Which is the “Good” Future?

Old space monty.jpg

This site contains my opinions and ideas only, not the opinions or ideas of any organization I work for. It’s my idea playground, and I’m inviting you in. Welcome!

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, in part because of SpaceX’s success with its Falcon Heavy (FH) launch. And, in part because of the inevitable responses to that success from the expected originators of those responses.

Responses were predictable.

A certain, seemingly interminable, government rocket-building program put shields up, throwing out all sorts of reasons why the FH just won’t compete (the reaction and attitude seemed like the Black Knight’s reaction to getting his legs and arms chopped off (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eMkth8FWno)). Many people came to the program’s rescue as well, writing op-eds, histories, and comparisons. Similarly, a SpaceX company rival coaxed industry writers to show the genius of another rocket on the CAD screen. The ‘genius’ as quoted by one writer, was parachuting the rocket’s engine cluster back to be snatched out of the air with a helicopter. That was funny!

Look–I get it. A company that incumbent launch service providers never expected to make it off the launch pad seems to be eating their lunch. It’s making them look like they’re all standing still. Ditto for the government human launch program. The fact the company has created three different rockets–Falcon 1, Falcon 9 (plus iterations), and the Falcon Heavy–within 16 years of its founding, might have something to do with that. The same company is working on a fourth rocket.

The company did not just design and create three different rockets, but it also constructed its own engines, its own landing system, its own cargo spacecraft, and more. Each action was likely viewed by some as an encroachment on territory and expertise of incumbents across the board. Never mind that territories and expertise in those organizations seemed to be encompassing necrotic programs and business models fully dependent on taxpayer funding. The kind of changes SpaceX pushed were too much–too successful. Competitors’ pride turned to envy, feelings were hurt, and the bottom-line looked a lot less certain. So, yes, defensive press releases and plans were to be expected.

Government and incumbent plans are for one kind of future, whereas SpaceX’s reusable rockets seem to be from the future. But which IS the future?

Certainly the immediate, short-sighted goals of maintaining contracts and jobs isn’t the future of the industry–although some companies seemed eminently poised for that future. The goal of maintaining a nation’s prestige through building the rocket equivalent of an Eiffel-tower to shoot into space (with ever-changing goals of WHERE to shoot into space) seems fairly old-fashioned. It certainly was done over fifty years ago and seems to be a step back towards that age. So maybe not the future, in spite of great marketing. What’s next, Ferris wheels in space? Wait a minute…

Whether we, or by proxy, congress, decide to go with those futures, or to allow some other to unfold, will it matter? The future will have its way with us, no matter what we think and do. We can try to stuff it back in its box. We can come up with protectionist laws. We can build systems that can only come from a Rube Goldberg (https://www.rubegoldberg.com/) fever dream. We can write up heartfelt and snarky, dare I say, trollish/tantrum responses to a company’s successes or failures. But the future comes, whether choices are made…or not. We can be a part of the future, work with it, or become irrelevant. The future doesn’t care.

There are indicators of a type of future coming to the space industry. Not just in the United States, but globally. SpaceX as the most active launch service provider and rocket developer seems to be the industry’s harbinger. It’s giving us glimpses of the future, but perhaps not the way we think. Since SpaceX is doing interesting things, let’s take a look at the company’s recent achievements:

  • SpaceX’s Falcon 9 1st stage landing attempts were all successful during 2017.
  • SpaceX uses “drone” ships to act as ocean landing pads for a few of these returning stages. And they work.
  • SpaceX is aiming for quick-turnaround times–as little as an hour–between rocket landings and launches (not necessarily with the Falcon 9).
  • SpaceX launched two broadband test satellites, the TinTins. The company plans to orbit thousands around the Earth, and a few around Mars, too ( http://shitelonsays.com/transcript/spacex-seattle-2015-2015-01-15).
  • SpaceX automated the flight termination system for its rockets during launch.

These actions of just one company highlight possible trends towards a likely future. These are trends already embraced by the public in other areas, and growing by the year, rapidly. More on that in the next post.

