A space perspective: Tech Trends 2019

Top tech trends impacting the operators and users of space systems

Today’s pace of nonstop disruption affects the space industry as much as any other sector. This report provides a perspective on Deloitte's Technology Trends 2019: Beyond the digital frontier with a specific focus on the trends impacting the operators and users of space systems.

A government and public sector space perspective: Tech Trends 2019

Space technologies have a long history with disruption. The last decade has seen widespread change—for example, governments and other public entities historically played a driving role in space research and services, yet tomorrow’s disruptive space technologies increasingly will be driven by commercial forces. And the future will bring additional disruption in the areas of human spaceflight, in-space manufacturing, and next-generation communications.

The combination of emerging technologies, new operating models, and other innovative concepts can accelerate the diffusion of space technologies across multiple economies and sectors: intelligent interfaces that integrate launch range data into the National Airspace System; blockchain applications that validate remote sensing data; and artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning applied to space science missions. These and other advances can help produce a substantial value that extends beyond any one organization.

In the face of the changes ahead, it is not enough to simply plan for digital transformation and assume that success will follow. Organizations should look beyond the digital frontier—toward a future state in which transformation occurs across all mission portfolios and operating organizations.

Relevance and readiness scale:

We looked at each trend and assigned a value from one (low) and five (high) based on the trend's relevance and readiness of government adoption.

  • Relevance: How impactful would it be if the government adopted the trend?
  • Readiness: How ready is the government to adopt the trend?

Space industry

The story of emerging technology trends is inseparable from the story of the space technology sector.

While governments and other public entities have historically played the driving role in foundational research and the implementation of mission-driven services, today and tomorrow’s disruptive space technologies are increasingly driven by commercial companies, private capital, and software. The last decade has seen widespread change and additional disruption in the areas of human spaceflight, in-space manufacturing, and next generation communications are just beyond the horizon.

Today’s pace of nonstop disruption affects the space industry as much as any other sector. Technology can help make organizations and the mission more effective, whether it is protecting and maintaining valuable infrastructure, automating lower-order tasks so time-crunched humans can focus on more critical mission components, or providing methods to fuse data together to make informed decisions. Individual advancements in space technologies–for example reusable launch vehicles, manufacturing in space, and new sensor development–is transformative for the industry and the user.

As missions grow broader and more complex, leaders should feel constant pressure to make the most effective use of the newest advances to maintain superiority and a competitive advantage. Finding ways to integrate a constellation of new technologies, both within and external to the space industry, into the next generation operational paradigm is the next-level challenge that is unfolding right now.


Macro technology forces at work

Nine technology forces (cloud, analytics, experience, blockchain, cognitive, digital reality, core modernization, cyber, and the business of technology) are the backbone of innovation past and present. Combining them compounds the effects of purposeful, transformational change and can enhance resiliency, lower costs, or reach more markets.

Getting started:

  • Learn from the changes of the past decade. This is not the first time that satellite constellations, low-cost access to space, or remote sensing products have been tried. This time, they look to become the new normal.
  • Embrace technology at the core. New technologies and tools will affect the entire space mission but only if acquisition and development are transformed to embrace and deploy new technologies faster.
  • Keep your eye on the horizon. New technologies, applied to current mission types, could have a profound effect on how we utilize space.

Trends in action:

  • Organizations in the space industry are making more progress by integrating multiple pioneering new technologies than by piloting new tools one at a time.
  • AI can streamline licensing and regulatory filing for satellite and launch operators. Blockchain can enhance secure supply chains. Digital reality can enhance mission assurance. Cloud provides a resilient backbone for space-based capabilities.

AI-fueled organizations

To harness AI’s full potential: find AI’s place in the mission, rethink talent, focus on human and machine interaction in the environment, and deploy machine learning across core business processes and operations.

Getting started:

  • Decide what AI means to you. Relevant applications in space can vary by mission, hardware, and operator need.
  • Strive to become an “AI-fueled” organization. AI is not about replacing the operators of space missions, it’s about helping the entire organization become more efficient from contracting to operations.
  • Make AI a part of the acquisition decision. Determine where AI could reduce procurement and operational costs–highly applicable in weather, remote sensing, or data-heavy missions.
  • Look beyond your organization. “AI-fueled” organizations require AI experts and best practices from multiple industries.

Trends in action:

  • Organizations are already using AI to ingest weather and remote sensing data to provide real-time forecasts and insights.
  • Use AI to turn mass-produced CubeSats into a highly customized platform for remote sensing and deep space exploration missions with self-healing and autonomous constellations.

NoOps in a serverless world

Cloud providers have doggedly automated routine administrative tasks to improve their “as a Service” capabilities. Providers are looking to provide ground stations and other space applications services. Use the shift to create agile operations focused on higher-order (and higher-value) mission activities.

Getting started:

  • Shift administration to an engineering footing. Apply a systems engineering mindset to ruthlessly standardize, modernize, and synthesize infrastructure and systems.
  • Have a strategy for your data and go cloud native. Pilot and pursue technologies that don’t involve managing physical servers and legacy hardware systems.
  • Transform your processes. Make processes automatable and repeatable without human intervention.

