New Technology Claims to Pinpoint Even Small Methane Leaks From Space

Amid growing alarm about methane’s role in driving global warming, a Canadian firm has begun selling a service to detect even relatively small leaks. At least two rivals are on the way.

#canada, #environment, #environmental-defense-fund, #global-warming, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #methane, #natural-gas, #oil-petroleum-and-gasoline, #satellites

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Rocket Lab successfully launches 10 Earth observation satellites in 15th commercial mission

New Zealand launch provider Rocket Lab has put its 15th commercial payload into space, delivering 10 Earth observation satellites each to their own orbit. The company is getting back into its stride after an upset in July dampened plans to set a record for launch turnaround time.

Aboard the latest Electron launch vehicle to leave the Earth were nine of Planet’s “SuperDove” satellites, the newer generation of observation craft that allow that company to provide frequently updated imagery of an increasingly large proportion of the surface.

Canon’s CE-SAT-IIB is a demonstration craft, showing off “a middle-size telescope equipped with an ultra-high sensitivity camera to take night images of the Earth,” along with some smaller ones for more ordinary observation. The rideshare with Planet was organized by launch rideshare specialists Spaceflight.

The launch was originally scheduled for last week but stood down at the time because “some sensors are returning data that we want to look into further.” Fortunately there was no shortage of backup launch dates, and today was set for the new attempt.

Everything proceeded nominally and the satellites were on their way and able to be reached about an hour after takeoff.

This is the second launch since Rocket Lab was briefly grounded following the loss of a payload in July — not to any flashy explosion but to a rather graceful shutdown due to an electrical fault before it could reach the desired orbit.

Fortunately the company’s quick investigation meant they were ready to fly less than a month later.

Incidentally, all that and more will be on the table for discussion at TC Sessions: Space 2020 in December, where Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck will be joining us.

#aerospace, #canon, #launches, #planet, #rocket-lab, #satellites, #space

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Britain Is Getting Ready for Its Space Race

Spurred by Brexit, London is backing companies that will build satellites and haul them into orbit.

#airbus-industrie, #cornwall-england, #european-union, #great-britain, #great-britain-withdrawal-from-eu-brexit, #oneweb-inc, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #satellites, #virgin-orbit

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Swarm prices out its orbital IoT network’s hardware and services

Swarm’s new network of satellites is intended to provide low-bandwidth, low-power connectivity to “Internet of Things” devices all over the world, and the company just announced how much its technology will actually cost. A $119 board will be sold to be integrated with new products, so while your home security camera won’t get it, it might be invaluable for a beehive monitor deep in an orchard or gunshot detection platform in a protected wildlife reserve.

The Swarm board is about the size of a pack of gum, and provides a constant connection at the kind of data rate and power requirement that IoT devices need — which is to say, low. After all, things like barometric pressure monitors, seismic activity detectors, and vehicles that operate far from cellular coverage just send and receive a handful of bytes now and then.

Connecting those to legacy geosynchronous satellite networks is possible, of course, but also expensive, bulky, and power-hungry. Swarm aims to offer a similar service for a tenth of the price; The company’s basic data plan provides up to 750 packets per month, with each packet up to 200 bytes. Not a lot, but it’s more than enough for many applications.

Swarm's tiny satellites lined up before launch.

Image Credits: Swarm

It’s important to keep costs down and connectivity up in growing industries like precision agriculture and smart maritime and logistics work. Being able to check in hourly from anywhere in the world for five bucks a month is a no brainer for many companies that otherwise might have to go blind or pay quite a bit more for a traditional satellite link.

It’s not just the Swarm chip that’s small — the satellites themselves are too. So much so that they attracted unwanted attention from the FCC, which worried that the company’s “SpaceBEEs” were too small to be effectively tracked from the ground. Fortunately Swarm got that all cleared up last year and sent its first dozen up earlier this month.

Right now the company has 12 of a planned 150 satellite constellation in orbit, so it’s still proving out its network with early access and pilot projects. That affects covered areas and traffic limits, but the company expects the full set to be in orbit by mid-2021.

