How Tim Peake will help IoT enter the space age

How Tim Peake will help IoT enter the space age

Craig Brown, Lead Space Technologist at Innovate UK, blogs for IoTUK about the legacy astronaut Tim Peake has left and how it will help inspire the next generation of innovators to connect more IoT devices using space technology.

This week has been historic for UK space, as Tim Peake, the first British European Space Agency astronaut, has returned from his six-month stay on board the International Space Station (ISS). I followed Tim’s mission closely (thank you social media!) with schoolboy delight.

Without a doubt, one of the major and lasting impacts of Peake’s Principia Mission will be his legacy of inspiration in our UK schools. During his six months on the ISS, Peake directly interacted with over one million children in the UK and I doubt there are any children in the UK who haven’t heard of the astronaut Tim Peake

Of course, there are always people who question the worth of spending such apparently large sums of money to ‘do space’. Questions arise about whether there are more appropriate things to spend money on such as healthcare, education, and potholes… but of course, aside from the clear inspirational and scientific value of space, there is a very strong economic argument too.

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International Space Station

UK space industry driving growth

The UK space industry has bucked the trend during the recession of recent years by growing at about 8% per annum. The industry performs better than the average on all economic measures such as productivity, export and the level of skilled and educated workforce; with roughly £7 to £8 returned to the economy for every £1 invested. It is also a very ambitious sector with continued high growth potential and an industry-led target to grow from 6% to 10% global market share by 2030, equating to a $40bn dollar industry in the UK.

One of the key areas of growth identified by the space industry is the Internet of Things (IoT). It’s estimated that by 2020 almost 50 billion objects will be integrated into the internet, providing the foundation for smarter cities and new intelligent transport infrastructure. Many of the services enabled by IoT will require a high level of resilience and reliability, as well as access to the internet on-the-move.

Achieving these things on the ground can be difficult as local environments often interrupt data signal, disrupting service. The ability to access the internet via mobile networks is also very dependent on geography – as anyone who’s taken a train to almost anywhere will know!

How space is connecting rural areas

There is also a ‘digital divide’ in the UK where many people cannot access high speed internet, particularly homes and businesses in rural areas, which may result in many families and businesses being left behind as IoT services become more mainstream.

This is where satellites will play a significant role by providing wireless connectivity and data across the globe, particularly to remote areas that would otherwise be inaccessible by ground networks. This is particularly important when the cost of developing a system to remote locations is prohibitive. Fundamentally, satellites can complement and enhance the many services delivered by terrestrial infrastructure such as cable, fibre and a GSM sim card, helping to create a truly ubiquitous communications service for consumers who will never know – or care – how their service is being delivered to them.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 14.59.15A number of significant technological developments have been made in recent years, which are changing the economics of space, driving down costs for customers and opening up new markets. These can be listed in five broad categories: small satellite platforms, high-throughput satellites, mega-constellations, low-cost access to space with new satellite launchers and new satellite communication ground terminals.

Space and IoT

In order to help businesses unlock future space-enabled IoT, Innovate UK and the UK Space Agency are investing in these areas, and ensuring that the country’s regulatory environment enables business growth. Targeted investment via Innovate UK programmes such as In-Orbit Demonstration and funding for ‘emerging and enabling technologies’, along with significant investment via the European Space Agency’s telecommunications research programme – used to drive the cost of satellite services for IoT and other applications.

So how does Tim Peake fit into space-enabled IoT? It is estimated that in order to achieve a 10% share of the global space economy, most of which will be in telecommunication applications feeding into IoT, we need to create and fill an extra 100,000 jobs. The majority of the engineers and entrepreneurs who will be leading the new IoT space age are currently in school. Many of them will be growing seeds that Tim carried to the ISS; some will have spoken to him in person during his mission.

All of us currently in the space industry can look back to our childhoods and recount what inspired us to pursue a space career: Apollo, the Space Shuttle, Helen Sharman’s flight in 1991…Tim’s mission has, in the last six months, inspired an unprecedented number of children who will think, quite rightly, that they too can have a job in space. Tim’s inspiration will be his legacy.

You can follow Craig Brown on Twitter @InnovateCraig and don’t forget to follow IoTUK too @IoTUKNews

Craig Brown
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