Who are you and what have you done with our regular El Reg programming of despair and snide comments?
Industrial revolutions bring three things – social upheaval, economic explosions and massive pollution. We haven't sorted that out since the first one and we're already well into our information-based second. Now we're promised a third as space technology moves from cottage industry into mass production. It's not going to be …
"same orbit, not necessarily a 'bad thing'. Dissimilar orbits, at similar altitudes, so closing speeds in the realms of many km per second, now that would be 'bad'."
Why are they all in the same orbit? And if there are a bunch of satellites, all in the same orbit, then any one not in that orbit has to play Frogger to get through them.
How does Frogger usually work out for the frog?
'Why are they all in the same orbit? And if there are a bunch of satellites, all in the same orbit, then any one not in that orbit has to play Frogger to get through them.'
They are not all in the same orbit, and there are hundreds of other satellites up there already in multiple orbits / distance from the Earth.
A good visualisation is here;
You can enter starlink in the search box to see the current constellation - bear in mind not all are in their final locations / orbits at present.
"Why are they all in the same orbit?"
Oversimplified to say they're all the same orbit, but for those that are, it's because that way you have continuous coverage (instead of waiting for your satellite to come around again).
"And if there are a bunch of satellites, all in the same orbit, then any one not in that orbit has to play Frogger to get through them."
True, but space is big. Really big. You may think it's a long way to the peanut vendor, but that's just chemistry to space (or something like that)
"Now, how exactly is tens of thousand of satellites in the same orbit not going to increase our chances of the Kessler Syndrome ?"
*BECAUSE* they are all in the same orbit. If two blobs are orbiting several miles apart at the same height, speed and orientations, the major force inducing them to collide will be their mutual gravitational attraction (with minor influences such as air-drag, solar photons imparting momentum changes and other such Pioneer Anomaly stuff) which is pretty much negligible over miles.
If loads of orbiting blobs are in *different* orbits, it's even less likely they will collide. A couple of satellites almost did a couple of weeks ago and it made headlines globally. It's that rare. If you put them all in orbit *carefully*.
As one would when one's quadrillions of dollars of future income depends upon them.
Trust the money guys. They may not value life or the planet or even the rest of the cosmos but they are never going to risk their money.
Yep - because although the naked eye can only count one every thirty minutes (You can see the ISS twice in 45 assuming the orbit is roughly overhead) a more sensitve instrument will see many more...
Additioanlly a more sensitive instrument may well be taking a very long exposure.
I normally spend a good couple of hours* staring into meteor showers so this will probably annoy me immensely for a good while as the law of sod says I will be distracted my the satellite while the big one passes my peripheral vision.
*sometimes longer if the air temp makes the malt taste particularly fine.
>>>if you're outside a city and if the night is clear – and see how many satellites you can count. If you manage one every thirty minutes, you'll be doing well.<<<
Out in my part of the sticks its more like 5 minutes, but that's not the problem.
The naked eye was superseded half a millennium ago by the telescope, add in a time lapse camera for the really dim objects and the light pollution problem from thousands of extra satellites in low orbit will be near terminal.
In the UK if the sky is dark and you've got half decent eyesight then naked eye observation will deliver at least one per minute, often more than one ... The figures given are just pants.
Perhaps a visit to a dark sky area - "dark" not being a park in the middle of a city - would improve the reporter's perception of things?
I live in an official designated dark sky area and we have a couple of holiday cottages and on a good night you can hear the gasps through the windows as they stare gobsmacked into the sky.
One of my favourite roads is "The forgotten world highway", an sometimes-gravel road through the backblocks of the wop-wops of NZ. Not long before Whangamomona is a rest area, and on rare occasions I get to stop there at night taking someone through. It is possible to travel this road end-end without seeing another car. Aside from your own lights, it is possible to cover most of it without seeing a single artificial light (bar for satellites). There's usually a few on in Whangamomona, but that's not guaranteed.
I still get amazed by the view. But people who come from large brightly-lit cities? They've never seen anything like this!
You can see the start of the Tangarakau Gorge at 38°58'16.41" S 174°54'27.71" E. If you use Street View or similar, you can see that beautiful sign that says 'winding road next 16km" - but it is misleading as you've been on a very windy road for miles already. Also see one of my stopping points.
Years back on what we shall say was an "accidental exploration of alternative routes" I found an old timber milling camp site. Would love to find it again and spend a few nights there! But better to it this year before that musky foulness pollutes the sky :(
-->Closest we have to starry-eyed enjoyment of the starry-sky.
But even by his own figures, you'll be seeing one every three minutes. You don't have to have been a pro to have done deep field exposures for longer than that. And the ones that aren't shining can be as damaging as the ones that are - if they occult the star you're measuring.
But the numbers are astonishing. 50,000 satellites would mean 25,000 in your hemisphere. Imagine a patch of sky 2 moons x 2 moons. Every patch would permanently have one satellite (as one leaves another enters). That assumes they're evenly distributed - which they won't be.
These satellites are in low earth orbit, which means they're in the shadow of the earth for much of the night. This means that the window of observation will shrink some, but it's hardly terminal. This really an inconvenience, more than anything... and no more inconvenient than the moon blocking views for 1/2 a month every month... give or take. I'm a wide-field astro guy and i'm not at all worried about ole Musky's constellation.
To make an array you need mix the light from all the telescopes while arranging for the optical path length to be the same to sub-micrometer precision no matter which telescope the light enters. Perhaps this could work with a radio telescope because the wave length is far bigger but no chance with optical.
