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#SpaceWatchGL Op-Ed: The Global Space And Technology Convention 2020, Singapore: Pushing The Innovation Frontier 



Attendees at GSTC 2020. Photo courtesy of the Singapore Space and Technology Association.

By Anna Hazlett

This was my second time attending the Global Space and Technology Convention (GSTC) in Singapore, held 5-7 February 2020. GSTC is just one example of the Singapore Space and Technology Association’s (SSTA) ongoing efforts to bolster Asia’s space & technology scene.

The SSTA focuses on developing Singapore’s space and related high technology industries. Active in the space industry, SSTA spearheads major trade and business-focused initiatives targeted at advancing the space ecosystem.

There’s no doubt SSTA brings together consumers, as evidenced by this year’s GSTC participants, which included space research organisations, leading and emerging technology companies, venture capitalists (few – but a steadily growing number), and space agencies from around the world. Of particular note, this year saw newcomers from governments, including the UAE Space Agency and the Hungarian Ministerial Commissioner for Space Research.

We heard from industry experts over a very engaging two-day agenda. Among the exceptional presentations were those from Vivian Quenet, Managing Director & Head of Sales for Asia-Pacific for Arianespace, on “Facts, Figures, and Trends of Commercial Space”; “3D Printing in Space” with Dr Ho Chaw Sing, Managing Director for Namic; and “The UAE’s Space Programme” presented by Talal Al Kaissi, Advisor, Strategic Projects, for the UAE Space Agency. These presenters stood out as they gave personal views, explained the drivers behind their respective activities, and pointed to exciting future prospects in commercial space.

The panel featuring Christian Patouraux, CEO & Founder, Kacific, and Zee Zheng, CEO & Co-founder, SpaceChain, demonstrated how new players are challenging the incumbents and changing the satellite industry with novel technologies to provide important value to users.

The “Successful Universities Programmes in Smallsat Innovation” panel, saw Amal Chandran, Director, Satellite Research Centre, Nanyang Technological University, give the audience useful insights on working closely with universities for research and development purposes and utilizing talent and resources at hand. Yasunori Yamazaki, Chief Business Officer, Axelspace, revealed the catalytic support received from a university venture-fund arm in the beginning of Axelspace’s journey, which certainly got the audience thinking about alternative funding sources. The other panelists continued to build the case around the nexus between industry and higher education. It’s no wonder then that the Chairman of the UAE Space Agency is also the Minister of State for High Education and Advanced Skills.

Admittedly, despite the growing technological progress observed in the past decades, one thing we hear far less about across the space sector is the measurable impact companies, founders, and the industry at large have on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and the related application of technologies. Victoria Alonsoperez, Founder & Inventor, Chipsafer, and a United Nations Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals, was a considerable presence at the conference, holding the mantle and keeping her industry peers mindful and accountable to sustainable practices, while demanding both the sustainability of our space ecosystem and that we all contribute to #Space4SDGs!

We will see a number of significant industry events leading up to the next GSTC in 2021, notably the International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2020, in Dubai, 12-16 October 2020, making the UAE the first Arab country to host this annual, high profile gathering of the international space industry.

The theme of IAC2020 is Inspire, Innovate & Discover for the Benefit of Humankind. This theme should spur us to encourage non-space-sector actors and adjacent industry players to attend, connect, and contribute to the conversation.

Surely a broader, more vibrant audience from ‘outside’ the space industry—as well as the usual suspects—will help facilitate effective discussions, build successful partnerships, and expand capabilities for the betterment of the space ecosystem and its wider impact on humankind.

Photo courtesy of Anna Hazlett.

Anna Hazlett is the Middle East – Asia Representative for SpaceWatch.Global.


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It Came From Outside Our Solar System and Now It’s Breaking Up



It came from beyond our solar system. But the sun wasn’t content to let it leave in peace, or in one piece.

Comet 2I/Borisov, an Eiffel Tower-sized clod of dust and ice, plunged into our solar system last fall, exhaling vapor as it buzzed nearest to our sun around Christmas. This alien visitor must have formed around a distant and unknown star.

