It’s a world where broadband connectivity proliferates at every click of the clock. Connectivity is a way of survival and Internet remains a desperation. While most of us are connected, there are still more than three billion people who do not have internet globally. Among the internet users, only 41% have satisfactory speed. This leaves us with a large chunk of the world who need satisfactory or total connectivity. This disparity can be curbed by launching satellites into space and then retrieving internet by the satellite which can reach out to more users globally at greater speeds. The ideation conceives space internet.
The basic idea is to beam high-speed broadband using these satellites that will orbit 1200 kilometres above the surface of the Earth and use microwave they will broadband high-speed internet to all parts of the globe and down here it requires a satellite dish. The Hughes satellite which is one of the world’s leading provider of satellite internet and has its satellite at 35000 kilometres above the surface of the earth. With SpaceX planning to launch better satellites and placing them closer to the surface of the Earth, they aim to render high-speed internet that is compelling to everyone.
What is SpaceX’s Project?
SpaceX has a long term project to colonise Mars and make humanity a multiplanetary species. If that goal is to be achieved then SpaceX has to build a vehicle that will transport Mars colonists and it will require a lot of money. This is why SpaceX plans to be a satellite internet provider.
Satellite Internet is the data transmitted and received from a satellite dish on Earth communicating with orbiting geostationary satellite in space. The advantage of satellite internet is it does not need a very good land infrastructure only a satellite dish will suffice which makes it good for covering large areas. While it is more latent than the fibre network still it is of great use.
With SpaceX’s short-term goal of providing broadband service directly to end users, it will launch 4425 satellites orbiting in 83 orbital planes at altitudes ranging from 1110-1325 kilometres in the Lower Earth Orbitals (LEO). Once they launch 800 satellite in LEO they will be able start offering service as early as 2021. They begin this project as early as 2019-2020. This constellation for satellites is termed as Starlink constellation by SpaceX. SpaceX has already launched two of its demo satellites called as TinTin A and TinTin B officially known as MicroSat 2a and MicroSat 2b respectively.
SpaceX has separately filed for authority to operate in the V-Band, where SpaceX has proposed an additional constellation of 7518 satellites even closer to Earth, in Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO) system. The VLEOs are would enhance capacity where it may be needed most, enabling the provision of high speed, high bandwidth, low latency broadband services that are truly competitive with terrestrial alternatives.
Both these satellites were moved in one mission via a SpaceX Falcon v1.2 launch vehicle into an orbital plane of 514-kilometre circle and at an inclination of 97.44 degrees. After insertion, the satellite orbits would be raised to the desired mission altitude of 1125 km circular. The designed lifetime of each satellite is six months. If this lifetime is exceeded, SpaceX plans to continue operation until such time as the primary mission goals can no longer be met, at which point the spacecraft will be deorbited.
Both MicroSat- 2a and 2b are identical in their construction and operation.
The primary structure for the Microsat 2a and 2b test spacecraft will be a box design measuring 1.1m x 0.7m x 0.7m and carries
- Spacecraft Flight Computer
- Power System Components
- Attitude Determination
- Control Components,
- Propulsion Components
- GPS Receiver
The primary bus which is mounted on the payload truss system carries
- Communications Panels
- Inter-Satellite Optical Link Transmitters and Receivers
- Star Trackers
- Telemetry Antenna
There is two 2×8 meter solar panels. Each demonstration spacecraft has a total mass of approximately 400kg.
The attitude of each spacecraft is 3-axis stabilized, and is dynamically controlled over each orbit to maintain attitude position for two pointing modes of operation: the broadband antenna (antennas to nadir for testing) and solar array (solar arrays facing the sun for charging). Power is provided by solar panels designed to deliver sufficient power at the predicted end of spacecraft life to not impair any test objectives. The Thermal Control System ensures that components are kept within operational temperature ranges.
What is Project Loon?
Project Loon is a project initiated by Google X to provide cost effective, inexpensive and highly reliable connectivity to the world. The idea is to create a network of high altitude balloons that float about 20 kilometres up the surface of the Earth and through they would be able to provide internet to the entire world. In 2013 the speeds being achieved by the balloon was 1-2 megabits per second. As of late 2017, the speeds being achieved were 5-25 megabits per second with 10 megabits per second being stable. In other words, they are top end 3G speeds or low-end 4G speeds.
Stratosphere is different because it tends to have layers of wind that move in the particular direction and by moving up and down through these layers these balloons can steer. So by catching the right wind, the balloons are kept together enough to give good coverage on the ground. The balloons can sail with the winds in such a way that when one balloon leaves the other balloon is set to take its place.
The balloons communicate with each other and on the ground with the help of specialised Internet antenna. On the ground, it is connected to the local internet provider. It creates an aerial network. The radios and antennas achieve high bandwidth over long distances and the signals other than this projects are filtered.