By the way, years ago I came across a book called something like "Astronomical events photographed in the UK" that had some beautiful photographs of clouds and rain. Anyone know what the actual title is so I can find it again?
An excellent book on numerous atmospheric phenomena (but perhaps not the book that you remember) is Minnaert's The Nature of Light and Colour in the Open Air (1957 in the English translation), still available in paperback. It seems to cover everything from the Spectre of the Brocken to naked eye perception of the polarisation of daylight.
The Event Horizon Telescope does this, using ground-based radio telescopes, to produce the highest resolution images of the area around black hole event horizons.
But yeah, doing this in optical wavelengths is theoretically possible, but well outside our current ability.
“ make an array you need mix the light from all the telescopes while arranging for the optical path length to be the same to sub-micrometer precision no matter which telescope the light enters.”
Not true at all. If you want an easy build then yes, but computational photography techniques in 2020 can easily compensate for different placements if the devices are in space. It may not be easy, but it’s certainly possible. We don’t do these things because they are easy...
"Astronomy Picture of The Day" [http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html] has several deep sky images, and a slew of pretty planet ones with satellite trails spoiling the pictures. It also has some with aeroplanes, some of which are seen to cross the Moon or the face of the Sun.
Even images taken to capture meteor trails are seen with extra lines formed by satellites. "Heavens Above" [http://heavens-above.com/] has lists of satellites that may be seen, and so accidentally photographed, from your location but it doesn't list them all.
I would say that if you can't more or less constantly spot a satellite you are not making an effort as there are usually quite a few non geostationary ones i.e. moving ones in the sky at the same time.
Yep. Lower Hutt, New Zealand. I'm on the Eastern edge of the valley. On the edge, but still plenty of light pollution.
I went outside last night at about 10:50pm IIRC. Moon hadn't yet risen (at least not enough to be visible). Outside and indoor lights on. Inside a minute I could pick out one bright object crossing the sky, even though the light pollution meant I could see few starts and barely make out the Milky Way.
A couple of minutes or so later I was able to spot something else as well. If I had been somewhere darker, I'm sure I could've seen more satellites in the sky at once. Very easy to see with the naked eye in heavily light-polluted conditions. That doesn't mean those in a lower orbit will be much as bad, but for significant periods of time they will be.
I've also just realised the moon will probably cast enough light onto these sats to make them visible, at least when the moon is at a lower position on the horizon.
Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS) Recommended Standard 702.1-B-1 IP Over CCSDS Space Links (https://public.ccsds.org/Pubs/702x1b1c1.pdf)
Supports IPv4 and IPv6 over existing uplink/downlink/crosslink communications protocols. Which SpaceX will have to use if they're not going to roll up their own ground facility network. Existing teleport facilities and COTS use CCSDS protocols.
"These guys who are professionals can't possibly be right. I've thought about this all afternoon. Obviously my viewpoint is right: I'm a journalist, for heaven's sake! Not a scientist, or even a science journalist, but whatever. I'm sure my non-expert opinion is just as important as the people with decades of experience in the area."
You aren't Donald Trump, but you are in the same mold.
There are vast swathes of the USA where there are legislated monopoly players - they got that way by bribing the regulators.
In a number of other of parts of the world the monopolies are there for "Other reasons" - but they're all feeling the pinch of Skylink being competition they can't shut down - and the service is actually a sideline for El MuskOx anyway.
The REAL money is in providing low latency links between stock exchanges. These LEO birds could provide time-of-flight almost half that of submarine cables between London/NY and even better percentages on longer paths. (light in glass is slowed down by over 2/3) - and the FCC filings for the laser comms systems on Skylink make it clear that's what is being chased (ultrarapid dynamically reconfigurable laser pathing between birds across oceans - a laser tag version of OSPF)
If Skylink can be the first player into the ultra low-latency market, Musk stands to make _trillions_ out of it, and could pretty much GIVE away the comms service whilst still paying for his mars ambitions - or sell it at a price so low it would force the monopoly players to be honest and drive some revolutions in the marketplace
Some examples of gouging: New Zealand, 1990s - 2Mb across town: $2000/month - 1.5Mb from San Francisco to Auckland - $9000/month. From Auckland to 160 miles down the road: $27,000/month
The DSL pricing across middle America today is similar and will stay that way until there's competition. YES, fibre/cable is cheaper, but telcos don't charge what it costs, they charge WHAT THEY CAN GET AWAY WITH and if they can shut down all the competition, they can get away with a lot.
In other parts of the world, the barriers are firewalls for information, etc etc. 6 layers of IPv4 NAT and no IPv6 is a strong dissuader to look outside your borders, etc.
In theory true. In practice not without the whole world knowing that you're doing it. Commercial operators trying to enforce their monopolies would quickly find themselves on the losing side of a lawsuit, and even repressive states have to deal with the rest of the world. Remember, even the Soviet Union gave up on jamming the Voice of America.
"In theory true. In practice not without the whole world knowing that you're doing it."
Jamming SW stations was easy because they were far away and normally on the third ionospheric skip whilst the jammers were local - and they weren't frequency-agile. In practice VoA and friends would change frequencies 4-5 times during the day and the jammers would take time to catch up.
Jamming a bunch of _moving_, frequency-agile comms satellites only 150 miles up is a different kettle of fish
Apart from "the world would know" - you'd need a LOT of jammers, and those "pizzabox size antennas" are likely to get both a lot smaller and a lot more hideable in a short period of time if this kind of game gets played.
