ESA to accelerate space use for climate impacts

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The European Space Agency (ESA) has introduced three ‘accelerators’ to drive the increased use of space for the climate ‘crisis’.

These are ‘Space for a green future’, ‘Rapid and resilient crisis response’ and underpinning these ‘Protection of space assets’.

A key application of space is for earth observation or remote sensing. Europe’s needs are becoming ever more urgent. Summer flooding was widespread in the region in 2021 and cost more than €30 billion ($34.7 billion). Multiple wildfires burnt across Greece destroying thousands of hectares of forest and arable land, not to mention infrastructure. Similar wildfires in 2007 caused estimated total damage of close to €3 billion ($3.47 billion).

‘Rapid and resilient crisis response’ is focussed on a space-based response for real-time crisis management, including threats to critical infrastructure, to reinforce terrestrial systems that can become compromised by natural disasters or malicious actions.

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‘Space for a green future’ addresses the monitoring, modelling and prediction of climate-induced and other crises.

To better understand how the climate will affect life on Earth, and to further improve modelling and predictions, space data can be combined with internet of things and other data to build a ‘digital twin’ of the planet, exploiting artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies such as quantum sensing.

These actions are expected to help support better implementation of the EU’s Green Deal, for example.

Finally, to develop and advance these activities is the ‘Protection of space assets’.

Satellites must be kept safe and secure from natural and human-made hazards. Solar storms can damage satellites in space and electrical transmission lines on Earth, resulting in potentially large and long-lasting power cuts. Space debris, which is increasing, is another issue, threatening active satellites in orbit.

A European system will provide a clear picture of what is in orbit and protect European sovereignty, says ESA. It will safeguard the competitiveness of the European space industry by fostering innovation through public-private partnerships. Improved accuracy in debris tracking will reduce numbers of false collision alerts and thus considerably cut ongoing satellite operating costs. In turn, this will benefit users of the space-based data.

New missions

In addition to the accelerators, several planned ESA missions are set to further increase global understanding of the changing environment.

Among these is the UK-led TRUTHS mission, which will collect measurements of incoming solar radiation and solar radiation reflected from Earth’s surface and will be used to improve climate datasets.

Space-enabled 5G and 6G connectivity is set to facilitate a wide range of innovative applications including low emissions autonomous transport solutions and sustainable smart city infrastructure.