I believe that space activities impact society in so many ways, it is difficult to innumerate them. For most people, however, their impact unfortunately goes almost totally unseen. There are the obvious ways, of course. When someone subscribes to a direct-to-home satellite television service, they are certainly aware that their programs are being delivered by satellite, but how many television cable subscribers realize that, in most instances, the programs they are watching were delivered to their cable companies “head end” via one or more satellites. If someone is one of the unfortunately rather limited number of subscribers to a satellite telephony service such as Iridium or Globalstar, they know their service depends upon a constellation of satellites, but how many people would guess that when they make a call using their conventional cellular telephone, there is a great chance that the synchronization of their cell phone is dependant upon timing signals coming from another satellite constellation - the GPS navigation satellite system? If one uses a credit card to buy gasoline, they realize that their card number will be confirmed in real-time with their credit card company, but most people would be surprised to learn that in many instances, the confirmation is made using a VSAT satellite network. |
In addition to tasks such as these, communications satellites today are being used to provide emergency communications when earthquakes or other natural disasters wipe out the local terrestrial infrastructure, to allow the detection and rescue of mariners, aviators, and hikers in distress, and to allow doctors in major medical centers to provide remote diagnosis, and even remote assistant in treatment or surgery for medical problems occurring in remote areas.
The types of satellites being used for the direct and real-time benefit of mankind are, however, manifold, running a gamut including those designed for broadcasting and communications, earth observation and surveillance, navigation, meteorology, and emergency detection. To a very real extent, however, scientific satellites, orbiting observatories, and planetary probes can have an impact on society that could be even more profound. What we learn about our own solar system and about the rest of the universe from such satellites will allow us to understand and more precisely determine how these were formed, and may help us also to predict whether and how they will ultimately end.
Planetary Landers, such as those now on and planned for the future for the exploration of Mars may allow us to determine if that planet ever harbored life, and an even more exciting thought, might demonstrate that life still exists there today. The social and religious impacts of such a discovery would certainly be of great consequence.
While communications satellites have shown themselves to be commercially viable, and hence now for the most part are being funded by private money, it is important that we in the satellite community make efforts to publicize the benefits of space for the other types of space projects, for only with such publicity and the acceptance of the general benefits that space can bring to all people, will many of the important future projects gain the support necessary to obtain public funding for their execution.
Ashford Aerospace Consulting