Defying Gravity’s Critics: Space Tech Breaks Ground for a Better Earth

From Mars to Main Street: The Remarkable Impact of Space Tech on Our Everyday Lives.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

Space technology significantly improves our daily lives despite the argument that vast mission budgets for space travel would be better used on Earth.

The technology created for space missions will continue to improve life, even in the face of strong public resistance to space missions due to their high costs. Here are a few examples of technologies in use around the globe, along with a couple that are still in development and could have a big influence on how we live.

Since the dawn of the space age, people have debated the importance of space exploration.

Many have questioned how we can afford to spend billions on space missions or justify sending people to Mars in the face of many Earth problems. Budget overruns and growing costs for ambitious space missions lead to even more criticism. However, these arguments overlook the most crucial detail. Space technology has already greatly impacted how we live on Earth, and this tendency will only intensify. The space technology listed below is widely adopted for use on Earth or modified to improve our quality of life.

Tyres without air that cut down on rubber waste

A Space Act Agreement was recently inked by the startup SMART Tyre Company with NASA to further the development of an airless tyre. It is based on Shape Memory Alloy (SMA), a superelastic material known as NiTinol+ that NASA developed for the Mars Rover Tyres Project. This technology has the potential to eliminate rubber waste and punctures.

When pressured air is removed from a tyre, tyre punctures are eliminated. Large tears won’t stop these tyres from moving quickly; you could cut a kitchen knife through one, and the tyre would remain structurally whole.

By utilising NASA technology, SMART tyre has created the METL tyre, which minimises the amount of rubber thrown away because it maintains its structural integrity even after being punctured. NASA has an unmatched history of material modelling, which positions it as the industry leader.

To combat forest fires, use fire shelters

Last year, NASA used an Atlas V rocket to send the LOFTID heat shield technology demonstration mission into orbit. Though the technology was developed to help future space missions safely descend into Mars’ atmosphere, it can also greatly serve Earth.

NASA developed the LOFTID heat shield technology to shield vehicles and spacecraft from high temperatures in high-temperature situations or during atmospheric reentry. “Low-Emissivity Flexible Thin Insulation Device” is what LOFTID stands for.

The purpose of the shield is to reflect and dissipate the intense heat produced during reentry, preventing the spacecraft or vehicle from overheating. The structure comprises pliable, thin layers of low-emissivity insulators that effectively reflect heat radiation.

As the need to put out forest fires on Earth grows, NASA announces that engineers have adjusted the technology to build a prototype heat shelter.

Satellites for GPS and Earth observation

Whether we like it or not, our reliance on cell phones is growing. Our smartphones depend on space infrastructure for some of their most important features.

For instance, GPS, which started with the first-ever satellite mission, is a feature of nearly every smartphone used today. NASA says the concept for contemporary GPS was first developed during the Sputnik era when scientists could follow the satellite using fluctuations in its radio transmission, or the “Doppler Effect.”

In addition to being essential for climate research and weather monitoring, today’s in-orbit observation satellites have significantly improved the accuracy of the weather forecasts that most of us read on our phones.

Emission-free automobiles

Last year, the world’s largest zero-emission haulage vehicle, the nuGen, was revealed to the public. First Mode, founded by a NASA engineer with experience with the Mars Curiosity rover mission, is where nuGen’s fuel cell technology originated.

It is made to move huge loads or commodities without emitting any dangerous pollutants while in use. With cutting-edge technology like electric or hydrogen power, the nuGen seeks to offer a long-term, environmentally responsible option for cargo transportation. Due to its size and capacity, it is suitable for large hauling operations. Additionally, it reduces air pollution and carbon emissions in the transportation sector because it emits no emissions.

In an interview with a media outlet, First Mode’s founder expressed his desire to address decarbonisation from the ground up. Additionally, he said that mining is still vital to society, even if it has a very shady background, a troubled past, and a history of environmental destruction.

Not only is space technology saving lives, but it’s also helping people on Earth sleep better.

Comfortable beds to ensure a restful night’s sleep

In the 1960s, NASA developed memory or viscoelastic foam to help pilots feel more comfortable during test flights. Its incredibly excellent cushioning and shock-absorbing qualities were designed into it. 

