What is something we cannot see but cannot live without? Space infrastructure and its roles and status

Fellow readers, meliorate hopes each of you had a calm and warm Christmas vacation. The year has been challenging for all of us, but it also gave us various opportunities. Remember that the power to make the next year better is in our hands. 2023 will be out of this space!

By the way, concerning space, what do you know about its utilization in our lives? There are satellites, spacecraft, and the International space station. Oh, Elon Musk recently launched the Starlink program to enhance satellite Internet access! Undoubtedly, these technologies and innovations made our lives easier and increased our quality of life. Basically, they fulfilled the functions of infrastructure. However, why have space facilities not acquired the status of infrastructure yet?

Firstly, I would like to present several reasons why space and its technological advancement deserve to be called ‘infrastructure.’ Nowadays, people heavily rely on space technologies that are worth comparing to water and electricity supplies. To illustrate, look at Ukraine, undergoing major power cutouts without a stable Internet connection. The country relies entirely on Starlink satellites and can access WWW without an electricity supply. So are GPS and communication satellites which have become integral to particular professions and the routine lives of millions of people. So, the significance of satellites as communication providers is out of the debate.

The most common association with infrastructure is electricity generation systems and facilities. At least, it is my strongest association. Besides passive satellites used for Earth observation, our planet’s orbit is primarily full of electricity generator satellites such as solar panels or Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs). Meanwhile, the latter mostly powers spacecraft; the former’s energy supplies those essential technologies I described above. In addition, consider environmental sustainability, economic opportunities, agriculture, and healthcare-related to space infrastructure. As space technologies fulfill all these functions, they should make their critical infrastructure, shouldn’t they?

There are several reasons why space infrastructure is not treated as such. Substantially, governments fail to recognize facilities in space as critical, underestimating their importance. Economic factor intensifies this opinion. According to Tom Zelibor, retired rear admiral, space and oceans do not belong to anyone. The main difference is that people realized how important sustainability is for oceans throughout their existence. Considering that space exploitation started relatively recently, we cannot entirely comprehend our dependence on space infrastructure. Public and private space companies mostly try to minimize expenses for maintenance space technologies as they are out of our sight. As far as I am concerned, space assets do not differ from land assets, meaning they need proper management to serve humankind effectively.

NASA’s presentation of space pollution

We realized that space facilities are crucial. What will change if governments start to treat them as critical infrastructure? I will not be able to discuss all the benefits, but I will present the most considerable ones. Firstly, it will increase the need to manage and maintain spacecraft as well as orbit properly. Earth’s orbit is full of debris from abandoned satellites and garbage humankind leave. It can become a massive problem due to the speed debris develop in orbit, being able to create holes in spacecraft. As space facilities gain a title of critical infrastructure, companies will be obligated to clean and reduce space pollution to ensure safe room for spacecraft. Moreover, as vital infrastructure is essential globally, it is more actively developed and innovated. Such status will provide various economic and technological opportunities for space companies, increasing competition, and investments. We, as average earthlings, will be ensured satellite connection and Internet as essential human needs.

Many can argue that people can live without the Internet and communication, but we can also survive without electricity, fresh water supply, or well-designed cities. Still, the latter is considered integral to everyday routine. The world develops; we are no longer in the 1950s and acquired other needs besides food and shelter. Space facilities and technologies do not differ from energy stations or roads as they all increase lives quality and satisfaction. The status of ‘critical infrastructure’ for space infrastructure on the governmental level will reinforce its significance and stimulate the development we need to function without burdens. 

Iryna Nykoriak

Published 11.01.2023


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