These balloons have 15 meters of diameter and are made of thin sheets of polyethene that can survive conditions in the stratosphere where winds blow over 100 kilometers per hour and the temperature swings to as low as -90 degree celsius. It is built to last more than 100 days in the stratosphere before returning to ground. The balloons are lofted by helium and are completely solar powered.
- Cost ineffective- The major challenge is how to make this project cheaper than the mobile cellular services and to gain enough subscribers per balloon so that the system is economically viable
- Power Wattage- It generates 100 watts from solar power and will impose strict power limits on both the transmitter and the on-board electronics, making feasibility of the project difficult.
- Non Renewable Resources- The concern of depending on non-renewable resources like helium always remain.
What is Project Aquila?
Facebook’s initiative to bring global internet connectivity is titled Project Aquila and has been in development since 2014. Aquila is a solar powered drones and like Google’s loon project it will reside in the stratosphere between 18-28 kilometers.
Each drone will have an approximate coverage area of 4500-7500 square kilometres providing speeds up to 10 gigabits per second due to the enhanced optical technology they will be using. The drones will also have the ability to propagate LTE or WiFi signals with upgradability in the future as the networks demand.
In 2016 Aquila had its first successful test flight, the original mission was meant to keep it aloft for 30 minutes but it ended staying up for more than 96 minutes to collect more data. It ended up crashing on its landing attempt as a wing snapped off due to a structural failure caused by winds faster than the prototype was designed to handle. However, it is to be noted that this result was expected to by Facebook engineers.
During the day Aquila will fly at 28 kilometres to maximise the amount of energy its solar cells can capture and store. At night, utilising its lift to drag ratio due to its large wingspan and low weight, Aquila will gradually glide down to 18 kilometres due to gravitational potential energy. This will limit the amount of energy Aquila consumes at night at only 5000 watts.
In order to provide internet connectivity to larger areas, a ground station will transmit a signal to mother aircraft, which will then be propagated then across the network. The mode of propagation which Facebook is using is by far the most advanced and game changing aspect for their initiative that are high energy lasers which can take a fiber connection from the ground and propagate it through the drone network
Aquila has a wingspan of a Boeing 737, 34 meters and weighs about 1000 pounds. This lightweight is achieved from carbon fibers composite the craft is made from which is three times more strong than steel and lighter than aluminium. Most of the weight comes from the high energy batteries the drone has to carry, which also leads to issues of the load Aquila’s flexible wings can support.
- Most of the Aquila’s weight comes from its high energy batteries, a problem exuberated due to the fact that its additional load its flexible wings have to carry
- At the altitudes Aquila flies at, the air density, temperature and wing speeds can vary. Aquila has to be designed to handle these changes and make sure its body can support the stress applied.
Once these issues are solved Facebook plans to keep the drones for three months at a time.
The lasers and optical receivers Facebook is developing will improve upon current data rates by as much as 10 times, with the lasers accurate enough to hit a dime 17 kilometers away while in motion.
Facebook still has some ways to go before the technology can be commercially viable and economically feasible, with estimated deployment between 2020 and 2022, but once commercially deployed will be game changing due to the high speeds and low latencies it will provide across the globe compared to other options for many people.
What is OneWeb’s Project?
The aim of the projects is very clear which is to provide affordable high speed internet access to everyone. The speed which OneWeb aims to offer in schools, rural areas, etc is 50 megabits per second with 30 milliseconds latency, which makes it identical to the cable modem.
The satellite transmits information on to the ground and underneath a bunch of beams is let out. Each beam is of a different frequency so the terminal on the ground will change frequencies receiving and transmitting its data in that frequency. The satellites and the earth move so continuous streaming of data they would have to co-ordinate together. Therefore there are 49 satellites in a plane at an altitude of 1200 kilometres and initially, there will be 18 planes which makes it 882 satellites to be launched which will give 100% global coverage.
With their project, OneWeb plans give to give its users
- A high-speed internet of more than 1 gigabit per second, though initially with a phase of 595 megabits per second.
- Latency below 50 milliseconds so it would be fully LTE compliant
- The installation of the terminals would be easy and quick
- It will be available globally
On 8th March 2017 Jeff Bezos the Owner of Blue Origin, a privately funded aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight services company signed an agreement with Greg Wyler founder of OneWeb to launch 400 satellites for them starting in 2021.
Cloud Computing with Space Internet
Cloud computing can simply be stated as the use of remote servers on the internet to store, manage and process data rather than a local server or your personal computer.
The main challenges in using cloud computing with space internet are
- Rapid access to remotely stored data
- Assuring its security and allocating risks
Well, to overcome these challenges a communication based company called ND SatCom launched XWARP an IT solution which offers geographically distributed companies or their IT service providers almost latency-free, virtualized and bandwidth-optimized software performance at the user’s front end – especially for business critical applications such as SAP, Oracle, SharePoint and MS Office.
