(A21)
Outward and inward encounters: STS meets Outer Space
Location Bowland North Seminar Room 6
Date and Start Time 27 Jul, 2018 at 16:00
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • Matjaz Vidmar (University of Edinburgh) email
  • Richard Tutton (Lancaster University) email
  • Franc Mali (Ljubljana University) email

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Short abstract

With scientifically, technologically and imaginatively reaching into Outer Space, boundaries are crossed, cultures change and new paradigms emerge through "outward encounters" with the perceived "other" and "inward encounters" with new perspectives on, and roles for, ourselves and our environment.

Long abstract

The relationship between Outer Space and social life on Earth has been extensively shaped by technoscientific efforts to transcend the immediate experience of Earth-bound humans, with the seemingly endless possibility of expansion into the near cosmos. Outer Space represents a potent and contested meeting point of scientific fact production, speculation, politics, and futurity. After a period in which nation states have dominated this arena, we are now entering into a new era of more dispersed efforts to access, explore and utilise Space-Earth ecology, both in entrepreneurial as well as in cultural form.

Through these activities new encounters with the "other" are emerging, be it by humans landing on Mars, robots mining asteroids for resources, or extending Internet connectivity through Near-Earth Space. These activities are ethically, socially and politically contested with their promises to transform our perception of Outer Space and its use. Of particular interest is to form STS perspectives on "outward encounters" (through SETI, astrobiology, and spaceflight) and "inward encounters", looking back to Earth from near space (through remote sensing).

Our panel aims to construct an STS understanding of our extended environment, both physical and social, in the near cosmos. It invites papers to explore how space - both atmospheric space, near earth space, and outer space are figured in technoscientific projects and visions for the future of life here and elsewhere. Papers could focus on utilisation of the stratosphere, convergent technologies in space, (bio-, nano-, info); transformative business models and new organisational behaviour; futurism, imaginaries and cultural narratives.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Troubled Orbits, Earthly Politics: The Securitization of Space Debris in the New Space Age

Authors: Michael Clormann (Technical University of Munich) email
Nina Witjes (Technical University of Munich) email
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Short abstract

We engage with the rising 'New Space Age' through simultaneously looking from and at space to better understand its current sociotechnical challenges. Combining approaches from STS and Security Studies, we link frames of securitization with those of technological manageability and responsibility.

Long abstract

Today, billions of people around the world rely on space systems to facilitate their daily life, from navigation to environmental services, from communication to crisis response, from intelligence to education. Start-ups, government actors and the media contribute to an enthusiastic discourse on the promises of commercial imaging satellites that are expected to kick into overdrive following the advent of small satellites and commercial off-the-shelf philosophy. However, the promise of a new orbital gold-rush is clouded by its own legacy - pushing the orbital frontier encounters material resistances: Space Debris as a remnant of rising satellite activities is increasingly challenging the idea of open skies that promise us better, cheaper and more accessible as well as globally inclusive services. 'Outer' space, often understood as a planetary front yard of commercial potential and international relations, is now also a realm of tangible hazards and risks. In this paper, we put forward a new perspective of simultaneously looking from and at space infrastructures to better understand the challenges of the upcoming 'New Space Age'. Linking STS perspectives on the meaning of space(s) with Critical Security Studies, we will ask how novel security risks - in and from orbit - are co-produced by the emergence of new space actors and changing international power relations, posing new challenges for responsible research and innovation in the foreshadowed second wave of space commercialization.

Silicon Valley and the multiplanetary imaginary

Author: Richard Tutton (Lancaster University) email
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Short abstract

Elon Musk and other Silicon Valley figures believe that humanity will be a multiplanetary species. I explore these actors' imaginings of human futures and how they justify efforts to settle Mars as a hedge against or an exit from what Haraway (2016) calls our disturbing/mixed-up/troubling times.