#satellite-internet, #satellites, #space, #swarm-technologies

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A Hopeful Forecast: More Accurate Long-Term Weather Predictions

Improving technology could make it possible to better anticipate weather conditions weeks in advance, especially in the tropics.

#mathematics, #research, #satellites, #weather, #your-feed-innovation, #your-feed-science

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Satellite radar startup ICEYE raises 87 million to continue to grow its operational constellation

Finnish startup ICEYE, which has been building out and operating a constellation of Synthetic-Aperture Radar (SAR) small satellites, has raised an $87 million Series C round of financing. This round of funding was led by existing investor True Ventures, and includes participation by OTB Ventures, and it brings the total funding for ICEYE to $152 million since its founding in 2014.

ICEYE has already launched a total of five SAR satellites, and will be launching an addition four later this year, with a plan to add eight more throughout 2021. Its SAR satellites were the first ever small satellites with SAR imaging capabilities, and it designed and built the spacecraft in-house. SAR imaging is innovative because it uses relatively small actual physical antennas, combined with fast motion across a targeted imaging area, to create a much larger synthetic aperture than the physical aperture of the radar antenna itself – which in turn means it’s capable of producing very high-resolution, two- and three-dimensional images of areas and objects.

ICEYE has been able to rack up a number of achievements, including record-setting 0.25 meter resolution for a small SAR satellite, and record turnaround time in terms of capture data delivery, reaching only five minutes from when data begins its downlink connection to ground stations, to actually having processed images available for customers to use on their own systems.

The purpose of this funding is to continue and speed up the growth of the ICEYE satellite constellation, as well as providing round-the-clock customer service operations across the world. ICEYE also hopes to set up U.S.-based manufacturing operations for future spacecraft.

SAR, along with other types of Earth imaging, have actually grown in demand during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis – especially when provided by companies focused on delivering them via lower cost, small satellite operations. That’s in part due to their ability to provide services that supplement inspection and monitoring work that would’ve been done previously in person, or handled via expensive operations including aircraft observation or tasked geosynchronous satellites.

#aerospace, #capella-space, #iceye, #imaging, #recent-funding, #satellite-constellation, #satellites, #science, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #startups, #tc, #true-ventures

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The Search for Life on Venus Could Start With Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab may be able to send a small spacecraft to probe the clouds of Venus long before NASA or other space agencies are able to do so.

#beck-peter-scientist, #extraterrestrial-life, #private-spaceflight, #research, #rocket-lab, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #satellites, #space-and-astronomy, #venus-planet, #your-feed-science

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Melting Glaciers Are Filling Unstable Lakes. And They’re Growing.

A census of the world’s glacial lakes shows there are more than there used to be, and their water volume is growing.

#arctic-regions, #cloud-computing, #floods, #glaciers, #global-warming, #himalayas, #lakes, #nature-climate-change-journal, #nepal, #research, #satellites, #your-feed-science

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SpaceX satellites’ effect on night sky can’t be eliminated, astronomers say

Illustration of many satellites orbiting the Earth.

Enlarge / Artist’s impression of low-Earth orbit satellites like those launched by SpaceX and OneWeb. (credit: NOIRLab / NSF / AURA / P. Marenfeld)

Broadband satellites being launched by SpaceX and other companies will inevitably have a negative impact on astronomers’ ability to observe the night sky, according to a new report by astronomers. There are no mitigation strategies that can completely eliminate the satellites’ impact on astronomical observations—other than not launching satellites at all—but the report includes recommendations for how satellite operators can minimize disruption and how observatories can adjust to the changes.

The report released this week is titled, “Impact of Satellite Constellations on Optical Astronomy and Recommendations Toward Mitigations.” The report resulted from the recent Satellite Constellations 1 (SATCON1) workshop, which was organized jointly by the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab and the American Astronomical Society (AAS). SpaceX engineers participated in the online workshop, but the report was written by members of the SATCON1 Scientific Organizing Committee and represents their consensus views. The committee members hail from NOIRLab, AAS, the Lowell and Steward observatories in Arizona, the Rubin Observatory in Chile, the University of Michigan, UC-Davis, Smith College, and the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA).

