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How the Fourth Industrial Revolution is Shaping the Satellite Industry

By | May 11, 2018

    We are now in the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution — or “Industry 4.0.” From mechanization of production in the first industrial revolution to mass production in the second, and automation of production in the third, the concept of digitizing everything forms the basis of how the Fourth Industrial Revolution is influencing and impacting the world. Machine learning, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IOT), and other advanced technologies are rapidly revolutionizing and reshaping infrastructure, global-local economies and possibilities for future generations. “The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country,” writes Professor Klaus Schwab, author of The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Technological innovations and processes are evolving at an extraordinary rate and becoming increasingly interconnected. Similar to the three industrial revolutions that came before it, ushering in the new industrial era, that at its roots combine the ability to adopt and integrate digital and physical technologies, poses numerous opportunities and challenges.

    The Fourth Industrial Revolution proposes a new hyper-connected paradigm that enables the industry to react in real-time to shifts in the ecosystem. Leveraging these new transformations and understanding their disruption potential with respect to technology, shifting demographics and global connectivity is essential for the satellite industry. Embracing these disruptions and transformations will be strategically imperative requiring proactive collaboration between various players of the industry in order to ensure that these technologies are harnessed and scaled effectively. This means taking a broad perspective of emergent technologies in relation to changing regulatory and policy environments, and involving all stakeholders from public to private sectors as well as academia and civil society.

    The steps taken by the satellite industry today lay the foundation for the innovations of the future. The ability of satellite technology to provide ubiquitous and increasingly fast connectivity to billions of people globally is at the core of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Unprecedented accessibility to knowledge, advancements in processing power and interconnection of embedded devices will inevitably lead to establishing new narratives on how the satellite industry affects production, management and governance in industries outside its own. However, the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Risk Report warns of potential adverse consequences of technological advances, focusing mainly on connectivity (IOT). These include the breakdown of critical information infrastructure and networks, large-scale cyberattacks causing economic damages, geopolitical tensions or widespread loss of trust in the internet, and the wrongful exploitation of private or official data. The challenges of electronic warfare, cybersecurity and attacks on ground infrastructure are not new to the space industry. While the Fourth Industrial Revolution charges ahead we cannot afford to be myopic. The satellite industry is in a crucial position to take proactive steps toward incorporating security into system architectures and defining international laws of engagement.

    Connectivity is not the only element in the Fourth Industrial Revolution that can be harnessed by the satellite industry. Innovative technologies will open the door for exchanges outside the “space bubble” incorporating multiple disciplines and industries to create new markets and growth opportunities. New business models (eg. the impact of AI on satellite imagery) and the evolving economic/trade landscape brought about autonomous technologies will present lower barriers for entrepreneurs with new ideas to access markets. Increasing spectrum of AI through advances in quantum computing, distributed computing and deep-learning chips are culminating in the quest for artificial general intelligence.

    Building on the historical reflection of the three industrial revolutions before it, the key difference today is that technological disruption is instantaneous and ubiquitous. Redefining infrastructure, technologies, and global-local economies in parallel with the Fourth Industrial Revolution may prove to have its challenges, however the space industry has repeatedly proven that it is at the helm of innovation. By taking a broader, long-term perspective that encompass sustainability considerations, the satellite industry is poised to play a key role in the responsible use of disruptive technologies that will help transform the way we live.


    Minoo RathnasabathyMinoo Rathnasabapathy is the former executive director of the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC), a global non-governmental organization which acts in support of the United Nations Program on Space Applications, based in Vienna, Austria. She was responsible for leading the operations, business development, strategy, and policy output for SGAC, a network that represents more than 10,000 university students and young professionals in 110+ countries.

    Before joining SGAC, Rathnasabapathy worked as an aerospace engineer on the structural design optimization for the Ariane 5 launch system in Augsburg, Germany. She serves as a member of the World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Space Technology and the Generation-Next Advisory Board for Via Satellite.