SpaceX kicks off its space-based internet service tomorrow with 60-satellite Starlink launch

SpaceX kicks off its space-based internet service tomorrow with 60-satellite Starlink launch

3:47pm, 14th May, 2019
As wild as it sounds, the race is on to build a functioning space internet — and SpaceX is taking its biggest step yet with the launch of 60 (!) satellites tomorrow that will form the first wave of its Starlink constellation. It’s a hugely important and incredibly complex launch for the company — and should be well worth launching. A Falcon 9 with the flat Starlink test satellites (they’re “production design” but not final hardware) is vertical at launchpad 40 in Cape Canaveral. It has completed its static fire test and should have a window for launch tomorrow, weather permitting. Building satellite constellations hundreds or thousands strong is seen by several major companies and investors as the next major phase of connectivity — though it will take years and billions of dollars to do so. OneWeb, perhaps SpaceX’s biggest competitor in this area, just in funding after in March of a planned 650. Jeff Bezos has announced that Amazon will join the fray with the proposed 3,236-satellite Project Kuiper. Ubiquitilink has . And plenty of others are taking on smaller segments, like lower-cost or domain-specific networks. Needless to say it’s an exciting sector, but today’s launch is a particularly interesting one because it is so consequential for SpaceX. If this doesn’t go well, it could set Starlink’s plans back long enough to give competitors an edge. The satellites stacked inside the Falcon 9 payload fairing. “Tight fit,” pointed out CEO Elon Musk. SpaceX hasn’t explained exactly how the 60 satellites will be distributed to their respective orbits, but founder and CEO Elon Musk did note on Twitter that there’s “no dispenser.” Of course there must be some kind of dispenser — these things aren’t going to just jump off of their own accord. They’re stuffed in there like kernels on a corncob, and likely each have . A pair of prototype satellites, Tintin-A and B, have been in orbit since early last year, and have no doubt furnished a great deal of useful information to the Starlink program. But the 60 aboard tomorrow’s launch aren’t quite final hardware. Although Musk noted that they are “production design,” COO Gwynne Shotwell has said that they are still test models. “This next batch of satellites will really be a demonstration set for us to see the deployment scheme and start putting our network together,” she said at the Satellite 2019 conference in Washington, D.C. — they reportedly lack inter-satellite links but are otherwise functional. I’ve asked SpaceX for more information on this. It makes sense: If you’re planning to put thousands (perhaps as many as 12,000 eventually) of satellites into orbit, you’ll need to test at scale and with production hardware. And for those worried about the possibility of overpopulation in orbit — it’s absolutely something to consider, but many of these satellites will be ; at 550 kilometers up, these tiny satellites will naturally de-orbit in a handful of years. Even OneWeb’s, at 1,100 km, aren’t that high up — geosynchronous satellites are above 35,000 km. That doesn’t mean there’s no risk at all, but it does mean failed or abandoned satellites won’t stick around for long. Just don’t expect to boot up your Starlink connection any time soon. It would take a minimum of 6 more launches like this one — a total of 420, a happy coincidence for Musk — to provide “minor” coverage. This would likely only be for testing as well, not commercial service. That would need 12 more launches, and dozens more to bring it to the point where it can compete with terrestrial broadband. Even if it will take years to pull off, that is the plan. And by that time others will have spun up their operations as well. It’s an exciting time for space and for connectivity. No launch time has been set as of this writing, so takeoff is just planned for Wednesday the 15th at present. As there’s no need to synchronize the launch with the movement of any particular celestial body, T-0 should be fairly flexible and SpaceX will likely just wait for the best weather and visibility. Delays are always a possibility, though, so don’t be surprised if this is pushed out to later in the week. As always you’ll be able to watch the launch , but I’ll update this post with the live video link as soon as it’s available.
SoftBank-backed HAPSMobile joins the high-flying global internet race in league with Alphabet’s Loon

SoftBank-backed HAPSMobile joins the high-flying global internet race in league with Alphabet’s Loon

