When abundant, water allows economies to grow, but in times of scarcity, it can cause life-threatening crises. It has never been more important to manage water supplies effectively to make good use of every drop – and satellites orbiting the planet can play an important role in this process.
Thanks to satellites, we are better placed than ever before to understand and measure the processes driving the water cycle and the impact that climate change and human activity are having. They also allow us to measure and monitor, for example, the changing shape of lakes, reservoirs and rivers so that mitigation strategies can be put in place.
A huge percentage – around 70% – of the freshwater drawn is used for agriculture alone. Satellites such as ESA’s SMOS mission and the Copernicus Sentinels provide key information on soil moisture and crop health and this information can be used to improve the efficiency of irrigation practices. Data from the Sentinel-2 mission are key to the Copernicus Land Monitoring Service, which provides geographical information on land cover and its changes, land use, vegetation state, water cycle and surface-energy variables for a broad range of users across the world.
Other organisations use satellite data in platforms, such as EOResearch Synergise’s Blue Dot Observatory, so that users have easy access to information to monitor changing water bodies. Satellites such as Copernicus Sentinel-1, Sentinel-2 and ESA's CryoSat can also be used to monitor glacial change, which has a real impact on water supplies downstream. For example, part of the Himalayas, known as ‘the third pole’ – because these high-altitude ice fields contain the largest reserve of freshwater outside the polar regions – provides freshwater for over 1.3 billion people in Asia, nearly 20% of the world’s population.
We live in challenging environmental times, but we also have opportunities like no other time in history, where satellite technology can be used to deliver and share information with the world for the good of society at large.
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Astronauts have generally spent six months on the Space Station in the last few years but the international partners that run the research platform are looking to do more one-year missions as well as short-duration missions. With new flight opportunities on the horizon for astronauts on both longer and shorter flights ESA is looking for experiments that can be conducted in two months or less.
Investigating how the human body adapts to life in space is crucial to better understanding the complexities of exploring our Solar System. European research discovered that at a cellular level it only takes 42 seconds for organisms to return to normal after being exposed to weightlessness. Why this amount of time and what processes are involved remain open questions - especially when it comes to the entire human body.
For this reason, more research proposals for studying astronauts before and after their flights are required. When we send humans to Moon or Mars, astronauts will be exposed to different levels of gravity and will need to adapt or risk the entire mission. The immediate period when an astronaut returns to Earth from the International Space Station is particularly ripe for scientific insights and recommendations.
What experiments would you put forward for the International Space Station? Visit ESA’s research announcement page for details on how to send in your proposal.
Our space environment poses many threats, both natural and human-made that can be a risk to life and property, and impact the infrastructure in orbit and on the ground. ESA is working on new projects and missions to tackle these, such as the Hera mission to a binary asteroid system, the L5 space weather mission to Lagrange point 5, or concepts for the monitoring and active removal of space debris.
When interviewed for EuroNews at the recent conference in Brussels to plan a new space mission programme for the EU's space agency, Johann-Dietrich Wörner, Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA) said: “Together with the Americans, with NASA we are looking for a project that should try to play billiard in space, hitting a small asteroid to see how we can deflect an asteroid which is running towards the Earth”.
This is part of the emerging field of Space Safety, as to be included in the proposals of ESA Director General Jan Wörner for the next Ministerial Council, ‘Space19+’, in November 2019. Such issues would cover the challenge of space debris, ensuring a timely warning of space weather impacts or detecting and deflecting asteroids.
On the 18th December, the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt and the German Space Operations Centre (GSOC) in Obepfaffenhofen near Munich, Germany, signed a cooperation agreement.
Rolf Densing, ESA’s Director of Operations and Head of ESOC explained, "Public space infrastructure should be used as effectively as possible. ESA therefore endeavours to establish a European network of competence centres. Close cooperation between ESOC and GSOC, as well as subsequent cooperation with other agencies and organisations, should strengthen Europe's position as a partner and competitor in the world market".
This cooperation between ESOC and GSOC covers five areas: ground control systems, ground stations, space security and on-orbit servicing, post-International Space Station activities and crewed spaceflight, as well as general cooperation.
See here for more details about ESA's ESOC operations centre, and for information on mission operations at DLR visit their website.
AGREEMENT BETWEEN FIERA DI ROMA AND E. AMALDI FOUNDATION TO LAUNCH THE FIRST SPACE SYMPOSIUM IN ROME
From an agreement between Fiera di Roma and E. Amaldi Foundation, the New Space Economy International Expo has been launched in July 2018 and it is scheduled for its first edition on 10-12 December 2019. It is planned to be the first European fair able to bring together all the actors of the space economy ecosystem: agencies, governments, companies, research centers, investors, international buyers, SMEs, start-ups, innovators, venture capital.
The event, which will be held in Rome at Fiera di Roma, will host forums and conferences by world-renowned experts as well as a large exhibition area open to businesses and visitors.