It may not have been as entertaining as a Star Trek fan convention, but last February in Munich, the European Space Agency and a handful of other EU organizations hosted the Big Data from Space conference, where hundreds of papers were read on the methods and applications of big space data. The conference brought together “researchers, engineers, developers, and users in the area of Big Data from Space.”
Because of those massive amounts of generated bits of info, space practitioners use big data analysis for “fast analysis and visualization of data,” and the development of fail safe systems in space—and on earth.
There is no space tech development without big data development and, as we know, space tech development is one of the starkest examples of specialized technology carrying indirect benefits to other parts of society. In some cases, the benefits are more direct than indirect. Newly designed satellites will improve our ability to measure methane gas in the atmosphere and down on earth. The Environmental Defense Fund recently announced a competition awarding $1.5 million to either Ball Aerospace and SSL to design the satellite and, upon winning the competition, build it in two years or less. Meanwhile, last September, outgoing California governor Jerry Brown “announced at the Global Climate Action Summit that California would be placing its own satellite into orbit to measure greenhouse gases. That satellite will work in tandem with the EDF equipment.”
While saving the planet is certainly laudable, big space data has a sexier application: to identify the possibilities of extraterrestrial life. This is the “most important question” for Mars exploration, according to Anita Kirkovska of Space Decentral. Systems like Elasticsearch crunch Martian data, generated by Curiosity in huge amounts, checking surface temperatures and atmospheric conditions, and a multitude of other stati, helping facilitate discoveries like Curiosity’s identification of organic molecules and methane in the Martian air in June, and next year’s ExoMars mission. The spatially huge Square Kilometre Array radio telescope project “will generate up to 700 terabytes of data per second,” around the “amount of data transmitted through the internet every two days.”
These are the voyages of big data analysis in space, its continuing mission to make sense of literally infinite fields of data generation beyond the earth’s mesosphere.