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Space and Agriculture - To boldly go where no man has gone before!

Content Author:
Kevin Kimle

Where does entrepreneurial inspiration come from? Each of us has to answer that question individually, but it is interesting when inspirational themes (or perhaps memes) emerge.

I loved the original Star Trek when I was a kid. The opening line from Captain Kirk:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!

Apparently Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson liked it much more than me. The latter two personally went into space in the last month, Bezon via Blue Origin and Branson via Virgin Galactic.

Jeff Bezos

Richard Branson


Musk hasn't went up in a SpaceX rocket himself yet, but most interesting to me he's sent up satellites for Internet Access through StarLink. You see, in April we had a substantial change in my house. We got high speed Internet access for the first time through StarLink. We've lived a little less than one mile outside Ames on an acreage for almost twenty years now and there are zero providers of high speed Internet there. Now I have a StarLink dish on the roof of my garage and we've joined the modern world. It just took an entrepreneur!

From StarLink, I got the most cool email recently. 

As Elon recently mentioned, the Starlink team is preparing to launch upgraded satellites that will include space lasers. 

Screenshot of starlink email

Space lasers! The email goes on to explain that StarLink has received deposits from almost every country in the world, but governments granting them a license to offer service is slow in some places. No kidding? I wonder when China or North Korea will approve licenses for StarLink? License or not, it's difficult to imagine that StarLink dishes don't show up some places even in those countries in the future.

What does this mean for agriculture? On a practical level, it certainly points to a time when access to the Internet isn't constrained in rural locations where agriculture happens. And high speed Internet access becomes fully mobile as well. Autonomous machines fully connected to the cloud in remote locations? It's coming. Specialized satellites for specialized applications? It's coming.

But the most tangible result of space entreprenuership up to now for me is how it's impacted imaginations and inspirations. I've had students pitch space ideas in the last year, and those ideas seemed within reasonable boundaries of feasibility.

Last week, I received an email from our friends in Fargo inviting me to the Space Ag Conference.  

Space agriculture, and the technology it creates, could catalyze the development of high-yield crop production that requires less land and less energy, providing farmers with the ability to create more with less.

Nebullam in Ames drew early inspiration in aeroponics technology from experiments back in the 1970s conducted by NASA related to growing food in space. Now it's coming back around.

Whether outer space or not, let us indeed go where no man has gone before!