The report said:

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astronomy, #night-sky, #satellites, #science, #spacex, #starlink

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Amazon Satellites Add to Astronomers’ Worries About the Night Sky

The F.C.C. approved the company’s 3,236-satellite constellation, which aims to provide high-speed internet service around the world.

#amazon-com-inc, #computers-and-the-internet, #corporate-social-responsibility, #federal-communications-commission, #pollution, #private-spaceflight, #research, #satellites, #space-and-astronomy, #telescopes-and-observatories

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Ship Blamed in Beirut Explosion Hasn’t Sailed in 7 Years. We Found It.

The explosive material responsible for the Aug. 4 blast in Beirut was carried there by the ailing cargo ship Rhosus in 2013. Here’s what happened next.

#beirut-lebanon, #freight-cargo, #maritime-accidents-and-safety, #new-york-times, #satellites, #ships-and-shipping

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Britain Gambles on a Bankrupt Satellite Operator, OneWeb

Pushed by Brexit, the U.K. government will have a platform to expand into the space business.

#bankruptcies, #bharti-airtel, #european-union, #great-britain, #great-britain-withdrawal-from-eu-brexit, #mergers-acquisitions-and-divestitures, #oneweb-inc, #politics-and-government, #satellites

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Autonomous driving startup turns its AI expertise to space for automated satellite operation

Hungarian autonomous driving startup AImotive is leveraging its technology to address a different industry and growing need: autonomous satellite operation. AImotive is teaming up with C3S, a supplier of satellite and space-based technologies, to develop a hardware platform for performing AI operations onboard satellites. AImotive’s aiWare neural network accelerator will be optimized by C3S for use on satellites, which have a set of operating conditions that in many ways resembles those onboard cars on the road – but with more stringent requirements in terms of power management, and environmental operating hazards.

The goal of the team-up is to have AImotive’s technology working on satellites that are actually operational on orbit by the second half of next year. The projected applications of onboard neural network acceleration extend to a number of different functions according to the companies, including telecommunications, Earth imaging and observation, autonomously docking satellites with other spacecraft, deep space mining and more.

While it’s true that most satellites operate essentially in an automated fashion already – mean gin they’re not generally manually flown at every given moment – true neural network-based onboard AI smarts would provide them with much more autonomy when it comes to performing tasks, like imaging a specific area or looking for specific markers in ground or space-based targets. Also, AImotive and C3S believe that local processing of data has the potential to be a significant game-changer when it comes to the satellite business.

Currently, most of the processing of data collected by satellites is done after the raw information is transmitted to ground stations. That can actually result in a lot of lag time between data collection, and delivery of processed data to customers, particularly when the satellite operator or another go-between is acting as the processor on behalf of the client rather than just delivering raw info (and doing this analysis is also a more lucrative proposition for the data provider, or course).

AImotive’s tech could mean that processing happens locally, on the satellite where the information is captured. There’s been a big shift towards this kind of ‘computing at the edge’ in the ground-based IoT world, and it only makes sense to replicate that in space, for many of the same reasons – including that it reduces time to delivery, meaning more responsive service for paying customers.

#aerospace, #aimotive, #artificial-intelligence, #computing, #imaging, #neural-network, #satellite, #satellite-imagery, #satellites, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #tc, #telecommunications

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High Earth Orbit Robotics uses imaging satellites to provide on-demand check-ups for other satellites

Maintaining satellites on orbit and ensuring they make full use of their operational lifespan has never been more important, given concerns around sustainable operations in an increasingly crowded orbital environment. As companies tighten their belts financially to deal with the ongoing economic impact of COVID-19, too, it’s more important than ever for in-space assets to live up to their max potential. A startup called High Earth Orbit (HEO) Robotics has a very clever solution that makes use of existing satellites to provide monitoring services for others, generating revenue from unused Earth imaging satellite time and providing a valuable maintenance service all at the same time.

