The use of miniaturized satellites for environmental studies has significantly increased due to their cost and efficiency. This should not come as a surprise given a number of effort scientists and engineers have dispensed in the development of satellite technology. However, the biggest challenge for many environmental studies has always been how to use them without infringing on other people’s privacy. This report aims at exploring the ethical dilemma facing real-time environmental surveillance using these miniaturized satellites and ways of overcoming these challenges.
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In the past, most research institutions and environmental experts relied on satellite images and information from government agencies, for instance, NASA to carry out their studies and make critical decisions. However, with the advent of miniaturized satellites, commonly known as CubeSats, they can conduct real-time surveillance of the earth on their own at a very low cost (Kaslow 2016). A CubeSat, a sort of miniaturized satellite, is a low-priced, institutionalized satellite with its inception in the CubeSat Project set up in the late 1990s. The fundamental purpose behind scaling down satellites is to lessen the deployment cost and is habitually reasonable for multiple launches, utilizing the abundance limit of bigger dispatch vehicles (Cote et al. 2011).
By using these miniaturized satellites, organizations can now access real-time images and videos continuously rather than snapshots are taken a couple of months ago. Companies, for example, Planet Labs and Digital Globe have dispatched many miniaturized satellites in the most recent year with the objective of recording the status of the whole earth in real-time (Cote et al. 2011). The satellites themselves are getting less expensive, littler, and more advanced.
Moreover, commercial satellite organizations make this information accessible to companies or individuals who cannot afford to deploy and launch CubeSats, enabling research institutions and environmental experts to access helpful data of zones adapting to natural catastrophes and humanitarian emergencies (Kaslow 2016).
Environmentalists often use CubeSats intended for low earth exploration. These miniature satellites are made of commercial off-the-shelf components. The off-the-shelf hardware can survive low earth radiation since the possibility of an occasional upset is low (Vorovenchi 2011). However, the use of these miniature satellites for environmental surveillance and management has not escaped controversy. These gadgets have the potential of being misused by enterprises, administrations, law enforcement officers, private nationals, criminal groups, and terror organizations. Therefore, the biggest dilemma has always been on how to gather surveillance data without exposing individuals in a given area to external risks. In addition, how can environmentalists choose what to be observed and how frequently?
This report aims at exploring the ethical dilemma facing real-time environmental surveillance using CubeSats and ways of overcoming these challenges. These organizations are faced with the challenge of collecting data using these miniaturized satellites without contravening individual privacy.
Generally, human beings attach great importance to the environment since their means of living and quality of life rely on it. As the environmental threats increases, so make the attempts to safeguard environmental values. Environmentalists are interested in the manner in which individuals arrange themselves systematically and configure activities to defend their interest in the environment.
They take into account the vibrancy of social movements, organizations and state machinery, and how they work together (Walters 2004). Environmental politics poses an exceptional test for many organizations. Among them is the transnational nature of the ecological trend. In other words, environmental processes go beyond national boundaries, for example, countries along the coastal line share the same waters and fish stocks (Walters 2004).
Unknown to numerous individuals, satellites can carry out amazing and every so often alarming exploit. At the moment, satellites have the capacity to monitor anything that is happening or existing in the face of the earth (Flemming 2003). Besides tracking and relaying information on computer screens, satellites have the capacity to read individual mind, monitor events, manipulate electronic gadgets and measurement and signature analysis (Flemming 2003). Vorovenchi (2011) explains that satellite remote sensing is the most potent and proficient instrument for surveillance and collecting data in an extensive area within a short period of time. In fact, it is more resourceful in environmental impact assessment.
CubeSat Surveillance Dilemma
One of the greatest dilemma facing many organizations and research institutions that have embraced the use of CubeSat for environmental studies is the collection of data without violating other people’s privacy (Vorovenchi 2011). Satellites (including miniaturized versions) have an amazing power, which can be very detrimental in the wrong hands. As a result, the data can be misused or abused by the individuals in charge of the company as a whole.
In addition, individuals in charge of the surveillance and data collection are frequently unsure of what to observe and frequency of the surveillance without violating the privacy of the individuals living in a particular area (Craig 2007; Vorovenchi 2011).
According to Craig (2007), even though the accessibility of miniaturized satellite has been beneficial to many, the information they gather may be utilized improperly. He argues that the advent of these technologies has seen increased accessibility of public and private information to an alarming level and that privacy advocates are becoming more concerned about its dangers. While commercial satellite organizations may edit or remove certain images, there is no concrete law that regulates private owners. Individuals can also surveillance footages and images for criminal activities (Craig, 2007).
The solution to the ethical dilemma
An effective decision-making model and an efficient code of ethics can help organizations to make a sensible, ethical decision. The decisions can be productive and justifiable. Organizations that make ethical decisions are in a good position to market themselves as professionals with great integrity. Any organization or individual using the miniaturized satellites (CubeSats) for environmental surveillance and research should adhere to the code set for the space mission surveillance projects and Dr. Fischer’s model for ethical decision making. In line with the code, the space mission surveillance projects should comprise of the following: a clear definition of targets and delimitations, mission needs and necessities, and framework prerequisites. The targets and restrictions are the keys to the entire process (Vorovenchi 2011).
On the other hand, Fischer explains that in order to make a good ethical decision, a problem has to be identified. Problem identification must consider three significant areas. The three areas include the mission of the organization, the relationships among the colleagues and other stakeholders, and the level of personal integrity. The mission of the organization should be given the highest priority in order to make sure that the decisions that are made do not violate the existing laws and regulations (Fischer 2000).
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Miniaturized satellites have become very popular among environmental and research organizations, especially for real-time environmental surveillance. Satellites have amazing power and, therefore, the emergence of miniaturized, low-cost version means that individuals and private organizations have started embracing them for commercial and experimental purposes. However, the biggest challenge for many environmental studies has always been how to use them without infringing on other people’s privacy. The priority should be accorded to the mission of the organization and project delimitations.
Cote, K, Gabriel, J, Patel, B, Ridley, N, Taillefer, Z & Tetreault, S 2011, Mechanical, Power, and Propulsion Subsystem Design for CubeSat, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester.
Craig, B 2007, “Online Satellite and Aerial Images: Issues and Analysis”, North Dakota Law Review, vol. 83, pp. 557-578.
Fischer, M 2000, Ethical Decision Making in Fundraising, John Wiley and Sons, New Jersey.
Flemming, J 2003, The Menace of Satellite Surveillance. Web.
Kaslow, D 2016, Developing and Distributing a CubeSat Model-Based System Engineering (MBSE) Reference Model, Technical Track, Colorado.
Vorovenchi, I 2011, “Satellite Remote Sensing in Environmental Impact Assessment: An Overview”, Agricultural Food Engineering, vol. 4, no. 53, pp.73-79.
Walters, B 2004, Environmental Politics, Mount Allison University, Sackville.