The Vital Frontier: Space technology will provide the tools we need to combat climate change

25 June 2019
The Vital Frontier: Space technology will provide the tools we need to combat climate change

We must stop calling space the final frontier. For us, today, space is a vital frontier.

Space is essential in our battle against climate change, as the solutions to mitigating its impact do not lie only within the confines of our Blue Planet. We will find solutions to many of the critical challenges we are facing on Earth as we prepare to travel beyond our atmosphere and discover the unknown.

We can make use of space exploration and use space resources to help us enhance sustainability and improve our environment on Earth. Today, according to a 2019 United Nations report, over one million animal and plant species have been put at risk of extinction and hundreds have disappeared due to the challenging atmospheric conditions that we are facing.

We have not found any practical or affordable large-scale solutions to the environmental changes that are impacting the lives of people all over the world. It is time we look for solutions beyond Earth and consider space a vital frontier.

It may seem illogical to claim that galactic discovery will offer us solutions to Earth’s meteorological conditions, but we believe that this is very reasonable, especially when we consider the ways in which space missions – and their ensuing space technologies – have been used for the benefit of our planet.

We have already started working in this direction at the UAE Space Agency. We are talking with crucial international stakeholders and developed innovative technologies that will give us greater insight and control over climate change variables, which could eventually contribute to saving our planet.

The belief in space technology’s potential to revive our world is predicated on our past experience. Initially, the use of space exploration as a viable medium of human research and resources was the result of an avid curiosity. However, a raft of technology emerged from these space missions, which contributed to the improvement of life on Earth.

Back when Yuri Gagarin was heading into space and Neil Armstrong to the moon, no-one would have thought that space exploration would result in commercial by-products like tiny cameras for smartphones, medical technology capable of seeing inside the human body, or portable computers.

But as we know today, vital technologies that we now take for granted were the products of space exploration. Water purification systems that were first developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the 1960’s, are now being used in countries where the lack of clean water access and supply is presenting a health risk to vast populations.

CAT scanners that are now used to spot previously undetectable lesions, tumors, blood clots, liver damage and brain function were the result of a technology developed by JPL in the early 1970’s. Also, freeze-dried food came as a result of astronauts’ need to reduce weight on board whilst maintaining as many calories with them on long journeys. Although these three technologies were developed primarily to advance space exploration, they have saved and improved innumerable lives on Earth.

Today, we look at the star-studded skies with a genuine belief that we can find solutions to the challenges that we are facing on Earth. The UAE is working hard in the fields of space technology and space exploration, and when the UAE, represented by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE), convenes with the international community in Abu Dhabi on June 30 – July 1 for the preparatory meeting of the UN 2019 Climate Summit, we will make this case loud and clear: invest in space, save Earth.

As a young and ambitious nation, we can forge a path between Earth and Space, which can open up new routes for climate action and the rejuvenation of our planet. Whether it is monitoring greenhouse emissions or assessing the effectiveness of strategies, the space technologies that we are developing at the UAE Space Agency have the potential to revolutionize the tools that we have, to confront and tackle climate change.

To date, the work we have done shows how the UAE is a leader in a special cohort of Arab states undergoing a renaissance in exploration, research and discovery. Set to launch in 2022, Satellite 813 – which is being built by the Arab Space Coordination Group and lead by the UAE Space Agency – will monitor desertification, drought and greenhouse gas emissions. The satellite, which will have a polar orbit of 600km, will collect and feedback vital data that we can use to discover causes, symptoms and patterns of our planet’s everchanging climate conditions.

Furthermore, we have sought to combine our youth’s modern thinking and their concerns about our planet with our space-age ambitions. More than a dozen UAE students from the American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK) and Khalifa University, including a female Emirati Electronics and Communications student, recently worked together to develop and build MeznSat, a satellite that detects greenhouse gases from space, which is due to be launched by the end of this year.

Moreover, we are expanding our astronaut corps and are in the process of introducing space science studies in schools. The message here is clear: our youth are the future leaders of space exploration; for them, space will not be a final frontier, it will be the vital frontier.