Space 2050 By Joseph N. Pelton Former Dean, International Space University, Director Emeritus, Space & Advanced Communications Research Institute (sacri), George Washington University

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Space 2050

By Joseph N. Pelton

Former Dean, International Space University, Director Emeritus, Space & Advanced Communications Research Institute (SACRI), George Washington University

“Space is a transformative realm that has impacted how humans think of themselves and our role in the universe from the “Big Bang” to our living on “Spaceship Earth”. Application satellites as well as space research and exploration have improved almost every aspect of our lives and accelerated our growth into becoming a technological society. The Space Age has led not only to a wide range of new “high tech” products and services, but indeed to a number of new fields of research and a growing range of satellite applications. Today education, health care, weather prediction, aviation safety, navigation, storm warnings, map making, global communications, global business and thousands of industrial products are enriched by space applications.

Over the past eight years, the global space economy grew a whopping 48 percent - from $164 billion in 2004 to $304 billion in 2012 or a total of 85%. This has represented an average annual industry growth rate that has varied between 5 percent to nearly 8 percent for 2012. As an industry it is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world

Today, the space economy is also predominantly commercial. Commercial satellite services and commercial satellite infrastructure together account for about $200 billion of the total.i

But the impact of the commercial space industry on the global economy is much more pervasive than can be detected from its economic footprint. There is no indicator that shows how many billions of dollars and many thousands of lives are saved by virtue of weather satellite forecasting. The impact of satellites is magnified in many ways-- especially in developing economies. The Reserve Bank of India recognizes that the fact there is about 1 ATM per 15,000 residents is holding back their economy. They are currently seeking to grow the number of ATMs in India from about 100,000 to 165,000 in a short period of time. More than one third of these ATM will be provided via broadband services from communications satellites. Already billions of dollars of banking, credit card and ATM transactions occur in India alone. World wide these satellite mediated transactions run into the trillions of dollars. In China, India, Africa and Latin America the importance of satellite plays a critical role in providing banking, education, health and Internet-related services. In short the impact of satellites is pervasive world wide, but it is much larger in developing than in so-called developed economies.ii

In Africa broadband satellite connections to the cloud are provided for instance to connect the African Development Bank sites across that vast continent where terrestrial communications and IT systems are greatly lacking. The current network of 32 satellite access points has just been put under a new contract to expand to 36 locations for the African Development Bank. These ADB broadband connections are subjected to special quality of service, security and other conditions to protect the integrity of the system. Only satellite broadband can today create such a secure and reliable network for all member countries.iii

This is to say that economists, using traditional economic metrics as to “industry size”, tend to totally miss the “value” of space to global civilization. This is not only because of the “spin off” and enabling aspects of space technology, but because of its leveraged impact on other aspects of the economy such as banking, insurance, transportation services, and educational and health services. Finally there is something that few economists consider, but which may be the highest value of space-based services of all. This is risk minimization—the ability of space technologies to prevent the elimination of our species and the protection of essential infrastructure on which modern civilization depends. Without satellites we would be much more devastated by hurricanes and monsoons, not be aware of the ozone hole, La Nina and La Nino, the full effects of global warning, or be able to undertake programs to help defend the world’s communications, energy, and IT systems against solar weather, coronal mass ejections, potentially hazardous asteroids or dangerous near earth objects.

In a less dramatic way, space based services are key to disaster recovery and response. Damage assessment, risk prevention, emergency communications restoration, aircraft takeoff and landing safety, and mapping and positioning plus many other critical services are now very much dependent of satellite communications, space navigation systems, and remote sensing systems. But let’s examine the link between space activities and the possibility the survival of human civilization. The truth is that advanced human civilization may not be able to sustain itself much beyond its current “likely limits” of another few centuries—without the benefit of space systems and technologies.

The world as we know it will be dramatically different in less than four decades. We will shift from being 53% urban to perhaps 70% urban in just this brief period of time. In 1800 there were some 800 million people on planet Earth. By 1900 there were 1.8 billion and in the year 2000 there were almost 7 billion people. If we take all of the world’s population that will be added to the globe in the next 37 years and add another 600 million people on top of this number, this is the number that will represent the population growth of cities.iv By the end of the 21st century global population will have surged to somewhere between 10 and 12 billion people according to United Nation’s projections. Since it unclear as to how effectively the extended life time of humans has been factored into these numbers, the probable result may well be at the high end of these projections. (See Figure 1)

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Figure 1: UN Projections of Global Demographics

