Wednesday February 28, 2024

The economy of space

April 03, 2023

Owing to phenomenal advancements in communication technology and artificial intelligence (AI), space has become yet another frontier of human exploration. While the growing weaponization of space has become an issue of concern, reliance on space-based technology for commercial purposes has also increased.

The commercialization of space has created new opportunities for businesses – from launching satellites to mining asteroids and other celestial bodies for valuable resources. The benefits of space exploration and its uses are manifold, and global powers are investing in this field to explore its potential for scientific and economic advancement.

According to a report by the Space Foundation, the global space industry generated revenues over $469 billion in 2021. With its skilled workforce and expertise in science and technology, Pakistan is gradually making efforts to explore this dimension. With increasing private investment in space-tech, startup technologies to ease movement and communications, it is high time Pakistan prioritized investment in the space industry.

Pakistan was among the first 10 countries to start a space programme in 1961 under the leadership of the late Nobel Laureate Dr Abdus Salam, as chairperson of the Space Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco). The progress in harnessing space technology has however been rather slow. Much of the criticism goes to the politico-economic uncertainties and periodic financial crunches that Suparco had to face soon after the successful launch of the satellite ‘Rehbar-1’ on June 7, 1962. However, in an increasingly fragile global environment where the space arena remains lawless, Pakistan can no longer remain oblivious to the expanding commercial space activity.

Space exploration can lead to significant advancements in Pakistan’s science and technology. Pakistan is both a target and victim of climate change. Its economy has incurred billions of losses due to climate-induced disasters such as floods. Space-based technologies such as remote sensing and satellite imagery can be used to improve disaster management in Pakistan. The country is vulnerable to a range of natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and droughts. Space-based technologies can help in early warning, monitoring, and assessment of these disasters. For example, satellite imagery is also helpful in providing crucial information for disaster preparedness.

Pakistan is already using space-based technologies to monitor and manage its water resources and assess water quality. It can assist to develop better water management strategies and ensure sustainable use of water resources. Agriculture is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, employing over 42.3 per cent of the country’s labour force and it contributes 18.9 per cent to GDP. The use of space-based technologies such as remote sensing is helpful in improving agricultural productivity in the country.

Satellite data, therefore, can be applied to monitor better crop health, estimate crop yield, and assess soil moisture. Likewise, Pakistan can also use space-based technologies to monitor its forests and wildlife by employing a combination of remote sensing and satellite imagery. These technologies can help identify areas that need protection, monitoring changes in land use, and planning conservation measures to ensure the long-term survival of forests and wildlife populations.

As per some reports by USAID, 50-75 per cent of all court cases in Pakistan are related to land disputes. Due to the increasing housing demand and a rising middle-class population, the real-estate business is experiencing significant growth. On average, a single land-related dispute takes 4-10 years to resolve. Land-related issues are further skyrocketing with an increasing number of housing societies and commercialization of lands across Pakistan. To address these disputes and to regulate the development of new housing schemes and societies, satellite imagery can help.

Satellite imagery can be used to create accurate maps of land boundaries and land use, which can further help identify discrepancies in land ownership and usage. In short, the Federal Board of Revenue can greatly benefit from commercialization of space.

Satellite imagery can also be helpful in monitoring changes in land use over time, such as the conversion of agricultural land to urban development. This can help identify violations of land-use regulations and prevent disputes from arising. In this regard, satellite imagery can provide visual evidence of the state of the land, which can be used in legal proceedings to support claims of ownership or land use.

Pakistan can not afford to stay idle in the face of the increasing commercialization of space by both developed and developing states. The space economy – a term which refers to resources that create value and benefits to human beings while exploring, researching, understanding, managing, and utilizing space – is transforming lives on earth.

A Space Foundation report has found that there has been a massive increase in state-backed investment in space projects around the world. In 2021, there was a 19 per cent jump in overall government spending on military and civilian space programmes. India raised spending by 36 per cent, China invested 23 per cent more and the US pumped another 18 per cent in space ventures. This massive investment in space tech is due to the fact that such investment has improved the quality of life of people across the globe.

There is no other way than for Pakistan to set its priorities in outer space and allocate resources accordingly for the commercialization of its space programme. There’s enormous potential for Pakistan in commercialization of its space programme.

The commercialization of space can not only create job opportunities for Pakistani scientists, engineers, and technicians but also attract foreign investment, providing a much-needed boost to the country’s economy.

The writer is a senior research officer at the Center for

International Strategic Studies.