When pressure and heat are applied to memory foam, it can uniquely conform and take on the body’s shape. Its viscoelasticity is the term used to describe this. When resting on a person’s body heat, weight, and shape are all considered by the memory foam surface. The foam progressively takes on its former shape after the pressure is released.

The ability of memory foam to regulate temperature and pressure is essential for giving the body individualised support by dispersing weight uniformly and minimising pressure spots. It adapts well to the unique shapes of each user’s body, supporting proper spinal alignment and mitigating pain or discomfort linked to conventional, less supportive mattresses or cushions.

Memory foam has acquired popularity for various consumer products, including mattresses, pillows, wheelchair cushions, and even footwear, beyond its original use in aerospace. It is helpful for comfort in various situations due to its capacity to absorb shock and release pressure. Thanks to NASA’s early research and development, memory foam is now well known and used for its capacity to improve comfort and support in various sectors and daily life.

The creator of Bedjet LLC, Mark Aramli, is currently manufacturing memory foam mattresses. He applied knowledge gained from his time at NASA to design a mattress that provides the best possible comfort.

Micronuclear reactors providing electricity to isolated areas

Radiant Nuclear, which is developing a nuclear fission microreactor branded the “world’s first portable, zero-emissions power source,” was co-founded by a former SpaceX engineer. 

The microreactor is built much smaller than standard nuclear power plants, which produce energy on a vast scale and make it portable.

The fuel source for the microreactor is a tiny quantity of enriched uranium. Control rods are incorporated into the sturdy, sealed container containing the uranium fuel, which aids in controlling the nuclear reactions. The uranium atoms split when the chain reaction starts, releasing tremendous energy in heat.

A coolant, such as liquid sodium or helium, receives this heat and circulates and absorbs it throughout the reactor. After passing through a heat exchanger, the heated coolant’s thermal energy is converted to a working fluid—typically water. When water condenses into steam, a turbine connected to a generator is driven, producing electricity.

It is constructed with improved safety features to ensure dependable performance and reduce potential risks associated with nuclear power. Additionally, the reactor is built to produce the least waste while operating at maximum efficiency.

This cutting-edge technology presents the possibility of a transportable, emission-free power source that can be used in isolated locations, areas devastated by natural disasters, during military operations, or in any other circumstance requiring a dependable and sustainable energy source.

At SpaceX, Doug Bernauer developed micronuclear reactors to power makeshift housing for future Mars missions. He soon concluded that this method might be applied on Earth to provide isolated communities without consistent electricity with power.

Fuzzy robots for disaster response

Dr. Alice Agogino discovered that the technology might also be used for disaster relief, a critical need on Earth, when she worked for NASA on spherical, skeletal robots that might one day visit the Moon and Mars.

Since then, the robots have been modified to conduct initial assessments in crisis areas, helping to determine the best way to deploy first responder resources. These robots use specialised sensors to collect data, which supports disaster response teams in deciding how best to tackle a particular situation on the ground.

Programmes to increase airline safety

In the Space Shuttle programme, NASA developed software Crack-Growth that looked at minute defects in the ship and determined which could potentially lead to a crash if left unfixed.

Tiny structural flaws caused two US aeroplanes to crash-land in the late 1980s. Later, US Airlines found many minor, seemingly insignificant defects in their fleet.

Subsequently, the US Congress pressed NASA and the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to take action; one result was NASGRO, a Space Shuttle program software adaptation. In aviation, fatigue crack growth and fracture mechanics software are global industry standards.

Units of purification for clean drinking water

A water disinfection tool, the Microbial Check Valve, was developed in the 1970s for the Space Shuttle programme. It passed water through an iodinated resin bed filter to eliminate any contaminants.

An iodinated resin bed filter is a filtration system that uses an iodine-infused resin bed. The iodine in this filter’s resin neutralises or destroys microbiological pollutants in the water as it flows past it, disinfecting it.

To make that technology self-regenerating so it could be used on the International Space Station, NASA worked on it throughout the 1990s. According to NASA, a variation of that apparatus is still in use today in water purification systems in hundreds of remote hamlet locations in Pakistan, India, and other countries.

In the 1990s, NASA made the technology more advanced to regenerate itself. “Self-regenerating” refers to the iodinated resin bed filter’s ability to renew or replace itself, enabling extended and continuous use. This upgrade ensures a consistent and dependable water disinfection procedure by customising the technology for usage on the International Space Station.