As we see sustained growth in the world’s population and runaway growth in the world’ megacities (i.e. cities of more than 10 million) we find a disturbing pattern of many new urban areas springing up without sufficient water, sewage, transportation systems, educational and health care systems. On top of these mega-trends we also are seeing super-automation, computer algorithms replacing more and more service jobs a net shrinkage of employment opportunity—especially in low-skill jobs that require a minimum of education and training. The World Bank experts in urban growth have estimated that 80% of the new development in most megacities will represent slums that often breed crime, health problems, and high rates of unemployment.v In these same areas birth rates are often high. The challenges that various megacities face vary enormously. Nevertheless there is a fair amount of data from around the world, gathered from such cities as Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata, Dhaka, Lagos, Sao Paulo, Karachi, Cairo, Guangzhou, Manila, etc. that suggest the following conclusion that is expressly stated in my recent book “The Safe City: Living Free in a Dangerous World” . This conclusion is that urban sprawl is bad, urban density is good, but super urban density becomes bad again. The Home Minister of India has indicated that the super density of the world’s largest cities is overwhelming the ability of first responders to respond to urban disasters and provide a safe environment for citizens. Super urban density when combined with unchecked demographic growth, for instance, is out-stripping all of the advances that “green technologies” are making in combating climate

Figure 2: Selected Megacities from around the World and their projected growth

We live on a quite finite six sextillion ton world with a limited supply of natural resources and an atmosphere that is increasingly polluted. Carbon footprints, especially in cities, in most cases, continue to grow apace. We see an unsustainable pattern of worldwide statistics when we look at a range of critical statistics: global demographics; energy, water and food consumption; environmental viability; life time extension; super automation and lack of job creation; governmental effectiveness (or lack thereof); and social and cultural patterns of conflict.

We are left with few options. It is only human technology and innovation and creation of new ways to utilize the capabilities and resources provided to us by planet Earth, near space, and by the solar system. Only a stabilized global population, more effective educational and health care systems, and new technology can possibly allow a positive way forward in the 21st century--and beyond. Continued unmodified economic and population growth--without significant new types of technology intervention--with much of it being space based—could lead to dire consequences. Without major shifts in demographics, education, and technology we could see the end of the human species in an alarming short time. The recent announcement that the carbon gas build up on our planet had increased by 1.4% in the past year suggests that the problem we face are now going exponential.

Our species faces a dark rendezvous with cosmic history unless we craft a range of new strategies. These strategies must be buoyed with a dynamic range of new technologies that broadens and extends network-based tele-education and tele-health systems. There must be targeted educational systems and technological advances that allow a new range of birth-control capabilities to bring all national growth rates below 1% through tax incentives or penalties, incentives to villages to curtail birth rates, etc. There is a need to create new green energy systems—some of which can and should be space-based. Finally we need to look to totally new technologies such as space-based systems that can transfer excess heat to outer space. These initiatives and more are needed to protect us from a range of cosmic threats that could devastate or even destroy modern human civilization. Assuming we can make these adaptations to save the bio-sphere that we need to survive as a species we also need to develop new technologies that can also save human civilization from natural disasters such as solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and potentially hazardous comets, asteroids and meteorites that could create devastating threats to our survival as well.

Without significant innovation and the rapid creation of new 21st century space capabilities it is entirely possible that the human species to will not be able to sustain itself and overcome today’s challenges. There have been to date at least five mass extinction events. Each one of these events has managed to eliminate 30% to 65% of the plant and animal species on our planet. The so-called K-T event that occurred 65.5 million years ago and was thus the most recent--wiped out the greatest number of species with the greatest efficiency. Less that 1% of all species that have ever existed on Earth survive today. Four of the extinction events were due to heat rise and chemical changes and the other was triggered much more rapidly by a massive asteroid strike. This event occurred when an asteroid, some 5 kilometers in diameter, impacted along the Gulf of Mexico and created a huge cloud that blocked out the sun and killed vegetation all over the world and wiped out the dinosaurs.vii

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So what is the relevance of all this to space? It is space technology and applications that may well constitute critical components of a survival strategy for planet Earth and the ability of humanity to sustain itself against threats that comes with super-urban crowding, over-heating of the bio-sphere, the challenges of inadequate health care and educational systems, insufficient and non-sustainable demands for energy, food, water, and an ever “higher standard of living”. In parallel the dangers that come from asteroids, comets, solar flares, coronal mass ejections, reversal of the Earth’s magnetic poles, a significant reduction of the Earth’s protective geomagnetic field, and a greatest reduced protective shield by altered Van Allen Belts are truly serious threats that could have economic effects calculated in the trillions of dollars (US) or in the most catastrophic conditions actually mean the sudden end of human civilization.

The problem that occurs when traditional economists seek to assess the value of space to the global economy is that they look at dollar throughput (which is a mere $300 billion per year) rather than understanding the strategic importance of space to human survival. My higher level message about the economic importance of space is contained in the following four points.

Basic Messages about Space and its Strategic and Economic Importance.

