"Planetary Skin" & Commercial Space: Shared Opportunities & Challenges

By Richard Mains, Posted 03/06/09

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“Planetary Skin” is the intriguing bio-based name for a newly-announced “public-private research and development collaboration led by the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) and NASA". Their very ambitious goal is to create “a global nervous system” covering the Earth to capture vast amounts of disparate information from space, airborne, marine and earth based sensor networks and thereby increase it value to help address climate change. According to the people involved, Planetary Skin is a platform designed to provide “global environmental situational awareness, an early warning system, informed decision-making capability and connection with new markets and funding sources to transition to a low-carbon economy”. Sounds like the ultimate internet-based networked business.

This concept is a grand vision for global and regional management of resources, risks and environmental markets based on actual data and real-time decisions. This new collaboration will attempt to provide a trusted method for “measurement, reporting, and verification” to ensure environmental progress in greenhouse gas reduction is actually being made. The importance of a solution of this magnitude and complexity to help address climate change was validated by world leaders at the 2009 World Economic Forum.

My first thought after reading the Cisco IBSG white paper on this topic and watching their video was that the technical challenges for this endeavor will surely be immense, but the people and organizational challenges will be much greater. Clearly this must scale to a global level to be effective and so the key to success will likely depend on building a strong commitment to cooperation worldwide. This will require vast knowledge sharing, resource leveraging and innovative collaborations across a broad sector of global stakeholders including; business entrepreneurs, next-generation regulatory agencies, social entrepreneurs, public and private investors, applied R&D experts, Earth observation satellite and system managers, and sustainable public-private partnerships. Estimated current global public investments for addressing climate change are about $430B so the potential returns from such an investment are enormous especially as the market continues to grow. Planetary Skin, if successful in helping enable the shift toward lower-carbon economies (especially in the poorest nations), can maximize the return on these investments, stimulate the development of many jobs, and potentially return enormous social and environmental benefits.

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