You can make it illegal to possess a ground station, but enforcing that will be both difficult-to-impossible and likely to draw even more attention that you don't want (Myanmar, China, Venezula, etc)
If you're a country like China, you really wouldn't care (my country, my rules). And I would think it would be pretty easy to detect ground stations, stationary or not, simply by detecting their transmissions, which would be both of a specific frequency range and a certain minimum level of power.
Thinking about it a little more, jamming wouldn't be that difficult if you knew *exactly* where the satellite is...you'd simply have to hit it with a bigger signal of random crap. It would have to be a very tight beam though because there would probably be repercussions if you took out adjoining satellites, especially if they aren't over 'your' territory at the time.
Yes, the world would know. As we know, the world doesn't like it when they become aware of such things, and they put a stop to them. That's why the following things happened:
1. The world found out that China censored web traffic, so they put a lot of pressure on China and China doesn't anymore.
2. The world found out about many countries such as Turkmenistan and Eritrea banning, confiscating, and destroying satellite dishes for television. So those countries were prevented from doing so.
3. The world found out about the activities of fourteen countries against wikipedia, so they made it clear that such actions were to be ceased at once. All fourteen immediately complied.
4. The world became aware that many countries jammed radio signals coming from outside their borders and confiscated the receivers that could receive those signals. The world said "stop it", and this they did.
There must be something wrong with my post. The factuality checker plugin I'm writing has highlighted the above statements in red. What do you think that means?
> In practice not without the whole world knowing that you're doing it.
Nations that restrict internet access don't keep it a secret as it is. I don't think that they'd care if the whole world knows they're jamming starlink signals. Doing so wouldn't be illegal, after all, as the nations can make whatever laws about this that they wish.
Why do you need 50,000 satellites to fix this problem when you've already got millions of guns?
Because doing anything like standing up to the government in any fashion requires getting off their copious backsides and doing something.
OTOH, letting Musk provide the links not only means that someone else is doing something and they don't have to, but if/when something goes wrong with the Starlink service it gives them something else to rant and moan about whilst still sitting in the same over-stressed armchair (he says, whilst sitting in a chair that has a couple of springs that should be replaced).
I'll also wager that, like many other products and services the world over, Starlink will be sold to us today as "very much cheaper than the others on the market, and much better", but when it comes time to buy we'll find it's barely cheaper and barely noticeable better, and that only for the first few months.
There are not 4000 satellites in orbit, there were 4000 thousand launched, but only about 2000 are still in orbit, and if you take the time to learn, you should rarely have to wait more then about fifteen minutes to see one. Musk alone wants to add 30,000 more. Just to help with your maths, that is 15 times then the total already there, so you should be able to see one *every* *single* *minute!*. If you use any sort of light magnification, for example a telescope or a long exposure, then everywhere you look in the sky there will be a lump of Elon Musks junk. And exactly who is this going to benefit?
Re 'wo is going to benefit?' Great question. Is this brave new sat connection to the internet going to be free? Are the people living in remote places going to be able to afford this? If it's not profitable, the stuff will be abandoned.
I travel to places 'off the grid' because they're remote. I don't need hour-by-hour cat videos, the latest youtube/pinterest influencer feeds or constant twitter puke.
Somehow this author is confusing pictures taken from satellites outside of earth's orbit with earth-based star gazing. I think he's trying to say 'don't bother going outside with your telescope, just look at pretty pictures on this web site. It's better!' The author also says 'it's really not going to be that bad.' That's the author's opinion and I strongly disagree.
"I travel to places 'off the grid' because they're remote. I don't need hour-by-hour cat videos, the latest youtube/pinterest influencer feeds or constant twitter puke."
Being remote doesn't mean it has to be "disconnected". Being disconnected doesn't need to involve traveling to somewhere remote. There's a OFF switch. Whether an individual has enough will power to use the OFF switch and leave it off is another matter.
Traveling to remote locations has many advantages and many people might have many reasons for doing it, but lacking the will power to use the OFF switch should not be one of them,
At DAWN and DUSK, with a little bit of overflow into full darkness. Strangely enough, most serious observers don't fire up their instruments until it's really really dark.
Furthermore, the field of view of most astronomical instruments is only a tiny fraction of the Mk1 eyeball, nor are they easily distracted like the human mind. Any given satellite will be in the field of view for seconds or less, and I suspect it would be a trivial exercise for a telescope taking a long exposure to "blink" as a satellite flew past. So even with 20-30,000 satellites swanning around up there, very few visible light observations are going to be ruined by random intruders.
Radio astronomy is a bigger concern since the satellites will be "visible" any time they are in the sky, but even there the impact is small, since by international treaty satellites don't transmit in the bands used for radio astronomy. So again, no great concern.
As for who benefits: all of outback Australia; Siberia; most of Africa; big chunks of South America; Canada; Alaska; international aviation; shipping; AND almost certainly Elon Musk since he wouldn't be doing it if he didn't see a profit in it.
"I suspect it would be a trivial exercise for a telescope taking a long exposure to "blink" as a satellite flew past."
"I suspect" is doing a lot of work here. Who's going to develop the software and hardware that allows telescopes to detect (or be notified) of a satellite entering their field of view? Who's going to pay for it to be provided to all the professional AND amateur astrophotographers who have been inconvenienced without consultation?
That's the real issue here: arrogance. Musk had a good idea, so he went ahead and did it because he could. He didn't bother to ask if there were any downsides because that might compromise his visionary genius.
