Dr Antonio Busalacchi is the newly appointed President of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (http://www2.ucar.edu/).
His professional background includes leadership positions in organisations such as National Academy of Science, NASA Goddard Spaceflight Centre and the University of Maryland.
I asked Dr Busalacchi about the relation between public funding and commercial space. He stated that, independent of the budget situation, the present path we are on regarding earth observation is not sustainable. We can´t continue to pour larger and larger sums into space systems. We need to have a different approach. We need different, smaller platforms consisting of small satellites, CubeSats, satellite formation flight, and a vigorous and viable private sector.
According to Dr Busalacchi, the future lays in a combination of public and private earth observation capacities. A lot of the cutting edge new sensors are still going to be in the public domain, while the private sector is going to find ways to carry out earth observation activities better, cheaper and faster (or one of the three) than government agencies.
He thinks there is a strong market potential for interpretative services which rely not just on earth observation but also on in situ sensors. Earth observation is an important part of this, but only a part of it. As we move towards tailor-made services for different sectors of the economy or different users we are going to need finer observations and more in situ observations. There is a strong future in earth observation combined with positioning services, which will also require input from in situ sensors.
Dr Busalacchi believes that for market to grow, it is necessary to widen the customer base. The problem is that nobody in the public sector seems to know what the best way to do it is. Downstream potential users do not know what is possible or what is in the horizon. It is necessary to bridge the gap between the end users’ needs and what space technology can provide. All agencies are doing something in an ad-hoc manner, but we need some sort of institutional setting for this.
I also interviewed Dr Scott Rayder who is Senior Advisor to the President for Development and Partnerships, UCAR (https://president.ucar.edu/president/biography/scott-rayder)
According to Dr Rayder, the traditional model – free and open access to data – has helped the industry grow. We are in a new phase where private sector innovation cycle is faster than the government acquisition process. He believes that the pace of space commercialisation is going to accelerate and that analytics will be a big part of space commercialisation.
Dr Rayder believews that social demand will also be a driver for future space-based services. As an example, he suggested that climate change may have a geo political destabilising effect. Countries suffering the consequences of phenomena such as severe drought will be under political stress. Global environment space systems can help better predictions and therefore potentially contribute to pre-empting instability through better policy making.