Tag Archives: satellite

Join the starlink express

Ever since Elon Musk’s Space X has launched 60 starlink satellites, people have been talking about it. Some think it’s amazing and others think it’s the beginning of the end. Whatever your opinion is, it’s got you talking. It has everyone talking and that is priceless publicity. For free. 

What is starlink exactly?

What is this starlink business anyway? What is it good for? Musk’s goal is to supply everyone on the world with internet. He wants global coverage and with global coverage he means global coverage. From Time Square in New York to the local fata morgana in the Sahara Desert, you will be able to get online. Granted you have a operating phone or other device with internet access available. In 2015 numbers showed that 56,1% of the human population have access to the internet. That’s little over half the people. If you only look at the developed world, 81% of the population has access to the internet, this means, 1 in 5 people doesn’t. With these Space X satellites everyone should be able to log on.

In time that is because 60 satellites alone won’t do it. In total an impressive 12,000 starlink communication satellites are needed to reach that goal. Their operational orbit is 550 km, these first 60 started their climb into this orbit at 440 km since being launched with a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on May 23. It takes about 90 minutes for them to make one orbit. And despite the company’s initial claim that they won’t be that visible, the train of satellites have since been visible even to the naked eye, giving away an impressive show.

Satellite overload

Impressive or not, one may wonder if these satellites aren’t polluting the skies. Stars are hardly visible at some places in Europe due to light pollution, but the starlink train is a clear trail in the skies right now. They will get fainter once they reach their final orbit, but long exposure astronomy photographers have already complained about the trails the satellites make in their photo’s. Many worry that ground astronomy will get increasingly harder with these satellites up in the sky.

Hang on, aren’t their already many satellites orbiting the Earth? Indeed they are. Around 5,000 satellites are currently orbiting our world serving various purposes. Will these 60 really make a difference? You may think they won’t. But these 60 were already more visible than others, also because they are lines up like a train. They will scatter with time and be less visible that way as well. But these 60 are the first of 12,000. That’s more satellites than already are up there!

It is getting crowded

And Space X isn’t the only one launching high numbers of satellites. Cubesats or minisats are the future. Small satellites which are lighter and therefore cheaper not just to produce but also to launch. Which means more people and companies are able to launch their own satellites and Space X is by no means the only company who wants to provide World Wide Internet Access. Smaller companies like for instance Hiber have the same ambition and are already working on it, having launched several satellites already with for instance Space X.

It’s already crowded up there, it will get a whole lot more crowded really soon. For instance, ISRO (India Space Research Organisation) successfully launched 104 satellites by a single rocket on 15 February 2017. Only 3 of them were of Indian origine. And they weren’t all claiming to start an global internet revolution. This is also potential trouble for the International Space Station, orbiting the earth with an altitude between 330 km and 435 km . All these satellites in itself have to make sure they don’t collide with each other, one doesn’t want to think about what happens when they bump into the ISS.

What will the future hold?

Satellites do a lot of good things for us, they tell us where we are, give us access to the internet and they monitor the Earth. It’s all good data. But we may have to think about the price we are going to pay for that. Are we ruining the night skies? Are we making ground astronomy impossible? Do we really need all these things up there? Isn’t it possible to lower the amount of satellites and collect the data just a little bit slower? The starlink train didn’t just give free publicity to Elon Musk’s latest idea, it also gave us something to think about. We love technology. But maybe, there is a limit? Or do we want to pay the price and create a visible satellite ring around our planet?

I’m afraid there is no way back now and only time will tell how far we will really go. And if we indeed will be a better species because of it or become the polluters of the universe.

What if Voyager 1 crashes

Just imagine this. You’re out in the field. Doing research, going for a walk, just relaxing, whatever. Suddenly you hear a sound and you look up to the sky. An object is flying through the air. An Unidentified Flying Object? You follow it with your eyes until you notice that it will fall down pretty close to you. It’s going to crash. You seek shelter but you keep watching the object. It crashed and you get up to look what has fallen from the sky.

Pause right here. Before we go any further we need to set some things straight. You are on a planet but not on our solar system. You have vision, otherwise you wouldn’t have seen it. And you have a hearing device or else you wouldn’t have heard it. You are not too small to have been completely ignorant of the object and you’re not too big either. It could have crushed you. You have been aware of it. You know to check it out, you have intelligence. You are what we on Earth would call an extraterrestrial intelligence or in short, an alien.

In this story it’s important you have eyes that can see and ears that can hear. Intelligence will help you too and you’re about the size as are the humans on earth. What are the odds of that? You have no idea and neither have we.

Back to the object. You’re walking towards it and notice that it’s a wondrous thing. The first thing you notice is the disc. It’s a little under 4 meters in diameter. There are sticks attached to the disc and a box. What the hell is this thing? It looks a bit like an old satellite. How did this end up here? There were no news reports about old satellites still up in the air. Didn’t anyone see this thing coming?

Probably not. It’s probably too ancient to be picked up by current means of communication and detection. Didn’t it appear on any radars? You look around. So far no one else is heading your way. You have time to examine this machine, which may be up to 800 kg in weight.

OK, pause! If you are being picky you now may ask the question how the weight can be estimated to 800 kg. Weight depends on gravity. We could say that the weight of the object is about 10 times the weight of the full grown alien. If we are already assuming this alien can see, hear, feel and walk, we may as well assume they are about the same size.

You walk around it. Astonishing! This is ancient! It must have come here through a wormhole or something. Which may explain the late detection, if so, of this object. This must be from a civilization that just has learned to communicate around the globe and beyond! And if that is the case, they must have left a message.

With still no one else coming to the object (which is indeed a little strange but is convenient for the story), you careful try to touch it. Amazing! You study how everything is connected to each other and then notice there’s a compartment. Your heart is pounding, what would be in there? You see something that shines with the little light that hits it. Carefully to not break anything you reach out and retrieve something you have never ever seen in your life.

It’s a gold disc. What a rare element, a weird choice to create something so… what is this? You flip it around and see that the other side has grooves in it. Peculiar. It has a darker ring on which the grooves are much further apart and something is written or drawn in the middle. There’s a hole in the middle. You flip it around again and see a flat surface with circles, lines and squares. There seems to be a code on it but you aren’t sure. What you are sure of that this is worth a fortune, even if someone has sketched into it.

You decide to keep the disc and leave the rest of the object to the scientist. No one will know you took it. You call the authorities who order you to get away as far away from the thing as possible. No, you haven’t touched it, which is good. They however have questions for you. You leave it for later and go home.

At home you store the valuable disc and head over to the news device. Scientists have yet to confirm but the object seems to have traveled from another solar system. This means that there is indeed another civilization out there. They may not be as advanced as we are judging from the device but they are out there. Scientists are looking for a message. It could be anything because we know nothing about them. For all we know the device could be emitting signals over and over again trying to tell them something.

You smile and are excited. You found that thing. You hope that whatever signal the ting is emitting is a friendly one and that you didn’t find a war machine. That would look bad.

What the alien has found is of course the Voyager 1 (or 2). We send a golden record, an LP, to them assuming they know how to play it. Changes are that the aliens don’t even know what a record is and are looking for signals from the satellite that correspond with their own ways of communicating. And our alien friend? He has something so valuable in his house, namely gold, that with the fame he gets for being the one first at the scene of the crash, he starts to become paranoid. He may be the wealthiest alien on the planet but no one can ever know. For all we know we have caused an alien to go insane by sending some music and sounds from the planet Earth.