They're called ephemeride tables, and they're published, free of charge, by the satellite operators and various spacewatch organisations. So that just leaves planning observations around not pointing where a satellite will be illuminated by sunlight, or briefly shuttering the sensor as one passes by. This is easily within the capabilities of modern telescope pointing software.
I think you'll find that the idea predates Musk by a decade or five. Remember Iridium? Musk is simply the first to have the wherewithal to do it economically.
Something else to consider, the cheap launch capacity that makes Starlink possible also means that we could easily launch half a dozen or so Hubble class (perhaps even better) instruments into orbit for about the same price as the original Hubble mission.
As I see objects every couple of minutes in the clear skies of the south of England, I can only assume your figures are for deliberately launched satellites and don't include all the other crap, like discarded rocket boosters etc.
There are far more than 4000 artificial objects in orbit, currently around the 20000 mark.
Not only do people with astronomy experience above have issue with the astronomy facts in this piece but...
> Amateur radio satellites swarm the skies, offering access to anyone who can pass a simple exam and stump up 30 quid for a cheap Chinese walkie-talkie.
You have some very, very strange ideas about the cost of amateur radio kit. Try multiplying that £30 by 20 or more for the radio itself then add another £100 - £200 for a decent antenna, don't forget quality RF cable, fittings, etc and you'll be lucky to get change out of a grand.
And while I found the exam simple not everyone can follow both the electronics and the legal requirements that are part of it. So add in the cost of a course somewhere like nightschool as well as the cost of the exam itself.
You're only out by a factor of 35x or so.
Not really. The author is talking about Baofeng, who do a few dual band (2m/70cm) FM handhelds for £20-£30.
I have one and it’s decent at local contact and working a repeater 20 miles away.
However, working AO-73 with my Yaesu rig and fairly well evolved antenna setup is really not that straightforward.
Getting packet downlink from the ISS is not too tricky though.
There is more wrong with this article than I have time to address though, and while the Earth is not going to be resembling Saturn any time soon, I do think that we definitely need to think about where all this is going to end,
Having spoken to Helen Sharman aboard Mir on 2m about 30 years ago, there's a big difference between a rig that can contact your local repeater and one that can contact a satellite. I'm sure HAM sats have improved a lot in the last 3 decades but I still don't think an 8w handheld with a rubber duck cuts it.
I want to know what the author is talking about when they say this:
"If you push the boat out and get a dongle or two, you can send HD TV via a geostationary satellite to half the world at once."
I'm not aware of a free-to-use satellite for massive data upload and broadcast. I can do this with great ease if I buy a satellite internet plan or contract with a television satellite, but that's significantly more expensive and has more technical requirements than a couple of dongles. Where do I get the magic dongles that, without massive dishes, can upload all the way to geostationary orbit? Where is the satellite that apparently is content to let anyone broadcast using it? How much can I use it for my own selfish ends before my bandwidth occupation gets annoying to the provider who is operating it for who knows what reason? If this exists, why hasn't someone used it already to provide internet to areas that desperately need communication such as disaster zones, as apparently all they need is a box full of dongles and there aren't even any bills to pay? Did you just make the example up or are you extrapolating wildly from something else?
it's being overstated. Es'hail 2 (Quatar Oscar 100) geostationary satellite has a transponders for amateur use including a wideband transponder that can be used for DATV. Requires a 90cm dish for downlink and 120cm+ disk for uplink. It's definitely not HDTV as we know it though, somewhat blocky and low framerate.
Here's a demo, as you can see it's a bit more involved than a couple of dongles:
Thanks. Have an upvote. I figured that the example wasn't made up entirely, but I didn't know what was blown out of proportion to get us there.
Newsflash to this author and any other aspiring reporters out there: if you make up or exaggerate things to the point that your statements are factually incorrect, it means we don't trust anything else you say, fact or opinion.
"If you manage one every thirty minutes, you'll be doing well."
If they really were that rare I'd consider that I was doing well. However, I can spot them all the time. Once I allow my eye's to dark adapt, I can normally see them every few minutes. And before star link, I could even see several at once. Admittedly, I've not had the displeasure of starlink wrecking an image of mine yet, but I think that has more to do with bad weather than anything else.
Oh, and for the record, it's common to be taking images of the same part of the sky for several hours at a time. So having the odd satellite coming through is part of the course. Having a huge trail of them coming through over several hours is what is going to cause the problem. One here an there is ok, but from what I've seen of Starlink images so far, it looks like it's anything but that.
I think it's fair to say that if we had already wired up the globe with fiber internet, we would have little need for SpaceLink and kin. But we haven't. And clearly the demand for (fast) internet that is just there and is affordable exists. The benefits of giving the world + dog access to the internet have been documented extensively as well. This part all checks out.
Thus the solution is simple if these thousands of new satellites are an issue: install fast, affordable fiber internet everywhere people live.Have a few satellites maybe act as bridges between population gaps, but otherwise keep it terrestrial.
Ergo, governments slacking off on making internet available and affordable is the root cause why SpaceLink even exists? Intriguing if that's the case.
"Thus the solution is simple if these thousands of new satellites are an issue: install fast, affordable fiber internet everywhere people live.Have a few satellites maybe act as bridges between population gaps, but otherwise keep it terrestrial."
By 'fast fibre' many are thinking of 'high speed, high capacity' data transfer but the benefit of Elan's proposal is that his system will deliver a significant latency improvement (potentially 30%) over any fibre optic cable.
The financial markets are keen to shave nano seconds off their million $ trades to beat the trader in the next office block. They have already established private microwave networks across Europe to 'beat the Internet' between financial centres.