Here are a few basic messages that need to be understood before going into specifics.

  • Humans travel through space at 66,000 miles per hour (or about 125,000 kilometers/hour) on a modest space ship—at least when reckoned in cosmic terms. This spaceship has an external biosphere that is protected by a thin breathable atmosphere--equivalent in size to the rind of an apple. It is time we recognize that humans and all of our increasingly complex machinery are very vulnerable to cosmic threats. Space programs to create a planetary defense are not a frill but something that are needed to protect human civilization and our high tech modern infrastructure that is also prone to cosmic hazards. Billions could die and economic loss could be in the quadrillions of dollars (U.S.) if hit by an asteroid as large as 1 kilometer in size

  • Space technology is now essential to coping with climate change, problems such as the Ozone Hole and other atmospheric and stratospheric issues. Again the economic impact and risk levels are outside the scope of easy imagination—far greater than the damage of weapons of mass destruction.

  • Space technology can and in fact does leverage our global service economy in a wide range of ways. The Internet, global banking and insurance services, airlines and transportation systems, weather alerts, educational and health care systems, to name a few, are dependent on space systems to achieve global coverage and connectivity. A day without space would cripple connectivity to the Internet for about 100 countries, cancel millions of banking transactions, and shut down thousands of airline flights and put thousands more in peril. The direct economic cost to the space industry if it were out of business for a single might be calculated in the millions of dollars, but the indirect secondary impacts might run into many billions.

  • Space technology is today vital to national defense networks for communications, surveillance, and much, much more. One might calculate that space related industry contribute only about $300 billions of dollars (U.S.) a year to a total global world product of nearly $80 trillion (U.S.) and consider that this industry is of limited economic importance. But then if one considers the scores of ways that space industry supports global commerce and defense systems, it becomes increasingly clear that perhaps half of the world’s economic activity now has direct and indirect ties and at least partial dependence on navigation satellites, meteorological satellites, environmental monitoring and remote sensing satellites, communications and broadcasting satellites, and defense and disaster-relief satellites. The level of dependence is increasing exponentially. Imagining a world without space is today is very much like imagining a world without computers—and remember a single catastrophic space event could do exactly that. A Coronal Mass Ejections (CME) equivalent to the Carrington Event of 1859 could quite possibly wipe out virtually all of the world’s computers including the microprocessors that are essential to all of our cars, trucks, aircraft, elevators, washing machines, and even our “smart toilets”.viii

Distilling the Meaning of Space in Methods Other than Direct Economic Numbers

Economic researchers have tried to identify and measure the portion of economic growth attributable to space activity for some time. The global economic footprint of the space industry, including both public and private sectors, is in the range of about $300 billion (U.S). Although this sounds like an impressive number, this figure is small compared to the other major segments of the world’s total economic activity. The Gross World Product (GWP), or the total gross national product of all the countries in the world based on purchasing power parity, will be about around $80 trillion (U.S.) for 2013.ix Thus, the entire space economy does not even represent 1% of the global economic activity. But, the impact of space on the global economy in terms of its multiplier effect and its stimulus to economic growth is much larger than shown by its direct contribution to the Gross World Product (GWP).x

At the beginning of the Space Age, with all sights firmly set on prestigious space accomplishments such as being the first on orbit and then first on the Moon, the economic rationale of space investments was not a priority since it was strategic objectives that led the way. However, as these milestones were reached over time, the political momentum started to fade. The cost of the Apollo program was the primary reason for its cancellation in 1972. Following the lunar landings in1969 and the early 1970s, the Nixon administration was faced with the difficult problem: how to "get NASA's budget under control" while still maintaining the lead of the U.S. in the space race. Sending more US astronauts to the Moon would not have brought more prestige and without an economic reason for sustained flights to the Moon, there was very little reason to keep the Apollo program runningxi.

Once the excitement of the 1960s subsided, measuring the economic benefits of space programs became more and more important. In the absence of a strong political mandate, the economic rationale started to shape major investment decisions. The initial attempts to quantify the economic impacts mostly centered on the macroeconomic picture and by using various econometric models. One of the most cited studies was performed by the Midwest Research Institute (MRI). The MRI study was contracted by NASA and looked into the relationship between NASA R&D expenditures and technology-induced increases in the US Gross National Product (GNP). This study concluded that each dollar spent by NASA on R&D during the twenty-year period associated with the Apollo Program returned an average of slightly over seven dollars in GNP through 1987xii.

Since this study, the 1 to 7 ratio of R&D investments to economic returns has been widely used as a way to justify investing in space. Although the early days of the Space Age generated a very significant economic return, there are some inherent dangers in blindly using this ratio today:

  • The ratio is an average figure. Some R&D investments such as in telecommunications and navigation satellites had generated many times their original public investment while some other investments had negligible returns. Thus, without looking into the specific benefits expected from a space investment, there is no guarantee that the returns will be in a similar range.