9:17am, 26th April, 2019
An artist’s conception shows HAPSMobile’s Hawk30 aircraft in flight. (HAPSMobile / SoftBank Illustration) , a joint venture created by Japan’s and California-based , is jumping into the race to provide global broadband access from above, alongside SpaceX, Amazon, OneWeb and Telesat. Unlike those four companies, HAPSMobile plans to use high-flying, solar-powered planes rather than satellites to transmit signals wirelessly over a wide swath of the planet’s surface. In that respect, the concept has more in common with the aerial broadband concept that Facebook was pursuing . Like Facebook’s plan, HAPSMobile’s concept relies on high-altitude platform stations, or HAPS. The venture’s ultralight Hawk30 airplanes would fly above the clouds at an altitude of 13 miles (20 kilometers) for months at a time. Each aircraft would have a wingspan of roughly 260 feet (78 meters) and sport 10 electric-powered propellers. Average flight speed would be about 70 mph (110 kilometers per hour), . The plan calls for signals to be sent in the same frequency ranges used for terrestrial mobile telecom, making for a “seamless handover” between ground-based and aerial networks. HAPSMobile says it’s entered into a technology licensing agreement with Facebook for their advanced communication system. AeroVironment, which specializes in the development of unmanned aircraft systems for military and commercial applications, for testing. The ceiling value for HAPSMobile’s design development agreement with AeroVironment was recently raised by $39 million to reach a total of $126 million. HAPSMobile is targeting 2023 for mass production of the Hawk30 planes and the launch of commercial service. In the meantime, the venture will be working with Alphabet’s Loon, which started out as a Google project and is deploying balloon-based platforms to provide wireless telecommunications services. In an unusual arrangement, HAPSMobile says it has decided to invest $125 million in Loon, with the intention of using Loon’s balloon platforms and technology to build out a global broadband network. Loon has the right to invest the same amount in HAPSMobile sometime in the future, and will be able to use Hawk30 aircraft once they go into production. Loon and HAPSMobile will work on a common gateway or ground station network that could be deployed globally and used by both companies to provide connectivity over their respective platforms. The two companies could also share network connectivity in the air. Representatives of the two ventures said the linkup would further their shared vision of providing high-speed connectivity to billions of people around the world who are currently underserved. “Through HAPS, we aim to eliminate the digital divide and provide people around the world with the innovative network services that they need,” Junichi Miyakawa, who is the president and CEO of HAPSMobile as well as representative director and chief technology officer at SoftBank Corp., . Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth hailed “the beginning of a long-term relationship based on a shared vision for expanding connectivity to those who need it.” “We see joining forces as an opportunity to develop an entire industry, one which holds the promise to bring connectivity to parts of the world no one thought possible,” he said. HAPSMobile and Loon aren’t the only ventures that have a vision of providing broadband access from above. Here are some of the other contestants in the race: aims to put up hundreds of satellites to create a broadband constellation in low Earth orbit. The . OneWeb expects to demonstrate its service in 2020 and offer global, 24-hour coverage to customers starting in 2021. SoftBank Group and other investors just last month, and HAPSMobile says it could take advantage of OneWeb’s backhaul communication capability. eventually plans to have about 12,000 satellites in its . Two prototype satellites have been in orbit since last year, and the first operational satellites are due for launch as early as next month. Service could begin in the 2020-2021 time frame. SpaceX’s facility in Redmond, Wash., has taken a lead role in the satellite development effort. , Canada’s biggest satellite operator, had the first prototype satellite for its broadband constellation launched into low Earth orbit last year. The company expects to offer first-generation data services in the early 2020s. to use a data delivery platform that’s based on the system that Loon uses for its fleet of high-altitude balloons. has its own plan to deploy a 3,236-satellite broadband constellation, code-named Project Kuiper, . Many of the details surrounding the venture, including how and when the satellites would be deployed, have not yet been revealed. But Amazon already has . Virtually all of those jobs are based in Bellevue, Wash. The list doesn’t stop there: , and Luxembourg-based have laid out plans for space-based internet access as well. Even Lockheed Martin has mentioned the idea of having a And Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing subsidiary, is working on a that looks a lot like the Hawk30. How many satellites, balloons and signal-beaming drone aircraft can the world handle? How many of these ventures will come to fruition? In the next five or 10 years, we may well find out.
OneWeb’s first six global internet satellites are safely in orbit

