DARPA Might Have a Way to Improve Satellite Longevity

It’s definitely not cheap to develop a satellite and launch it into space, so as you can probably imagine, its creators would prefer it if that satellite would remain fully operational for as long as possible. Unfortunately, geosynchronous Earth orbit satellites that follow our planet’s rotation are often faced with various problems that prevent them from functioning properly after a time, which is why DARPA has been working on a solution to extend their longevity. Apparently, scientists have come up with a system named Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites or RSGS, which would act as a lifeline for these large and very important devices.

According to the company, the program would “radically lower the risk and cost of operating in GEO,” by solving a series of issues that currently plague satellites. These include mission-ending mechanical anomalies such as problems with solar arrays and antennas. Moreover, the system would also deliver upgrades to antennas, and it will do all of these things with the help of a robotic arm named “FREND.” The system’s launch would be covered by DARPA and the government, but a commercial service would be needed afterwards in order to ensure its functionality in the long run.

“Under the RSGS vision, a DARPA-developed modular toolkit, including hardware and software, would be joined to a privately developed spacecraft to create a commercially owned and operated robotic servicing vehicle (RSV) that could make house calls in space. DARPA would contribute the robotics technology, expertise, and a Government-provided launch. The commercial partner would contribute the satellite to carry the robotic payload, integration of the payload onto it, and the mission operations center and staff. If successful, the joint effort could radically lower the risk and cost of operating in GEO.”

New Augmented Reality App Lets You See Radio Waves

In the modern era, radio waves are everywhere, from crisscrossing Wi-Fi signals, cellular signals, GPS, Bluetooth and many others. Yet we often aren’t aware of them, with human perception limited only to the visible light spectrum of electromagnetic waves. However the new augmented reality app, Architecture of Radio, seeks to give us a glimpse into the invisible world of data around us. When you point a device running the app in a direction or move it around, it creates a view of spherical waves emanating from radio wave sources, overlapping and crossing over each other, like waves in the sea.

The app works by compiling data about radio wave sources from public databases, including 7 million cell towers, 19 million Wi-Fi routers and a number of satellites. Access to this data allows the app to provide the user with a display of the signals in their area. Unfortunately, this relegates the app to more of an artistic curiosity than a truly useful application, as the app does not gather data in real-time from nearby devices, meaning that potential uses of such an application, such as testing ranges on wireless hardware are nonexistent. However, the app is still technically impressive, as collating and visualizing the volume of data stored in its source databases is no simple feat.

The app is to be featured as a piece at the ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe in Germany, by its designer Richard Vijgen. However for those who want a little bit of invisible art for themselves, the app can be downloaded now on iOS, with a version for Android in the works.

Image credit to Architecture of Radio

US Government Prepare For Blast From Space

This is not an article about a future movie plot. It would seem that as we become more and more aware about the universe we only just start to understand just how little we actually know about what could happen in the vast emptiness of space. The White House’s National Science and Technology Council seem to understand this as they have released their strategic plan for “extreme space weather events” that could potentially disable or even destroy spacecraft and satellites.

Two terms that will be used a lot in this article are Solar Wind and Earth’s magnetic field. The former, Solar wind, is the term used to describe particles that the sun admits on an almost regular basis. While the latter, the Earth’s magnetic field, is a natural field that is generated around the earth (your compass uses it to help point you to north). The magnetic field normally acts as a protective barrier and stops the solar winds from breaching into the atmosphere.

With estimates of $2 trillion in damages for a single ‘monster’ surge, ten times more than any other natural disaster in recorded history, and a 12% chance given by NASA that one could happen within the next decade, it would seem that preparing for this event is just one of the many things we should be looking at.

There are three stages to any disaster, and it would seem that we are starting to work on all of them for this particular scenario.

The first stage is knowing when it might happen, for this we have the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Centre who monitors the sun for any signs that something abnormal, like a ‘monster’ solar wave, could be emitted. With an estimated window of only 15-60 minutes to act, the likely hood of being able to act effectively comes from preparation more than reflection on the information given.

NSA Surveillance Program Operating For a Very Long Time

NSA operations have been going on a long, long, long, long time, that is according to the latest revelations by both Edward Snowdon and also by a report from The Intercept, NSA/GCHQ’s top secret surveillance program “Project Echelon” has been spying on the US allies, enemies, and its citizens for last 50 years. It’s being called the first-ever automated global mass surveillance system.

A British investigative journalist by the name of Duncan Campbell wrote a magazine article in 1988 about the existence a surveillance program by the name of Echelon, which is essentially a giant and automated surveillance dragnet that indiscriminately intercepted phone and Internet data from communications satellites. This technique was a precursor to today’s tapping of undersea fibre optic cables by survey non-military targets; these include governments, organizations and businesses in virtually every corner of the world.

In 2000, the European Parliament appointed a committee to investigate the program which lead to the outcome of the same old “The NSA played by the rules” mantra. How do you sum these latest revelations up? A foreign affairs directorate special adviser managed it perfectly by concluding the following,

In the final analysis, the “pig rule” applied when dealing with this tacky matter: “Don’t wrestle in the mud with the pigs. They like it, and you both get dirty.”

If anyone attempts to challenge these practises then both parties will be slandered into oblivion, the only difference is, the good guy always looks worst. I am not surprised by these revelations because frankly, who the hell can be after so much has been leaked out. I also think there is now more than surveillance at stake, but the underpinning of democracy which is looking weaker by the day.

This is also where GCHQ and the NSA look stupid, if they are able to track everyone all of the time, how come the likes of Osama Bin Laden managed to hide for so long? How come there are many criminals, illegal activities and an escalation in gun violence in the US within a world which is perceived to be more under surveillance? After all, the perpetrator of the Charleston church shootings wrote a manifesto which was easily accessible online, if the words “It was obvious that George Zimmerman was in the right” does not look slightly psychopathic, then nothing will.

