Space and the Developing World

Conferences on space technology aren’t held only in countries that launch space vehicles or build satellites or their high-tech circuits and sensors

6 April 2009

Conferences on space technology aren’t held only in countries that launch space vehicles or build satellites or their high-tech circuits and sensors. The Recent Advances in Space Technology (RAST) conference, for example, is scheduled to take place from 11 to 13 June in Istanbul, as it has since 2003. This year’s conference theme is “Space for the Developing World.”

Even without high-tech industries or space programs, developing countries have a stake in space. Satellite links can provide communications in places where landlines are inadequate or nonexistent. Data and images gathered by satellites bring the countries vital information on weather, climate, and natural resources, and can give timely warning of natural disasters. The benefits affect agriculture, education, health, forestry, disaster relief, military security, and more.

Many papers submitted to this year’s RAST cover remote sensing and its various applications, according to co-chair Fevzi Unal.

“For many people and institutions in the region around Turkey (and probably elsewhere), that touches on the main space activity—applying satellite data, image enhancement, and the like,” Unal says.

BUSY WITH SPACE But despite RAST’s emphasis on the developing world, Unal continues, this year’s submissions are more related to space and aeronautics than in prior conferences. A professor of aeronautical engineering at Istanbul Technical University, Unal looks forward to such papers as well as those on subsystem design, since Turkish companies have long been involved in the development and manufacture of aircraft engines and other subassemblies. What’s more, a new satellite is slated to be designed and built in Turkey.

Even participants from countries with no aircraft industry or space program contribute technical papers, points out IEEE Fellow Okyay Kaynak, RAST09’s international relations chair. “Many such countries obtain space-related data in such areas as remote sensing and space communications, and they use it for academic studies,” Kaynak says.

Plans call for the conference to have some 40 sessions in about 15 parallel tracks. And as with other conferences, the 450 or so participants will gain from networking with one another.

“Groups in developing and developed countries who might not otherwise have gotten together make fruitful contacts at RAST,” says IEEE Member Fuat Ince, the conference’s other co-chair. “I’d like to talk to people from Iran, who launched their own satellite recently, to find out how they’re organized and what their infrastructure is.”

PROPOSED PROJECT One concrete result of networking at RAST cited by Ince is a research project proposed to the European Union in February by the Turkish Air Force Academy (ASTIN) in coordination with Bulgarian and French universities and private companies in Italy and Denmark. The project aims to improve ASTIN’s research capacity and equipment infrastructure to support experiments whose results will be shared with EU countries and, Ince says, will contribute to the competitiveness of European industry. If approved, the project would be launched in a matter of months.

Interacting at RAST brings developing countries an additional benefit, Ince notes. “People in Asia, the Mideast, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere are now more aware of what’s going on in the space arena, that it’s not a faraway utopia or luxury,” he says. For example, they’ve learned that some projects, such as small CubeSat satellites, can be designed and built by university students. A standard CubeSat, intended to hold university research projects, is a 10-centimeter cube with a mass of up to one kilogram.

Ince adds, “It may not mean much when I say that space is an area developing countries can get into, but when attendees see that up to 70 percent of the papers come from developing countries, it makes a strong impression on them.”