Tag Archives: Technology

Turning to Fiber to Move the Competition Along


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.


From German Tunnels to Space, Part 5–Liberation

In the previous post, slave prison laborers were working underground in a mountain, building rockets for the NAZIs.  The slaves were very literally worked to death, producing hundreds of V2 rockets a month.

Ruthless People, Brutal Numbers

Between April 1944 and March 1945, the slaves produced about 4,575 V2 rockets .  The conditions they worked in remained hellish.  They barely had any food and no medical aid to speak of.  The threat of beatings and hangings remained present throughout their lives at the camps.  The slaves of Mittelbau-Dora paid an intolerable price while producing and perfecting space technology for the NAZIs.  As many as six prison laborers died for every V2 that rolled out of Mittelwerk.

…while you’re pausing to do the math, please remember the 4,575 rocket number I gave you was only for nearly a year of Mittelwerk operations.  There were obviously more V2s produced earlier.  But if you want to multiply 6 times 4,575, you’ll come to 27,450 deaths.  I don’t really know if there were truly that many deaths, as other sites and sources are stating “only” 20,000 died of the total 60,000 prison laborers who lived in the horror of the Mittelbau-Dora camps.  I’m guessing the death of 20,000 people to build an Atlas or Delta rocket would not be acceptable on any level.  The information about the number of deaths is fuzzy, but the most reliable source I’ve found is information coming from The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, here.

The numbers of prison laborers are so large, because more were added to Dora-Mittelbau.  The encyclopedia talks of the “dumping” of prisoners from other concentration camps into the Dora-Mittelbau system.  Most prison laborers arrived barely alive, but some also arrived dead.  There were so many bodies, the camp’s crematorium couldn’t keep up with it’s relatively slow rate of incinerating them—so the NAZIs stacked the bodies instead, burning piles of them in huge pyres.

One of the ovens in Dora’s Crematorium. Image from V2Rocket.com.

Killing the Evidence

Still, the prisoners were in for much worse during the days before their liberation.  On April 1, 1945, work stopped on V2 rocket assembly.  The NAZIs knew the Americans were close and started herding the majority of prison laborers on “annihilation transports” to other camps.  The prisoners were never intended to make it to the camps.  8000-11000 prisoners were estimated to have died during their evacuation from Mittelbau-Dora in April alone.  The marchers were part of a nation-wide, systematic attempt by the NAZIs to ensure no one would know what they had done, while getting rid of the subhumans–the “untermenschen.”

Liberating the Dead

But liberation of these slaves, what remained of them, eventually came.  Almost exactly 69 years ago, actually, on April 11, 1945.  Here’s a picture of Mittelbau-Dora survivors (and relatives) taken a few days ago, in front of the Dora crematorium.

The True Space Pioneers. Unwilling, but hopefully never forgotten.  Image from Buchenwald.de.

The liberators were American soldiers, belonging to Combat Command B (CCB), 3rd Armored Division and the 104th Infantry Division (ID).  What they found there was hard for them to describe.  The picture, below, supposedly taken by 104th ID troops entering one of Dora’s subcamps, gives an idea of the hell facing the American troops.

Entering Mittelbau-Dora.  Image from 104infdiv.org.

Supposedly there were 6,000 residents in the camp when the American soldiers entered the camp’s gates.  But only 1,000 of them were still alive.

And it was, by all accounts, a difficult task to figure out who was living and dead.  The surviving prison laborers were, as you might imagine, in very bad shape.  And, as American troops are still prone to do today, both divisions pretty much dropped what they were doing to help the survivors and bury the dead.  Medics provided what care they could, chaplains and chefs working to feed the walking dead, getting them back to a form of humanity.  If the American soldiers had any doubts why they were fighting the NAZIs, those doubts must have vanished on April 11, 1945.

Descriptions by troops who happened upon the V2 rocket assembly tunnels in Mittelwerk noted the contrast between the studied neatness and organization of the assembly area and the rockets before them, and the bodies of slaves, the “living skeletons” of the survivors, and the camp conditions they had encountered just outside.  But for the survivors, they were done building V2 rockets for the NAZIs.

The survivors might have been some of the first rocket assembly-line workers in the history of humanity.  They might’ve helped iron out “quirks” and other flaws in a propulsion system or gyroscope.  They might’ve been one of the biggest history-making groups of slave laborers ever.  But I’m sure they were thankful their part in this horrific segment of world history was over.

So how did the deaths and labors of prison workers building rockets in German tunnels, working for NAZIs, contribute to American space programs?  Some of you might have an idea.  But for the rest of you—what do you know about paperclips?