  • The marginal returns of space investments have decreased over time as many technical challenges were surmounted by other types of innovative products and services. This is not to say that space investments in the future will not generate significant returns, but it is only natural that the initial investments unlocked more value than subsequent ones.

  • Some of the accrued benefits are societal in nature (such as gaining a better understanding about climate change or space systems to mitigate global warming, or a heightened sense of planetary protection as we learn more about the past of Mars and Venus or detect potentially hazardous asteroids.). Such gains may not have a direct economic benefit (at least in the short term), but they have contributed greatly to our collective knowledge of nature and might forestall economic losses that might be reckoned in the quadrillion of dollars. We have no very good economic metric for assessing the value of a substantial level of risk reduction or prevention of financial catastrophe. This might be one of the biggest short comings in modern economics. The lack of pricing systems to put a penalty value on environmental destruction or over population might be the second biggest failing of modern market economics. We value economic growth. We don’t value survival and the sustainability of human civilization.

What we do know is that space activities have created significant economic value for the whole economy through the creation of new products and services, transfer of new technologies and many positive externalities, such as social and environmental consciousness. Space-based tele-education and tele-health is especially critical in developing economies and may play a key role in human survival.

A Critical Look at Space Related Economic Spin-offs

European Space Agency's Business Incubation Centres among others have served to provide very interesting information regarding a wide-range of space technologies which were successfully applied to terrestrial domains. Their analysis performed in 2011 clearly helps to demonstrate the depth and breadth of the dissemination of space technologiesxiii. Lifestyle, software solutions, educational applications, environment and health are some of the main sectors which have benefitted from space technologies. The reach of space technologies extends to many other sectors as well, including energy, textile, automotive and life sciences and perhaps especially tele-health and tele-education.

It is also interesting to track the origin of ESA's spin-off technologies, spanning the period of 1990 to 2006. During this period, space science and launchers were the two leading domains of space technology accounting for about 20% of the spin-offs, each. Human spaceflight, microgravity research, telecommunications and earth observation contributed to around 10% of the spin-offs, each.

Adapting space technologies to meet different needs on Earth can unlock tremendous value. The table below shows just a few of the thousands of links between space technologies and applications in medicine, manufacturing, entertainment and many other sectors.

From space to Earth: spin-off examplesxiv

Space Program Technology and Commercial “Spin-offs”


Space Origin

Tumor tomography

NASA scanner for testing

Battery powered surgical instruments

Apollo Moon program

Non-reflective coating on personal computer screens

Gemini spacecraft window coating

Emergency blankets (survival/anti-shock)

Satellite thermal insulation

Mammogram screening, plant photon-counting technology

Space telescope instruments

Skin cancer detection

ROSAT X-ray detection

Dental orthodontic spring

Space shape memory alloys

Early detection of cancerous cells

Microwave spectroscopy

Carbon composite car brakes

Solid rocket engine nozzles

Car assembly robots

Space robotics

Flameproof textiles, railway scheduling, fuel tank insulation

Various Ariane components, including software

Lightweight car frames, computer game controllers, fuel cell vehicles, coatings for clearer plastics, heart assist pump, non-skid road paint

Various Space Shuttle components

Fresh water systems

ISS technology

Corrosion free coating for statues

Launch pad protective coating

Flexible ski boots, light allergy protection, firefighter suits, golf shoes with inner liner

Various space suit designs

Healthy snacks

Space food

Lessons Learned from Space-Based Tele-Education and Tele-Health Around the World

There have been a wide range of space-based tele-education and tele-health based programs around the world for over forty decades. Well over 100 countries participated in Intelsat’s Project SHARE (Satellites for Health and Rural Education) that took place in the 1980s. It was from this program that the world’s largest satellite based tele-education program i.e. the Chinese satellite-based distribution program was born. The Indian EduSat tele-education program was born from the SITE experiments on the ATS-6 Satellite that took place in the 1970s. Today satellite and Internet-based tele-education and tele-health programs span the world and all the world’s continents with over 100 million students and non-traditional students participating. The attached Chart indicates just some of the programs now available. There are many satellites that provide coverage to around the world or on a regional basis and a significant new entry will be the O3b network that is being deployed in the third quarter of 2013. This network is geared to the world’s equatorial region and optimized for wireless internet-based services.

Satellite Based University Programs Around the Worldxv

Examples of Various Types of International and Regional Satellite Educational Programs


Hub & Concept


Course Offerings

Jones International University

Denver, Co. Initially provided satellite-based courses but are now largely on-line

Operates in 44 countries

Degrees in MA & PhD in Education and Masters in Business

Modern University of the Humanites of EurAsia

Hub based in Russia and serves over 800 towns via V-Sat terminals

Operates in Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhastan, Kyrgyzstan, Modova, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Georgia, Vietnam, Israel and China

Multiple degree in higher education, bachelors and Masters degrees, including economics, computer engineering, law, political science, management, linguistics, psychology, philosophy, and educational instruction.

