Combining and Creating New Knowledge

Thu, 01/03/2013 - 10:31am
Tim Studt, Editorial Director

Tim Studt, Editorial DirectorTechnologies continue to advance across a wide range of areas. Two that are particularly intriguing are space and computer technologies. Space technologies are intriguing because of the highly competitive and increasingly international nature. In an area mostly dominated in the past by U.S. and Russian spacecrafts and technologies, the space technology arena has become convoluted and integrated, especially with the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle and the rapid rise of the Chinese space industry. China and the U.S. each launched about 20 major spacecrafts in 2012, and both expect to do about the same in 2013. U.S. spacecrafts are launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., Vandenberg AFB, Calif., Wallops Island, Va., the recently revived Sea Launch systems in the Pacific Ocean and several other smaller sites. China has three main spaceports and is building a fourth in Hainan. Russia has four main launch sites, Japan has two and seven other countries have their own as well.

The launch vehicles used include new systems like SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Orbital Sciences' Antares and Pegasus series, and revamped older systems like Atlas V and Delta 4. By far, the most common vehicles used are Russian Soyuz, Progress and Proton vehicles. The European Space Agency continues to get excellent service out of its Ariane vehicles while China does the same with its Long March series, sending their fifth human space mission next June to their orbiting Tiangong laboratory module. The whole launch process has been internationalized with the joint U.S.-Russian International Launch Services, launching more than 100 Atlas V and Proton vehicles in the past 15 years.

On the other side, computer technologies grow more extensive and pervasive. World data storage, according to the OECD, is expected to grow from 3,000 exabytes in 2012 to 4,500 exabytes in 2013—a 50% growth in just one year, and the growth curve is exponential. Cloud computing also continues to grow with the Asia-Pacific region expected to generate 1.5 zettabytes of cloud traffic annually within a few years. IBM Research recently announced the integration of electronic and optical systems on the same integrated chip device. IBM also announced it's prediction that the five senses—vision, smell, taste, hearing and touch—will all be integrated into cognitive computers within five years.

The combination of these two technologies—space and computer—is expected to enable the creation of an unimaginable amount of data in 2013 and beyond. Earth observations, space monitoring and data collection from probes like the Mars Science Lab, Hubble telescope and other science-based vehicles and probes are combining to create a plethora of data, the likes of which has never been seen before. More data is now collected and transmitted every day from these devices than was collected during all of the first 2,000 years of our civilization. Sorting through this data and creating knowledge and intelligence out of it is becoming a major challenge for researchers. While individual researchers can often work with the data they collect from their own research, combining this data with data from other sources is often impractical.

And yet, when that data is combined, such as data from Hubble that's combined with data from the Chandra X-ray telescope, the insight and unique information gained is tremendously greater than the individual data from either one of the satellites alone.

That's where we now need to focus some of our research—on combining the data from multiple sources into one objective set of data documents that offer greater opportunities with basically minimal expenses. Space technologies enable the creation and collection of great amounts of data, and computer technologies should enable us to combine this data for results that are greater than the sum of the parts.


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