HEO’s model employs cameras already on orbit mounted on Earth observation satellites operated by partner companies, and tasks them with collecting images of the satellites of its customers, who are looking to ensure their spacecraft are in good working order, oriented in the correct way, and with all their payloads properly deployed. Onboard instrumentation can provide satellite operators with a lot of diagnostic information, but sometimes there are problems only external photography can properly identify, or that require confirmation or further detail to resolve.

The beauty of HEO’s model is that it’s truly a win for all involved; Earth observation satellites generally aren’t in use at all times – they have considerable down time in particular when they’re over open water, for instance, HEO’s founder and CEO William Crowe tells me.

“We try to use the satellites at otherwise low-value times, like when they are over the ocean (which of course is most of the time),” Crowe said via email. “We also task our partners just like we would as a regular Earth-imaging business, specifying an area on Earth’s surface to image, the exception being that there is always a spacecraft in the field-of-view.”

The company is early on in its trajectory, but it has just released a proof-of-concept capture of the International Space Station, as seen in the slides provided by HEO below. The image was captured by a satellite owned by the Korean Aerospace Research Institute, which is operated by commercial satellite operator SI Imaging Services. HEO’s software compensated for the relative velocity of the satellite to the ISS, which was a very fast 10 km/s (around 6.2 miles per second). The company says it’s working towards getting even higher-resolution images.

The beauty of HEO’s model is that it actually requires no capital expenditure to work, in terms of the satellites used: Crowe explained that they currently pay-per-use, which means they only spend when they have a client request, so that the revenue covers the cost of tasking the partner satellite. HEO does plan to launch its own satellites in the “medium-term,” however, Crowe said, in order to cover the gaps that currently exist in coverage and in anticipation of an explosion in the low Earth orbit satellite population, which is expected to expand from the existing 2,000 or so spacecraft to as many as 100,000 or more over roughly the next decade.

HEO could ultimately provide imaging of not only other satellites, but also space debris to help with removal efforts, and even asteroids that could prove potential targets for mining and resource gathering. It’s a remarkably well-considered idea that stands to benefit from the explosion of growth in the orbital satellite industry, and also stands out among space startups because it has a near-term path to revenue that doesn’t require a massive outlay of capital up front.

#aerospace, #ceo, #imaging, #international-space-station, #robotics, #satellite, #satellite-imagery, #satellites, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #starlink, #tc

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The UK government to acquire satellite company OneWeb in deal funded in part by India’s Bharti Global

Distressed satellite constellation operator OneWeb, which had entered bankruptcy protection proceedings at the end of March, has completed a sale process, with a consortium led by the UK Government as the winner. The group, which includes funding from India’s Bharti Global – part of business magnate Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Enterprises – plan to pursue OneWeb’s plans of building out a broadband internets satellite network, while the UK would also like to potentially use the constellation for Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) services in order to replace the EU’s sat-nav resource, which the UK lost access to in January as a result of Brexit.

The deal involves both Bharti Global and the UK government putting up around $500 million each, respectively, with the UK taking a 20 percent equity stake in OneWeb, and Bharti supplying the business management and commercial operations for the satellite firm.

OneWeb, which has launched a total of 74 of its planned 650 satellite constellation to date, suffered lay-offs and the subsequent bankruptcy filing after an attempt to raise additional funding to support continued launches and operations fell through. That was reportedly due in large part to majority private investor SoftBank backing out of commitments to invest additional funds.

The BBC reports that while OneWeb plans to essentially scale back up its existing operations, including reversing lay-offs, should the deal pass regulatory scrutiny, there’s a possibility that down the road it could relocate some of its existing manufacturing capacity to the UK. Currently, OneWeb does its spacecraft manufacturing out of Florida in a partnership with Airbus.

OneWeb is a London-based company already, and its constellation can provide access to low latency, high-speed broadband via low Earth orbit small satellites, which could potentially be a great resource for connecting UK citizens to affordable, quality connections. The PNT navigation services extension would be an extension of OneWeb’s existing mission, but theoretically, it’s a relatively inexpensive way to leverage planned in-space assets to serve a second purpose.

