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Elon Musk just revealed new details about Starlink, a plan to surround Earth with 12,000 high-speed internet satellites. Here’s how it might work.

SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk, is trying to launch an internet revolution.

SpaceX plans to launch a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Crammed inside the nosecone will be 60 tabletop-size satellites designed to test an internet network called Starlink.

The launch was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but was delayed twice, and is now set to take place in “about a week,” SpaceX said. The delay, it said, is to allow time for a software update and to “triple-check everything.”

Starlink, once complete, would consist of nearly 12,000 satellites — more than six times the number of all operational spacecraft now in orbit. The goal is to finish the project in 2027, thereby blanketing the Earth with high-speed, low-latency, and affordable internet access.

Even partial deployment of Starlink would benefit the financial sector and bring pervasive broadband internet to rural and remote areas. Completing the project may cost $10 billion or more,according to Gwynne Shotwell, the president and chief operating officer of SpaceX. But Musk said during a call with reporters on Wednesday that it could net the company perhaps $30 to $50 billion per year.

It’s not going to be easy to pull off, though, as Musk acknowledged.

“There is a lot of new technology here. So it’s possible that some of these satellites may not work,” he said. In fact, Musk added that there’s a “small possibility that all of the satellites will not work.”

During Wednesday’s call, Musk also provided new information about Starlink. Industry experts have also used public Federal Communications Commission filings from SpaceX to make educated guesses about Starlink’s workings and scope.

“This is the most exciting new network we’ve seen in a long time,” Mark Handley, a computer-networking researcher at University College London who’s studied Starlink, told Business Insider. He added that the project could affect the lives of “potentially everybody.”

Here’s how Starlink might work and how it could change the internet as we know it.

Starlink aims to solve two big problems with the modern internet: a lack of pervasive and affordable connections, and a significant lag between distant locations. SpaceX could make billions of dollars by fixing those issues.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

SpaceX plans to launch 60 close-to-production Starlink satellites at a time with its Falcon 9 rockets. Each satellite weighs about 500 pounds (227 kilograms) and is roughly the size of an office desk. They’ll deploy into orbit about 273 miles (440 kilometers) up.

SpaceX stuffed a fleet of 60 Starlink internet-providing satellites into the nosecone of a Falcon 9 rocket for a launch in May.

Source: SpaceX

Musk said it will take about 400 satellites to establish “minor” internet coverage and 800 satellites for “moderate” or “significant operational” coverage. The immediate major goal is to deploy nearly 1,600 satellites about 273 miles (440 kilometers) high.

An illustration of Starlink.

To understand the motivation behind SpaceX’s Starlink project, you have to understand the current limitations of our internet infrastructure. The internet is, in its simplest form, a series of connected computers. We pay service providers for routing our data to and from a web of devices.

A router connecting multiple computers to the internet via cables.

A lot of our data is sent in pulses of light through fiber-optic cables. More packets of information can go farther with a stronger signal that way than they could via electrical signals sent through metal wires.

Source: Business Insider

But fiber is fairly expensive and tedious to lay, especially between locations on opposite sides of the Earth.

Even within a country, achieving a direct wired path from one location to another is rare. Relying on ground cables also leaves many regions poorly connected.

Cables have a speed limit, too: Light moves through the vacuum of space about 47% faster than it can through solid fiber-optic glass.

A prism bends and splits up white light into a rainbow of colors because the speed of light is slower in glass than it is in air.

Source: Florida State University

This isn’t an issue for normal browsing or watching TV. But over international distances, Handley said, it leads to high latency, or lag. The time delay is especially pronounced in long-distance videoconferencing and voice calls made over the web.

Data beamed over existing satellites is some of the laggiest. That’s because nearly all those spacecraft orbit from 22,236 miles (35,786 kilometers) up, where they can “float” above one location on Earth. That’s enough distance to cause a more than half-second of lag.

An illustration of two geostationary satellites, which orbit about 22,300 miles above Earth’s surface.

Source: University College London

Handley said that latency matters most to financial institutions. With markets that move billions of dollars in fractions of a second, any delay can lead to big losses over a competitor with a less laggy (and thus more up-to-date) connection to the web.

High-frequency-trading companies will try almost any new technology to learn about market changes before a competitor.

SpaceX wants to cut that long-distance lag while also providing internet access almost anywhere in the world.

The planet as seen from low-Earth orbit, or about 250 miles above the surface.

Source: Business Insider

In February 2018, SpaceX launched its first two Starlink prototypes, called Tintin-A and Tintin-B. The test helped demonstrate the basic concept and refine the satellite design.

A camera on the second stage of a Falcon 9 rocket shows Earth, the freshly deployed Paz satellite, and two experimental SpaceX satellites.

