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World Environment Day 2023: Space Technology in Conservation

World Environment Day is celebrated on the 5th of June every year, and has been since its founding in 1972. Each year is centred around a different theme, with World Environment Day 2023 focusing on solutions to plastic pollution. With over 200 million tonnes of non-recyclable plastic produced every year, our planet's ecosystem is overwhelmed with toxic human-made polymers.

colourful plastic polution floating under water

But how does space come into environmental conservation? Can extraterrestrial activity help in our efforts? In this article, we're reviewing some of the ways that space technologies can help us to conserve Earth.

Space Technology and Environmental Conservation

Colourised image od a section of land and sea taken from high altitude

While we may not always associate space with our ecosystem, space technologies can be incredibly helpful in observing and monitoring climate change. Satellites are really the main piece of technology we use for conservation purposes — but given the number of applications we use them for, they more than demonstrate the usefulness of space tech when it comes to saving the environment!

Climate Change

A constellation of smaller satellites known as nanosatellites are used for imaging the Earth's surface, sometimes as frequently as every day. In doing this, they allow us to assess climate-related data almost instantaneously. Data provided by nanosatellites can be used for a range of purposes, which you can read about in our article about nanosatellites, but their monitoring of the Earth's surface is especially helpful when it comes to conservation.

Satellites can also measure the Earth's temperature. This helps in conservation efforts by providing actual evidence of the Earth's warming, as well as indicating the speed at which this is happening. When analysed alongside data from weather stations, satellite data can play a big part in our understanding of the rate and urgency of global warming.

The more we understand climate change, the better — more data equals more evidence, which can be used to incentivise governments to prioritise fighting climate change in their policymaking, as well as encouraging them to join international treaties such as the UN's Paris Agreement. The cooperation of governments is essential in fighting climate change, and satellite data can be helpful for lobbyists to garner the support of the public and governmental bodies.

Monitoring Wildfires

Plumes of thick smoke erupt from a burning forest

Satellites are used to identify wildfires, their locations, and can even help firefighters in monitoring the movement of smoke. Being able to monitor the fires themselves as well as the aftermath means satellites can provide data on the scale, duration, and even temperature of a wildfire.

Being able to identify and monitor fires in this way is helpful in the management of an ongoing fire, the organisation of firefighting efforts, and also in providing data that can help us understand if and how the frequency and nature of wildfires are changing. Having data detailing the conditions leading up to as well as during a fire is useful in attempts to forecast future fires — knowing when they're coming is the most effective way to minimise the damage wildfires cause both to people and the environment. While this data does not come exclusively from satellites, the data satellites provide is still incredibly useful, as a wide breadth of data provides the most accurate picture of the disaster.

Wildfires occur more frequently as a result of climate change, so if satellites can help in the fight against climate change then even that in itself will help minimise wildfires. Wildfires massively impact ecosystems, which often ripples out to have detrimental effects on other places and environments. As such, being able to forecast and manage wildfires is a feat of huge benefit to both people and the environment.

Forest Health

Rainforest with cranes and construction occuring with haze of pollution in the air

Forests are incredibly vulnerable to the impacts of both natural and human activity: wildfires, deforestation, and rising sea levels are just some of the risks faced by today's forests. Climate change is the cause of many of these, and the risk to forests only increases as our planet warms. Whether the cause is human or natural, forests fulfil essential functions which, if left unfulfilled, will only further increase global warming.

In the process of photosynthesis, trees sequester carbon dioxide, a process essential in reducing global warming. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere warms the planet, and trees naturally take this gas out of the atmosphere when they photosynthesise — to put it simply, trees are essential in reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and therefore global warming. When trees are cut down, burned, or otherwise damaged, less and less carbon is taken from the atmosphere, which means more global warming.

But how do satellites come into the equation? Essentially, it's much harder to measure and assess forest changes from the ground. Studying them from above, with satellites, allows scientists to measure photosynthesis, and therefore know more about the amount of carbon dioxide stored by trees. NASA scientists are working on the technology that will allow them to take these measurements more accurately, which will hopefully help them better understand the impact of forest degradation on global warming.

Space Technologies and Solutions for a Greener Future

Satellite with solar fins extended in space

When you think of how space could help with climate change, the first thing that comes to mind might just be humanity abandoning ship and moving to Mars. However, space can and does play a role in our understanding of and fight against climate change. Satellites are evidently the leading technology, for now — but what about the future? As technology advances, space could become increasingly important in our battle with climate change; hopefully, it'll do more than provide us with a new planet to live on when it's too late to save Earth.

Space-based Solutions

As space technology advances, there are a potentially infinite number of ways that we could use it to combat climate change. Some believe space would be a suitable candidate for generating renewable energy, with space-based solar power stations having more unimpeded access to sunlight. This is just one example of how things could change going forward — but it's not unlikely that space technologies will have a role to play in humanity becoming greener. There are actually already examples of technology designed for space travel having green uses here on Earth. NASA's research into growing crops in space eventually became technology used to minimise the energy needed for indoor agriculture.

The nature of space travel favours recycling and repurposing what otherwise would have been waste — technology developed with this underlying principle is inherently going to be more compatible with a climate-conscious life here on Earth.

Environmental Conservation at Sent Into Space

A Send Into Space high-altitude platform in space above a desert

In the pursuit of safeguarding our precious planet, harnessing high-altitude technology has become indispensable. Sent Into Space is committed to offering unparalleled environmental validation and Earth observation platforms with a significantly reduced environmental impact when compared to orbital satellites.

With our bespoke aerial platforms, we can accommodate a variety of sensors, monitors, and high-altitude environments that can be used to assess the Earth's ecosystems, empowering scientists and environmentalists with the ability to assess diverse landscapes and remote regions of the planet. These invaluable observations, combined with advanced data analytics and machine learning, allow scientists to detect even the most subtle changes and patterns over time, aiding in the understanding of environmental shifts and facilitating informed decision-making.

World Environment Day at Sent Into Space

On this World Environment Day, we invite you to join us in our mission to better understand and preserve our planet. Together, we can pave the way for a sustainable future where humanity and nature thrive in harmony.

At Sent Into Space, we work with the environment in mind. We use renewable gas and recyclable materials where possible, recover every launch craft, and ensure anything that could be unrecoverable is biodegradable. To find out more, read our environmental policy.

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