When you think of outer space, the first thing that comes to your mind isn’t often climate action. However, with various satellite and Earth-observation technologies providing us with real-time data of our home planet, we’re empowered to map, understand – and more importantly, mitigate – everything from wildfires to deforestation to illegal fishing, whilst improving things like supply chain efficiency, agricultural practices and disaster management coordination. Put simply, space technologies are uniquely positioned to aid us in responding to some of the most time-critical challenges that we face on Earth. Ensuring the cooperative and responsible use of these technologies at a global scale is essential to our collective future.
With a mission to cooperatively shape the future of space, The Karman Project works with space leaders worldwide to facilitate forums for trust-building, strategic dialogue and diplomacy. It recognises the unique requirement – and indeed, opportunity – of the space sector to foster international cooperation at scale, and works with its Fellows to serve various Sustainable Development Goals along the way.
The vast majority of the space sector is working to create products and services that can be used by businesses, governments, and individuals to solve real-world problems. The sector is often guided by the terms “upstream” and “downstream” to describe different stages of the industry’s value chain, with upstream activities focused on creating space-related hardware and infrastructure (e.g. satellite manufacturing, launch services, and ground station operations), and downstream activities focused on delivering products and services to end-users (e.g. data processing, earth observation applications and satellite-based communication services). Recent trends suggest that there has been a growing focus on downstream applications (accounting for approximately 75% of the overall space sector as estimated by Euroconsult), with an increasing demand for space-based applications and services in a variety of industries, including agriculture, smart transportation, and communications.
So, what does this mean as we work to build a climate-safe future?
The real-time knowledge that we’re receiving from space empowers us to map our Earth with precision unlike ever before. We are able to monitor climate patterns, track the movement of greenhouse gasses and monitor the health of various ecosystems – from our oceans to grasslands to forests and wetlands – right down to details such as soil and crop health, sea temperatures, forest coverage and animal migration. Space-based weather satellites enable us to predict (and prepare for) extreme weather events, and carbon-monitoring satellites enable us to identify key sources of carbon emissions from space. Such technologies empower public and private entities to observe and address areas of key importance, ensure informed governance and build strategies for climate resilience.
The Karman Project is proud to work with leaders who represent some of the most impactful climate-focused space companies in the world, including:
- OroraTech (Germany), which pioneered thermal-infrared data technologies for early wildfire detection and is now expanding to energy and infrastructure protection, smart farming and food security.
- Planet (USA), whose 200 satellites collect 300 million square kilometers of imagery on our Earth each day for agriculture, energy, government and forestry.
- SatSure (India), which combines satellite remote sensing, machine learning and artificial intelligence for financing sustainable development, as well as food, water and energy security programs globally.
- Spire (USA), which has developed radio occultation technology to gather information from every point on Earth (including the most remote and high-altitude points), and whose predictive modeling serves industries ranging from maritime to weather to Earth intelligence for government.
- HeHe (Rwanda), which utilized satellite data to optimize food supply chains to match demand and supply, serving more than two million consumers during its lifetime.
The breadth of such applications means that space technologies are actively contributing to various Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations, particularly with respect to hunger, health, education, water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, innovative infrastructure and (naturally), climate action.
It is fair to say that space technologies are influencing almost every part of our lives on Planet Earth. Like climate change itself, the challenges posed by space are borderless, exposing threats which need to be met collectively by a global community. And while we’ve experienced exponential growth in the space sector owing to the rapid advancement of our technological capabilities, together with increased participation from startups and ‘emerging’ space nations – the space sector remains subject to silos and geopolitical influences. Moreover, it currently lacks the robust regulatory international frameworks required to navigate such challenges. You know things are complicated when rocket science is just one part of the picture!
That being said, strategic bilateral and multilateral agreements have enabled nation states to embark on joint missions, cooperative research and development, and engage in the sharing of critical datasets. International organizations such as The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (known as ‘UNOOSA’) lead governance at an international level, and have established many effective working groups and committees.
The Karman Project aims to aid these efforts with a more human-centric focus, recognizing that space is an inherently international endeavor, and one that requires the commitment and cooperation of people at an individual – as well as an organizational – level.
Placing People at the Center of our Future
Founded by an international group of space professionals in Berlin, Germany in 2019, The Karman Project was born of a desire to bolster independent, courageous and cooperative dialogue in space, building trust between those who are shaping the future of the sector. The flagship activity of the foundation, the Karman Fellowship promotes cooperation through action, working with curated decision-makers in space who have been recognized for their outstanding abilities and their motivation to increase their impact for the betterment of the sector – and humanity. Its leaders include astronauts, space agency directors, space entrepreneurs, executives from leading primes and large space corporations, deep-tech investors, artists and academics.
The Karman Fellowship is designed around three key pillars – Leadership, Dialogue and Action – and 15 Fellows annually are invited to meet with global leaders, strengthen their relationships with one another and engage in strategic discussions regarding the future of space. All discussions abide by the Chatham House Rules to favor independent thinking and authenticity.
- Leadership: The Karman Project promotes values-based leadership through interdisciplinary and intercultural training with globally recognized partners. It works to empower Karman Fellows to implement best practices across their respective organizations and agencies, and amplify their impact beyond their immediate regions and disciplines.
- Dialogue: The foundation facilitates independent forums for strategic dialogue, elevating Karman Community voices to key regional and international stakeholders. It works to find consensus and shape papers, recommendations and campaigns with partners such as The University of Oxford’s Space Initiative.
- Action: The Karman Project supports its Fellows in crafting and implementing personal Fellowship Commitments informed by and serving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Fellows are encouraged to find focus within the six key Karman Impact Themes: Space-for-Sustainability, Education, Empowerment, Cooperation, Science and Inspiration.
As a result of the Karman Fellowship, Fellows have launched initiatives such as SatSure Sparta (an open innovation platform for agriculture), Stories from Home (a series of interactive cultural exhibitions using satellite data to tell the stories of Mother Earth), and the creation of a Space Sustainability Clause that can be open-sourced and adapted to various contract negotiations. Various strategic discussions have been hosted, private-public cooperations launched and relationships forged to ensure the pollination of cross-regional perspectives.
Voyaging to Space for Planet Earth
Space is uniquely positioned to contribute key knowledge to empower our species as we navigate the climate crisis, and The Karman Project works to ensure that those who are shaping that future are doing so with a truly international and action-oriented perspective.
It is perhaps best framed by former Director-General of the European Space Agency and Karman Board Member Jean-Jacques Dordain, who often appeals to the Karman Fellows with words to the effect of: “the world has too many spectators; we need more actors on Spaceship Earth”.
Applications for the Karman Fellowship of 2023 close on March 31st (more information available here), and as always, The Karman Project is searching for the most impactful and forward-thinking leaders to join in this mission to build a cooperative future in space. Cooperation is a global endeavor achieved together – all voices, partners and supporters are welcome on this voyage!