MAS.859: Space Technology for the Development Leader


Space Enabled Research Group

Space Enabled Research Group

Danielle Wood, Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
Mondays, 9am to 12pm

MAS.859 Space Technology for the Development Leader

Spring 2021 MAS Graduate Course and Seminar Series

Dates for Spring 2021 Semester:  February 22 to May 17

This course and seminar series will help you understand how the rapidly changing technology and policy in the space sector matters to your life. Join us as we seek to form a shared vision for a space-enabled society that is sustainable economically, socially and environmentally.

Seminar Series 

For the spring 2021 edition of Space Technology for the Development Leader, each week will feature a guest speaker who is a leader in the space sector giving a lecture that is open to the MIT community. More information will be shared via this page about future speakers. The guest speaker will typically speak from 11am to 12pm ET on Mondays. Members of the MIT community are welcome to join during this one hour seminar.  Here is the tentative list of speakers and topics. Please sign up at the link at the bottom of this page to receive updates about the guest speakers. 

Seminar Speakers and Topics

February 22, 11am to 12pm ET: Sustainable Development with Prof Suhyun Jung, West Virginia University  (recording available below)

March 1, 11am to 12pm ET: Systems Architecture as a method to Guide Design Thinking with Dr. Mark Maier (recording will be posted soon)

March 9, 10am to 12pm ET (Note Tuesday Meeting Date & Two Hour Seminar): Examining the Needs of Development Stakeholders with Afreen Siddiqi (MIT) and Ruth Stilwell (Follow this link to join the webinar).

March 15: Small Satellites and Innovation around the World (Speaker TBA)

March 22: No Class/Seminar

March 29: Satellite Earth Observation with Prof Mariel Borowitz, Georgia Tech

April 5: Space Technology Transfer to other Sectors with Ken Davidian

April 12: Societal Benefits of Scientific Research with Jose Guiridi

April 19: No Class/Seminar

April 26: Satellite Communication (Speaker TBA)

May 3: Human Space Flight and Microgravity Research with Christine Joseph and Miki Sode (ISS National Lab)

May 10: Space Sustainability with Tim McClay

May 17: Student Project Presentations

Course Information

Office Hours are by announcement. Please join for more information.

Course Prerequisite: Permission of the Instructor; No previous knowledge of space technology or development is required.

Course Description: This course will introduce students to the intersections between space technology and sustainable development by examining technical, policy and social aspects of seven space technologies. The technologies we discuss include satellite earth observation; satellite communication; satellite positioning; human space flight and microgravity research; space technology transfer; fundamental scientific space research; and small satellites. The seminar will explore how these technologies can promote sustainable development via discussions, lectures, readings and projects. The seminar will also examine what upcoming trends in the space field are likely to impact the application of space for development. The course considers development from the perspective of leaders at several scales, including international development agencies, national governments, local community leaders and socially-motivated entrepreneurs. The mission of the Space Enabled Research Group is to advance justice in earth's complex systems using designs enabled by space. The Space Enabled Research Group defines justice in two ways. First, in a just world, the benefits of public service technology would be available to people living in all nations and from all socioeconomic levels. This is currently not the case due to driving forces of the modern era, including colonialism, racism and imperialism, which have concentrated both wealth and technology access heavily within certain countries or urban centers. Second, the future will be more just if the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations are achieved and exceeded. The course posits that technologies from space have been used to support sustainable development for decades, however, barriers remain that limit the impact of these technologies. This 6-unit seminar takes an applied approach and explains practical features that arise when implementing space technology in support of sustainable development.

Note on related course: This course thematically follows the fall semester course taught by Professor Danielle Wood entitled “Can Space Enabled Designs Advance Justice and Development?”. It is not necessary that a student takes the fall course first, although students are encouraged to take both courses, in either order, to understand the full range of concepts. Both courses examine aspects of the mission statement of the Space Enabled Research Group at the MIT Media Lab which is to advance justice in Earth’s complex systems using designs enabled by space.

Learning Objectives: After taking this class, students should be able to:

  • Describe examples of the ways that space technologies have been used to support sustainable development, while also discussing the barriers that limit their impact
  • Explain the origin, purpose and impact of the United Nations Sustainable
  • Development Goals and their relationship to space technology
  • Describe the roles played by development leaders in organizations such as multilateral institutions, national governments, local governments, non-governmental organizations, multinational companies, and small private firms
  • Write reflective responses that capture learning from the readings
  • Apply the Systems Architecture Framework adapted by Professor Wood to analyze stakeholders, needs, context, objectives, forms and functions
  • Write a research paper that analyzes the use of a particular space technology in support of the Sustainable Development Goals using the Systems Architecture Framework

Structure of Class Meetings: The class will meet once per week for virtual three-hour sessions. Attendance in the class meetings is mandatory for students taking the course for credit and it is a vital aspect of class learning and participation. Each student will have the opportunity to lead part of the class activities during the semester.

A typical class session includes the following activities:

  • Presentations by students on individual semester projects
  • Lecture by instructor on a specific theme outlined in the syllabus
  • Seminar open to MIT community featuring a guest speaker who is a leader in the space field
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