It slumbered as it crossed the frozen gulf of interstellar space. But now, suddenly, the sleeper is awake and kicking. To the simultaneous delight and frustration of the world’s astronomers, Borisov has sloughed off at least one fragment over the last few weeks.

The action began last month — March 2020, of all times — when the Hubble telescope spotted at least one chunk of the comet breaking off like a calving iceberg. That clump has since fizzed away into nothingness.

These fireworks offer astronomers a unique glimpse at the exposed guts of this interstellar object, just the second humanity has ever spotted. The first visitor from another star system, 2017’s 1I/Oumuamua, behaved like an inert hunk of rock. “This one has now cracked open its gooey center and we can see what’s inside,” said Michele Bannister, a planetary astronomer at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

Astronomers had hoped, even predicted, that Borisov might crack up this spring while heading back out of the solar system to once again sojourn among the stars. But the first signs it was stirring came in early March, right as the coronavirus pandemic ramped up. That’s when ground-based astronomers in Poland spotted the comet suddenly brighten, even though it should’ve been dimming as it got farther from the sun.

Several competing teams of scientists had already booked coveted slots to study the comet over the next few months with Hubble. Spurred by the news out of Poland, they rushed to move up their own observations, hoping to catch the comet acting up.

The clincher came on March 30, when a group led by David Jewitt at the University of California, Los Angeles, downloaded a fresh image taken by Hubble. Instead of just a circular blob that would show the comet’s nucleus, they saw an elongated shape, suggesting a smaller fragment of the nucleus had split off and was slowly drifting away from the main object. “It’s like a little lug nut dropped off your car,” Dr. Jewitt said.

In any normal month, huge mountaintop telescopes in Chile and Hawaii would have already begun swiveling toward the comet, putting the interstellar visitor under the astronomy world’s equivalent of 24-hour surveillance. Those telescopes would let astronomers track Borisov’s brightness from night to night and scan for chemical elements now spewing from its insides.

Of course, the last month wasn’t normal. Most observatories are now shuttered to protect employees from the pandemic.

“The classic phrase is that comets are like cats,” Dr. Bannister said. “They don’t do what you expect. Or what you want.”

Even with Hubble alone, watching a fragment split off and drift from Borisov should help astronomers understand the size of the comet’s original nucleus and how tightly it was bound together, and then compare those properties with bodies formed in our own solar system.

Other research will focus on why Borisov put on a show — and why now. One possible explanation for the comet’s breakup is that after months of sunlight on the surface, buried pockets of volatile ice had warmed enough to suddenly explode.

Another hypothesis holds that gas sprayed off the comet like the wayward nozzle of a fire extinguisher, spinning Borisov in space. Once the comet was rotating fast enough, it centrifuged itself into more than one piece that could escape the original nucleus’ meager gravitational pull. Dr. Jewitt, seeking to prove this model, is hoping future observations will clock the speed of the spin.

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Strategic Analysis to Understand the Competitive Outlook of the Industry, 2024 – Curious Desk



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Oil Companies Are Collapsing Due to Coronavirus, but Wind and Solar Energy Keep Growing



A few years ago, the kind of double-digit drop in oil and gas prices the world is experiencing now because of the coronavirus pandemic might have increased the use of fossil fuels and hurt renewable energy sources like wind and solar farms.

That is not happening.

In fact, renewable energy sources are set to account for nearly 21 percent of the electricity the United States uses for the first time this year, up from about 18 percent last year and 10 percent in 2010, according to one forecast published last week. And while work on some solar and wind projects has been delayed by the outbreak, industry executives and analysts expect the renewable business to continue growing in 2020 and next year even as oil, gas and coal companies struggle financially or seek bankruptcy protection.

In many parts of the world, including California and Texas, wind turbines and solar panels now produce electricity more cheaply than natural gas and coal. That has made them attractive to electric utilities and investors alike. It also helps that while oil prices have been more than halved since the pandemic forced most state governments to order people to stay home, natural gas and coal prices have not dropped nearly as much.