P.S.: The next post will be a little while. Next week is a bit full. If I have time to write, well, it will be a miracle.

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The Mission Readiness Review–Episode 5: NOAA Means NO!!

This site contains my opinions and ideas only, not the opinions or ideas of any organization I work for. It’s my idea playground, and I’m inviting you in. Welcome!

Click on the link below to get the latest TMRR episode. There will be no TMRR next week–I’m gonna be really, REALLY busy.

https://tmrr.podbean.com/e/episode-5-noaa-means-no/ .

On this episode we talk about: A space nation takes us to its leader; SpaceX and NOAA point fingers at each other; and India’s communications satellite just won’t speak up.

We are also on Google Play Music.

Intro background music POD Dreams by Stefan Kartenberg (c) copyright 2017 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. dig.ccmixter.org/files/JeffSpeed68/56307 Ft: Debbizo, Michael Bacich.

Show links

Launch schedule: https://spaceflightnow.com/launch-schedule/

NOAA licensing: http://spacenews.com/noaa-speeds-up-remote-sensing-license-reviews-amid-broader-regulatory-changes/

SpaceX/NOAA: http://spacenews.com/noaa-explains-restriction-on-spacex-launch-webcast/

Asgardia: https://gizmodo.com/the-mostly-online-space-kingdom-of-asgardia-attempts-de-1824310853

Cult analysis: https://carm.org/cults-outline-analysis

Asgardia-1: https://asgardia.space/en/satellite/

Beer in Space: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-to-make-beer-in-space-180968404/

Turning to Fiber to Move the Competition Along

Reticle

This site contains my opinions and ideas only, not the opinions or ideas of any organization I work for. It’s my idea playground, and I’m inviting you in. Welcome!

In the last post (here), I wrote a few guesses about who might want to pay for something like SpaceX’s Starlink or O3b’s broadband constellations. The upshot of that whole exercise was to find out that perhaps the world’s poor probably won’t be the funders of these constellations.

Even if these constellations might be cheap.

This might seem a little obvious, but cheap is relative. When Elon Musk talks about the billions of dollars likely needed for SpaceX’s constellation (https://www.msn.com/en-us/finance/companies/elon-musk-dares-to-go-where-others-failed-with-internet-from-space/ar-AAvfNSu), it’s really expensive–for a communications satellite constellation. Especially for companies operating satellite communications/broadcast constellations now. I wrote a little about their operations and costs earlier: https://themadspaceball.com/2018/03/21/traditional-space-broadband-and-the-changing-reality/.

So how are these proposed broadband constellations considered cheap if the current operators are shaking their heads about the costs and complexity? Broaden the scope. Consider that, in essence, a constellation like Starlink is broadband infrastructure, but it’s in space, around Earth. These constellations aren’t competing with the operators of geosynchronous satellites. Geosynchronous satellites are handicapped by huge distances, cost lots of money to lift to their perches, make juicy and fairly easy targets, cover at most 1/3 of Earth’s surface, etc. Instead, the proposed constellations are competing with existing infrastructures back on Earth.

For those of us living in the U.S. for the past decade, there was a time when we hoped that Google, the search/advertising company, would help accelerate broadband development while reducing costs. The company started in with Google Fiber in Kansas city. Many cities envied this development. Why? Existing broadband monopolies believed customers didn’t need any connection faster than what they offered, but still expected people to pay high prices (a new Google Fiber story is here: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/zmwkdx/eight-years-later-google-fiber-is-a-faint-echo-of-the-disruption-we-were-promised). I referenced this situation in another previous article (https://themadspaceball.com/2018/03/23/examining-a-potential-competitor-to-traditional-space-broadband-operators/), but American readers probably don’t need the reminder of the situation our lawmakers have created for us with broadband.