Elon's system, once proved, will no doubt be able to cream significant traffic from these markets at a premium cost.
Not directly related to the article but I am interested in how the service will deliver compliance to all the national regulations, particularly for site/link blocking and retention currently operated across the world. e.g. how will the system stop someone in Australia accessing the gambling sites in the UK? How will police execute Warrants when each country has it's own, often conflicting, rules and it's probably a given that US law will govern the system.
More to the point and probably one of Musk's issues...
Who's gonna breach the Chinese Great Firewall or Erdogan's version, or, for that matter any other country (we've seen it too often lately) and that still doesn't mention the nascent garden walls growing around subscribers to the big ISP's who are simply unable to resolve domains that are verboten.
How would LEO beat microwave links at ground level? The signal via satellite has to go all the way up and down, so unless a) the microwave relay hops slow it down so much that a lower number of satellite relay hops is worth it or b) the thinner/no atmosphere means is going closer to c, I don't buy it.
LEO definitely wins against fibre though.
"How would LEO beat microwave links at ground level? "
Microwave links need repeaters every 40-60 miles.
Satellite is ~200 miles up and then repeater spacing 500-2000 miles (variable) using precision laser pointing - this is covered in a bunch of patents and FCC filings
Speed of light in atmosphere: ~0.99C
Speed of light in LEO: ~1.0C
Speed of light in water/glass: ~0.7-0.6C
Speed of light in coax/transmission line: ~0.75C
Speed of light in waveguide/fibre: ~0.6-0.55C (it gets a bit complex but propagation front speed is slowed down a LOT due to the longer overall paths taken by bouncing off the sides - at the same time the phase front can appear to be travelling faster than light but it's an illusion)
Depending on how the signal is regenerated, each hop is going to add a few microseconds delay in the optical/radio -> electrical -> optical/radio transitions (and a few more if actual retiming is done).
Optical boost pumping in fibre isn't done this way and effectively doesn't have any time delays (the less electronics at the bottom of the sea the better) but the speed penalty of the medium is already a big penalty.
"Not directly related to the article but I am interested in how the service will deliver compliance to all the national regulations, particularly for site/link blocking and retention currently operated across the world. e.g. how will the system stop someone in Australia accessing the gambling sites in the UK?"
It won't. Just as you can access websites in other countries, even with blocking in place, by using a VPN, you could do so with this system until such time as they get sued by whatever government blocked the links and they block them for you. Then, you could start using your VPN again, and we're back to normal where the ISP doesn't care much and the government can go after you if they don't like what you're doing.
"How will police execute Warrants when each country has it's own, often conflicting, rules and it's probably a given that US law will govern the system."
Option 1: This is the police. You gave access to the internet to a person in [insert country name]. We demand your compliance with our national data collection laws. We want the following data. Here we are? Yes, it arrived. Thank you. Talk to you later.
Option 2: This is the police. You gave access to the internet to a person in [insert country name]. We demand your compliance with our national data collection laws. We want the following data. You aren't going to send it to us? How would you like to be sued, be indicted so you can never come here or anywhere with whom we have an extradition arrangement, and have your local subsidiary shut down? Here we are? Yes, it arrived. Next time, you better not do that again. Talk to you later.
"Thus the solution is simple if these thousands of new satellites are an issue: install fast, affordable fiber internet everywhere people live.Have a few satellites maybe act as bridges between population gaps, but otherwise keep it terrestrial."
Just few years or so ago, it was posited that one of the reasons we may not be detecting civilizations around other stars is that radio broadcasting is a short term "toy" of civilizations. We'd soon realise that the airwaves simply get too congested to cope with the amount of information we want to move and we'd all go 100% fibre.
How wrong that was! If anything, the use of the airwaves is vastly increasing.
Yes, but transmitter power has dropped drastically. The Internet doesn't rely on, for instance, the 250kW analog transmitters Voice of America used during the Cold War.
Anyone listening now from fairly close in would detect a lot of activity in certain bands (like 800MHz) which resembled pure noise, but because the individual transmitters are so tiny it would be almost impossible to detect from a few LY out, since the sources are radiating over the full 4π steradians.
"I think it's fair to say that if we had already wired up the globe with fiber internet,"
In the US there is loads of dark fiber just waiting to be used. Fantastic amounts of money was spent to criss-cross the country and engineers figured out how to multiply the information going along each fiber to the point where much of what was installed became redundant.
Places where there is enough density to support wired high speed internet, it's available. In the out of the way places, there are still options including satellite. The big swaths of unserved land is in areas where very few people can afford it.
The only question is whether anyone will still remember analog TV snow when we do.
What I've always found interesting about that line is that the digital television sets I've seen all display a blue screen when there's no input signal. So a reader who's familiar with analog sets and assumes one will picture a cloudy sky, while one who only knows digital sets will presumably picture a clear one.
Gibson's weather imagery is a function of the age of the reader, to a first approximation.
My friend the astrophysicist would rather disagree. They talk not just about getting in the way of telescopes but also a vast increase in space junk leading to the possibility we run out of safe orbits in which to put things without them getting pulverised by tiny bits of broken satellite.
Space is big. Really big. But apparently space we use for putting things in and travelling through is rather limited and as yet nobody has a way to 'sweep up' so we are reliant on not making it messy to begin with.
