January 28, 2022

Sony space project fosters diverse perspectives



“The Earth was blue.” These are the words of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who in 1961 became the first person to complete a space flight. Human beings later acquired the first images of the Earth as seen from space. Now, over half a century later, we are in an age when anyone can work in real time with images of the Earth and stars as viewed from space.

Images from a space satellite were used in an educational program at Yanagawa High School in Fukuoka. Using a satellite simulator, students discovered a wide variety of scenes on Earth.

One such initiative is a space entertainment project launched by Sony in 2020 that aims to develop an array of art, education and entertainment programs based on satellite images. Why did Sony embark on this project? Yoshihiro Nakanishi, head of Sony’s space entertainment promotion bureau, cites as a catalyst the enthusiasm of staff members who at some point in their lives had become enthralled by outer space.

“It started in 2017, when space aficionados working at Sony got together and an initiative to develop space-related business programs began,” he said. “Actually, as a young child I dreamed of being an astronaut, and for a long time I yearned to see the Earth from space. There were many staff members and engineers at the company who had dreamed of space, too. In 2019, Sony entered into a joint development agreement with JAXA and the University of Tokyo. In 2020, our company established an organizational plan and embarked on the development of a satellite with the aim of putting the plan into practice.”

A video created for the popular YouTube music channel Sakura Chill Beats depicting scenes on Earth as viewed from a spaceship was the starting point for a proof-of-concept project carried out in October and November 2021 in which users communicated with one another in an online metaverse — a virtual three-dimensional. In other content soon to be developed, multiple users will watch a satellite video in real time in the metaverse.

The satellite, which will be equipped with a Sony camera currently in development, will allow for highly flexible camera work. When it meets conditions such as passing over an antenna on the surface, it will be operable from Earth in near-real time. The photos and videos taken with it will be used in collaborations now underway with partners such as artists and educational institutions.

Yoshihisa Ideguchi, a member of both Sony Music Entertainment and Sony’s space entertainment promotion bureau, said, “By gaining perspectives on space, we hope to feel a stronger connection with life and the Earth, and create opportunities leading to changes in individual behavior.”

He continued: “In cooperation with contemporary artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, a project for the creation of artwork using satellite photos is now underway. According to Mr. Sugimoto, ‘Ancient people had more time to gaze at the sky than we do today, so they had a rich perspective on the universe, but these feelings have atrophied significantly in modern people.’ I believe that cultivating diverse perspectives on space will help change our consciousness about space and the Earth’s environment.”

A project on the theme of human culture, civilization and society in the future is planned in collaboration with contemporary artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. Starting from a series of conversations with various guests, space will be perceived through the lens of human imagination and emotion in regard to space development, which up to the present has focused mainly on science.

Starting with this idea, Sony partnered with Fukuoka Prefecture’s Yanagawa High School, known for its innovative educational policies, and implemented “virtual space travel” using a simulator for operating the satellite. When students were asked what video they would wish to capture — memorable images of Earth to show to extraterrestrials — they suggested many scenes far from the course of daily life, such as vast areas of deforested land in tropical rainforests and nighttime views of cities in which buildings’ light reaches up into space. In a collaboration with Kyoto University of the Arts, an in-school competition was held on the theme “space entertainment of the future.” Many of the ideas made space feel more familiar, such as fashion in zero-gravity settings and buzzwords for a time when space travel has become common.

One plan for the future is to produce experiences in which multiple users view images of space simultaneously through media such as metaverse spaces. What concepts and perspectives will emerge from a younger generation who have come to feel that space is a nearby presence? The launch of Sony’s first artificial satellite is planned for the autumn of 2022.





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