World Space Week looks at how satellites improve life

05 October 2020: Satellites Improve Life is the theme of World Space Week 2020 – a statement Inmarsat puts into action every single day.

The annual United Nations-declared celebration of space, held every 4-10 October, sees space agencies and organisations, museums and planetaria creating a huge range of educational and outreach activities. Last year, over 8,000 events were held in 96 countries. This year, many events will be virtual, making them accessible by even more people.

Inmarsat’s satellite networks not only improve lives – they save lives. We were founded in 1979 specifically to provide reliable emergency communications at sea, creating the satellite backbone of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). On a daily basis we protect 1.65 million seafarers; connect an average of six vessels in peril with the nearest onshore rescue authorities; and broadcast 1,000 Maritime Safety Information (MSI) and Search and Rescue (SAR) messages, warning ships of danger and requesting their assistance when a nearby vessel is in trouble.

Continuous investment

Over the past 40 years, our satellites’ power, reach and capabilities have grown enormously, thanks to continuous innovation and investment, which means today they bring a scale of connectivity to people, organisations and machines that was unimaginable when we started out.

At sea, satellite communications are routinely used for far more than emergencies. All sizes of vessel can access our networks for a huge range of mobile voice and data applications. The fisherman trawling for shrimp in the harsh Barents Sea can chart the optimum route, avoid the worst weather and get the best price for his catch before he returns to port. The global bulk carrier fleet management company can not only operate far more efficiently and sustainably but offer its crew a morale-boosting, always-on internet connection to family and friends.

In the air, our connectivity helps aircraft fly more safely and efficiently while keeping passengers entertained with inflight Wi-Fi. Right now, we are working with the European Space Agency on the ground-breaking Iris Programme to modernise air traffic management of the congested skies above Europe. Providing 4D trajectories of an aircraft, Iris will make flights more efficient by reducing flight delays, saving fuel and benefiting the environment, as well as offering total security for aircraft communications.

Farmer in cereals field

Humanitarian relief

And on the ground, satellite communications mean no corner of the Earth is now out of bounds. This means our partner Télécoms Sans Frontières can set up instant emergency communication centres to coordinate humanitarian relief efforts following natural disasters. Farmers in drought-hit Australia can monitor irrigation systems remotely to make best use of every precious drop of water. Railway companies in South America can stay in touch with train drivers in vast terrestrial connectivity dead zones.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has underlined just how vital connectivity is in our modern world. Keeping the global supply chain moving. Keeping organisations operating remotely. Keeping seafarers stranded at sea in touch with home.

With the arrival of the 5G era this importance is only going to become more pronounced. Satellites have a critical role to play in delivering the benefits of the new generation mobile technology into the oceans, the skies and communities far away from the highly populated and well-resourced regions which the mobile operators focus on. Here is an opportunity to help close the digital divide which currently sees 49 per cent of the world’s population unable to access the internet, cutting them off from a wealth of economic and societal advantages.

Inspiring people

Inmarsat Chief Executive Officer Rupert Pearce said:We support World Space Week’s mission to educate people – especially young people who may well be inspired to join the next generation of pioneers – about the importance of space in our daily lives.

“At Inmarsat we are proud of our safety heritage and also of the many ways that our satellites power services that improve, protect and enrich the lives of many thousands of people around the world – and of the potential to open up a truly global 5G digital society.”

Spotlight on… Digital Frontiers

Through the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme, Inmarsat connectivity has supported three sustainable development projects.

Small fishing vessels in Indonesia used IsatData Pro for a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) which allowed crew to meet reporting regulations designed to protect fish stocks and offered the added bonus of being able to keep in touch with their families while they were out at sea.

In the Philippines, our project set out to improve the government’s emergency response to frequent natural disasters by pre-positioning kits comprising Global Xpress (GX) and BGAN broadband data terminals and IsatPhone 2 satellite phones in key regions, to help first responders and transmit immediate situational reports.

Spotlight on… safer railways

Railways play a critical role in the global movement of goods. However, railway operators face many challenges – including optimising network capacity, carrying out vital maintenance work with as little impact as possible on services, keeping drivers and track workers safe, and minimising the impact of bad weather. These issues are exacerbated in countries where large sections of track pass through connectivity black spots.

Rumo SA, the largest transport and logistics company in Latin America, is one of the first rail operators to benefit from BGAN connectivity to overcome this problem, with 300 cargo trains covering 2,000km of track connecting six key states in Brazil with the Port of Santos now kitted out. Rumo can track each train in real time and rely on always-available voice and data communication between drivers, maintenance crews and regional control centres.

Spotlight on… supporting sustainability

 Submersible on ocean floor

Satellite connectivity will enable findings captured on the floor of the Indian Ocean to be transmitted to scientists worldwide.

Nekton, an independent, not-for-profit research institute working in collaboration with the University of Oxford to accelerate the scientific exploration and protection of the oceans, will again rely on Fleet Xpress for a mission exploring deep ocean biodiversity around the Maldives and Seychelles. Video, audio and data will be transmitted from the deepest parts of the High Seas to Nekton’s research vessel, then relayed via Fleet Xpress to marine science projects focusing on sustainable oceans. Originally scheduled for March 2020, the mission has been delayed by COVID-19.

Spotlight on… protecting wildlife

Endangered wildlife is being safeguarded thanks to a satellite solution developed by Inmarsat and RESOLVE, a US non-profit environmental and health organisation.

The TrailGuard AI system uses an advanced artificial intelligence-powered camera to detect humans in nature reserves, with 97 per cent accuracy, and instantly transmit images via mobile BGAN terminals to park rangers, enabling them to identify would-be poachers and intervene.

The first deployment, at the Singita-Grumeti reserve in Tanzania, resulted in the arrest of around 30 poachers and the seizure of quantities of bushmeat. Having identified the 100 African wildlife parks with the highest risk of poaching, RESOLVE aims to deploy the TrailGuard AI devices at 10 hotspots within each of them.

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