University of the Caribbean

Hubs at each major campus

Operates throughout the Caribbean

Each country specializes in a few disciplines and shares faculty and course curricula throughout the Caribbean via satellite courseware. Also provide health services.

University of the South Pacific

Major Hub at Suva, Fiji

Operates throughout the South Pacific

Provides higher education courses but supports other forms of education and training and health care


Utilizes Afrisat satellite

Operates throughout Africa.

Although this provides commercial radio broadcasts, this satellite also provides health and education services.

Examples of Various Types of National Satellite-Based Educational and Health Services


Hub-City Location

Educational Network

Types of Offerings



Provides satellite services to regional centers in the Saharan desert area

Education from primary through college level courses as well as health services.



Optus provides an extensive network of remote educational and health services to the Outback

Provides extension courses across the country of Australia as well as emergency health and nutritional services.


Brazilia, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paolo

Brazilsat and Telebras support educational and health services.

There are a number of networks, but one of the most extensive and vital is a satellite network to support the Amazonia region.

Canada 1


Knowledge Network

Wide range of programming available via Bell Satellite Television and Shaw Satellite Television.

Canada 2

Toronto and Montreal

CTV Two Atlantic

ASN also devoted a significant amount of its daytime schedule to educational programming. The Distance University Education via Television (DUET) service is offered by ASN in partnership with participating universities in Atlantic Canada. Some of the university programs offered through DUET include full degrees


Beijing, Open University of China (OUC)xvi

Combines satellite network and Internet. Currently nearly 3 million students. OUC Partners with 21 conventional universities

75 majors in 9 disciplines and 24 specialties including science, engineering, agricultural science, medicine, literature, law, economics, management, and education



Provides educational and health services

Provides particularly vital services to the Andean region.


Cairo via Nilesat

7 dedicated satellite channels for education. Services some 9500 school locations in remote areas..

Began in 1998. Serves primary education, technical education, secondary education. One channel is for instruction of teachers. Another is used for literacy training.

Ethiopian Satellite Education Program

Addis Abba

Provides service to 450 schools via 8000 HDTV plasma screens. Known as Woredas

Kagiso Educational TV and Sasani Instructional TV produced educational programming for Grades 9 to 12 under a World Bank loan. Transmits 70 half hour educational programs a week. Implemented by Hughes Network Systems and other suppliers.


Edusat, operated by ISRO, Bangalore, India and New Delhi, University Grants Consortium

Operates in about 8 languages and covers all of India. About 1 million students but only 5% (i.e. about 50k) are enrolled in higher education.

Primary emphasis is primary and secondary education and vocational schools. Partnership with a number of universities include the National Open School.



Indosat provides educational and health care to the major inhabited islands of Indonesia

This supports public schools and colleges and universities but also supports remote oil and mining centers with educational services as well.



JCSat and Broadcast Satellite System (B-Sat) of Japan

Both these satellite systems provide a range of educational broadcast courses to all of the Japanese islands.


Afristar provides DBS radio service to all of Africa

One broadcast radio channel devoted to provide coverage in Kenya

WorldSpace has dedicated one channel on its AfriStar satellite to broadcast education to 11 million children in Kenya's 18,617 primary and 3,245 secondary schools

Korea, Rep. of


Koreasat satellites provide coverage to South Korea and the region

KT Corporation operates these satellites in cooperation with the Korea’s Agency for Defense Development. These satellites provide university courses and also training for defense forces.


Kuala Lumpur

Over 20 remote sites

One of the most sophisticated satellite-based programs of higher education.


Mexico City

Over 100 sites all over Mexico designed and implemented with Via Sat Corporation

One of the most extensive educational systems that covers from primary through university level courses.



NigComSat 1R provides coverage of all of Nigeria and all of Africa. (Replaced failed NigComSat 1)

Allows the distribution of educational and health programming to Nigeria and Africa. Service just began in March 2012 and network still being developed.



A number of domestic satellite networks provide educational program distribution over Russia and especially remote areas

Allows universities to share programming across Russia, Siberia and members of the Russian Federation.

South Africa

Praetoria Hub

Mind Set Learn & Teach and Mind Set Health provide educational materials via Intelsat satellite resources to both teachers and students.

This was set up in 2002 with a 8 way partnership that included Intelsat, Telkom Foundation, Sentech, the Sunday Times, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and others. It provides student courses, instructional advice to teachers and health education.



