The CSSS is about coming up with a business idea to tackle big problems (the Challenges) using technology developed for space (the Technologies). This page will give you information on all those things. Further down you will also find some examples of Earth applications that have already been developed. These may tickle your imagination.
Read on and good luck!
As you know, Instituto Pedro Nunes is the entity that coordinates ESA Space Solutions Portugal. One of its main activities is to support the creation of startups that use space technology through a dedicated incubation program, the ESA BIC Portugal. We have already supported the creation of more than 45 new companies.
Startups selected for this program receive 50K to prototype their solution and protect the associated Intellectual Property (IP). They incubate for up to 2 years in one of the 15 incubators spread throughout continental Portugal and islands, and receive technical support from our team and from ESA.
Furthermore, they gain information on our networking know-how and other funding opportunities. And, of course, they become part of the ESA Space Solutions network, which gives them visibility and recognition; after all, not many companies can use this brand!
Are you an entrepreneur with the will to create a business? Do you have your head in space? Have you had an idea brooding for a long time and would like to develop it? This is your opportunity to test your entrepreneurial streak, with nothing to lose!
- Pick one of the challenges below and come up with a space-tech-based business solution to solve it.
- Pick a technology (or more). This year’s technological capabilities come from the all-new James Webb space telescope. In addition, you can use data from ESA satellites, both Earth Observation and Global Navigation Satellite System.
Your idea, your solution, your space business! Simulate your application to ESA BIC Portugal.
Challenge 1. Energy for Everyone
How can we make the best use of the most important source of energy: the Sun?
Everything on Earth is powered by the Sun, apart from a minor heat contribution from the Earth’s interior. Even fossil fuels are the result of anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms containing organic molecules created by photosynthesis, which is powered by sunlight. But fossil fuels take millions of years to form, and create other problems we are facing right now.
The Sun generates 3.86 ⨉ 10²³ kW of power, which travel in all directions. Of that, 174 million GW hit the Earth, which gives 1.4 kW/m². Most of this sunlight hits clouds, the oceans, or places where no people live. However, any 50 m² house that gets 6 hours of sunlight per day receives 410 kWh on that day. To put this in context, gasoline supplies 9.5 kWh of energy per litre. So, those 6 hours of sunlight are equivalent to 43 L of gasoline. At 2€/L of gasoline, the Sun offers you 86€ per day.
More accurate estimates of the total useful energy we receive from the Sun, even accounting for collection and conversion inefficiencies, show that sunlight produces twice the annual global energy consumption. Portugal is a country of sunlight. Sometimes too much of it, if you ask some people. How can we make full use of this amazing resource? How can we optimize collection, distribution and storage?
How can we bottle the warm sunlight from the summertime and deliver it to people when the winter comes? Can we design houses that are cool in the summer (without heating the atmosphere as A/C equipments do) and warm in the winter?
A related issue is the collection, distribution and storage of water. Averaged over the year, rainfall has not changed much with global warming. The problem is that it rains at strange times, in high time-concentrations, and then there are large periods of drought. How can we solve this?
Challenge 2. Health in Longevity
How can we ensure that older people can live physically and mentally healthier lives, with a greater degree of happiness and well-being? How can we prevent (or live with) the next pandemic?
The world population will keep increasing — although at a slower rate — until we reach about 11 billion in 2100. But a crucial change in the changing age distribution: there are less and less young people and more people of older age.
In 2020, for the first time, the number of people 65 y/o and older surpassed the number of children 5 y/o and less. The 65+ will be more numerous that the under-15 in about 50 years. What used to be the age pyramid is turning into an age barrel.
Medicine has focussed on keeping people alive. This is a great achievement, but we need to take the next steps. Simply keeping a person alive is no longer a good measure of success. Health, both mental and physical, and happiness are an increasing problem, certainly as the population ages.
Staying productive and feeling useful in old age is very important. In addition to the myth of money, our species is haunted by the myth of meaning. Older people need to feel meaningful, instead of feeling as a burden to society. Instead, society has a lot to gain from older people’s vast experience. We must start thinking differently about life in old age. How can we use technology to create the opportunities for older people to thrive?
