4 minute read 17 Mar. 2022
Space tech is here – are you ready for launch?

Space Tech is here – are you ready for launch?

By Anthony Jones

Space Tech Leader & Oceania Assurance Innovation Leader

Anthony is leading the development of EY’s strategy and business capabilities across the domain of space and space technology managing internal capability development, go to market initiatives.

4 minute read 17 Mar. 2022

Earth observation, machine learning and AI are combining to create tools to make the world smarter, safer and more sustainable. The journey has taken flight – human imagination is the rocket fuel propelling it to improve life on Earth.

Space has captured the human imagination for as long as we have walked the planet.

Today we have the technical prowess to harness the power of Space at scale to improve life on Earth and rise to meet the challenge of climate change. It is beyond anything we could have envisaged, even a decade ago.

That said, when Apollo 8 became the first-ever crewed spacecraft to circumnavigate the Moon in 1968, astronaut Bill Anders said: “We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”

Those early astronauts got a glimpse of how vital space exploration and technology are to the future of Earth itself.

We are the people responsible for reframing its potential for generations to come.

Space technology will lead one of the biggest transformations of our generation. It will help bolster community resilience, drive decarbonisation initiatives and change business models. It will aid in reducing the impact of natural disasters on communities.

The Australian space sector is growing at an annual rate of 7.1%, outpacing the GDP. The Australian Space Agency has predicted the nation’s space economy to grow to more than $8 billion, with 30,000 jobs by 2030.

How the view of Earth from Space is unlocking new capabilities

As we uncover the multitude of possibilities, there’s one thing we know for certain: Space Tech will touch every single one of our clients and significantly improve their business operations and productivity as it unlocks the capability to solve old problems in new ways.

I want to give you a sense of some of the ways Space Tech is helping to drive better decisions here on Earth and contribute to an inclusive economy built on sustainable growth, where wins for business and the economy flow-on to people and the planet.

Earth observation from orbit is giving us new ways of understanding what’s there, what isn’t and what’s changing. Detailed images from satellites are analysed by tools that apply machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), continuously refining their own outputs. EY teams has already identified more than 140 use cases or applications across 10 industry groups.

Right now, we can use it to detect that a manhole cover on a side street in Dubbo is open when it should be closed. We can ‘see’ the volume of oil being carried aboard each ship sailing across the Pacific Ocean. We can flag a water pipe leak in a city street before it causes problems.

From natural habitat to the built environment, from human behaviour to infrastructure, all can now be better understood from Space.

For example, EY has built a tool for vegetation identification and is now predicting growth rate outcomes with accuracy levels of more than 90%, using Earth observation data. It lets us monitor and report on all manner of things that would have previously been either logistically impossible or completely uneconomic. Here are just a few examples of what we’ve already been able to do.

  • Improve decarbonisation outcomes
  • Identify and predict invasive weeds that pose a danger to critical assets
  • Detect leaking pipes across vast infrastructure networks

This technology allows us to analyse images collected from Space – of the most remote and inaccessible locations on land or sea – at a spatial resolution of 15 to 30cm. Radar imagery enables us to see underground and we can use it to measure changes in the topography of the earth to within millimetres. With methane level measurements and other air-quality indicators around the globe, improving community and social outcomes is now a possibility.

How human imagination will grow Space Tech’s potential

As the quality of the imagery improves in giant leaps, so too the frequency and accessibility of data is growing exponentially, driving down the cost of using it. Space Tech is a game-changer for creating a better world.

Putting humans at the centre remains key: the true potential of Space Tech will be unlocked by 20 % technology and 80 % imagination. That’s one of the things that excites me most.

EY teams are asking clients across every sector to think big about how else we can use it to help solve problems, improve safety, reduce their carbon footprint, refine a specific aspect of their operations or simply make smarter decisions, faster, cheaper and with lower risk. The sky is not the limit!

The more work we do, the more ideas we have, and the more clients are pushing us to try even more things. Significant linkages from one application to another are revealed at a speed that’s surprising – and delighting – us.

The deep domain knowledge of EY teams across so many industries affords us a unique view of the problems our clients are trying to solve and the way their operations could improve, in ways they perhaps haven’t yet imagined. Space Tech gives us a whole suite of new ways to bring not just powerful solutions but brand new ideas to try, which can be implemented and iterated at speed.

Why elevating trust in AI is essential

AI is the foundation but it’s human intelligence that brings it to life. I like to use the cake analogy: Flour, sugar and butter are just dumb ingredients sitting on the bench until a human comes along and does something with them. At that point, it’s about imagination and skill as to the cake the human makes. In Space Tech, the data is the flour, the AI and ML systems are the butter and sugar and it’s the human intelligence that connects them all to produce something new and valuable. That’s what I mean about solving old problems in new ways.

The icing on the cake is diversity. At EY, diversity is one of our strengths. We have the diversity of our teams around the world, our collaborations, our industry-based knowledge and our client experiences. They bring us an unlimited range of use cases on which to test our hypotheses and unlock the value of this new domain.

Trust is the foundation on which Space Tech for a better world must be developed, and it’s something not yet being spoken about as much as it should be. Building trust in AI is absolutely essential and EY’s Trusted AI offerings enable clients to evaluate, quantify and monitor the impact and ethics of AI in action. It will be a central point of focus for us as we work on Space Tech programs around the world.

EY’s ambition is to accelerate the adoption of Space Tech and AI for the benefit of people, society and the planet. We have the opportunity to rewrite the future and make a real difference to the societies in which we live and the companies with whom we work.

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Space Tech is a fast-growing ecosystem of technologies as geospatial imaging data from satellites is combined with AI and ML algorithms to deliver solutions that support myriad human endeavours on Earth. Use cases for these tools are burgeoning across all sectors, pointing to Space Tech becoming one of the most important transformations of our generation.

About this article

By Anthony Jones

Space Tech Leader & Oceania Assurance Innovation Leader

Anthony is leading the development of EY’s strategy and business capabilities across the domain of space and space technology managing internal capability development, go to market initiatives.