Long abstract

Elon Musk, a lionized figure of Silicon Valley claims that over the next two decades we will become a multiplanetary species. He is not alone: other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are investing in outer space technologies on the promise of that vision. The recent Silicon Valley interest in outer space has reanimated what I call 'multiplanetary imaginaries' (Tutton 2017), offering interesting inflection points in how scientists, engineers, science fiction authors and advocates have projected and debated the future of humans in space. Borrowing from Sheila Jasanoff and Sang Hyun-Kim's (2015) work on sociotechnical imaginaries, my use of 'multiplanetary imaginaries' refers not only to projections of a future in which human beings establish life on another planet, but also concern questions about how live on this planet: they are based on an understanding that pursuing large-scale technological projects can bring about social change. They form the basis of various types of imaginactivism (Haran 2016) by which groups use cultural production to attempt to change the world, yoking together science fiction, cinema, news reports, and social media. In this paper I explore actors such as Musk and others' social and political imaginings of human futures and in particular how they seek to justify efforts to settle Mars as a hedge against or an exit from what Donna Haraway (2016) calls our disturbing/mixed-up/troubling/turbid times.

Innovation meets Outer Space: transforming networks, organisations and people

Author: Matjaz Vidmar (University of Edinburgh) email
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Short abstract

The "New Space" era is noted for a paradigm shift in the Space Science, Exploration and Industry. This paper examines how this "inward and outward encounter with Outer Space" affects innovation networks, SMEs and, finally, people.

Long abstract

Space science, exploration and industry is said to be in a transition from state and corporate monopolies towards "New Space", an altogether more democratised and de-centralised enterprise based on academic research and small-to-medium-size enterprises (SME). This innovativeness is built upon a significant change in the Space industry itself, on one hand, by cheapening and miniaturisation of space technology, and on the other hand, by an increasing openness and accessibility of public space data. Furthermore, these developments are expanding into "new" countries and regions, for example, Scotland in particular is becoming widely known as a "New Space hub", with leading upstream and downstream New Space companies emerging over the past ten years.

The findings of my research are showing that the New Space industry has indeed brought about a new innovation paradigm, with a loosely co-joined vertical value chain being integrated in a dynamic (eco)system of players, which are more agile to respond to new customers and markets and who have largely adapted the innovation process to address these new opportunities. Interestingly, the New Space firms' partners are far more concentrated in public and academic sector.

In order to achieve this, the SMEs have had to adapt their organisational structure by simultaneously unpicking their hierarchical structure as well as formalise their innovation process. This paper is outlining preliminary findings from an in-depth study based on a two-fold enquiry into the innovation networks and the direct effect they have on new product development in Scottish Space Sector firms, specifically SMEs.

Meet the solar monster: space weather security in the data centre industry

Author: Alexander Taylor (University of Cambridge) email
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Short abstract

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in high-security data centres, this paper explores how the electromagnetic energies and agencies of the heliosphere are being brought into political organisation as existential risks for techno-planetary futures.

Long abstract

Space weather occurs in the outer layers of Earth's atmosphere when electrically-charged particles ejected from the Sun interact with Earth's magnetic field. These interactions generate powerful electromagnetic fields that can induce high-voltage currents in electrical equipment, potentially disabling or destroying the microchips, processors and other digital components found in terrestrial technology systems. Since 2010 space weather has been swiftly brought into political organisation by critical infrastructure protection initiatives across the UK, Europe and US as a planetary threat in need of urgent address. The data centre industry has emerged at the forefront of space weather preparedness efforts, with growing numbers of facility operators taking precautions to increase the resilience of their data centres to the electromagnetic energies and agencies of the heliosphere. By reinforcing walls, cables and wires, sealing off all ports, vents and piping, shielding data servers in metal enclosures and fitting specialised surge protection filters, data centres are 'hardened' against the energetic materialites of the solar monster. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork on data centre security, this paper explores how solar-terrestrial relations are being reconfigured in response to inward encounters of heliospheric electromagnetism. Destabilising narratives of earthling mastery and technological progress, and conjuring imaginaries of dystopian digital futures, the hardened, ensealed and space-weathered surfaces of data infrastructures become agentic sites where solar electromagnetism and terrestrial technopolitics meet and are remade, articulating new visions of the globe as a fragile digital world.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.