But back to Google and Google Fiber. Google went on to wire up Austin, Texas. But progress has been slow for its deployment through the rest of the nation. One possible reason is money, but another definite reason is just installing the infrastructure in these cities. A 2012 article noted a Goldman Sachs analyst did some math and figured out it would cost $140 billion to wire up all of U.S. households with fiber (http://www.businessinsider.com/how-much-it-would-cost-google-to-build-a-cable-network-2012-12). That same analyst estimated Verizon paid $15 billion to wire up only 17 million homes.

Isn’t $15 billion the upper limit of Musk’s estimate for deploying his company’s Starlink constellation?

Wiring up 17 million people with faster internet access for $15 billion makes Verizon’s, and other broadband monopolists’, reticence to wire up the rest of us unlucky schmucks a little understandable. They know they can’t do it, and keep subscription prices low. But if those companies had the ability to “fiber up” half the world for $15 billion, that might be enough incentive to rush in and do so. A whole world of potential broadband customers for that price–maybe even double–why wouldn’t investors be interested?

And people are interested. It’s one of the reasons why stories regarding these proposed broadband constellations surface regularly. Governments and militaries, once they figure out the advantages of such a constellation, will likely also be interested–if they aren’t already. Combine this interest with obvious increases in data-demand not just by consumers, as well as the necessity for growing on-orbit spacecraft to deliver real-time observations of the Earth and its citizens.

Which is full circle to how this series began. A nonsensical assumption in a Wired article (whose editors really should have just let lie on the clipping floor) that people of the world don’t want these digital connections. In spite of examples in very recent history showing rapid adoption of networked technology in countries where the infrastructure and markets are conducive to such adoption.

Will these poorest of the connected bear the brunt of paying for these constellations? No, because there are too many other possible interested parties for such broadband constellations, with little risk to them. The timing seems right. The price to implement these constellations seems doable. The political landscape over broadband seems right. The data demands are growing, with evidence of the world’s populations gaining more advantages than disadvantages through using this data.

Whether the “other 3 billion” want internet from space or not, the Magic 8-Ball’s “the signs point to yes” answer seems appropriate in these circumstances.

We will see.

The Mission Readiness Review–Episode 4: Does This Image Make My Boat Look Big?

This site contains my opinions and ideas only, not the opinions or ideas of any organization I work for. It’s my idea playground, and I’m inviting you in. Welcome!

Click on the link below to get to the latest podcast.

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-iuzzm-8e6caf

This episode we talk about: a commercial imaging company exposes military might; a U.S. administration decides to lay down the law; and China launches some satellites unexpectedly.

Intro background music POD Dreams by Stefan Kartenberg (c) copyright 2017 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. dig.ccmixter.org/files/JeffSpeed68/56307 Ft: Debbizo, Michael Bacich.

Launch schedule:https://spaceflightnow.com/launch-schedule/

Chinese fleet: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-defence/exclusive-satellite-images-reveal-show-of-force-by-chinese-navy-in-south-china-sea-idUSKBN1H3135

NGA contract with Planet: http://spacenews.com/planet-wins-second-nga-satellite-imagery-contract/ 

Ars Technica SpaceX story: https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/03/spacex-launches-a-rocket-but-noaa-prevented-some-of-it-from-being-shown/?comments=1

NOAA statement: http://www.noaa.gov/media-release/noaa-statement-on-todays-broadcast-of-spacex-iridium-5-launch

National and Commercial Space Program Act (probably pages 98-99): https://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/CRSRA/files/National_and_Commercial_Space_Programs_Act_60101.pdf 

NOAA definitions and interpretations: https://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/CRSRA/pdf/noaa_jurisdiction_to_license_space_based_remote_sensing_systems_04122017.pdf

321 Launch: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/nation-now/2018/03/29/augmented-reality-rocket-launch-app-shows-you-spacex-launch-like-never-before/461696002/

GSAT-6A no contact: https://www.healththoroughfare.com/science/the-indian-space-research-agency-lost-contact-with-its-gsat-6a-satellite-on-saturday/6876 

Who Will (Want to) Pay for A Few Broadband Constellations?

Milpoor

Yes–some images from the Usual Gang of idiots.