IPSTar or Thaisat 4

Courses on Schoolnet are for primary, secondary and vocational schools and do not currently include higher education



The Turksat system provides higher educational courses across the nation

Network provides higher educational courses in a wide range of subjects. Some programming is supported by the Turkish Air Force.

United States Systems

A Great Variety of Locations for Scores of national, regional and State-based Systems

There are a large number of U.S. Systems that distribute educational and health programming for the US mainland, Alaska, Hawaii and US protectorates

The programs are diverse and cover from primary through university level courses. Some are State level satellite educational programs for rural areas where essential college prep. Courses could not otherwise be available. Some are hybrid of Internet-Satellite networks

United Kingdom

London & Milton-Keynes

Open University

This is a combination of terrestrial Internet and satellite (B-Sky-B, Eutelsat, etc.) educational distribution.

It is not really productive to seek to cover each and every educational network that uses satellite, wireless Internet or fiber technology around the world since there may well be over 1000 such networks now in operation and the number of such networks are increasing exponentially.

Just one example of what is possible is provided by the case of Ethiopia that is indicative of the types of systems that have been or are being implemented. Just over a decade ago, the Ethiopian Ministry of Education started major new initiative to seek to convert the country from being essentially a rural and an agricultural society to a much more educated and more information-based economy. The Ethiopian government developed a system of educational and information networks to connect schools, government offices, and other agencies together. This project became known as Woredas. On the basis of the Woredas program the Ethiopia Telecommunications Corporation (ETC) is providing connectivity to 454 senior secondary schools, 36 agricultural colleges, and 620 Woredas sites across their rapidly evolving national network. ETC has implemented a broadband satellite network to deliver a range of services that includes voice, Internet and intranet connectivity, video networking to schools, tele-education sites as well as governmental agencies.

The World Bank (IBRD) has teamed with the Ethiopian Government to implement this network, The project includes broadband access via a VSAT network, end-user devices, studios, screens, and educational content. There is a new master control satellite earth station and new fiber to connect government ministries and studios. This was initially deployed in 2004 and upgraded further in 2006.xx On-going training and support to keep this largely satellite based network operating. But this is but one example of a large and growing number.

Rather than detailing every system, it is probably more important to discuss what important lessons have been learned about such networks and what can be done to maximize the performance, cost effectiveness and economic impact of such networks going forward. The following key lessons learned with regard to space-based tele-education and tele-health based networks are as follows:

  1. Plan Ahead for the Next Key Step Forward. One of the first programs in satellite-based tele-education took place in El Salvador under funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID). At first it seemed like a great program. Students from rural areas were educated and developed a broad range of new skills. There were, in fact, no jobs for these new graduates and the economic turmoil that came from newly educated students with no job opportunities was a revolution. Education must be seen as part of a process and people with new skills sets must be offered job opportunities and the chance to use their education productively.

  2. Use a Coherent Systems Approach. The Arthur C. Clarke Foundation through their Millennium Project and others have develop programs for rural development that include tele-health and tele-education combined with solar energy, disaster warning, job training and rural tele-services job training. Piece-meal programs that only address one aspect of intellectual or economic development rather than seek integrated and synoptic advances will often fail. Space based tele-education and tele-health should not be expected to operate in a vacuum. Integrated programs with a systems approach is needed. Independent assessments to perfect this integrated approach and use space-based tele-services to ever improved results is also essential.

  3. Local Programming is Key. The use of tele-education and tele-health services that are imported from overseas—often with problems of language and cultural differences—often tend to fail. Instructional programs need to reflect national and local culture to be effective over the longer terms. During Intelsat’s Project Share, it was noted that only local educational and cultural program were able to be of on-going and longer term value.

  4. Tele-education and Tele-Health is a Supplement, Not a Replacement. Remotely distributed educational and health information can help insure that the latest information is available, top expertise is made available, and also help to make many programs cost efficient. There still must be local personnel to relate to students and patients. Arthur C. Clarke was once asked if he was advocating tele-education as a means to replace local teachers and he said “No of course not. But perhaps those teachers that could be easily be replaced by a machine, might be the first ones to go.”

  1. There is only One Good, Knowledge and One Evil, Ignorance. These were the words of wisdom voiced by Socrates nearly 2500 years ago. Education is the key to world advancement, technological breakthrough, and perhaps the major stimulus to global economic development. Satellites and networking are key to global education as well as telehealth in the 21st century. Today nearly 24% of the U.S. economy relates to education, training and medical/health services and networked services are perhaps the most important tool to trim these costs while improving services. Education and knowledge-based human advancement may be the only ultimately effective means to cope with climate change, global warming, and other threats to human survival such as over population. One cannot consider the value of satellite-based tele-services without recognizing its essential role in unlocking a better world future.

