Five Space Inventions Helping the Developing World
From non-stick frying pans to squirt guns to keeping our homes warm, innovations that originated as space inventions are used each and every day right here on earth. But, some space inventions have become even more useful than ever imagined, and are now helping fight poverty in the developing world. Here is a look at five space inventions and some of the ways each helps to alleviate human suffering.

Baby Blankets
From NASA’s efforts in the 1980’s to create a material that could both insulate and cool astronauts facing extreme temperatures during spacewalks came phase-change materials, or PCM’s. Although this material never made it into astronaut’s gloves, the space invention that emerged proved effective for insulating. In 2013, Jen Chen created a company called Embrace Innovations, which makes swaddles and blankets using PCM technology. The Embrace business model is simple: buy a blanket or swaddle for your baby and one is donated to a baby in need in the developing world. To date, 200,000 babies have been reached across 10 countries.

Solar Energy
When NASA began studying Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) to develop uninhabited aircraft that could sustain long-duration flights without interruption, the need for new innovative solar power sources became paramount. Among the space inventions that resulted: single-crystal silicon solar cells that significantly reduced the cost of solar power. With billions still living without electricity worldwide, solar power has proved effective in helping get clean water, mobile charging, and general illumination to the developing world.

Freeze-dried Food
Through an alliance with Nestle, in the pre-Apollo era, NASA developed a technique for freeze-drying food which made the transportation of numerous orbital delight feasible. Today, freeze-dried food is used to prevent spoilage while providing life-saving nutrient-rich substance to people suffering from hunger in the developing world. For example, Stop Hunger Now, a non-profit based out of Raleigh, North Carolina, operates meal-packing programs in 20 cities worldwide. They ship dehydrated rice and soy meals that are fortified with 23 nutrients and vitamins to not only help solve the problem of hunger in the world but also help provide essential nutrients to those living with a vitamin or mineral deficiency.

Baby Formula
In an effort to alleviate some of the challenges of eating in space while also reducing waste, NASA, with the contracted help of Marietta Laboratories, worked with micro-algae to develop a special three-in-one food source. The invention didn’t work out as space-food; however, Marietta’s research provided the technology used to place nutritional supplements into infant formula and baby food. One in four children around the world suffers from chronic malnutrition that stunts their growth. And, due to poverty and poor nutrition, an estimated 200 million children under age five suffer from under-developed cognition. With nutrient-enriched baby food, organizations helping to fight poverty and malnutrition in the developing world have a better chance to reach children during the most critical stages of development— conception to two years.

Satellites
Some space inventions have not only changed the world but also changed the way we look at it. While the link between satellites, NASA and space are obvious, their ability to help feed those living in the developing world is a bit more complex. Satellites can generate images of vegetation that, in turn, can measure “greenness” and provide real-time rainfall data and imagery. Thus, this space invention helps officials and policy makers monitor for potential crop failures throughout the developing world. With better prediction capabilities comes better awareness, and with better awareness comes the ability to prevent food shortages. NASA has even teamed up with the USAID through a new environmental monitoring program in West Africa called SERVIR-West Africa. The program plans to enhance the use of data collected from satellite imagery to help fight hunger by helping officials better manage climate issues that affect crop harvesting and nutritional planning.

Ashley Henyan

Photo: Flickr

Space Missions to the Developing World
The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) has partnered with Sierra Nevada Corporation to bring space missions to the developing world by 2021. The unmanned missions are intended to make space exploration affordable for developing nations while fostering peaceful collaboration between nations with no space program.

Dream Chaser will fly for two weeks in low Earth orbit with 20-25 lab stations containing microgravity experiments from countries around the world. The experiments will remain in orbit for the duration of the trip and will return to Earth intact.

UNOOSA plans to solicit proposals and select winning submissions via scientific panel by early 2018 for inclusion on Dream Chaser in 2021. Any U.N. member country is eligible to apply, but the program is aimed at developing countries.

Dreamer Chaser is 30-feet long and has been called a “mini-shuttle” with the ability to carry up to seven passengers. The aircraft has also been used by NASA for crewless missions such as resupply and trash disposal services for the International Space Station.

Sierra Nevada Corporation refers to Dream Chaser as a Space Utility Vehicle. It is the smaller, updated version of the Space Shuttle intended for smaller loads. It can land at any airport where a 737 can land. The Dream Chaser is not owned by NASA or the U.S. Government, so it can be leased to other countries or agencies interested in space exploration and experimentation.

UNOOSA and Sierra Nevada Corporation are seeking sponsors for the program. Countries submitting an experiment are charged a fee, but the goal is to make this fee affordable so that participation is accessible to countries with limited resources.

