Elon Musk and the International (and Interplanetary) Internet
Jan14

Elon Musk and the International (and Interplanetary) Internet

Elon Musk, the CEO and CTO of SpaceX, CEO of Tesla Motors, and product architect of Tesla Motors, is now entering the field of satellite Internet. He recently submitted a request to the Federal Communications Commission for permission to launch four thousand satellites into the Earth’s atmosphere, in the hopes of providing Internet access to, well, literally everyone in the world. Musk joins several other prominent companies looking to use sometimes-maligned satellite technology to provide quick Internet access to parts of the world starved for connectivity. For Musk, however, the satellite project is part of something much larger. By creating a network of satellites for the Earth, Musk hopes to start a project that will kickstart the process of colonizing Mars (we’re not kidding).   Using the Falcon Rocket to Deploy a Global Satellite System Musk plans to use SpaceX’s Falcon rocket to distribute a network of satellites that will orbit the Earth and enable global, low-latency Internet accessibility. He and  his SpaceX team hope to make each rocket in the Falcon series reusable; to date, most rockets have been destroyed (intentionally) or have crash-landed (unintentionally), which makes each one extremely expensive. Reusable rockets will help save SpaceX and its affiliates a lot of money. Working with Google and Fidelity to Create Global Connectivity Musk’s mission has connected him with partners like Google and Fidelity, who want a piece of the action. The two companies recently contributed $1 billion to SpaceX to help Musk achieve his goals; this means they will own just under 10% of the company. Google has a history of similar projects, like Project Loon, which got off the ground in June 2013. By deploying low-altitude satellites, Musk hopes to solve the “latency” problem of most satellite Internet connections (in other words, he hopes to make satellite Internet fast enough for everyone, regardless of their geographic location). Nowadays, many Internet providers use satellites that are located over twenty-six thousand miles above sea level. Musk’s satellites would be located approximately 750 miles above sea level, greatly reducing any delays in latency. Using a Network to Create “Mars City” As we mentioned, Musk’s endgame is even more ambitious than providing globally accessible satellite Internet (as if that wasn’t ambitious enough). Musk sees the satellite network as the first step toward financing a permanent, fully functioning colony on Mars. Here’s his plan: Once the web of satellites is established and Earth becomes a powerful, Internet-rich planet, SpaceX will link the satellites to another web of satellites orbiting Mars. The interplanetary connection will be funded by the success of Earth’s satellite-Internet program and will eventually be used by “Mars City.” A Bridge...

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NASA & UCLA Could Make Wearable Devices Insanely More Powerful
Jul29

NASA & UCLA Could Make Wearable Devices Insanely More Powerful

A collaborative team of scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and UCLA are making headway in the development of a new WiFi chip that would prolong the battery life of smartphones and wearable devices. The invention would have the potential to reduce the amount of power needed to send and receive data, allowing users to get more mileage out of their personal technology. The chip, developed by Adrian Tang of NASA and Mau-Chung Frank Chang, a professor at UCLA, would reflect an incoming WiFi signal from a router or cell tower, rather than the device generate a signal on its own. This would use 100 times less power than a traditional chip, thereby significantly extending battery life. For devices that are always on and always close at hand, like an Apple Watch or other personal device, holding a longer charge would be a powerful upgrade. “The idea is if the wearable device only needs to reflect the WiFi signal from a router or cell tower, instead of generate it, the power consumption can go way down (and the battery life can go way up),” Tang said in a statement. To transmit data, current personal devices send signals to a router, which subsequently responds with a brand new signal. In contrast, the new chip uses existing signals to reflect information back to any nearby router or cell tower, eliminating the need to send out a unique signal every time information is communicated. Not only does this save on battery power, but lab tests have achieved data transfer speeds of 330 megabits per second, up to the three times faster than traditional WiFi. Wearable devices and smartphones send and receive data in the same format that computers do: familiar strings of 1’s and 0’s. This chip utilizes a switch mechanism to transfer data. Incoming energy is absorbed by the circuit as a 0, and energy the chip reflects is sent as a 1. The switch mechanism inside the chip uses scant amounts of power and allows for fast transfer of information between wearable devices and other technology such as computers, tablets, and smartphones to receive data. The biggest remaining challenge for the team of researchers is to help the chip differentiate between communicated signals from the router or cell tower, and ambient background noise. In any application, the wearable device containing a wi-fi chip will not be the only object reflecting signals. Signals are bouncing off of walls, floors, ceilings etc., all the time. To combat this effect, Tang and Chang have developed a wireless silicon chip that will constantly sense, assess and suppress background reflections. The chip will have a...

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NASA’s Jet Laboratory Helps Determine Extent of California Drought
Jul10

NASA’s Jet Laboratory Helps Determine Extent of California Drought

While the four year long California drought is making headlines worldwide, United States government researchers are trailblazing new ways to measure the scope and scale of the drought. Members of the NASA jet laboratory, the prestigious Jet Propulsion Lab, are using advanced technology to figure out exactly how, where, and why the drought is occurring and experts hope to use this information to predict the duration and severity of the drought Since the Sierra Nevada Mountains are the largest source of freshwater for the state of California, the snowpack levels in the mountains are of particular importance when it comes to monitoring how much fresh water the state can expect to receive each season. Winter levels of snow can help to predict how much water will melt and flow to the low-lands during the hotter seasons. The NASA jet laboratory is using an airplane known as the Airborne Snow Observatory to do flyovers of the snowpack to check levels. The plane is a turboprop Beechcraft King Airplane which has been specially outfitted with numerous devices that help scientists to measure the snowpack levels. The amount of snowpack contributes up to 70% of the total precipitation in California. The aircraft flies almost daily in areas in and around California and the American West. It uses a technology called Lidar—which is laser radar—to determine how deep the snow is at any particular level. The laser is able to scan the land 800,000 times per second. The rate to which the signal bounces back to the plane  is used to determine the depth of the existing snowpack. The depth of the snowpack is then used to figure out how much freshwater there will be. In addition, NASA also measures how much sunlight is being reflected by the snow using an imaging spectrometer. This is a control measure and helps to create more accurate data. Between the two data, NASA can tell water managers how much freshwater will be available and when it will be available. This can help to determine policy changes or cutbacks that may need to be made due to worsening drought conditions or whether commercial and residential areas can loosen those rules. For the first time in history, NASA is able to tell officials how much water will be necessary to end a drought in the US. Launched in 2002, the data collected by its Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites showed that two of California’s main river basins were depleted by 4 trillion gallons of water each year from 2011–2014. Together, the data shows that California will need to replenish roughly 11 trillion gallons of water to recover from...

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