OneWeb’s first six global internet satellites are safely in orbit

7:38pm, 27th February, 2019
Update: Launch and deployment successful! After four years and more than $2 billion in funding, OneWeb is ready to launch the first six satellites out of a planned constellation of 650 with which it plans to blanket the world in broadband. The Arianespace-operated Soyuz rocket will take off at 1:37 Pacific time from Guiana Space Center. . is one of several companies that aims to connect the world with a few hundred or thousand satellites, and certainly the most well-funded — SoftBank is the biggest investor, but Virgin Group, Coca-Cola, Bharti Group, Qualcomm and Airbus have all chipped in. The company’s plan is to launch a total of 900 (650 at first) satellites to about a 1,100-kilometer low Earth orbit, from which it says it will be able to provide broadband to practically anywhere on Earth — anywhere you can put a base station, anyway. Much cheaper and better than existing satellite connectivity, which is expensive and slow. Sound familiar? Of course, SpaceX’s side project, Starlink, has similar ambitions, with an planned, and is aiming for a smaller constellation of smaller satellites for low-cost access. And Ubiquitilink just announced this week that its unique technology will remove the need for base stations and . And they’ve all launched satellites already! The launch vehicle fueling today at GSC. OneWeb has faced numerous delays; the whole constellation was originally planned to be in place by the end of 2019, which is impossible at this point. But delays are the name of the game in ambitious space-based businesses, and OneWeb hasn’t been just procrastinating — it has been girding itself for mass production, raising funds to set up launch contracts and improving the satellites themselves. Its updated schedule, as it states in the mission summary: “OneWeb will begin customer demos in 2020 and provide global, 24-hour coverage to customers in 2021.” At a reported cost of about a million dollars per satellite — twice the projected cost in 2015 — just building and testing the constellation will likely rub up against a billion dollars, and that’s not counting launch costs. But no one ever said it would be cheap. In fact, they probably said it would be unbelievably expensive. That’s why and the other investors are “committing to a lot more capital,” as CEO Adrián Steckel last month. The company also announced its first big deal with a telecom; Talia, which provides connectivity in Africa and the Middle East, signed on to use OneWeb’s services starting in 2021. Soyuz launches could carry more than 30 of these satellites each, meaning it would take at least 20 to put the whole constellation in orbit. This first launch, however, only has six aboard; the other spots on board the mass launch system have dummy payloads to simulate how it should be going forward. A OneWeb representative told me that this launch is meant to “verify the satellite design and validate the end to end system,” which is probably a good idea before sending up 600 more. That means OneWeb will be testing and tracking these six birds for the next few months and making sure the connection with ground stations and other aspects of the whole system are functioning properly. Full payloads will start in the fall, after OneWeb opens its (much-delayed) production facility just outside Kennedy Space Center in Florida. .
Watch OneWeb’s first six global internet satellites launch today

Watch OneWeb’s first six global internet satellites launch today

3:19pm, 27th February, 2019
After four years and more than $2 billion in funding, is ready to launch the first six satellites out of a planned constellation of 650 with which it plans to blanket the world in broadband. The Arianespace-operated Soyuz rocket will take off at 1:37 Pacific time from Guiana Space Center. . OneWeb is one of several companies that aims to connect the world with a few hundred or thousand satellites, and certainly the most well-funded — is the biggest investor, but Virgin Group, Coca Cola, Bharti Group, Qualcomm, and Airbus have all chipped in. The company’s plan is to launch a total of 900 (650 at first) satellites to about a 1,100-kilometer low Earth orbit, from which it says it will be able to provide broadband to practically anywhere on Earth — anywhere you can put a base station, anyway. Much cheaper and better than existing satellite connectivity, which is expensive and slow. Sound familiar? Of course SpaceX’s side project Starlink has similar ambitions, with an planned, and is aiming for a smaller constellation of smaller satellites for low-cost access. And Ubiquitilink just announced this week that its unique technology will remove the need for base stations and . And they’ve all launched satellites already! The launch vehicle fueling today at GSC. OneWeb has faced numerous delays; the whole constellation was originally planned to be in place by the end of 2019, which is impossible at this point. But delays are the name of the game in ambitious space-based businesses, and OneWeb hasn’t been just procrastinating; it’s been girding itself for mass production, raising funds to set up launch contracts, and improving the satellites themselves. Its updated schedule, as it states in the mission summary: “OneWeb will begin customer demos in 2020 and provide global, 24-hour coverage to customers in 2021.” At a reported cost of about a million dollars per satellite — twice the projected cost in 2015 — just building and testing the constellation will likely rub up against a billion dollars, and that’s not counting launch costs. But no one ever said it would be cheap. In fact, they probably said it would be unbelievably expensive. That’s why SoftBank and the other investors are “committing to a lot more capital,” as CEO Adrián Steckel last month. The company also announced its first big deal with a telecom; Talia, which provides connectivity in Africa and the Middle East, signed on to use OneWeb’s services starting in 2021. Soyuz launches could carry more than 30 of these satellites each, meaning it would take at least 20 to put the whole constellation in orbit. This first launch, however, only has six aboard; the other spots on board the mass launch system have dummy payloads to simulate how it should be going forward. A OneWeb representative told me that this launch is meant to “verify the satellite design and validate the end to end system,” which is probably a good idea before sending up 600 more. That means OneWeb will be testing and tracking these six birds for the next few months and making sure the connection with ground stations and other aspects of the whole system are functioning properly. Full payloads will start in the fall, after OneWeb opens its (much-delayed) production facility just outside Kennedy Space Center in Florida. .
How the Internet of Things could bring hackers into your kitchen (or bedroom)

