The Internet of Things (IoT) has primarily been restricted to the earthbound phenomenon. However, that could be about to change. There are pieces of evidence that suggest that IoT would be technology's next golden opportunity. Let's explore how IoT would play a pivotal role in shaping the future of the space industry.
Satellite-powered networks are soon to become a reality with IoT
Organizations are already working overtime to realize the power of satellite-powered networks with the help of IoT. On the other hand, NASA is exploring the possibility of deploying IoT applications in rockets, satellites, and space shuttles, which would no doubt be a game-changer. For a better understanding of how the IoT is making the room into the outer space, let's aim our telescopes on various instances.
Being wireless in space
There are doubts about the feasibility of using IoT in satellites. Still, IoT is a good match for the development of any extra-terrestrial applications. It is worthwhile to note here that NASA has tested a couple of IoT related applications in 2017.
One experiment involved the use of wireless communications to disseminate crucial information about orbits within a Technical and Educational Satellite released from the International Space Station. The main aim of the experiment was to use wireless networking to decrease the weight so that there is an increase in the payload. It is an approach that could eventually become the standard in satellite design.
NASA also used varied types of frequency modules to track the telemetry tests. Exo-Brake, designed by NASA decelerated payloads for re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. It also resulted in the safe recovery of the payloads without using rockets.
IoT networks that are based on space
It has long been a dream for space researchers to utilize satellites to provide lucid and low-power IoT-friendly systems for remote users not covered by satellites. However, various constraints are involved in this process. For instance, due to the distances involved, the traditional approaches to IoT networks based on space have tended to be expensive.
However, these constraints haven’t stopped organizations from putting in their sincere efforts. Recently, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has signed a deal with satellite provider Iridium to usher in internet connectivity to the whole planet. This deal has been inked between these two organizations to develop a satellite-based network, which would be known as CloudConnect. It would be designed specifically for IoT applications.
Also, a US-based organization that specializes in providing satellite IoT and machine-to-machine communications services has announced that it would collaborate closely with Asia Pacific Navigation Telecommunications Satellite (APNTS) to ensure that China gets its services.
Moreover, Alibaba Cloud and SemTech have come to an agreement to develop an IoT network in China with the use of small satellites in low Earth orbit.
These are the only two companies currently who are looking forward to building such systems. Interestingly, the IOTEE (Internet of Things Everywhere on Earth) has been funded by the European Union to facilitate IoT services straight from the space.
However, it is still unclear whether it is the appropriate time for these efforts to be successful. Till now, it is quite clear that there is a considerable market available that can tap into the growth of space-based IoT. Moreover, despite the rapid proliferation of terrestrial networks, only a small percentage of Earth's area has been covered. With the growing population, a time would come where tracking assets would be of utmost priority. This is where space-based IoT can also come handy.
It is interesting here to note that technology is pretty much available to ensure the smooth functioning of IoT networks. But it remains to be seen whether their full-scale deployment would be economically viable or not. But there is a positive side to it too. If IoT in space is not financially viable, it will remain as a niche market to track a limited number of high-value assets.
IoT enhances the analysis of gathered data
Another hindrance that technicians and operators can successfully overcome with this technology is collecting meaningful data. Space shuttles can transmit vast amounts of data, and spending time to assess them can consume a lot of time. This usually increases work and labour costs.
With the efficient use of Blockchains, relevant data transmitted from space shuttles can be organized and grouped, which would be easier for technicians to evaluate. Interestingly, blockchain-based technologies can take advantage of IoT connectivity to create a digital ledger comprising of various events or transactions which are available to the users.
For instance, in the aeronautics industry, a blockchain can record how each part of the spacecraft has been manufactured, shipped, used, and repaired. In other words, with IoT, greater transparency can be ushered in the industry. It also enables the technicians to review the data recorded in the blockchain and refer to it to implement more value-based decisions.
Predictive maintenance with IoT
The space industry is mainly dependent on reactive maintenance. However, with IoT, the space industry can move to predictive maintenance. It will allow for more affordable strategies. It will also increase the productivity of technicians who are involved in spacecraft maintenance.
IoT will also enable the industry to place sensors on the necessary machinery and equipment of the space shuttle. Engines, wing flaps, bleed values, etc. are some of the ideal spots where these sensors can be placed. The data sent from these sensors would be used in the effective maintenance of the spacecraft. Accidents emanating from crash landing can also be thwarted with the help of IoT.
IoT can also help minimize instances of false alerts. It is essential, especially when a spacecraft returns to Earth after a voyage. When false alarms begin to happen periodically, technicians may start to ignore it- even when there is a real problem within the spacecraft.
The Internet of Things and the way the space industry collects and analyzes data will allow spacecraft to be built more robustly. Hence, these space shuttles can make more extended explorations that would unravel the mysteries of the universe before us.
James Grills is a technical writer with a passion for writing on emerging technologies in the areas of mobile application development and IoT technology. He is a marketing advisor - currently associated with Cumulations Technologies a mobile app development company in India