BY JON LEWES
On a clear night, a skywatcher when looking up will see an uncountable number of stars. Mixed among those night-lights are many of the more than 6,000 satellites which have been launched since 1957, of which some 3,000 are now inactive.
The Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik 1 and Sputnik 2, followed in 1958 by the USA’s launch of Explorer 1, was the beginning of the Cold War Space Race between the two nations. That race has for some 60 years driven the competition in development of the satellite technology that now provides the benefits which are enjoyed today on the ground.
World travel no longer needs a map nor perhaps a compass. Now if a visitor gets lost while exploring Gibraltar’s hideaway places, GPS on their mobile phone will come to the rescue, guiding them to know where they are and to know how to get to where they want to be, perhaps to discover where the nearest pub or restaurant is.
The satellite network proving the GPS connections is mostly occupying regions of the atmosphere known as the thermosphere and exosphere, with outer space referring to the expanse found beyond the Earth’s atmosphere between celestial bodies.
The United Nations maintains a register of objects found in outer space and satellite-watchers can know the location of each satellite in the night-sky through websites open for public use, such as in-the-sky.org which tracks all spacecraft.
Back on Earth, some seventeen years ago, in June 2005, Google Earth, became available to use to travel the world but since cellular coverage was restricted by the limits of terrestrial infrastructure which only reaches approximately 15% of the planet, technology developers have had to find ways to extend the reach. This need has led to satellite communications creating the required coverage continuity, and as a result, a new IoT (Internet of Things) category of communications has emerged.
The Internet of Things describes “physical objects that are embedded with sensors, processing ability, software, and other technologies that connect and exchange data with other devices and systems over the Internet or other communications networks.”
IoT devices range from ordinary everyday objects in the restaurant, or home, where the fridge might be smart and daily affairs managed by digital personal assistants, Alexa, Cortana, and Siri, as well as providing sophisticated industrial tools with a connection.
The geospatial industry has a major role in the IoT process, with Location continuing to be the main application, followed by defence, infrastructure development, commerce and finance and industry and environment management and habitat planning.
Bringing Everything Within Reach
Iridium, the global satellite communications company, is “bringing everything within reach, providing access to voice and data services in the world’s most remote places and close to home.”
In Gibraltar, the Global Satellite Group through its showroom and service centre is working with Iridium and other satellite communication global companies to, among other communications services and facilities, “provide merchant shipping, fishing, navy and leisure users with competitively priced, robust and reliable connectivity.”
Meanwhile, Gibraltar will be aided in the implementation of its Marine and Sustainability strategies by the world’s first 3D digital ocean map provided by Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). The mapping sorts global water masses into ecological marine units (EMUs), assisting in reducing the risk of critically damaging or exhausting marine resources, preserving the world’s fisheries, maintaining ocean sustainability and protecting marine biodiversity.
Gibraltar, Geo Portal
The Gibraltar GeoPortal.gov.gi offering a “different point of view”, is an example of how Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can assist in town planning decisions through layered mapping of Gibraltar.
That facility may be further developed with access to the pico satellites that are being provided by FOSSA Systems, partnered with international company WISeKey, set up in the Gibraltar local area, working together with Gibraltar.
Fossa offers low-power IoT communications at a reduced cost “by reaching space in the most accessible way possible.” That reach is possible because their FOSSASat-1 is a pico-satellite, a “miniaturized picosatellite platform weighing 250g and measuring 5 cm/side.”
Unlike conventional satellites, the new generation of very small satellites, the picos and nanos, do not need a dedicated launch vehicle to carry them as the primary payload – “they are a bargain, being so small they can hitch a ride on somebody else’s rocket and so most of the cost-saving comes at the launch stage.”
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo explains “We are excited about the potential of the LLG 4IR Center of Excellence which is expected to play a key role in accelerating the digital transformation across Gibraltar, be pivotal in enabling a paradigm shift for our operations through more digital technologies, while unlocking new business and operating models.”