Source: Business Insider

In the launch planned for tonight, SpaceX will deploy each of the 60 satellites from the stack by very slowly rotating it in microgravity. “This will look kind of weird compared to normal satellite deployments,” Musk said. “It will seem like spreading a deck of cards on a table.”

A magician does a trick with a deck of playing cards.

Source: Business Insider

From there, the satellites will use Hall thrusters (or ion engines) to rise to an altitude of about 342 miles (550 kilometers). This will be about 65 times closer to Earth than geostationary satellites — and that much less laggy.

A 13-kilowatt Hall thruster, or ion engine, tested at NASA’s Glenn Research Center.

Each final Starlink spacecraft will link to four others using lasers. No other internet-providing satellites do this, Handley said, and it’s what would make them special: They can beam data over Earth’s surface at nearly the speed of light, bypassing the limitations of fiber-optics.

An illustration of Starlink showing how each satellite connects to four others with laser beams.

Source: University College London

This initial batch of satellites won’t use laser interlinks. Instead, Musk says the company will (only at first) link them via ground connections. A handful of steerable antennas that can track satellites will be used to “talk” to the satellites.

Satellite-tracking antennas in South Texas.

In the future, Musk says, users will connect to Starlink with terminals that cost about $200 and can steer an antenna beam without moving parts. “It basically looks like a sort of a small- to medium-size pizza,” Musk said. SpaceX has asked the FCC to build 1 million of the small ground stations.

Rows of pizza boxes.

Source: FCC

That’s small enough to add to a home. “There’s also no reason one of these couldn’t be flat and thin enough to put on the roof of a car,” Handley said.

A Tesla Model Y.

Musk said Starlink terminals would also easily fit on ships, airplanes, and other mobile devices, enabling these vehicles to have better broadband connections than what’s available today.

Musk said just 1,000 satellites are required “for the system to be economically viable.” He noted that’s “obviously a lot of satellites, but it’s way less than 10,000 or 12,000.”

SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

Once Starlink has hundreds of laser-linked satellites in its network, their connections could move data at close to light-speed along fairly direct paths. Handley said he thinks Starlink’s initial layout is designed to prioritize east-west connections.

An illustration of Starlink showing the shortest path in the network between New York and London.

Starlink’s best paths will always change, since the satellites will always be moving. But the typical round-trip data speed from New York to London, for example, may be 15% less laggy than fiber-optic connections and 40% less laggy than the internet generally.

In this example, Starlink has many options to meet or exceed an ideal and theoretical fiber-optic connection’s speed.

The advantages of Starlink improve dramatically over very long distances. (Over short distances, Handley said, fiber-optic will win.)

An illustration of Starlink showing the shortest path in the network between London and Singapore.

Handley said north-south connections wouldn’t be as good at first, as data would zigzag far out of the way to make its shortest round trip. So initially, Starlink might not be as fast as fiber for these connections.

An illustration of Starlink showing the shortest path in the network between London and Johannesburg, South Africa.

After it gets about 1,600 satellites orbiting at 342 miles up, SpaceX hopes to launch another 2,800 satellites at altitudes between 684 and 823 miles off Earth’s surface (1,100 to 1,325 kilometers). Some would orbit over Earth’s poles to solve tricky north-south connections and help bring access to Alaska.

This image shows roughly 4,400 satellites of Starlink’s first phase deployed in three orbital “shells.”

Half of the maximum 4,400 low-Earth orbit satellites are supposed to be deployed by 2024, and the full constellation by 2027. If SpaceX doesn’t hit that deadline, the FCC can freeze the maximum number of satellites at the number the company already has in orbit.

Source: Space News

But SpaceX is not stopping with 4,400 satellites in low-Earth orbit. It also plans to roll out 7,500 satellites in very-low-Earth orbits, or about 210 miles (338 kilometers) in altitude.

In rural and remote areas, even a partially complete Starlink network could bring broadband internet speeds rivaling those found in well networked cities. About 800 would provide global coverage, Musk said.

While financial companies and teleconference businesses should benefit from Starlink, Handley said, regular internet users probably wouldn’t see much benefit because of limited capacity.

Each satellite launch could handle about 40,000 users streaming 4K video at once, based on statements provided by Musk. However, the exact numbers depend on how many satellites are launched, how well ground stations work, and a variety of other details.

Sources: NetflixMIT

“If millions of people want to hop on to Starlink all at one time, that is just not going to work” within a populated area like a city, Handley said. The problem is akin to a cell tower being overloaded with too many users, which can slow or disrupt connectivity.

A mobile network tower.

With so many new satellites in orbit, spaceflight experts are also concerned about the potential to create space junk that could damage other spacecraft.

An illustration of a satellite damaged by space debris.

Pieces of space debris can travel a dozen times faster than a bullet shot from a gun. At such speeds, even a small piece of metal can blow apart a satellite, leading to the creation of more high-speed debris.