Also, while the UK currently lacks its own native launch capabilities, the country is working towards developing a number of spaceports for both vertical and horizontal take-off – which could enable companies like Virgin Orbit, and other newcomers like Skyrora, to establish small-sat launch capabilities from UK soil, which would make maintaining and extending in-space assets like OneWeb’s constellation much more accessible as a domestic resource.

#aerospace, #airbus, #broadband, #business-management, #european-union, #florida, #india, #london, #oneweb, #satellite, #satellite-constellation, #satellites, #softbank, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #tc, #transportation, #uk-government, #united-kingdom

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Watch SpaceX launch 57 more Starlink satellites with its fourth launch in under a month

UPDATE [1:45 p.m. EDT]: SpaceX has scrubbed the Starlink mission for today — it’s unclear when it’ll be reset for, but likely after the planned June 30 GPS satellite launch SpaceX has planned next.

SpaceX is launching yet another Starlink mission – its fourth in a month – on Thursday afternoon at 4:18 p.m. EDT (1:18 p.m. PDT). The launch will carry 57 of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, which will join the existing constellation in space in order to prepare for SpaceX’s launch of Starlink broadband internet service.

Also on board the Falcon 9 rocket launching today are two BlackSky satellites, which will be used for BlackSky’s Earth-imaging and data analytics services. This is another rideshare mission for SpaceX, organized under the program it introduced last year, which allows smaller operators to book rides on missions as part of shared payloads, allowing access to launch services for a starting price of around $1 million. SpaceX flew the first of these missions earlier this month, with a payload that included 58 of its Starlink satellites, alongside three satellites for client Planet.

The mission today will take off from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and the Falcon 9 booster used for this mission has flown four times previously, including for Crew Dragon’s first uncrewed demonstration mission, as well as twice before for earlier Starlink missions. Re-use of the boosters, combined with rideshare arrangements, are probably helping significantly offset launch costs as SpaceX continues to grow its own Starlink constellation at a rapid clip.

For this launch, all the Starlink satellites are equipped with the deployable sun visor systems that SpaceX came up with to limit the reflectivity of Starlink overall, since it operates relatively close to Earth and has posed an interference hazard with Earth-based night sky observation.

The launch will also include a landing of the first stage booster. This is the fourth launch that SpaceX has done in just three weeks — including the historic crewed Dragon demonstration mission that took place on May 30. It’s also the 10th Starlink launch to date. Next week, SpaceX has yet another launch scheduled for June 30 — a GPS satellite mission that is set to take off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

#aerospace, #falcon-9, #internet-connectivity, #rocket-launch, #satellite, #satellites, #science, #space, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

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NASA, ESA and JAXA team up on Earth observation dashboard for monitoring the impact of COVID-19

NASA is working with two other of its largest global space agency partners, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on a combined effort to collect satellite-based Earth observation data and provide it via a dashboard in order to help monitor the impacts of COVID-19. The dashboard combines data collected by Earth observation satellites operated by each of the agencies, which monitor photographic, air quality, temperature, climate and other indicators.

The COVID-19 Earth Observation Data provides views into changes globally in water quality, climate change, economic activity and also agriculture. It’s intended to provide policymakers, health authorities, city planners and others with key information that they can use to study both short- and long-term impacts of the ongoing global COVID-19 crisis, which is definitely changing the way that cities and the people within them work and live.

The agencies involved in the project formed a project for the purposes of building this in April, so it came together rather quickly for a cross-agency, international collaboration. Data so far indicates significant changes, including positive environmental ones around air and water quality due to decreased activity – but also significant slowdowns in key economic activity including shipping activity in ports, the number of cars in shopping mall parking lots, and more.

While the project is specifically intended to provide data around COVID-19 and its impacts, and the current plan only includes the pandemic within its scope, on a call discussing the initiative, ESA Director of Earth Observation Programmes Josef Aschbacher said that the agencies are already considering whether to extend he dashboard beyond the scope of COVID-19 since it could be useful in addressing any number of global-scale problems that we collectively face.