Even the decline in electricity use in recent weeks as businesses halted operations could help renewables, according to analysts at Raymond James & Associates. That’s because utilities, as revenue suffers, will try to get more electricity from wind and solar farms, which cost little to operate, and less from power plants fueled by fossil fuels.

“Renewables are on a growth trajectory today that I think isn’t going to be set back long term,” said Dan Reicher, the founding executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University and an assistant energy secretary in the Clinton administration. “This will be a bump in the road.”

Of course, the economic slowdown caused by the fight against the coronavirus is taking a toll on parts of the renewable energy industry just as it is on the rest of the economy. Businesses that until recently were adding workers are laying people off and putting off investments. Among the hardest hit are smaller companies that sell solar panels for rooftops. Their orders have dropped steeply as customers put off installations to avoid possible contact with the virus.

Luminalt, a solar and electricity storage company based in San Francisco that employs 42 people, recently told most of its installers to seek unemployment benefits as the company’s residential jobs — normally six a week — have all but evaporated. Jeanine Cotter, Luminalt’s chief executive, told workers that the company would cover their benefits but that there was no money coming in to pay all of them.

A half-dozen employees are installing solar at an affordable-housing project that has kept them working, and some who handle business operations are working from home. But Ms. Cotter worries about some installers who joined the company through San Francisco’s work force development program and depend on weekly paychecks to make ends meet.

“Revenue has stopped,” said Ms. Cotter, who helped found the business 15 years ago. “It’s very confusing right now.”

The Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group, estimates that half of the 250,000 workers in the industry could lose their jobs at least temporarily because of the coronavirus outbreak. The association has downgraded projected growth by as much as one-third of the more than 19 gigawatts of new solar capacity that was expected this year.

But independent experts, including Wood Mackenzie, an energy research and consulting firm, say those projections could be overly pessimistic. “It’s still too early to call,” Ravi Manghani, head of solar at research at Wood Mackenzie. “The situation is changing on a daily basis.”

His firm estimates that solar and wind power will continue adding capacity this year and next. New wind installations might be down only about 3 percent from earlier projections, largely because wind turbines are typically erected outside urban areas, and many states have deemed construction an essential activity during the pandemic.

In a report last week, Raymond James analysts estimated that renewable energy sources would provide 20.7 percent of the nation’s electricity this year and at least 20 percent through 2022.

Although hydroelectric plants have long helped power homes and businesses, solar and wind power emerged as major energy sources only over the last 15 years or so. A sharp drop in the price of solar panels has helped the industry expand. Last year, solar capacity increased 23 percent from the year before. It added 13.3 gigawatts, exceeding new wind and natural-gas generation, according to industry data.

“We blew through all of the projections,” said Caton Fenz, chief executive of ConnectGen, a wind, solar and electricity-storage developer based in Houston. “We’re surfing a long-term wave,” he said. “We just can’t get specific things done because of the pandemic, but I don’t think that affects the broader trajectory.”

His company, which is 22 months old, has 3,000 megawatts — the equivalent of three large power plants — under development in 11 states. About 40 percent is wind projects, 40 percent solar and the rest electricity storage.

Among the company’s backers is 547 Energy, an investment firm that specializes in renewable energy. Gabriel Alonso, who runs 547 Energy, said his firm received its funding from Quantum Energy Partners, which had long been an investor in oil and natural gas.

“As an investor in clean energy, renewable energy, the fundamentals that drove us to invest have not changed,” Mr. Alonso said.

Even as the pandemic spread, Mr. Alonso’s company won a bid last week for part of a new electricity project in Greece. His company will develop a wind farm in the northern regions of Imathia and Kozani. The auction, on Thursday, was part of a larger effort by Greece to retire fossil fuel plants and replace them with renewables.

Many renewable companies have projects around the world and have benefited from government efforts to address climate change. That has helped drive down costs of wind and solar equipment and made the industry more resilient to economic swings.

In addition, because developers can build wind and solar farms more quickly than natural-gas, coal and nuclear plants, Mr. Alonso said, the renewables have become more attractive financially. In difficult economic times like these, he said, private equity investors like Quantum are eager to seize on businesses that can quickly scale up and start earning money.

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