Take a look at how quickly things in low Earth orbit burn up. If a Starlink satellite fails when it first reaches orbit it will burn up within days. If one fails after reaching its working orbit it will burn up after about 10 years. If the satellite does not fail, the last of its propellant will be used bringing down low enough to burn up promptly.
Geostationary satellites do not come down. At end of life they go up and will be with us for millions of years.
For example, 1kg amateur satellite AO73 (Funcube1) was launched in 2013 and is expected to be around for a good while yet. This is a satellite on the border of the picosat/nanosat class. Expected life of 1U cubesats in LEO is about 25 years.
"the last of its propellant will be used bringing down low enough to burn up promptly."
You are joking, right? There is no law requiring deorbit so that last bit of propellant will be used to eek out just that much more life and money.
"we run out of safe orbits in which to put things without them getting pulverised by tiny bits of broken satellite."
Thanks for that. One of the big problems right now is all of the un-trackable junk that's been shed from all of the launches over the years from Sputnik on. I recall a very large British satellite that one day just quit with no notice at all. It's still in orbit as dead as a post. The hypothesis is that it was hit with something very small going very fast that took out something very critical. The orbit was ever so slightly disturbed so it wasn't hit with anything very big.
The impact to visual astronomy from the Earth is already being seen. The impact to radio astronomy is going be be very large. If even a small number of radios on these satellites misbehave, it can mean big problems. The Voyager probes send their signals back with a 6W transmitter. Rovers on Mars can send directly to Earth with equally as tiny amounts of power. The big radio dishes that receive these signals are plucking the signals from deep into the noise and the last thing they need is a cacophony of porn and cat videos making the job harder.
Won't it be fun to send astronauts back to the moon through a needle's eye of window between these satellites? What do China and Russia think of "American" satellites blanking out the sky?
Part of Elon's Save The World plan... vehicles? Check. Batteries? Check. Solar? Check. AI & Rockets? Check and Check.
Preserve the Internet as we know it and provide access to all... even the remotest island? Working on it.
Just as the Internet begins to be carved up and filtered/divided into shards and pieces of itself by a rapidly growing list of actors including China, the UK, Turkey, Verizon, AT&T, and so on, Musk is providing universal unfiltered access to the net. Equally importantly, just as he has with transportation, rocketry, and the rest, he has broken ground and inspired competition globally.
These are huge achievements and this latest one may rank as one of the most impactful ones in the list.
I think almost any non-dystopian future requires that kids in Botswana, Aleutian Islanders, and HK cyberpunks alike all have the Internet in their toolkits.
We can mitigate the astronomical inconveniences and it will be a small price paid if it helps keep that 'non-dystopian future' option alive.
> We can mitigate the astronomical inconveniences and it will be a small price paid if it helps keep that 'non-dystopian future' option alive.
This isn't going to do that.
And precious little of what I see Musk doing can realistically count as working to "save the world". He a rich boy playing with rich boy toys. In his defense, if I had Musk's money, I'd do many of the same things -- they're cool! But I wouldn't try to fool others into thinking it was for altruistic reasons.
"I think almost any non-dystopian future requires that [...] have the Internet in their toolkits."
Let's look at who you think needs it, and whether they're going to get it.
"kids in Botswana": The primary issue here is cost. Both the cost to get the hardware in to access it and the cost of providing sufficient bandwidth. So I take it the transceivers and service plans you need for this will be next to free, then? And somehow, this incredibly low cost won't simply be taken advantage of by people in developed countries who can afford a large amount of that and used to consume all the bandwidth?
"Aleutian Islanders": Here we're talking about inaccessibility. Somehow, we can't provide fiber, and we need satellite to work for these people. It's a better example, but not a great one. In this area, a couple cables would provide sufficient bandwidth for the sparse population. In addition, it's worth keeping in mind that the northern Pacific Ocean is a very cloudy and stormy place. That will make it very easy for clouds and precipitation to occlude dishes and cause disruption in line-of-sight transmission, not to mention the kind of damage strong arctic winds could do to the dishes themselves and the chaos that inevitably happens when the concepts "aurora borealis" and "radio communication" come too close to one another.
"HK cyberpunks": Is this a cute way of saying "protesters"? If so, you should know that they have already planned for compliance with local regulations, which is the cute way of saying censorship. Not to mention that, if they or someone else didn't, China could simply ban them from having any frequency bands. In that case, the ones citizens would have to use could be detected by radio surveillance and actually lead to easier oppression.
Musk's vehicles plan is to get rich by allowing Americans to continue to drive huge cars while kidding themselves this will stop climate change. It isn't going to do that.
Boring companies like VW and BMW (and now Toyota) have been working on the next line of vehicle technology - like BMW's experiment with getting lightweight bodies down to more or less affordable levels - and affordable urban transport like the electric Up! family. This is actually much harder to do and takes longer. And you cannot sell on perceived status or 0-60 acceleration.
Most of the time two tonnes of Tesla is transporting one or two upper middle class people on a journey that could be done with a one tonne vehicle. That is the real problem to solve; making a system that reduces overall cost as well as decarbonising.
You can build two small cars with 40kWH batteries for the cost of one Tesla with a 90kWH battery, thus displacing twice as many ICEs and doubling the impact on carbon dioxide emissions. The problem is to make the 40kWH cars a complete substitute for the ICE version, and that is an infrastructure issue.
US drivers average around 13,500 miles per year. Top-selling non-pickups are small crossovers, small SUVs, compact cars, midsize cars and midsize SUVs.
UK drivers average around 7,100 miles per year. Top-selling vehicles are subcompacts, compacts, and small crossovers.
