Look to Space for Answers

Look to Space for Answers


“Look to space technologies for solutions on earth” said Paul Poelmans, a Technology Transfer Manager at Verhaert in Belgium. Poelmans shared with the audience about how Verhaert, as a broker of technology, utilizing their incubation centers to adapt solutions from space – for here on earth.

“Innovation is found at the borders where textiles meet extreme conditions” says Poelmans. Protection from sunlight, radiation, and micro-particles are essential for survival in space. As such, any solution must not be required to be repaired due to the long distances involved and the critical nature of human involvement.  Several examples were given about how the European Space Agency’s (ESA) technologies for space have inspired innovations on earth:     

  • Saving History
  • Thermal Protection
  • Moving a Monster

Saving History

In the 1970’s, NASA and the ESA developed a scanning system to preserve documents.  To this day, this technology is groundbreaking and has allowed the Vatican Library, one of the oldest enduring libraries, to preserve its historic documents.  This institution, founded in 1475, is home to ancient manuscripts that even predate the invention of printing nearly 1800 years ago.  FITS, or Flexible Image Transport System, is the technology that has allowed these codices to survive and be transferred into digital form.  

This FITS software can automatically adjust the image or writing of old documents during the scanning process and render a flawless, flat replica image.  Furthermore, the necessary information needed to decode this specific format can be found in the header text of each file.  This ensures that these documents will be preserved and accessible even as technology evolves centuries from now.  Therefore, we can thank NASA and the ESA for saving history!

Thermal Protection

The technology originally developed in order to enable space travel has resulted in breakthrough applications within other industries.  For example, the enhanced protection of steel workers came from the knowledge surrounding thermal material in ESA astronaut suits.  Steel Mills pose really extreme conditions.  But thanks to a Swedish ESA Technology Transfer Network broker, prototypes have now been developed to protect against these conditions.  Swedish company, Bjorn Borg AB, was responsible for developing these special undergarments. This is one of many examples of technology transfer made possible by the ESA.  If you want to learn more about ESA’S Technology Transfer Network (TTN) throughout Europe, visit www.esa.int/ttp

Moving a Monster

Another example of technology transfer is depicted in Hollywood.  In the blockbuster film, “Wrath of the Titans,” the monstrous cyclops’ smooth movements were made possible by a system that originated on space stations.  The software was first intended for controlling the movements of gyroscopes aboard satellites.  Alexandra Pechev, the graduate student who worked on this software, realized it’s potential around not only just controlling gyros, but CGI characters.  Thanks to a grant from ESA’s Technology Transfer Program, this software is now being used in video games and films by companies such as Fox, ILM, and Disney.  

Check out this site www.esa-tec.eu and ESA’s book “Our Future in the Space Age” for more information.



112 thoughts on “Look to Space for Answers

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