Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 110

Thought leader
The role of space technology
in meeting SDG targets
The link between space technologies and the sustainable development goals
(SDGs) may not be obvious, but space tech may provide the key to achieving
a number of these goals, writes Peter Martinez.
Space technologies today touch the daily lives of
ordinary citizens around the globe – in fact, they
are so embedded in our information society that
most people are unaware of how reliant we have
become on them. It goes far beyond the satellite
pictures shown on the daily TV weather forecast.
Cell-phone networks, the internet, financial
institutions, electrical power utilities, street- and
traffic-light networks, aviation and maritime
navigation are just some of the utilities and
services that rely on data from space
Remote sensing satellites provide
global coverage of the Earth, and
allow us to detect and study changes
in the Earth’s climate, atmosphere
and oceans. Earth-observation
satellites support the development
and negotiation of treaties for
environmental protection, and can be
used to monitor compliance with and
document violations of environmental
and security-related treaties.
Global-navigation satellite systems support
synchronisation of terrestrial networked
infrastructures, improve aviation and maritime
navigation and safety, enable more precise cartography,
and support search-and-rescue operations.
No longer a luxury
Satellite technology is also extensively used in earlywarning, monitoring, assessment, response and
recovery operations for natural and humanitarian
disasters, and has been used to save many
thousands of lives.
Because of high entry barriers, space technology
has been seen as a luxury in the past, and the
development-aid sector has tended to shy away
from it as being too ‘high-tech’ for developing
countries. However, these technologies can now
be seamlessly integrated with familiar terrestrial
technologies, such as GPS on smartphones.
Far from being a luxury for developing nations,
therefore, space technology is, in fact, an essential
contributor to meeting the SDGs. It provides the
modern infrastructure of the information society, and
today’s satellites, ground stations and data centres
provide the basic infrastructure to acquire, receive
and process space-derived data that is turned into
useful information for citizens – be it a weather
forecast for a fisher, or a market forecast
for a farmer.
This is as important in the 21st
century as the development of
roads, bridges and harbours
were to the development of
industrialised economies in
the 20th century.
In January 2016, the African
heads of state adopted the
new African Space Policy
and Strategy, which provides
a vision for harnessing space
science and technology for the
development of Africa. Against this
backdrop, a group of postgraduates
at the UCT SpaceLab has been examining
ways in which space technologies can be harnessed to
meet the SDGs in Africa.
They identified food security as a theme that could
be used to support the achievement of several SDGs,
and have proposed the development of a Spacebased Agricultural Information and Monitoring System
for Africa (SAIMSA). This envisages an open-source
cell-phone/tablet application that will empower
farmers with critical information on climate and farm
conditions, allowing them to make informed decisions
that will increase their yield, and develop contingency
plans for extreme weather events. There will also be a
link in the application to financial markets, which will
allow farmers to access financial information to help
them with commodities trading.
Professor Peter Martinez is founder and head of the UCT
SpaceLab, in the Department of Electrical Engineering.

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