  2. Hybrid Systems Make the Most Sense in Complex World. Clearly satellite-based tele-services and space-based research systems are only some of the tools available to modern society. Internet based networks, fiber optic links, and terrestrial wide-band wireless systems must be integrated with space-systems to accomplish future educational, health and other societal goals. Satellites are best for rural and remote, island-based connectivity, multi-casting and broadcasting services. Clearly they need to be effectively merged with other networking technologies to achieve overall goals. Countries that have large deserts, intense rain forests, major mountain ranges, and/or extremely large areas with remote populations need to continue to look to satellite networks. In order to accomplish research and global monitoring functions related to the atmosphere, the oceans, the arctic regions and more, space-based systems are our most vital tool.

  3. Educational and Health-Based Systems Have Different Requirements. Satellite tele-services can be used to accomplish a wide range of functions more rapidly, more accurately and at lower cost. Nevertheless each application can have its own unique technical requirement. Some instruction can be accomplished well via radio. Some medical diagnostic services require high resolution, true color images to not mistake one symptom for another. Clearly space-based services are not a panacea and each application can dictate services at different data rates, true color, better resolution, and specific and unique needs. In short one size does not fit all.

  4. Distribute Expertise. Institutions such as the University of South Pacific, the University of West Indies and other distributed educational institutions have been using distributed satellite networks for decades to good advantage. They have found that by distributing expertise to specific locations they can create teams of expertise at various sites that then can be effectively shared throughout a region. This gives more “bang for the buck” and allows limited resources to go further. Thus one island campus can be the center for forestry, another for fishing, and yet another for ocean flora and fauna. These centers can then be networked together to share these resources widely throughout a region.

  5. Placing Economic Value on Space Based Systems Remains Difficult. The use of space-based technology can be widely shared in education, health care and other tele-services within a country, a region, the entire world, or even astronauts in space. It is a mistake to consider the value of space-based activities in terms of money spent or industrial turn-over of revenues. Space-base tele-services can be a dollar or value-multiplier. Space based-research and applications can perhaps save humanity from mass extinction, remove lethal heat from the Earth’s surface, restore the Ozone Hole in the upper stratosphere, or avert an asteroid from annihilating life on our planet.

Limits to Satellite System and Service Development—Effective Frequency Management and Interference Reduction

Currently satellite services of all types—commercial satellite services, defense and governmental vital services, scientific research and development and related commercial spin-offs are growing as documented by economic information presented earlier. There are serious concerns as to the sustained future growth of these systems due to at least three potential powerful brakes. One concern is that of orbital debris that if not controlled and debris eventually reduced this could threaten all forms of satellite activities, including that of national defense. Guidelines adopted by the IADC and the UN COPUOS are a good start much more must be done. Secondly space weather and future powerful solar eruptions could threaten our trillion dollar space infrastructure. This could become a much more serious problem if changes to the Earth’s magnetosphere that seem to be occur reduce our protective shield as represented by the Van Allen belts. Also there are concerns about potentially hazardous asteroids and near earth objects that could also result in “show stopping” catastrophes with economically disastrous effects reckoned in the quadrillions of dollars. These issues are discussed in greater detail elsewhere under so-called “Black Swan” events.

Three is another problem that is much less catastrophic but could still be a major economic brake. Currently the demand to support broadband wireless services has been projected to grow—at least in some countries—as much as 40% per annum. There is not sufficient spectrum currently available using conventional technology to support such growth. More efficient technologies and the development of higher radio frequencies in the millimeter waves will likely need to be developed to support this growth for satellites, terrestrial broadband wireless and new requirements related to drones, UAVs and High Altitude Platform Systems (HAPS). This shortage of frequencies for both terrestrial wireless and satellite broadband services must be recognized as potential brake on global economic activity of importance. But beyond the shortage of spectrum to meet new commercial and consumer demand, the issue of frequency management and regulation—including that of frequency interference and jamming must also be taken quite seriously. Currently the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has limited tools to deal with such issues. Greater regulatory and enforcement powers, the posting of “guaranteed performance” bonds, the ability to invoke fines against willful interference, and other such steps may be needed. There could be an expanded role for insurance companies or risk management companies to assist with frequency interference issues. Here the concerns include broadband communications satellites, navigation satellites, and even geospatial and other types of satellites. An examination of how the World Trade Organization deals with unfair competition and consideration of how its powers might be addressed to these matters might well be a key step forward with the ITU and WTO working in consort. The most critical path in terms of economic impact is the protection of satellite navigation systems that play a now critical role with regard to aircraft takeoff and landing and other key services.