The top-selling subcompact in the USA had just under 70,000 sales, less than the top-selling subcompact in the UK.
Why would you expect a US electric car manufacturer in the premium segment to focus on small, short-to-mid-range BEVs when the US market buys larger cars and drives many more miles per year?
This looks very bad to me. Sure, there are benefits, but it's far from clear to me that they outweigh the drawbacks. (And nobody has even started talking about the amount of pollution all those launches are going to cause).
Extremely well-funded astronomers will be fine, because they can afford to use telescopes lobbed into orbit. All the other astronomers (who are collectively even more important) will be sucking sand. And, as the article notes, radio astronomy will be hurt the worst.
And for what? So that a small group of largely misbehaving corporations get to increase their ability to control access to the internet?
> We are sharing in one of the greatest revolutions in scientific knowledge in history.
I hope that's right. But it doesn't look like it to me. At best, we aren't sharing in this, we are making sacrifices so that large corporations will get to benefit.
1. LEO latency sucks for FP shooters
2. Given the shear volume of the sphere relative to the size/amount of the satellites, the "useful" space around Earth might be .00000001% more crowded than it was 10,000 years ago.
3. The biggest hazard to satellites and space stations of all types are still going to be the tiny particles of natural space junk - the earth moves through many paths of comets that litter the orbital environment each year, for example.
4. Any Ham worth their salt still learns morse code, and has a 100 ft tall antenna in their back yard that screws with their neighbor's tv reception.
"1. LEO latency sucks for FP shooters"
And I care? Because I really don't. I figure that's a problem for the people who play them.
"2. Given the shear volume of the sphere relative to the size/amount of the satellites, the "useful" space around Earth might be .00000001% more crowded than it was 10,000 years ago."
You have not defined any of the terms in that statement. You haven't decided what the size of the useful space is. You haven't decided whether you're including the full orbits or simply the volume of each satellite. And you don't seem to think of astronomy as a case requiring space, despite the fact that any ground-based astronomy does require a certain amount of open space above it so it can see.
"3. The biggest hazard to satellites and space stations of all types are still going to be the tiny particles of natural space junk - the earth moves through many paths of comets that litter the orbital environment each year, for example."
Yes, but you don't help by adding more junk. Especially as that debris exists at all levels while all these satellites will be in relatively close proximity.
"4. Any Ham worth their salt still learns morse code, and has a 100 ft tall antenna in their back yard that screws with their neighbor's tv reception."
What? I don't even know what your point is. If your point is that radio astronomy doesn't work well near those people, that's been common knowledge for decades. You can go away from those people and have a better reception. You can't go far away from satellites because they keep moving. I'm guessing you meant something else, but I haven't a clue what it is.
Personally, I do think the satellites are going to harm ground-based astronomy, significantly.
But my (non-professional) view is that in the long term, these activities are going to bring down the cost of access to space, massively. It already has so far, with getting payloads to space having dropped to half of what they were even five years ago. And they are still coming down - well, unless you use a Senate Largesse Scheme launch vehicle that is, in which case the cost direction is up ...
My hope is that this continued drop in cost to access space would lead to, within 50 years, permanent manned research bases (like in Antarctica, not talking 'colonies') on the moon. This could lead to moon-based manned (for maintenance and upgrades) observatories, larger and more capable satellites in the various Earth Lagrangian points, even further afield, a higher cadence of satellite-based instruments that can be replaced (or augmented) every 3-5 years with more capable ones rather than the current ~20-year cycle, and so on.
So yes, over the next 5-30 years, ground-based observatories will be severely degraded if not entirely fucked. But I think the longer-term possibilities are worth this price.
Of course, others opinions may vary, especially those with vested interests in current and near-future (e.g. 30m-class observatories currently under construction) ground-based instrumentation, such as the current and up-coming generation of astronomical and cosmological researchers who depend on Earth-based observatories.
True, it takes a lot of energy. Some very casual browsing suggests that steam rockets to LEO are physically feasible with reasonable payloads,1 so it might be possible to create an economically viable steam-rocket system using massive solar arrays or the like to heat the water.
That would lower the marginal cost quite a bit, since the energy inputs for launching would be free; but of course the capital costs of building the whole system would be huge, and maintenance and operating costs wouldn't be cheap. And it'd be a disposable rocket, presumably, not one of these newfangled come-back-home types.
1Though the author's example is pretty big: "A three stage rocket bigger than the Saturn V could put 10 tons into LEO!"
SpaceX use the bottom half of their rockets multiple times. For LEO missions the top half burns up in days. The next most common mission is to geosynchronous transfer orbit: an ellipse with the low end near LEO and the high end near GEO. The payload uses its own propulsion to get to GEO and stage 2 repeatedly slows down each time it gets close to Earth and is gone in months.
As for Starman and his car: Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space.
As for Starman and his car: Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space.
"The ocean is really big. Let's just dump all our trash in the ocean. Who'll ever notice?"
So, Musk has "permission" to launch 12000 satellites. From whom? From an American institution. Space is not owned by America (much as they think it is), it is available to all nations. What happens if the Chinese, Russians, Indians, Iranians etc etc each want to put up 12000 of their own satellites? I'm sure their respective governments will be happy to give them "permission" to do so. It can only get worse.
> Space is not owned by America (much as they think it is), it is available to all nations.
True. But what Musk needs US licensing for isn't the use of space, it's the use of US ground stations and launching points. No US permission for anything is needed if neither of those things will be used.
