‘Translators’ and Cross-Disciplinary Work Needed to Solve Space Problems

Credit: SpaceQ.

MONTREAL – Space is not only an interdisciplinary business, but one that is in urgent need of artificial intelligence “translators” who can work across different fields, says the chair of Canada’s space advisory board.

Marie Lucy Stojak, who is also executive director of Mosaic-HEC Montreal, said in a talk Thursday (Oct. 10) that these translators will not only be comfortable in developing artificial intelligence algorithms, but can also talk with people who are willing to translate these ideas into business potential.

Stojak was speaking at the Montreal Space Symposium, an annual gathering of 300 or so students and space industry representatives to discuss issues of importance to the Canadian space industry. It is organized by the Montreal Student Space Associations.

Creative thinking such as this will be needed in the new space economy, she said. The industry is crowded with small entrants (both government and private) muscling in on an area that used to be dominated by two superpower states, or the Soviet Union and the United States, just a few decades ago.

And for figuring out how to approach this, Stojak draws upon her own background – which includes time spent at the International Space University and McGill University’s Institute of Space Law – to develop a “creative economy” that examines problems through a policy and legal slant, in addition to the traditional technical approach used to solve space problems.

One pain point for governance is the United Nations, she said, where there are now some 80 countries jostling for consensus compared with 25 countries just a few years ago. Private sector companies, who are used to rapid development in business, are experiencing frustration as well, she said. “Increasingly there is frustration in the private sector that things are not moving at the international level,” she said.

A solution could come from groups such as the Space Safety Coalition, a newly formed ad hoc coalition of stakeholders, she said. The 29 endorsees range from industry to the non-profit sector to government. The coalition advocates for practices such as using relevant international standards, practices and guidelines, as well as figuring out “more effective space safety guidelines and best practices,” according to their website. In September, the coalition released a 17-page list of best practices for orbital debris that industry can voluntarily follow to manage and ultimately reduce this issue.

Another way for people to meet up could be through forums such as the Michelin Movin’On Lab, whose world summit on sustainable mobility has been held in Montreal since 2017, Stojak said. She described this group as an ecosystem of over 5,000 leaders in fields as diverse as politics, academia, city planning and business, who work together to promote innovative mobility solutions. The sponsor, Michelin, describes itself as devoted to recycling practices and says that it is similarly trying to move the practices of sustainability into transportation.

Stojak added there are multiple solutions to approach space issues, but the multidisciplinary ones tend to bring the most innovation. “It’s the ability to grasp ideas from different sectors and bring them together that will spur innovation, rather than scientists working in a silo,” Stojak said.

Canadian Space Summit 2019

About Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell
Is SpaceQ's Associate Editor as well as a business and science reporter, researcher and consultant. She recently received her Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota and is communications Instructor instructor at Algonquin College.