#aerospace, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #earth-observation, #esa, #jaxa, #nasa, #satellites, #science, #space, #tc

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Astranis reaches key milestone with MicroGEO communication satellite, aims for service to begin next summer

Satellite telecommunications startup Astranis has achieved a key technical milestone with its MicroGEO product, a small geosynchronous communications satellite that it will use to launch its first commercial service starting next summer for customers in Alaska. This is a big milestone for Astranis because the MicroGEO satellite test article that passed this round of thermal-vacuum qualification testing will serve as the basis for a whole planned line of first products, designed to affordably provide low-cost broadband to specific geographic markets using individual spacecraft, region-by-region.

Having already successfully met its technical requirements in terms of radiation, which is particularly powerful in the target orbital band where the Astranis MicroGEO will operate in a fixed position above the Earth, this means that the startup’s tech has passed the last major technical milestone on its path to launch and operation. I spoke to Astranis CEO and founder John Gedmark about the achievement, and he said that while the MicroGEO qualification test article will still undergo a range of remaining tests ahead of its launch on a SpaceX rocket next year ahead of its planned Summer 2021 operational date, this is a big achievement that represents years of work from the team.

“It was a huge amount of work for the team, and I’m sure as you can imagine, these things do not do not come easy,” Gedmark said. “People maybe don’t understand just how extreme the temperatures are that a satellite has to operate within: We were doing testing all the way from 150 degrees Fahrenheit to -180 degree Fahrenheit. Just imagine that temperature swing on a big box of electronics.”

That is incredibly impressive, given that while they’ve improved significantly over the years, even modern consumer electronics can have challenges with much less extreme temperature swings. And qualification testing for equipment designed to work in space is actually done to a standard of both 20 degrees Fahrenheit hotter and colder than expected orbital temperatures, just to provide the equipment with a safe operational buffer. Temperatures can vary so wildly because the orbital environment lacks the insulating layer of the atmosphere, meaning it gets very cold when the sun is on the far side of the Earth, and extremely hot when the sun is shining directly on the spacecraft.

The Astranis MicroGEO satellites will operate in geostationary orbit (LEO), which means they’ll sit in a high orbit (higher than what’s known as ‘low Earth orbit’ or LEO, which you may have heard of because that’s where SpaceX’s Starlink satellites work). The GEO band is where existing satellite-based communication infrastructure operates today – but these consist of very large, mostly aging and expensive satellites that provide the backbone of networks including those used for in-flight wifi and on cruise ships.

Astranis is outfitting its GEO satellites with much more modern telecommunications equipment, and making its spacecraft significantly smaller, too. The company is betting that it can deploy smaller GEO satellites much more affordably, in order to serve very specific geographies. Its first satellite will serve Alaska, as mentioned, through a partnership with existing satellite TV and internet provider Pacific Dataport. This is expected to triple the available bandwidth to the state, while keeping costs to customers affordable. After that, the goal is to continue to build and launch similar satellites to serve individual small-to-medim sized countries, states and other regions.

This model differs significantly from what SpaceX and others working on LEO communications constellations are doing. Gedmark outlined the costs and benefits of both, and why he believes what Astranis is doing is likely the better fit in terms of business model and efficiencies for a small, young company to pursue.

“We’re huge fans of what some of these other companies are trying to do with LEO constellations – it’s just very different approach,” he said “We have the ability to put up one satellite at a time and focus bandwidth right where it’s needed, and do that quickly. The smaller constellations, they are very much an all-or-nothing proposition – the entire constellation has to be in place to begin service. And then they have some other challenges ahead of them as well, like ground antennas, unique tracking.”

Gedmark notes that you need to deploy many gateway dishes all around the world in order for LEO constellations to be effective, which caries its own costs and risks. Astranis, however, is compatible with existing infrastructure already used in satellite-based internet and communications, making it much easier to get serving customers. Plus, since it can launch satellites individually to serve specific regions, it can add revenue in stages over time, whereas LEO networks will need an immense up-front capital investment before any money actually starts coming in from commercial customers.