Win A (Sky)box Full of Imagery

Box full of imagery

Do you have a need?  More specifically, do you have a need for European Space Imaging data using Skybox satellite imagery worth 20,000 Euros?  What about your mom?  Your dad?  Okay–how about your school?  Ah, there we go.

That’s right, Copernicus-Masters has issued a challenge, and the prize to that challenge is Skybox imagery.  What’s the challenge?  Well, use your imagination.  No, really, European Space Imaging and Skybox Imaging want you to use your imagination.  In speak obviously inspired by engineers and bureaucrats, they say they want “ideas that have global impact, are easily scalable, and enable more efficient decision-making.”

So, translating that:  imagine big ideas that can grow, increasing capability allowing for a quicker reaction time.  At least I think that’s what they want with the “efficient decision-making” part.  But if you want to read the whole of it, including the evaluation criteria used to determine a challenge winner, then go to this site.  Signups are accepted up through 13 July 2014 (noted on the bottom of their brochure, here).  I did not notice any citizenship or age limitations.  I might do it myself.

This is a crowdsourcing attempt at generating ideas about how to use new space technology.  The Skybox satellites provide HD video and images, which is new.  And I think they would like to provide the video 24/7, something also that hasn’t been done before.  They also think the time it takes for their satellites to see one particular spot of the Earth’s surface, the revisit rate, will be increased as they populate their constellation of satellites.  That too, might even put some government efforts to shame.  And all of this might be new.

So, how do you think Skybox should be using their new tools?  Give them an answer if you’ve got a great idea.  And there are other challenges on the Copernicus-Masters website.  I may elaborate about them a bit more in the future

Gravity Check: Thousands of Satellites Orbit Earth

Counting Satellites

Quick–just how many satellites, operational or not, are orbiting Earth?  Pretend you’re trying to impress your fellow engineers.  Even better, pretend you’re trying to impress people in a bar (although that strategy might backfire).  Have you guessed?  Do you really want to know if you’re correct or are you satisfied with impressing the folks in the pool hall?  If it’s the former, then this Talking Points Memo post helpfully gives several numbers regarding satellites orbiting the Earth.  So next time, you’ll be very accurate and the biker in the leather jacket will buy you that beer for your numerical diligence.  Well, it might helpful, at least, for those who love minute details and numbers.  Maybe you should bring it up at an accountants meeting instead?

But before you go over to the post, did you guess a number?  You’d be closer if the number were in the thousands.  Do you know who owns all of them?  What countries do they belong to? Remember, you’re going to have to include cubesats, small sats, GEOs, LEOs, MEOs, and HEOs.  It might help during your counting if you have some excellent optics and a pad and pen.  Or you could just go to Talking Points Memo’s post and find out.  That would certainly be easier, and take less time.  But if you’re like me, maybe you’re not so busy…

Only Vote Important: Pick Your Favorite NASA Spacesuit Design Element

This is just one of the three spacesuits from NASA. The picture is linked to their “Spacesuit Design Vote” site. Go there. Vote.

Of all the places–I never expected to see information about a NASA spacesuit voting initiative on “@midnight,” a comedy game show, last night.  But there it is.

And here it is, the suits and voting buttons on this site.  NASA is asking the public to vote on their favorite spacesuit design.  They are calling this effort the “Spacesuit Design Vote.”  There are three choices for the Z-2 spacesuit and all you need to do is figure out which one you like the best–then vote.  My least favorite is the one dubbed “Fat Tron” by Chris Hardwick, the host of “@midnight.”  You’ll know it when you see it.  And the human model NASA’s using to pose in it looks just plain creepy.  Give me Milla Jovovich any day.

Voting will close on Tax Day, 15 April 2014 at 2359 EDT.  So, like paying your taxes, you can take your time with this one if you want.  This means “time is not important: only vote important” to paraphrase a certain movie.  Once the tally is taken, the most popular one will then be completed sometime in November 2014.  As near as I can tell, there are no country limitations for this vote, so this could potentially be another way the Russians mess with the US.  At any rate, your vote could be the one that determines the ultimate look of a future spacesuit.  Isn’t that nice?

It could be NASA is doing this to make space exciting for aspiring fashion designers.  Maybe it’s trying to show the fashion design world that fashion is badly needed in NASA (honestly, none of the suits are that exciting or interesting to me, but I’m not a designer).  Or maybe it will just pin the blame for horrible design tastes on the public when the time comes.

Is it my imagination, or do all the spacesuits look a little bit like the Mondoshawan in “The Fifth Element?”

Image of Mondoshawan linked to Listoid.com.