Data Governance in Space — Key Challenges and Opportunities

How to ensure ethical and responsible use of data in the final frontier?
Data Governance in Space — Key Challenges and Opportunities

Data is a valuable asset and it is not only valuable on Earth but also in space. Space exploration and activities generate vast amounts of data, from satellite imagery and telemetry to scientific experiments and human biometrics. These data have multiple applications and benefits, enhancing our understanding of the universe, improving our communication and navigation systems, monitoring our environment and climate, and advancing our health and well-being. 

However, data captured via space satellites also pose significant challenges and risks, such as data quality and reliability, data security and privacy, data ownership and access, data ethics and fairness, and data regulation and compliance. 

  • How can we ensure that data in space is governed in a way that maximizes positive impact and minimizes negative consequences?

  • What are the best practices and standards for data governance in space?

  • Who are the stakeholders and actors involved in data governance in space, and what are their roles and responsibilities?

Current state and future trends

The following is an overview of the current state and future trends of data governance in space, and the recommendations and guidelines for developing a robust and effective data governance framework for space. 

Last year the Global Space and Technology Convention (GSTC) met in Singapore with over one thousand thought leaders, industry insiders, and investors across forty-two countries with a focus on discussing real use cases in space.

In 2024 there is a space internship programme and an international space challenge.

I would encourage everyone to take a look and maybe if you are just starting on your data journey or even just want a change this might be a place to start.

Data management

Data governance in space covers the entire data lifecycle, from data generation and collection to data processing and analysis, to data storage and dissemination, to data utilization and exploitation. Data governance in space also encompasses the technical, legal, social, and ethical aspects of data in space, such as data quality and reliability, data security and privacy, data ownership and access, data ethics and fairness, and data regulation and compliance.

Data governance is a complex and dynamic domain, as it involves multiple types and sources of data, multiple actors and stakeholders, and multiple domains and jurisdictions. Types and sources of data in space include - satellite data, spacecraft data, astronomical data, planetary data, human data, scientific data.

Domains

The actors and stakeholders involved in data governance in space include - space agencies, space companies, space researchers, space users, space regulators. 

The domains and areas that affect data governance in space include: 

  • Earth: The terrestrial domain where most of the data in space is generated, processed, stored, and utilized, and where most of the actors and stakeholders are located and operate. 

  • Orbit: the near-Earth domain where most of the satellites and spacecraft are located and operate, and where most of the data in space is collected and transmitted.

  • Cislunar: The domain between the Earth and the Moon, where some of the spacecraft and missions are located and operate, and where some of the data in space is collected and transmitted. 

  • Lunar: The domain of the Moon, where some of the spacecraft and missions are located and operate, and where some of the data in space is collected and transmitted. 

  • Interplanetary: The domain beyond the Moon, where some of the spacecraft and missions are located and operate, and where some of the data in space is collected and transmitted. 

  • Extraterrestrial: The domain of other celestial bodies, such as planets, moons, asteroids, and comets, where some of the spacecraft and missions are located and operate, and where some of the data in space is collected and transmitted. 

Space is a vast and valuable source of data. Satellites, probes, rovers, and other spacecraft collect and transmit data on various aspects of the space environment, such as weather, climate, astronomy, geology, navigation, communication, and exploration. These data can help us understand the universe, monitor the Earth, enhance our capabilities, and discover new possibilities. 

Challenges

However, data governance in space also poses multiple challenges. Some of these challenges are:  

  • Data quality: How can we ensure that the data collected in space are accurate, dependable, and consistent? How can we deal with the noise, interference, and distortion that may affect the data transmission? How can we validate, verify, and correct the data?  

  • Data security: How can we protect the data from unauthorized access, modification, or deletion? How can we prevent cyberattacks, hacking, or sabotage that may compromise the data or the spacecraft? How can we encrypt, authenticate, and backup the data?  

  • Data availability: How can we ensure that the data are accessible and usable by the intended users? How can we overcome the limitations of bandwidth, latency, and storage that may affect the data transfer? How can we manage the data lifecycle, from collection to disposal?  

  • Data usability: How can we make the data understandable and meaningful for the users? How can we standardize, harmonize, and integrate the data from various sources, formats, and systems? How can we analyze, visualize, and share the data?  

Stakeholders and actors

Data governance in space involves multiple stakeholders such as governments, private companies, international organizations, research institutions, and the public. Each stakeholder may have different interests, objectives, and expectations regarding the data.

For example, stakeholders may want to use the data for scientific, commercial, or military purposes, while others may want to protect the data for ethical, legal, or environmental reasons.  

Therefore, data governance in space requires clear and consistent regulations that can balance the needs and rights of the stakeholders. The existing or proposed regulations are:  

  • The United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS): This is the primary international body responsible for regulating the use of space and its resources. It has adopted several treaties and resolutions that address the issues of data ownership, sharing, and protection in space.  

  • The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): This is a regulation adopted by the European Union that provides guidance on how data collected from satellites should be managed. It covers the aspects of data consent, access, portability, erasure, and security.  

The Artemis Accords: These are a set of principles proposed by the United States for the exploration and utilization of the Moon and other celestial bodies. They include the principles of data transparency, interoperability, and registration.

Conclusion

Data governance in space is a complex and important challenge that affects us on Earth and beyond. It offers multiple opportunities for innovation, collaboration, and discovery, but also poses many risks for conflict, misuse, and harm. Therefore, data governance in space requires the attention and participation of data professionals, policymakers, and the public.

By establishing and following the best practices and standards for data governance in space, we can ensure that the data used for the benefit of humanity and the environment.  

About the Author:

Tina Salvage is Lead Data Governance Architect - Group Functions, Bupa Global. She is an experienced management professional with a strong background in the financial services industry, specializing in data management and governance. Salvage has extensive experience in financial crime compliance and money laundering. Her passion lies in building data management strategies that enable organizations to achieve their goals.

She has a proven track record of creating and embedding strategic transformational change to business processes and systems across departments, working closely with key stakeholders, external suppliers, and the executive board. At Bupa, Salvage focuses on building strong relationships to enable others to thrive. She shares the story, attracts the right people, and helps deliver the data strategy.

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