This site contains my opinions and ideas only, not the opinions or ideas of any organization I work for. It’s my idea playground, and I’m inviting you in. Welcome!

In the last post, I noted that the proposed, but preposterously large, low/medium Earth orbiting broadband constellations will be cheap.

Some technology and economies of scale will possibly play into that, but that’s not the kind of cost-savings I’m referring to. Let’s start with price estimates for creating the Starlink constellation from Mr. Musk: $10 to $15 billion (https://www.msn.com/en-us/finance/companies/elon-musk-dares-to-go-where-others-failed-with-internet-from-space/ar-AAvfNSu). Others have given much higher estimates for the constellation, as high as $40 billion. This is a lot of money, even for satellite operations. I could finally buy a Nintendo Switch with that kind of money. Maybe two.

But, those satellites will be in an orbit that takes them over nearly EVERY SINGLE SQUARE METER of the Earth’s surface. As noted in the previous posts, this means the satellites can transmit, receive, and relay information, very quickly, in the service of a potential global customer base. And while some of the messaging the entrepreneurs have been trotting out for these satellites implies they are for poor people in poor regions, those aren’t the ones who will fund it.

There are implications within this kind of space network–military and intelligence ones. Again, the following paragraphs are conjecture, based on some observations of what’s happened in the past and happening now.

This kind of constellation is very distributed. It’s very difficult for an adversary to disrupt physically. It would probably cost a troublemaker more to shoot a satellite down, than the cost of the satellite itself.  And a few thousand would probably need to be destroyed. So these broadband constellations almost fit the model for redundant military communications, worldwide (http://www.airuniversity.af.mil/Portals/10/ASPJ/journals/Volume-29_Issue-6/C-Wegner_Adang_Rhemann.pdf). They don’t even have the terrestrial broadband network’s downside of possibly having cables cut somewhere under the sea (Think that’s made up? Some folks are concerned-updated 31 Mar: http://time.com/5223237/russia-targeting-undersea-internet-cables/).

A few upsides for the military is not needing military “space operators” communications satellites, or needing to worry about leasing from certain geostationary communications satellite operators over certain areas of the Earth (http://spacenews.com/42261pentagon-report-says-commercial-bandwidth-is-four-times-more-expensive/). Just like the regular internet, a deployed soldier could theoretically have access to a very, very fast network, immediately. While it’s doubtful the military will be very trusting of commercial communications networks, they might stop needing very costly and specific military communications satellites for enemy target practice.

Heck, the USAF is used to paying billions for a single satellite, and tens of billions for satellite systems (http://spacenews.com/the-end-of-sbirs-air-force-says-its-time-to-move-on/). These proposed broadband constellations will be a bargain, not need a typically over his/her head DoD acquisitions officer, and will probably become operational closer to original scheduled dates than any government system ever has.

Signals intelligence satellites and organizations from various nations will have a field day trying to shadow these satellites to have a peek at the radio traffic going through them. But since these are broadband satellites, common internet security standards will generally separate the smart from the targets.

This sort of communications network could benefit space stations, like the International Space Station. It could aid with space situational awareness satellites. It could help relinquish some geographic dependencies for certain kinds of other constellations and ground networks. And this kind of data would be small potatoes compared to the day-to-day internet traffic we have on Earth today.

This is also a multi-way street, by the way–a traffic circle of Parisian proportions. Militaries from other nations, some who have never invested in space, will probably benefit from these broadband constellations. It’s likely governments will realize this, too. Some will attempt to build rival constellations, probably not as successfully, because other populaces in other nations may not trust those constellations.

Again, these constellations are worldwide. If the operators work these intelligently, they will be pure dumb pipes. And anyone willing to pay to access them, will be allowed access. Why wouldn’t the governments from many different nations invest money to help build it? Why wouldn’t they pay to use it? It’s much cheaper than the alternative. And they might end up subsidizing the very poor’s access to it.

But that’s still not what I meant by cheap. More about that later.