He also has to get licenses and permissions from the Federal Communications Commission (bought and paid for Pai), for the radio spectrum and broadcast to the US. Apparently, he may also be able to get permission to broadcast to Australia. Given the way content is regulated in Oz, that should be a load of cat herding.
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All the more reason to finance cheap surface to high equatorial orbit flights for usuns [sic] However this might be more of the Achon's as noted elsewhere within this exulted temple of knowledge by Anonymous Bastard. If it is an Archon plan, we should,however, bunker down and waste our wealth on Earth and with nothing more to consider than the next election cycle. But then again has anyone checked on the Edorians recently?
"Astronomy is in a golden age; we've got spacecraft in every corner of the Solar System and a couple outside, ... "
Astronomy *is* in a golden age but it won't last. A couple of rich guys fund telescopes, radio and optical, but governments are, on the whole, far more interested in funding "conferences" in luxury hotels and larger palaces for themselves to work in. The "golden age" of all sciences is rapidly coming to a close.
We do *NOT* have spacecraft in every corner of the System. The outer worlds, from the Asteroids outwards, are vastly under-represented. True, they have had a couple of orbiters and some brief fly-bys but, compared to Earth, or even Mars, the efforts to explore them are minuscule.
And, considering the distance of one to two light-years from Sol to the zone of Sol's cometary cloud, it is ludicrous to assert that Man has sent anything outside of the System. True, four little robots *may* fall outside the Oort Cloud eventually but they'll be utterly depleted of power long before that, be totally dead and long lost us, they may not even survive the trip and it will be so long before they do that Mankind will probably be long extinct by then.
The feat of sending our little robots, even if long dead and silenced, into interstellar space is truly magnificent even if there are no intelligences in the entire cosmos than alive to notice or remember, but it is not something that has yet happened.
And it's always possible that the "Klingons" [to use the term to include all potentially disruptive neighbours] might find and nuke them.
It *bothers* me when people, including NASA, blithely tell us that we've reached interstellar space. We haven't. We're not even trying to any more and those little probes may never manage it.
Pioneer, Voyager and Deep Horizons are *potentially* *going to* fall outside our Sun's grasp to travel among the stars but they have not yet and it looks increasingly unlikely that any other robots will be following them.
Last point: should Astronomers wish to shield their delicate eyes and ears from the bright, shiny cacophony that is their homeworld, they have an obvious and quite cheap solution, stop spending their funds on anything else for some years, save them up in a global trust, pay them to a commercial rocketeer like Mr. Musk and build eyes and ears on the Lunar Farside. Some hundreds of kilometres of rock are available to block the yammering of Earth. With the advangage of lower gravity and less environmental hazards, telescopes could be built bigger, more flexible and probably cheaper and they would never run out of volunteers - I'd be one - to act as maintenance men and operators.
Apple, Google and a hundred churches could pay for a few Farside scopes and a small village to keep them running if the governments are too stingy, mean, myopic and dilatory to do so. The IAU, instead of ruminating over such cosmic questions as whether Pluto is a planet or not, should be promoting this idea at every opportunity. Other Astronomy-supporting organisations also.
But I'm betting none will.
"Some hundreds of kilometres of rock are available to block the yammering of Earth. With the advangage of lower gravity and less environmental hazards, telescopes could be built bigger, more flexible and probably cheaper and they would never run out of volunteers - I'd be one - to act as maintenance men and operators."
But since Luna has no breathable atmosphere, and since you'd still need a link back to Earth, that sort of puts a floor on the maintenance costs. Just think how much it cost for each Apollo mission.
And Amazon is doing for space communication what it's done for cloud computing
Apart from the tautology, "cloud computing" had increased concentration in the market which ultimately means less choice for users.
Skylink, et al. are examples of the "tragedy of the commons". Removing any kind of regulation to encourage private investment will bring short term riches for first movers but at the expense of everyone else and, eventually, of everyone. It's like overfishing in the skies.
The vast majority of communications will still be ultimately be done using optical fiber, because it's the cheapest way to move large amounts of data to large amounts of people.
LEO looks like it's going to end up being a good way to get large amounts of data to large amounts of space where there aren't large amounts of people. At the minimum it will do service to humanity if it stops the wailing about rural broadband access.
Astronomy projects already produce so much data that they have to be analysed by distributing the data to many research organisations around the world. Some participating universities needed to update their data bandwidth which is remarkable since they have advanced internet backbones such as AARNET.
Upcoming astronomy projects will deliver order of magnitudes more data than their predecessors. https://datascience.codata.org/articles/10.5334/dsj-2015-011/
Bon Hannent : "one [optical] fibre could deliver the equivalent of all the bandwidth of every traditional satellite in operation". So extra satellites will not provide useful additional data bandwidth.
There are no remote universities not yet connected to the internet, even in Africa.
What is the benefit to astronomers again?
With that many birds in the air, there are going to be collisions. And they are going to be spectacular. I can't wait to see the photographs ... some of them might even be taken from other satellites. That would be pretty cool.
But hey, if it means that punters who previously only had a choice of one crappy cable or phone company for Internet can now get it from the sky ... let's party.
There's a big part you are missing in all of this. Astronomers cameras are FAR more sensitive than human eyes. What is visible to your eyes and what happens to a camera image are going to be very different things. You might want to research exactly how many will be going across at any given moment because that's roughly how many their cameras will see. Not to mention they are 6 times more reflective than other satellites. Have you seen the difference between a milky way image taken as a long exposure and what you can visually see with your eyes at a dark location? That's the kind of difference we are talking about here.
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