Satellite communications have never been the first choice for backup networks and enterprise connectivity for business. However, XWARP is a combination of satellite with Citrix virtualization technology which provides cost efficient cloud computing service via satellite. XWARP can be implemented in an existing terrestrial network, in existing Citrix infrastructure or as a completely new network environment. With XWARP users only need 300 kbps as compared to 2.5 mbps without XWARP, which saves 72% of bandwidth.
A venture fund called as Andreesen Horowitz has invested 18 million dollars in a satellite building company called Astranis. Astranis builds small, low cost satellites which provide internet connectivity from a geostationary orbit at a high altitude. They predict that the company, in the long run, will have a turnover of about 10 billion dollars so if they get 5-10% of that it would be a great return.
Japanese internet and telecommunication giant Softbank has invested 1 Billion dollars in a U.S. startup OneWeb. Softbank holds 40% of their company’s stake and is the largest stake holder. The other investors in OneWeb are MDA, Bharti, Grupo Salinas, Intelsat, Hughes, Airbus, Coca-Cola, Qualcomm and Virgin group.
SES global is world’s second largest fixed satellite services operator. The company has 12 medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellites in service, plans to launch 8 satellites in 2018 / 2019, and 7 super power satellites from 2021. The investment is this company is predicted to be a boon to the space economy by Morgan Stanley.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX in their recent fundraising campaign, raised a valuation of a whopping 507 million dollars. Priced 169 dollars for 3 million new shares the company now has a valuation of 27.5 billion dollars. The cash raised by the company would be used mainly for 3 projects Starlink, BFR and world’s fastest transportation system.
For V2X (Vehicle to anything) communication internet is required for the proper functioning of the technology. With the introduction of high-speed internet via the satellite globally even during adverse weather conditions we can still communicate with the vehicles.
According to a MIT Report autonomous vehicles would rather be kept offline because while using public network the security code is breached. With the inclusion of internet in the cars a danger of hacking also prevails.
Another issue which prevails is the network latency. Though in the current setup of 4G the latency is 50 milliseconds still it is not low enough to account for split second responses required in vehicles. The best way to reduce this latency is using a wired connection which is not feasible for autonomous vehicles.
According to OneWeb founder, Greg Wyler, the internet which OneWeb will provide would give us the same bandwidth and same speed wherever you go so that your work is never interrupted in car, office or home.
The data generated by each car would be Cameras will generate 20-60 mbps, radar upwards of 10 kbps, sonar 10-100 kbps, GPS will run at 50 kbps, and LIDAR will range between 10-70 mbps. Cumulating the data each car will require almost 4000 GB of data which means 4TB of data daily.
Ford is investing 200 million dollars in a new data center to support its driverless car program. Telecom carriers are expected to invest up to 5 billion dollars in next-generation 5G technology even before it is approved in 2020. Intel is investing up to 250 million dollars in autonomous car technology.
Network for Autonomous Cars
Aquantia a California based company has teamed up with Nvidia to provide its 10 Gbps Ethernet connectivity for the Nvidia Drive Xavier and Drive Pegasus supercomputers for autonomous vehicles. Raymond James the firm’s analyst expects the market of the chips in automobiles to be a market of 30 billion dollars by 2030.
For autonomous vehicles to thrive they would require a very low latent network. Having a 5G network in hand will offer large amount of data being transmitted with extremely low latency. The introduction of 5G will also lead to new trends in technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) would be used to analyse the huge amount of data generated by autonomous cars and the urban infrastructure that supports them, including smart road signs and traffic lights.
Speed isn’t the only consideration, reliability is just as essential. To avoid overburdening of data, companies will have to rely on hybrid networks that combine a variety of networks including edge computing which allows data that needs to be acted upon locally to be processed at the source. The challenge will be to design IT architecture between the edge and cloud that can be deployed globally, while still allowing for localised technology to cater for different regions.
Later we can also see Augmented Reality experiences being projected in the world out of the car windows.
Autonomous car networks and all of these technologies will only be made possible by uninterrupted and robust mobile connectivity that supports a completely seamless experience.
Space Internet is a massive project taken up companies. The ultimate goal of all these projects is to provide high-speed internet access to all parts of the world. There are numerous challenges but all the projects are assured that with time they will have a successful run. The market for these projects looks for investors every day and in the long run it will outgrow and give a lot of profit in the coming years. If you look at companies who invested in internet projects when they were connecting first half of the world, they have earned an enormous amount of money. Now, in connecting second half of the world, same returns can be expected and space internet is the propulsion for connecting the other half. Autonomous cars and making a network for them using space internet will definitely be a challenge as to ensure proper safety and seamless connection at every instant of time. Emphasis should also be laid on cloud computing which will gain more users and provided the safety of the user’s data is taken care of, it will be a very reliable option. All in all we hope to see high speed global access of internet and how we can progress together with the correct implementation for these projects.
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