Insight - Small Satellites for the Global South

Thursday, March 2, 2017

By Christopher D. Johnson, Space Law Advisor

Not all Secure World Foundation activities involve programs we organize and plan. We have developed a worldwide network of partners, and often our work involves contributing our expertise and resources to make their events and activities more successful. A good example of this kind of activity is our long-standing engagement with the International Space University (ISU), and most recently their Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program (SHSSP), held in January and February 2017. This year’s SHSSP was the sixth in the series and was held at the University of South Australia’s campus in Adelaide, Australia.

Of particular interest to us is that it focused on small satellites and their potential to foster socio-economic development in the Global South. In addition to delivering lectures, participating in community outreach events, and coaching the student research team, SWF sponsored a White Paper on small satellites and their potential impact. The thirty-nine competitively selected participants of this year’s SHSSP were students and young professionals from across the STEM fields, and from twelve different countries, primarily from the Global South.

Small Satellites and the Global South

Much has been written in the space sector on the current “small satellite revolution,” enabled by lowered costs, the standardization of components and processes, and the advanced (and still-evolving) capabilities of small satellites. This revolution makes space activities possible for an increasingly broad and diverse field of participants from across the world. But, can the small satellite revolution be employed with the specific purpose of fostering social and economic development in the Global South?

As with any good space project, the SHSSP’s White Paper team began with a strong and focused mission statement:

To demonstrate how nations of the Global South can 
leverage the Small Satellite Revolution for socio-economic benefit.

Challenges currently facing the Global South include national security, telecommunications, environmental crisis management, and resource management. It is increasingly clear that small satellites can be employed to address these issues in novel and under-utilized ways. For inspiration and guidance, the White Paper team conducted a number of case studies on the use of small satellites or analogous technologies. Their research included looking at the experiences of the Mexican Space Agency (Agencia Espacial Mexicana/AEM) using small satellites for resource use and land management; how to derive remote sensing data from high altitude balloons; the business model of Fleet, an Australian-based small satellite startup telecommunications company; the use of microsatellites for disaster management in the Philippines; and the use of small satellites for position, navigation, and timing (PNT) by the US government.

The resulting host of recommendations - developed more fully in the SHSSP 2017 White Paper - includes a number of paths forward. The team recommended a stronger emphasis on domestic capacity building in STEM - specifically on small satellite building, operation, and the development and application of datasets and capacities to socioeconomic issues. They also recommended a thoughtful analysis on the policy and regulatory environment for national space activities, including necessary revisions to foster small satellite projects and programs. Further recommendations were specifically tailored for governments, private industry, and those eager to begin their own small satellite projects in private and public-private capacities.

The major deliverables from the 2017 ISU SHSSP, including the case studies and recommendations, are now available online:

Last updated on March 3, 2017