Cutting-edge illness diagnosis

According to NASA, astronauts who spend six months in space are exposed to about 1,000 chest X-rays. Consequently, the space agency has made significant investments in research into methods that allow it to evaluate and measure radiation damage to its astronauts.

This work led to the development of the OncoMate MSI Dx Analysis System, a diagnostic tool that can help detect cancer more precisely on Earth.

Doctors may be able to find cancers with the help of an altered version of a NASA-funded curved microchannel plate, which astrophysicists use to study hot material in the remnants of burst stars and galaxy clusters.

The microchannel plate functions by identifying and enhancing weak light or particle signals. This technology may improve the sensitivity of imaging techniques used in medicine, making identifying minute indications of tumours or anomalies in scans simpler. This astrophysics technology’s adaption demonstrates its adaptability to various scientific applications.

Vitamins for a healthy space

Dietary restrictions will present a unique challenge for upcoming space missions. Astronauts must keep themselves healthy when separated from a plentiful supply of fresh food for extended periods.

The creator of Mars City Design told a media outlet that postbiotic metabolites could be “essential to survival during extended space flight.” The company is one of several developing an Earthly supplement based on nutrition and knowledge from space travel.

The term “postbiotic metabolites” describes the byproducts or metabolites that probiotics—beneficial microorganisms—produce during fermentation or other metabolic activities. These substances are discharged into the environment and may benefit an individual’s health in several ways. Postbiotic metabolites, which comprise elements like organic acids, peptides, short-chain fatty acids, vitamins, and enzymes, may add to the beneficial effects of probiotics on an individual’s health.

Enormous batteries for renewable energy

One of the main challenges to the switch to renewable energy is the issue of intermittency, or the fact that many renewable energy technologies don’t produce electricity continuously throughout the day.

One option to overcome the issue is to create massive batteries that can store energy during high energy output to be used during low energy production.

One company, ESS Inc., used NASA research from the 1970s to build a flow battery using only iron, salt, and water. These batteries don’t include any corrosive components and function with remarkable resilience.

Opening the door to “unlimited solar power”

Jeff Bezos’ space company, Blue Origin, announced earlier this year that it has created a process that uses just lunar regolith to produce solar panels and gearbox wire.

Its Blue Alchemist project has the potential to produce significant benefits for society. It uses molten electrolysis to recover silicon, iron, and aluminium from bound oxygen in rocks to recover the components needed to manufacture solar cells. If Blue Origin can demonstrate the viability of its technology, it might greatly enhance both space exploration and renewable energy sources on Earth.

In-situ resource utilisation, or ISRU, uses locally available materials for lunar exploration and colonisation, such as lunar regolith, the loose dirt and rock layer on the moon’s surface, to make solar panels and gearbox wire. This is an explanation of how this idea functions:

A. Lunar Regolith Extraction: Using excavating tools, lunar regolith would be extracted from the moon’s surface. For solar panels, pure silicon can be obtained through processing from its primary component, silicon dioxide (SiO2).

BSilicon Production: The collected lunar regolith is heated and processed to extract pure silicon from the silicon dioxide. The extraction process typically involves reduction reactions using carbon or other reducing agents to separate the oxygen from silicon, producing elemental silicon suitable for solar panel manufacturing.

C. Solar Panel Fabrication: Once the pure silicon is obtained, it can be further processed to create solar cells. These solar cells are then assembled into solar panels, which convert sunlight into electricity through the photovoltaic effect.

DGearbox Wire Creation: Lunar regolith contains a variety of metals, including iron, aluminium, and titanium, in addition to silicon. These metals can be recovered using a variety of refining methods. After they are acquired, they can be processed to create wires or other parts needed for gearing systems in machinery and equipment utilised in lunar activities.

Future lunar expeditions or lunar base colonies could lessen their reliance on Earth for essential materials by crafting solar panels and gearbox wire from lunar regolith. By using the resources already on the moon, this strategy makes lunar exploration more self-sufficient and sustainable. Nevertheless, it should be highlighted that these processes are still theoretical and experimental and would need major infrastructure development and technical improvements to be feasible on a broader scale.


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