highly positive, upbeat assessment of what could result if countries of the Southern Hemisphere, rich and poor, sought to collaborate closely on developing space systems to meet specific needs, such as improved access to education or health care, rapid response to natural disasters or detailed monitoring of crop progress and agricultural production.
Not surprisingly, Earth observation (EO) had a major role in the team’s thinking. Three out of the six recommendations focus on Earth observations and their strong potential role in development.
International cooperation was high on the team’s list as a way to engage even the poorer countries in the use of Earth observations data to assist in boosting their development: “States should collaborate to achieve a more comprehensive EO capability that would be within reach of individual States.”
Many Southern Hemisphere countries confront multiple challenges, from gaining sufficient and timely access to food and water to obtaining affordable health care and the resources necessary to respond to natural disasters. Space systems have a proven ability to help meet these needs.
Participants reasoned that even countries with few resources could have some role in space, even if it were as junior partners in a team of countries. As they argued, even the poorest countries have some facilities and capabilities that can be put to use in a cooperative effort. Participating with more technologically advanced countries in the data collection and interpretation exercise would in time help the lesser developed countries advance more quickly than otherwise possible.
Coming as this program did in the midst of the extensive flooding in Australia’s eastern states, followed by the onslaught of tropical cyclone Yazzi, participants had plenty of chance not only to experience the need for better information about natural disasters but also to experience the power of optical, microwave and radar remote sensing in providing it. The utility of space systems in providing information useful for coping with the response and recovery was revealed in real time on local TV stations. Perhaps as a result of this local experience, the use of information derived from Earth observation data loomed large in their thinking:
Natural disasters are a common event in the human experience, affecting life, infrastructure, and the environment. Through pre-event analysis, the impact of natural disasters can be reduced by changing the places people choose to live and work to make themselves less vulnerable. Real-time and near real-time information prior to, during, and after an event can assist in making informed decisions about preparation and recovery. Following a natural disaster, the speed of recovery and reconstruction can be enhanced through access to relevant data.
The team’s thinking was also clearly influenced by the example of the Disaster Monitoring Constellation, which is made up of inexpensive satellites designed and built by the U.K. firm, SSTL, Inc. The partnership now includes countries as diverse in culture and financial power as Algeria, China, Nigeria, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. Each collects data from its own satellite but also has access to data from any of the others if needed. Though the system’s name indicates its use for monitoring natural disasters, the data collected are used for a wide variety of purposes, from environmental mapping and forest monitoring to precision farming and illicit crop detection.
This white paper, researched, written and published in only five weeks while the students juggled the demands of intensive coursework, was meant to provide a broad sketch of possibilities for policymakers to consider and thus does not bore into any one topic in depth. Nevertheless, this very forward-looking effort presents policymakers in the Southern Hemisphere with considerable food for thought and sets a possible agenda that could assist Southern Hemisphere countries to prosper through modest investments in space systems focused on applications, especially Earth observations.