Medicine also suffers form hyper-specialisation. Problems are usually looked at in isolation. This is particularly problematic for older people, which may have more than one condition at the same time. They may receive conflicting advise from different doctors, and the treatment for on issue may be harmful for a different issue. A more holistic approach to medicine may be needed. How can technology help with this transition?
Traditionally, medicine has been applied only when things go wrong. More recently, aided by the development of wearable devices, a new trend is emerging: being able to track our health and prevent problems. How can we repurpose space technology to help people remain healthy and productive?
A similar idea can be applied to preventing pandemics. The Coronavirus disease is still fresh in our memory and we should use what we learned to deal with the next outbreak. Can we detect local contagion and effectively stop it from going global? And if it becomes global, can we live with a pandemic situation?
- Statistics: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/links
Challenge 3. Respect for Space
How can we prevent crowding the Earth’s orbit with space junk? How can we keep the skies clear for inspiring astrophysical research? How can we explore the Solar System without making the same mistakes we made with the Earth’s oceans?
We produce a lot of stuff on Earth, mostly junk. In 1956 McLean created the standard cargo container, which is still the standard today. These shipping containers move the stuff we make around the world, from where it is made to where it is sold.
Let us use the containers to symbolise the number of stuff we have moving around the surface of the Earth. This is a very strong lower limit on the number of things, because most things are static and not moving.
The best estimates say that the total number of shipping containers currently being used is between 43 and 72 million. To give an idea of scale, if place 43 million containers end to end they will go 13.3 times around the Earth, at the surface.
Now we are taking over the Earth’s orbit. Since 1957, when the USSR launched Sputnik into orbit, we have consistently sent between 100 and 200 objects into space each year. But since 2016 this number increased tremendously. In 2021, more than 1800 objects have been launched into space. Except for a few probes to other planets, asteroids, comets and the Sun, mostly of what we launched to space is in in a thin orbital layer around the Earth.
Space is filling up. There are companies extending the shipping container concept to Earth’s orbit. That is simultaneously cool and very scary. If we repeat the calculation above, of wrapping a “train” of the Earth-based shipping containers around the planet, but at 450 km above the surface, which is where the ISS is, we would still complete 12.4 laps.
A big problem is that the things we have been putting in space stop working and fall apart into smaller and smaller pieces. This so-called space debris is much more abundant than the useful objects we have in orbit. Space debris is dangerous as it may collide with and damage satellites that are crucial for telecommunications and Earth monitoring. Debris can also damage in-orbit stations such as the ISS.
The collision speeds in Low Earth Orbit are tremendous: 10 km/s, which is 36000 km/h and more than 10 times faster than a bullet. Since kinetic energy is proportional to the square of the velocity, 10x faster means 100x more kinetic energy. So a cm-sized piece of debris can really cause a lot of damage. How can we protect the important assets we have in space?
The space expansion is not going to slow down. So, there are companies (in Portugal: Neuraspace, Spacengineer) thinking about the debris problem and trying to deal with it. We can dodge the debris and shield against it, but we also need to think about producing less of it, as well as clearing up the one already in orbit. Can you think of clever ways to help dodging, shielding or clearing up space debris?
But besides the physical pollution and damage orbital debris can cause, and the barrier it can pose to leaving the Earth safely, the increasing amount of stuff in orbit is starting to block our view. Astronomers and astrophysicists are increasingly concerned about the light pollution caused by the large amounts of satellites we are putting in orbit, which makes it harder to see and study the deep universe. We cannot forget that pure research, driven by curiosity and awe for nature, is what enables technological development. There are many examples. Astronomy is also one of the main sources of inspiration for the younger generations. Do you have an idea to help us continue to study the universe, while exploring orbital space with satellites?
Challenge 4. Your idea!
Who are we to tell you what are the biggest problems facing humankind?! You may have much better ideas. This is why Open Challenge exists: to give you the freedom to think bigger. But remember, you have to justify why your problem is a problem.