A simulation of space debris created by India’s Mission Shakti anti-satellite missile test on March 27.

Handley said SpaceX’s initial plan to combat this problem seems sensible, though. Each satellite could use its Hall thruster to drop from orbit and destroy itself. The first Starlink satellites will also be at low-enough altitudes for atmospheric gases to slow them down and crash them back to Earth within one to five years.

An illustration of a spacecraft breaking apart and burning up as it reenters Earth’s atmosphere.

“They’ll be going through a very rapid learning phase, and there’s a fair chance they’ll get some of it wrong,” Handley said of SpaceX.

In addition, Musk said each Starlink satellite will be fed the latest NORAD tracking information for debris. The spacecraft will use artificial intelligence software and its thruster to avoid collisions with known hunks of space junk.

An illustration of a field of orbital debris, or space junk, circling Earth.

For the indefinite future, SpaceX plans to launch 60 Starlink satellites at a time with its Falcon 9 rockets, which are partly reusable and have already successfully launched nearly five dozen space missions.

The Es’hail-2 mission launches toward space aboard one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets on November 15.

But if SpaceX is to send up all 12,000 satellites by the end of 2027, it will have to launch, on average, about 120 Starlink spacecraft a month.

Flames spewing from the nine engines of a Falcon 9 rocket as it launches the Es’hail-2 mission to orbit.

That translates to two Falcon 9 rocket launches a month, on SpaceX’s dime, on top of its growing list of commercial and government launch customers.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The spacecraft is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to launch astronauts into orbit from US soil.

This also does not account for the replacement of satellites, which are designed to last about five years. “It’s not just doing it once. It’s completely ongoing,” Handley said. “So you’re committed to launching 12,000 every five years.”

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching toward space carrying the Spanish Paz satellite and two experimental Starlink satellites.

Handley said he doesn’t think SpaceX’s existing rockets are sufficient for full deployment. “I think this requires Starship,” he said. Starship, a giant, reusable system that’s still in development, could launch hundreds of Starlink satellites at once, perhaps at 10% of the cost of a Falcon 9 launch.

An illustration of SpaceX’s upcoming Starship spaceship (left), Super Heavy rocket booster (right), and integrated Starship-Super Heavy launch system (center).

So while Musk often speaks about Starship in terms of settling Mars, Handley said he thinks Starlink is dependent on it, too. “You will have these very, very capable, fully reusable launchers sitting around waiting to go to Mars every two years,” he said. “What are you going to do with them in between?”

Musk and SpaceX are developing a stainless-steel rocket ship called Starship.

SpaceX is developing Starship concurrently in Texas and Florida. Musk said he plans to present new details about the system next month.

A prototype of SpaceX’s Starship rocket stands vertically at the company’s launch site in Boca Chica, Texas.

Correction (May 26, 2019): A bandwidth of 1 Tbps per launch might support 40,000 users trying to stream 4K (or ultra-high-definition) content at once, not 1,100 users, as we previously reported.

This story has been updated with new information.

Source www.businessinsider.com

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Science & Technology

Facebook patented hand tracking system

Facebook patented hand tracking with finger emitters.

Facebook Technologies / USPTO, 2020

Facebook has patented a hand tracking system using small transponders at the ends of the fingers. The patent describes a glove with several emitters and a receiving system that distinguishes the signals from each emitter, calculates their location and restores the shape of the hand. The Patently Apple website drew attention to the patent.

Motion capture systems are often used when shooting movies, as well as in virtual reality. There are several standard tracking methods. For professional projects, an external system is often used, which consists of high-speed infrared cameras on the walls and infrared markers on clothes.

This is a rather inconvenient and extremely expensive system, so home VR systems usually use gloves that track the pose of the hand, and a separate massive beacon on the arm that allows the base station near the computer to track its location. Also recently, hand tracking systems using cameras and machine vision algorithms have begun to develop. In particular, at the end of 2019, such a feature appeared in Oculus Quest, which is being developed by a Facebook-owned company.

In a new patent, Facebook engineers described a method for tracking brush poses across multiple emitters. It is assumed that the system will consist of two parts: a glove and a tracking station nearby, for example, on a table near a computer or set-top box. The glove contains several transponders operating on millimeter waves. They can be located at the ends of the fingers, as well as on other parts of the brush for more precise tracking.

System diagram Facebook Technologies / USPTO, 2020

The tracking station has several antennas. They emit signals towards the glove, and transponders emit response signals. After this, the antennas receive response signals, using triangulation, they calculate the location of the transponders and create a three-dimensional model of the brush. The authors note that the signals can be modulated by time, frequency, or changed by other parameters so that they are unique for each transponder and facilitate the task of creating a model.

Glove diagram with transponders Facebook Technologies / USPTO, 2020

In recent years, many miniature emitters for the millimeter radio band have appeared. Most often they are  offered to be used for communication of the 5G standard (mmWave range), as well as in compact radars for smartphones and smart watches.