How the Internet of Things could bring hackers into your kitchen (or bedroom)

9:39am, 19th February, 2019
(Pixabay Photo) WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tens of billions of devices, ranging from coffee makers to cars to spacecraft, could someday be connected to global networks thanks to what’s known as the Internet of Things, or IoT, and cybersecurity experts say that could open up a whole new universe for hackers and eavesdroppers. Consider the humble coffee maker, for example: University of North Carolina techno-sociologist suggested that if Chinese authorities wanted to, say, root out Muslim activists in the country’s far western Xinjiang region, they could watch for the telltale sign of coffee or tea being brewed before morning prayers. “Your coffee maker has an IP [address], and it might be at risk of identifying these people, because if I wanted one piece of data from the region, that would be my thing. … It’s a very synchronized hour, that’s the whole point of it,” Tufekci said here last weekend during the annual meeting of the . “Holy crap, we were just talking about coffee making, right? And now we’re talking about taking people to send to internment camps,” she said. “These lines are not as far apart from one another as one would think.” The Internet of Things makes it possible to take action at a distance: It’s great to be able to turn on a coffee maker from your bedroom, using a smartphone app. Or turn off the bedroom lights using an Amazon Echo. That’s why analysts expect . All those devices make the IoT a juicier target for computer attacks like the one that . “We basically forgot to build security into the Internet of Things,” said , a computer science and engineering professor at the University of Michigan. Fu and his colleagues already have demonstrated how hackers could use sound waves to … use ringtones to turn on stove burners … or . To address such threats, he co-founded a . It’s even possible to , using a phenomenon known as intermodulation distortion. “You hear about the kid with the braces who can pick up AM radio stations?” Fu said. “This is the same concept, except we’re inducing it on things that didn’t want to hear us.” Fu’s lab has even come up with an acoustic technique that turns a hard drive into a weird kind of eavesdropping microphone. “What we do is we pull off those errors from the hard drive, upload it to Shazam, and it tells us what music we’re playing in the room, which is kind of a fun parlor trick,” Fu said, The Internet of Things could turn such parlor tricks into a serious matter. Previously: “Computers have always been vulnerable to these kinds of physical problems since the dawn of computing,” Fu said. “The big thing that’s changing is the degree of connectedness and dependence. … We’re actually automating things with smart thermostats and smart locks to automatically open or close, or turn on heat and things of that nature. We are removing the human from the loop before solving a lot of the security challenges.” Tufekci said there needs to be a high-level discussion about the “security of things,” ranging from baby monitors to voice-controlled devices. “I just find it weirdly appalling that we do not have ‘off’ switches for microphones that are physical,” she said. “I just don’t trust any software to be foolproof. … We need to go back to some quite physical solutions.” Fu said security-conscious consumers — and device manufacturers — might have to be more discriminating about things of the internet. “Maybe it’s just not a good idea to put a computer in everything unless there’s a good reason,” he said.