The goal is not only to design successful experiments but to also further the development and preparation process as a valuable scientific learning experience. According to Luc St-Pierre, the chief of UNOOSA’s Space Applications, the preparation for such an endeavor will leave a lasting impact on participating countries with the potential to foster an environment of exploration and development.

Programs and research in space can assist with human issues such as climate change, natural disasters, managing resources and global health. However, could investments in space programs also spur new types of development thereby reducing global poverty?

The goal of Dream Chaser is to bring space missions to the developing world. Space technology has the potential to support development in these areas contingent on partnerships rather than aid. Dream Chaser is an exciting project and could represent a new frontier in the developing world.

Mandy Otis

Photo: Flickr

NanosatellitesRecently, there has been a lot of hype surrounding nanosatellites. These satellites are an emerging technology in space development and offer the potential for more developing countries to reap the benefits of traditional satellites without the hefty costs associated with them.

Nanosatellites are small satellites weighing between 1kg and 10kg. CubeSats are box-shaped versions of nanosatellites and are currently one of the most widely-used forms. They are very light compared to traditional satellites, which can weigh up to several tons.

Why are nanosatellites so exciting? The reasons range from their cost and convenience to unique benefits that they can bring to the table. Here are four of the main reasons:

1. They are cheap and convenient. Compared to traditional satellites, nanosatellites retain the same or similar capabilities, while costing significantly less. According to the online publication The Conversation, while the cost of traditional satellites can be hundreds of millions of dollars, a CubeSat can be built for around $100,000 and can be launched for many of the same missions that their traditional counterparts can. “Including the launch, a nanosat of CubeSat dimensions might cost $150,000-1m, rather than $200m-1 billion for a full-sized one,” an article in the Economist corroborates.

Furthermore, nanosatellites are more convenient to build. According to the Economist, due to their low cost and less stringent standards of regulation, they can be built faster. Nanosatellites also have a relatively short lifespan of perhaps no more than a year or two in low-Earth orbit before re-entering the atmosphere and burning up. This allows for less risk-management during the building and launch phases.

2. They will help the space programs of developing countries. Funding is often a big problem for these programs; they are constrained by the high cost of traditional satellites and supporting infrastructure. The low costs of nanosatellites, however, offer a solution.

“From being cheaper to build and launch into space, they provide a cost-effective platform for training and research, especially for countries where heavy investment in a space industry has to be weighed against more immediate needs such as health and welfare,” the article on the Conversation says.

In addition, nanosatellites will encourage more youth to enter the space industry. Speaking about Africa, the Conversation notes that young people are entering careers in STEM at low rates. Nanosatellites, though, can be integrated into training at lower cost and will thus give young people more first-hand exposure to the technology. They also have a “cool” factor: “Combining the vibrant ingenuity and creativity of this generation with an equally ingenious and cool space technology can no doubt have a profoundly positive socioeconomic impact on Africa,” says the Conversation.

3. They are closely integrated with modern, advanced technology. According to the Economist, small satellites benefit from the constant improvements in price and performance being achieved by the consumer-electronics industry, particularly in smartphone technology.

A modern phone is equipped with technologies such as an accelerometer to measure how fast it is moving, a magnetometer to detect magnetic fields and provide a compass reading, a gyroscope to measure its position, a barometer to detect pressure and much more. These technologies provide nanosatellites with a wealth of resources to work with.

4. They provide unique benefits. Though traditional satellites are able to certain complex tasks that nanosatellites cannot, nanosats have their own unique advantages.

According to the Conversation, because they are low cost, multiple nanosatellites can be launched into low-Earth orbit. The satellites in these constellations pass over a specific geographic area more frequently than single, big-satellite missions. This allows nanosatellites to be used for rapid responses to disasters or to gather timely information relating to telemedicine, environmental management and asset tracking.

The unique potential of nanosatellites is also being seen in other projects. According to the online publication Inverse, the company SkyFi is working on creating a nanosatellite network to provide the entire world with free internet access. The cheap costs and flexibility of nanosatellites would allow them to circumvent the problems preventing traditional satellites from providing reliable wifi.

“The high flexibility of our nano satellites and the ability to provide multiple services to different customers enables us to offer free internet access to the whole planet in the same manner as GPS services are free. We think this has the potential to bridge great divides and give everyone worldwide a part in the great global connected community,” Raz Itzhaki Tamir, Co-Founder and CEO of SkyFi, said in a press release.

Anton Li

Sources: The Conversation, The Economist, Inverse, PRWeb
Photo: Kirtland Air Force Base