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Science & Technology

Do Advanced Extraterrestrial Civilizations extract energy from black holes?

Researchers from the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Glasgow in the UK have proven a half-century hypothesis that suggests that technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations could potentially extract energy from spinning black holes. An article by researchers is published in the journal Nature Physics.

In 1969, the British physicist Roger Penrose suggested that aliens can extract energy from a rotating black hole due to the fact that particles or waves flying through the ergosphere take away the energy of rotation of the black hole (this phenomenon became known as the Penrose process). 

The Soviet physicist Yakov Zeldovich developed this idea and put forward the hypothesis that a rapidly rotating cylinder is capable of amplifying the “swirling” electromagnetic waves incident on it (that is, having a certain orbital angular momentum), including quantum fluctuations in a vacuum. 

However, this effect has not yet been experimentally verified, since the cylinder had to rotate at a frequency of at least a billion times per second.

In a new work, scientists for the first time managed to observe the Zeldovich effect, achieved using acoustic waves with a frequency of 60 hertz. 

During the experiment, the researchers installed 16 speakers in the form of a ring and directed the sound toward a rotating disk made of noise-absorbing foam. In this case, the acoustic waves from one speaker lagged behind in phase from the waves from another speaker, which made it possible to simulate the orbital angular momentum. Conditions satisfying the Zeldovich effect were achieved by rotating the disk with a frequency of only 15-30 revolutions per second.

The experimental results confirmed that low-frequency modes can be amplified by up to 30 percent, passing through the noise-absorbing layer of the disk. As the speed of the disk increases, the frequency of sound waves decreases due to the Doppler effect, however, when a certain speed is reached, it again returns to its previous value, while the volume (i.e. the amplitude) increases. This is due to the fact that the waves took part of the rotational energy from the disk.

The Penrose process occurs when the body has two parts, one of which falls beyond the horizon of events. If two fragments have certain speeds, a special position relative to each other and fly along the correct paths, then the fall of one fragment transfers the energy to the other part, greater than the energy that the body had originally.

 For an outside observer, it looks as if the body was divided into a part with positive energy and a part with “negative energy”, which when falling beyond the horizon reduces the angular momentum of the black hole. As a result, the first fragment takes off from the ergosphere, “taking” the energy of rotation of the black hole.

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Science & Technology

What if we could create antigravitу?

Are уou tired of cramped citу life? Then anti-gravitу is just what уou need! We still don’t know the technologу, but if we do, it will completelу change our world.

How can this change the waу we build our cities? Whу would this allow us to travel further into space? And how can this help us colonize alien worlds?

According to astronomers, gravitу is “the force bу which a planet or other bodу pulls objects to its center. We reallу don’t know whу gravitу behaves like this; we just know that this is so, and that’s all we need for this.

As we talk about things that we know too little about, let’s get to know her better. Antigravitу, as the name implies, is a hуpothetical means of counteracting the effects of gravitу.

Although manу scholars saу this is not possible, this does not stop us from reasoning. But if we ever find out, we will have to delve into an even more mуsterious part of our universe – antimatter.

To understand what antimatter is and how it relates to antigravitу, we will go back during the Big Bang. When the Big Bang occurred, he created matter and antimatter. Matter consists of atoms – the building blocks of chemical elements such as helium, oxуgen and hуdrogen.

Inside the atoms уou will find particles, such as protons, which have a positive electric charge, and electrons, which usuallу have a negative charge. For antimatter, the electric charge of these particles is reversed.

This led to some speculations that other properties will also be changed, such as how theу react to gravitу. We could not verifу how antimatter reacts to gravitу – for now. However, some theories saу that when we do this, we will find that antimatter particles do not fall, giving us our first real example of antigravitу.

If so, this could lead to a scientific and technological revolution. We could theoreticallу use antimatter to develop technologу that protects people or objects from gravitational forces. In other words, we can make so manу things float in the air.

So what would we do with this crazу technologу? Well, firstlу, there should be hoverboards, right? We’re talking about real hoverboards that don’t touch the ground!

We could build floating cities to accommodate our ever-growing population. Massive structures can be suspended over ponds or rockу terrain that we could not build. But perhaps we will see the greatest importance of anti-gravitу technologу, if we look even further – at the stars.

Space travel will be much safer and cheaper. Space shuttles will not need rocket fuel to launch from our atmosphere. Instead, we could just stop the effects of gravitу on them.

Antigravitу will not onlу help us get to space; It can also help us find a new home there. We no longer need to worrу about planets with gravitу too strong for human habitation, since we can simplу use antigravitу to protect ourselves from it.

Yes, we understand that there is a lot of unknown and hуpothetical with this, but here’s what happens when we talk about something as mуsterious as antimatter.

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