Trends in action:

  • Traditional “as a Service” providers are continuing to climb the stack, all the way through ground station antennas providing full-turnkey services for customers.
  • Organizations using new cloud computing models could increase utilization of space data.
  • Address stovepipes between data stores and mission ops to enable “pay by the drink” solutions.

Connectivity of tomorrow

Advanced networking offers a continuum of connectivity that can drive development of new products and services. From edge computing to 5G to low Earth orbit satellites, organizations are rethinking advanced connectivity options to design tomorrow’s networks.

Getting started:

  • Plan for the upcoming explosion of bandwidth and spectrum congestion. A wirelessly connected world will bring new demands and new opportunities that will constrain the spectrum.
  • Learn from history. This isn’t the first time bandwidth demand has exploded. Will government users be able to secure and procure enough commercial satcom bandwidth in light of commercial demand?
  • Button down the status quo. If millions of new devices are soon to arrive, new methods for interconnectivity will be required–new ground stations, improved connected car antennas, or spectrum modulation for example.

Trends in action:

  • Multiple mega-constellations, some in excess of 4,000 satellites, are currently in the planning stages to provide global connectivity.
  • Commercial satellite operators have begun to build in-space edge routing and other networking platforms mirroring terrestrial concepts and applications.
  • Miniaturization trends for satellites are finally extending to communications satellites across all orbits providing new methods of connectivity for areas not served by fiber or 5G.
  • Advanced global connectivity can extend AI, image recognition, facial recognition, and other tools into the field.

Intelligent interfaces

Working in concert, techniques and capabilities such as computer vision, conversational voice, auditory analytics, and advanced augmented reality and virtual reality can transform the ways we engage with machines, data, and each other.

Getting started:

  • See beyond the long-established standards. Imagine new methods of delivering data to a user–real-time, high-fidelity weather data from multiple space and terrestrial sources to a pilot for example.
  • Rethink mission assurance and risk. Take advantage of new ways to continuously monitor or remotely assess via sensors and human interaction that could reduce time and cost.

Trends in action:

  • With tablet-based augmented reality (AR), skilled technicians can move from one system or mission to another without extra training. Specialists can use image recognition and speech capture interfaces to reduce the time and cost of mission assurance.
  • Technicians, or even astronauts, can learn to repair machines virtually.
  • New interfaces lay the groundwork for on-orbit servicing and other disruptive in-space supply chain concepts.

Beyond marketing: Experience reimagined

Today’s astute customers expect highly personalized, contextualized experiences. Users of space data crave dynamic, contextualized engagements insights. They want the cars in lots counted and the weather forecast, not to do the work themselves.

Getting started:

  • Look beyond the traditional approach. Leading digital organizations are rethinking all of the ways customers interact with them–space data providers should too.
  • Create connections. For downstream space applications use new tools and technologies like AI to improve the customer experience with your data.
  • Go all-in on data. Collect and manage information from your customers to understand the use cases they desire and to improve their experience.

Trends in action:

  • “Data middlemen” who exploit, analyze, or disseminate data represent areas ripe for disruption by macro technology trends.
  • Combining AI with terrestrial and space-based weather sensors has already improved weather forecasting and accuracy–and better user understanding has put this data into smartphones and mobile apps.

DevSecOps and the cyber imperative

Forward-thinking organizations are embedding security, privacy, policy, and controls into their engineering and IT delivery models. This mindset changes the cyber design paradigm across the space, launch, and ground segments, treating it more like an engineering and risk management exercise.

Getting started:

  • Pick bold goals. Cyber resiliency built into the satellite. New modulation methods of protected tactical waveforms. Propel the design culture forward.
  • Integrate security. Don’t test it in at the end—build it in throughout the system.
  • Expand your security culture. Compliance is important, but focus on proactive risk management. Design and procure space systems with cyber in mind.

Trends in action:

  • The USAF is currently using defensive cyber operations (DCO) to protect, detect, and respond to attacks on operational ground systems.
  • Massive next generation satellite constellations provide resiliency but also targets. Constellations require cyber attention just like large-scale terrestrial networks.
  • Secure the supply chain by leveraging trusted foundries, subsystem manufacturers, and sensor suppliers.

Beyond the digital frontier: Mapping your future

Digital transformation has become a rallying cry for business and technology strategists. Look to the digital transformation pioneers to develop a systematic approach. Keeping up with what’s new prepares you to invent what’s next.

Getting started:

  • Breakdown silos. Start with the end in mind; don’t let current designs or limitations drive decision making. Software-defined systems are redefining communications.
  • Procure prototypes and acquire capabilities. Others’ solutions should be your prototypes. Don’t be constrained by “Not Invented Here” thinking.
  • Learn the landscape. Use multiple technology trends to create massive scalable and highly available functions to support the mission and operations.

Trends in action:

  • Learn from the use of AI, Blockchain, digital transformation, and more in other industries to manage and secure the tsunami of data.
  • The Air Force’s use of the Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC) provides a new and faster way to procure prototypes and capabilities with non-traditional industry partners that will accelerate use of digital transformation technology.
  • The creation of a portfolio architect for space acquisition and systems development represents a new way to remove silos and approach transformation for the long run.

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