“They certainly can be successful,” he said. “I just think I think it’s gonna take them some time and we’re optimized for speed. Whether it be a U.S. state like Alaska, or a small- or medium-sized country we can offer them some extra bandwidth they can use as soon as possible and, and get it to them at the right price.”

#aerospace, #alaska, #astranis, #broadband, #ceo, #consumer-electronics, #electronics, #internet, #radiation, #satellite, #satellite-tv, #satellites, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc, #united-states

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SpaceX will have to demonstrate Starlink internet’s low latency within the next month to qualify for up to $16B in federal funding

SpaceX is in the process of building out its Starlink network of low Earth orbit small satellites that will provide the backbone of a global, high-bandwidth, low-latency internet service – but there’s a clock running out in terms of at least one potential source of funding for it to recoup revenue from those efforts: The FCC requires that anyone participating in its $16 billion federal funding auction for rural broadband access demonstrate latency under a 100-million threshold, but anyone who hopes to quality must meet that threshold within the next month.

The FCC has issued a report (via Engadget) on the Phase 1 auction for this lucrative funding, serving as advance notice ahead of its actual auction date of October 29, 2020 – but companies have to submit their applications to compete for said auction by July 15. In the report. the FCC acknowledges that any satellite provider operating at LEO has a potential advantage over providers who are using much higher altitude, geostationary satellites instead, but also qualifies that by noting that in order to pass the stated threshold they must also pass it taking into account delays introduced by relay stations, hubs and destination terminals.

SpaceX, for its part, believes that the FCC needn’t doubt its network’s abilities, and says that in fact it’s aiming for latency times under the 20 millisecond mark, which is better in some cases than traditional terrestrial cable-backed bandwidth networks.

In terms of deployment, SpaceX has been moving fast with Starlink, especially in 2020. Thus far, it has launched seven missions this year for the constellation, sending up a total of 418 satellites – which is actually more than any other private satellite operator even has currently working. The sprint is about building the network to the point where it can begin to serve customers in the U.S. and Canada by sometime later this year, and then expand to more customers globally later on.

SpaceX seems to be on track to make that happen, but the requirements for this more lucrative tranche of government funding might be too soon relative to those goals. Still, there are other federal contracts related to this initiative that it would be eligible for later on.

#aerospace, #canada, #federal-communications-commission, #satellite, #satellites, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc, #transportation, #united-states

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China Reports Progress in Ultra-Secure Satellite Transmission

Researchers enlisted quantum physics to send a “secret key” for encrypting and decrypting messages between two stations 700 miles apart.

#national-aeronautics-and-space-administration, #nature-journal, #pan-jian-wei, #satellites, #science-and-technology, #space-and-astronomy, #your-feed-science

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Virgin Orbit Launch: 1st Attempt to Blast Off From Beneath Jumbo Jet

The company, founded by Richard Branson, aims to show it can send small satellites to orbit from virtually anywhere.

#airlines-and-airplanes, #branson-richard, #private-spaceflight, #rocket-science-and-propulsion, #satellites, #space-and-astronomy, #virgin-orbit

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The U.S. Is Getting Shorter, as Mapmakers Race to Keep Up

Scientists are hard at work recalibrating where and how the nation physically sits on the planet. It’s not shrinkage — it’s “height modernization.”

#blackwell-juliana-p, #buildings-structures, #california, #davis-james-l, #earth, #florida, #global-positioning-system, #gravitation-and-gravity, #national-oceanic-and-atmospheric-administration, #navigation, #pacific-northwestern-states-us, #satellites, #texas, #united-states, #your-feed-science, #zilkoski-david-b

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Coronavirus Could Disrupt Weather Forecasting

The amount of atmospheric data routinely gathered by commercial airliners has dropped sharply as a result of the coronavirus, the World Meteorological Organization announced.

#airlines-and-airplanes, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #environment, #global-warming, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #satellites, #weather

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SpaceX Changes to Starlink Satellites Earn Astronomers’ Praise

Some astronomers who have criticized the company’s orbital internet constellation were encouraged by the measures it announced.