Space and Its Economic Importance

Space systems today permeate our global economy. Navigation satellites dominate aircraft take offs and landings, routing of ships, trucks, and buses, map making and a host of strategic and military operators. Telecommunications and broadcast satellites play dominant role in global television distribution of news, sports and entertainment, strategic communications, satellite tele-health and tele-education is now key in scores of counties. Broadband satellite communication systems now play a key role in providing global Internet interconnectivity, worldwide banking, insurance, and trade-related links. In short satellites provide vital roles in global business connections to many nations—and especially in developing countries where much of global economic growth is occuring.

One cannot easily overestimate the importance of space-based systems for education, health and medical services, weather and disaster-relief services, search and rescue, and many other enterprises from fishing to agriculture, from insurance to global manufacturing. An exercise known as a “day without satellites” has demonstrated that much of the world’s economy and defense capabilities would go down without the functioning of the many hundreds of satellites that now ring the globe. Only if we truly were to experience a day without space with all of our weather, remote sensing, navigation, communications and broadcasting satellites for both our civilian and military services would we actually begin to comprehend what role space systems plays in contemporary society. The lost to the industry for one day would be millions, but for the world economy the lost would be staggering—not only in terms of money lost, but lives lost as well.

What economists generally do not fully comprehend is that is just today’s reality and an event that involved a temporary loss of space system capabilities. Current and future space systems may be the only technology that stands between us and a devastating solar event (i.e. a coronal mass ejection similar to the so-called Carrington Event) or a massive asteroid strike. Space technology is quite literally essential to the survival of human and modern infrastructure. There is no economic formula that could effectively place a valuation on planetary defenss against climate change, against massive solar flares, against coronal mass ejections that come at a time of weakened levels of the geomagnetosphere, against potentially hazardous asteroids or comets, Only through space activities can we learn about other risks such as the Ozone hole, current changes to the protective shield of the Van Allen Belts and an altered Earth’s magnetic field. Fortunately the likelihood of such events are low, but they are indeed finite and real. The potentially losses from such event might not only be in the quadrillions of dollars, but the consequences would in truth be even more severe. In urban areas the losses might involve billions of lives lost and the survivors of a category 9 or 10 asteroid strike (on the Torino Scale) would find that human society had suddenly returned to Stone Age conditions if we survive at all. .

i Elliot Pulham, Director, The Space Foundation, Colorado Springs. Colorado, US

ii “India Expands its Banking and ATM Sysem, HNS, Channels Newsletter, Summer 2013

iii “Managed Network Service for the African Development Bank”, HNS, April 2, 2013

iv Indu B. Singh and Joseph N. Pelton, The Safe City: Living Free in a Dangerous World, (2013) The Emerald Planet, Washington, D.C.

v Pedro Ortiz, “How to Respond to Uncontrolled Metropolitan International Growth” International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), November 2011.

vi Home Minister, The Hon. Sushilkumar Shinde, Letter to Indu Singh, Jan. 2013.

vii Indu B. Singh and Joseph N. Pelton, The Safe City: Living Free in a Dangerous World (2013) The Emerald Planet, Washington, D. C. pp. 57-58.

viii Joseph N. Pelton, Orbital Debris and Other Hazards from Outer Space, (2012) Springer Press, New York.

ix The World Factbook, World Economy, available at

x Ozgur Gurtuna, Fundamentals of Space Business and Economics, (2013) Springer, New York.

xi Joseph N. Pelton “Lessons in Space Safety: The Shuttle Decision in the Nixon White House” Space Safety Magazine, Summer 2013 In fact, a loss of life during an Apollo mission (after the first Moon landing) might have tarnished the reputation of US as a technological powerhouse.

xii The MRI study estimated NASA’s R&D spending during the 1959-69 period at US$25 billion (in 1958 dollars). The corresponding return on this investment was estimated at US$181 billion between 1959 and 1987.

xiii Szalai, B., "A Quantification of Benefits Generated by ESA Spin-offs", International Space University Working Paper, 2011.

xiv The following sources were used to compile the table: Peeters, W., "Space Economics And Geopolitics", ISU Executive Space MBA lecture notes, 2001; ESA, "Down to Earth: How Space Technology Improves Our Lives", 2009 available at and NASA Spinoff website available at

xv Note: These various Internet and satellite distribution educational networks are constantly being updated and re-configured. For the latest information go to the website for these various networks. Also note that this list is only indicative of the wide range of satellite systems that exist. The largest systems (i.e. those of China and India) have millions of students) while those in the South Pacific may only have hundreds of students. Thus the scope, cost and operation of these networks vary hugely in their structure and course content.

xvi Open University of China,

xvii David Leichner, “Satellite Networks for Education, Gilat SkyEdge, Satellite Communications Magazine, October 2012.

xviii Edusat program provided by INSAT 3B satellite,

xix School net services in Thailand

xx “Ethiopia Leaps Forward with Broadband Satellite” Channels Newsletter, Winter 2006,

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