This is my second day at the European Space Solutions Conference. So far I am enjoying it! It is a luxury to have a booth like this, it makes me feel at home, even though the domain of this conference is only remotely connected to what I normally do. For example, the neighbour on one side develops rockets, small ones to launch small satellites (less than 50kg). The booth opposite ours promotes packaging computer chips in plastic instead of ceramics or metal, because it is cheaper and lighter; plastic is more sensitive to radiation and thus has a shorter lifetime – but nobody asks for durable satellites anymore. In the introduction film for the conference you can see cities, cars and industries, and there is one shot of a big mono-cultural field with a vehicle spraying pesticide. That is what our future looks like. Climate change and sustainability – not much of an issue here.
Yesterday I went to the opening sessions and the only one that politely mentioned the vulnerability of our planet was the Dutch astronaut, André Kuipers. He showed us the beauty of Earth at daytime and at night-time, sometimes in pictures and sometimes in short videos. Their space station was flying at an incredible speed, and to see a small country like the Netherlands, he said, you really had to pay attention. As you hear more often from people who have visited space, the experience changed him from ambitious to worried about the future of that watery planet with the thin atmosphere.
Another speaker that was really worthwhile was the Director of TomTom, the car navigation systems manufacturer. In a funny story he showed us how they started in 1991 or thereabouts, with the very first smartphone (not looking very smart) and the employment of space data for different purposes. Their biggest step was to combine developing the software for car navigation with producing the hardware as well. This made them less dependent on what the market had to offer. This was so successful that there was a clone on the market one year later, three clones the next year, nine a few years later, until at one point in time they had 200 competitors. Over the same period their turnover was also growing exponentially, from 2 million to 4 to 20 to 200 in less than ten years. (I do not remember the exact numbers). They stayed ahead of their competition by imagining what their clients wanted: simple and easy buttons, automatic adjustment of sound volume depending on background noise, information on traffic jams, etc.
The other speakers (Minister Kamp, from Economic Affairs), and Elzbieta Bienkowska (EU commissioner for Internal Market and Industry) only had one message: economic growth, economic growth, economic growth.
Another nice thing of having a booth is of course that people come to you. So far I heard that the problems of urban heat are acute in Somalia, Japan, Mongolia, and China. In most places, they are removing green belts and parks because the price of the land is very high. There will be enough work after we finish the project. We are trying to collect business cards, hand out leaflets and printed newsletters, and hopefully we will have a lot more subscribers to the newsletter after the conference.
And there is spacecake.
Judith Klostermann, URBANFLUXES / WUR-Alterra