#computers-and-the-internet, #private-spaceflight, #research, #satellites, #science-and-technology, #space-and-astronomy, #space-exploration-technologies-corp, #stars-and-galaxies, #telescopes-and-observatories

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FCC updates orbital debris rules for the first time since 2004

The FCC has finally gotten around to updating its 15-year-old orbital debris rules, adding new requirements and streamlining the approval process. With hundreds of satellites going up every year into increasingly crowded orbits, these rules are more important than ever.

In stating the necessity for mitigating the accumulation of orbital debris, the FCC noted that while some like to downplay the problem, there is already significant danger:

Studies indicate that already in some regions of LEO, the number of new objects and fragments generated from collisions exceeds those removed by natural atmospheric drag. Other regions have sufficient densities of orbital debris to lead some analysts to conclude that they are close to or have already reached a “runaway” status, where the debris population will grow indefinitely due to collisions between debris objects.

To be clear, the rules are not anything along the lines of “your spacecraft can’t break up into more than 20 pieces” or anything like that. They’re more along the lines of requiring satellite operators to show that they’re operating in a safe and sustainable way, making guarantees like the ability to track or deorbit the craft if there’s a problem.

The new rules are not wildly different from those that came before, but rather reflect the new reality of satellite constellations thousands strong and changes resulting from improvements to technology and launch methods. (The 2004 rules have been tweaked here and there, but this is the first “comprehensive” update since then.)

For instance, with launches of multiple spacecraft like SpaceX’s StarLink satellites, it’s important that each craft is uniquely identifiable, trackable either via ground radar or some other telemetry method, and so on. The new rules require satellite operators to disclose exactly how and to what extent this is done, and also whether and how they plan to share things like orbit adjustments and other maneuvers with spacecraft tracking authorities.

They also have to estimate the likelihood of collision with large and small objects, the possibility that the satellite will fail, and what risk that creates for anyone on the surface.

The biggest change in rules is probably the requirement that any spacecraft going above the International Space Station be capable of some kind of maneuvering in order to avoid collisions.

Considering what goes on in those orbits — imaging and communications, mainly — maneuvering is something most craft need to do already. But if there’s no requirement, and the price of satellites and launches continues to drop, it would only be a matter of time before someone decides to spray a thousand tiny, dumb satellites into orbit with empty assurances that they definitely won’t hit anything.

And the thing is, if the FCC doesn’t make rules, no one will. It’s strange that the same agency is responsible for broadband speeds, obscenity on TV, and orbital debris, but that’s just how it is.

As Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel noted in her statement accompanying the new rules: “We need to recognize the FCC has unique authority. We are the only ones with jurisdiction over commercial space activities. That makes our work to update the agency’s 2004 orbital debris policies really important.”

Although they work in concert with NASA, NOAA, and international authorities trying to develop global best practices, the FCC is the one making the rules when it comes to the vast majority of satellites going up today.

One proposal not adopted today but which the FCC is publicizing in order to generate discussion is a potential requirement for companies to put up a bond that’s redeemable when their satellite is successfully retired as planned.

Essentially a company that wants to launch a satellite would be asked to put down, just for example, $10,000 in a government bond before it goes to orbit. A few years later, when the satellite has finished its job and is ready to be scuttled, that $10,000 could be redeemed if all goes according to plan. But if the craft fails, or goes out of control, or otherwise departs from the plan, the $10,000 is forfeited.

The idea makes sense intuitively — a sort of security deposit for spacecraft — but the specifics are very difficult to work out. So the FCC is soliciting comments to see how best to approach the requirement, or whether to at all.

You can read the full set of new rules and justification thereof at the FCC’s website.

#aerospace, #fcc, #government, #satellites, #space, #spacex, #starlink

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Iran Says It Launched a Military Satellite Into Orbit

The announcement by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps could not immediately be confirmed. The U.S. says such launches advance Iran’s missile program.

#iran, #islamic-revolutionary-guards-corps, #missiles-and-missile-defense-systems, #satellites

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