James Webb Space Telescope Technologies
Webb is equipped with a tennis-court sized sunshield. It efficiently blocks heat from the Sun and helps the instruments retain thermal stability. Read more on asset at:
- O Escudo do Webb (CSSS Blog, in Portuguese)
- Sunshield Coating (NASA, in English)
The detectors developed for Webb have since become the most widely used solution in astronomical observatories. Can you find a use for them in your business?
- Sensores de infravermelho (CSSS Blog, in Portuguese)
- Infrared Detectors (NASA, in English)
Webb’s microshutters are a marvel of miniaturisation. Can they be your window into solving a big problem?
- Tecnologia das Microjanelinhas (CSSS Blog, Portuguese)
- Microshutters (NASA, English)
Cryogenic Data Acquisition
Webb can do high-fidelity Analog-to-Digital signal conversion at cryogenic temperatures of extremely faint signals from its infrared detectors using SIDECAR™: System Image, Digitizing, Enhancing, Controlling and Retrieving ASIC.
- Cryogenic Data Acquisition Integrated Circuit (NASA, in English)
Wavefront Sensing and Control
The Wavefront Sensing and Control technology developed for Webb is already solving problems on Earth. Can you also use it in your business solution?
- Apanhar a Onda (CSSS Blog, in Portuguese)
- Wavefront Sensing and Control (NASA, in English)
Webb’s sturdy and precise backplane is a feat of industrial design. There must be uses for this type of construction on Earth. Can you think of a few?
- Espinha Dorsal (CSSS Blog, in Portuguese)
- Backplane (NASA, in English)
Lightweight Segmented Mirror
Webb’s mirror is 7.3 times larger than the one on the Hubble Space Telescope. And yet it is 10 times lighter per square meter. Check out how this was achieved and think of how you can use it.
- Espelho Meu (CSSS Blog, in Portuguese)
- Lightweight Cryogenic Mirrors (NASA, in English)
You can think of this as the most advanced refrigerator. It combines passive and active cooling and is extremely low (electronic) noise. Nice toy to play with.
- Cryocooler (NASA, in English)
ESA, the European Space Agency, manages a large number of satellites that orbit the Earth and monitor our planet in different ways. These data are freely available and enable an enormous amount of business solutions.
Most of our startups have developed their business using exactly these types of data. Click the link to see what they are doing – it will give you ideas.
There are two main types of satellite data: Earth Observation (Copernicus) and Geolocation (Galileo). Read on.
Earth Observation (Copernicus)
Copernicus is the European Union’s Earth Observation Programme, looking at our planet and its environment for the benefit of Europe’s citizens. The Sentinel constellation of satellites (see below) produces vast amounts of data that are freely available for anyone to use. Read more on:
- Copernicus Thematic Areas (ESA)
- Different applications of the Copernicus Programme Data (ESA, in Portuguese)
Galileo is Europe’s own global navigation satellite system (GNSS), providing a highly accurate, guaranteed global positioning service under civilian control. It is more precise in both space and time than GPS (operated by the USA).
- How does Galileo work? (ESA)
- Galileo latest articles, the Galileo system components, the Galileo satellites (ESA), and future, innovative uses of GNSS.
- Galileo General Introduction (ESA Navipedia)
- Sentinel-1 has radar instrumentation that see through cloud and measure minute changes in land. Its applications include emergency responses (volcanic, seismic, landslide). More info.
- Sentinel-2 images the Earth’s surface in 18 spectral bands. It monitors land, and has applications in agriculture, city planning, drought monitoring, etc. More info.
- Sentinel-3 monitors Earth’s oceans, land, ice and atmosphere and provides essential information in near-real time for ocean and weather forecasting. More info.
- Sentinel-5P – is the first Copernicus mission dedicated to monitoring our atmosphere. It is the precursor of the Sentinel-4 and Sentinel-5 missions. These satellites map a multitude of trace gases, which affect the air we breathe and therefore our health and our climate. More info on S-5P, S-4 and S-5.
- Sentinel-6 will focus on sea-surface height measurements with unprecedented precision. More info.
- Other ESA Earth Observation missions.