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IoT in space

5 questions to Prof. Johann-Dietrich Wörner

The Internet of Things (IoT) is penetrating into space. Lots of companies are looking for ways to use it with the help of satellites on Earth and in space. But what are the technical requirements? And why do we need IoT in Space? An interview with Prof. Johann Dietrich-Wörner, Director General of the European Space Agency ESA.

Prof. Johann-Dietrich Wörner (Photo: ESA)
Prof. Johann-Dietrich Wörner is convinced that IoT in space must be combined with European regulations on data protection (photo: ESA)

The Internet of Things means the networking of intelligent devices and systems. By contrast, what does IoT in Space mean? What does this concept add to the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is based on data transmission between sensors and devices. These data can be transmitted terrestrially or even through space. This is particularly important wherever there is a lack of good network coverage on Earth: in remote areas, for example, or when transporting goods on trains or in container ships. Space can act as a kind of transmission bridge with the help of satellites, thus enabling data transfer at any time. Space is therefore a great enabler of IoT on the one hand. On the other hand, the networking of intelligent systems and devices for the ESA is also interesting from a user perspective. After all, in the future there will certainly be more and more sensors on our space objects to enable us to better monitor their status.

Can you give some concrete examples of applications of IoT in space?

In the ARTES project, for example, we support the British satellite communications provider Lacuna Space and its LoRa technology. This technology uses satellites in low earth orbit in order to communicate with hard-to-reach terrestrial ground sensors without the need for an expensive intermediate modem. In contrast to current solutions, it reduces entry barriers and enables industrial customers to integrate a cost-effective remote monitoring system. In this example, IoT is creating a whole new ecosystem of entrepreneurs capable of using remote monitoring networks to provide their customers with cost-effective and reliable data services across the globe via space.

What are the technical requirements for IoT in space? To what extent can existing infrastructure be used for this purpose and what new infrastructure must be created?

The most important prerequisite is the corresponding transmission capacity in space, with corresponding coverage for every spot on Earth. The relay capacity of space objects must be developed from scratch, as is already happening with the ISS antenna for the Swiss data connectivity provider Sat4M2M. This can be done with micro and nanosatellites with the appropriate receivers.

To what extent are the establishment and operation of IoT in Space a task for governments and to what extent can companies participate in it?

Solutions should emerge from the interaction between private companies and public funding. There are of course already many companies active in space. However, the EU and individual governments must take on regulatory tasks and control issues such as usage, frequency, data security and standardisation.

After all, data transfer always has an ethical and legal component, for example with regard to system access and data protection. What kind of regulation must there be for IoT in space and at what level?

This must go hand in hand with the regulations regarding IoT on Earth. Similar to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for the protection of personal data, known in Germany as the DSGVO, regulation at EU level with a global outlook and implementation in the member states is necessary. And the increasing traffic in space, which also needs to be regulated, is just as important.

About Prof. Johann-Dietrich Wörner

Prof. Johann-Dietrich Wörner has been Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA) since 2015. Prior to this, the civil engineer, who holds a doctorate and undertook a post-doctorate in civil engineering, was previously chair of the Executive Board of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and from 1995 to 2007 he was President of the Technical University of Darmstadt. Wörner has been honoured with a number of prizes and awards and is a bearer of the Federal Cross of Merit and also a Knight of the French Legion of Honour. He is a member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the Leopoldina and acatech – National Academy of Science and Engineering. Wörner has also received honorary doctorates from several universities around the world and is a member of various national and international supervisory boards, advisory boards and boards of trustees. At Hypermotion from 10-11/11/20, Prof. Wörner will discuss IoT in space along with other experts from research and industry.


  • Aerospace