Thank You fossbytes and The Intercept for providing us with this information.

A Future Where Nano Satellites Beam Information

Satellites provide the earth with the ability to run critical infrastructure which includes Telecommunications, Television Transmissions and even that annoying little Sat Nav who tells you it’s more convenient to take a shortcut through a swamp. But according to Anthony Previte who is CEO of the space company Terran Orbital, Space Satellites could provide all of us with even greater information tools to relay data.

This concept involves multiple constellations of “nano satellites” which are designed to provide small battery-powered sensors with a cheap data connection that never goes down. To explain this idea simply, imagine if every petrol station had a sensor fitted to each pump, if there was a petrol shortage in one part of the country, this information would be relayed to a Satellite and conveyed to the government with the aim of moving fuel around to solve this particular problem

As the internet is expanding even further, more and more industrial equipment is becoming connected to Networks with the aim of managing these operations more cheaply, sorry efficiently, no cheaply. The aim of Nano devices is to orbit 600 Kilometres over the equator, this compares to standard Satellites which fly around 36,000 Kilometres over the equator.

A fascinating concept also lies with the vision of using these sensors in disaster areas which are hard or impossible to be reached by traditional modes of transport. Say there is an oil leak, think Gulf of Mexico; a sensor could be dropped into the ocean via a plane to continually monitor the leak in real-time with the data being beamed to a Nano Satellite in space, the information would then be sent to a centre with the aim of tracking the events in real-time.

This concept has the ability to radically revolutionize the ways in which we are able to gain a clearer picture of events in the world.

Thank You MIT for providing us with this information

Image Courtesy of Intelsat

SpaceX Falcon 9 Certified for National Security and Military Launches

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch system has been scrutinized by the US Air Force and is now fully certified for future missions, breaking the monopoly currently held by the United Launch Alliance. SpaceX will now be allowed to compete for launch contracts for military and reconnaissance satellites.

“This is a very important milestone for the Air Force and the Department of Defense,” Deborah Lee James told Ars Technica. “SpaceX’s emergence as a viable commercial launch provider provides the opportunity to compete launch services for the first time in almost a decade. Ultimately, leveraging of the commercial space market drives down cost to the American taxpayer and improves our military’s resiliency.”

It was not overly healthy to have the US Air Force completely beholden to a single entity for its rocketry requirements: It’s not good for resiliency, and it’s not good for the purse strings either. SpaceX previously claimed that ULA launches were costing the US government $460 million per launch and that it could instead offer launches for around $100 million. ULA contested that figure, saying the current launch price is actually $225 million, with a plan to bring that price down to around $100 million as well. No matter what the real figures are, it is very clear to us that Falcon 9’s fresh certification will increase competition and drive down prices.

Elon Mush and SpaceX spent two years and more that 60 million dollars to get the certification, the company will now compete to be able to send roughly one-third of the military rockets and satellites into space. Apparently they won’t be able to launch the largest satellites until the bigger Falcon Heavy is built and certified.

Thank you to Ars Technica for providing us with this information

Image courtesy of WideWallpapers

UAE Wants The Arab Name Traveling to Mars in 2021

Space, so vast, so beautiful and so mysterious. It seems that everyone want’s to go to Mars at the moment and now the UAE (United Arab Emirates) wants to join in on that adventure too. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, I can’t say it either, is the UAE vice president and ruler of Dubai. He said in a statement that the space agency would be organizing the mission, developing the UAE’s aerospace sector, and “maximizing the contribution of space industries to the national economy.”

Maktoum also says that the UAE has already invested 20 billion dirham ($5.4 billion) in space technologies, most of this is in satellites though.

“The new probe to Mars represents our Arab and Muslim world entering to the era of space exploration,” says Al Maktoum; the UAE has called for a pan-Arab space agency since 2008. The UAE are hoping that they’ll be able to send their very first unmanned spaceship to Mars by 2021 if things go smoothly.

Check out this video below for a visual representation of how the UAE want’s their mission to happen.


Thanks to The Verge for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of NPR.

Skybox To Enable Real Time Google Maps, Let the Spying Begin?

A few weeks ago Google made a quiet acquisition of a start-up called Skybox. As with many of Google’s purchases it went without much fanfare as the company likes to shop around for new toys quite a lot, it can be hard to keep up with them all. This latest one is of great interest though as SkyBox have the satellite imaging technology needed to enable real-time imagery on Google Maps.

Imagine being able to scope our traffic in real-time from an birds eye view? Even if you’re tens, or hundred, even thousands of miles away. What about scoping our a street to see if it’s somewhere you want to live? Might look nice in the day, but could be packed with drunken idiots from a local pub after 9pm. There are lots of things you could do with real-time mapping and that of course raises a lot of questions on how comfortable people are with this kind of technology watching them.

It all sounds a little sci-fi, and certainly has an air of the sort of technology seen in movies or that is used by the CIA. With the US government recently changing the law to allow for what is known as “manholes and mailboxes” imagery, companies like Google are now allowed to use higher resolution images on their maps. With companies like SkyBox being able to offer high resolution video shot from their satellites, it could also negate the need for the current patch-work of images that Google use, often created from a mixture of satellite images and aerial photography.

“If you imagine a satellite sat above your office then the old resolution could probably make out your desk. The new imagery – where each pixel measures around 31cm – can now make out what’s on your desk,” explains Clive Evans, lead satellite imagery investigator with LGC Forensics.

It is unclear when and where Google will make such images and technology available to the public, but with SkyBox preparing to put more satellites into space, it’s likely going to be in the very near future.

Thank you Independent for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of Independent.