Cellphones in space? It’s more likely than you think!
So Elon Musk wants to go to Mars, and at the beginning of February, he launched a very large rocket into space pointed more or less at Mars. It veered off course, one of the boosters crashed, and it may be sending a payload of terrestrial bacteria careening towards Mars’s surface, but overall, it was a pretty successful launch. Since then, SpaceX has launched off another couple rockets, the latest of which carried prototype internet satellites destined for low orbit.
This graphic from NASA.gov shows just a few of the American satellites out in space
These two satellites are the first of potentially 12,000 proposed satellites that will form a network called Starlink that will blast broadband internet at the earth. On one hand, this could potentially overwrite any Net Neutrality woes if Musk is half the philanthropist futurist he paints himself as. Since he intends to use it as a way to generate revenue for his Mars expedition, probably not, but hey, we can hope, right?
And of course, there’s always the other hand. Even if Musk’s broadband network is reasonably priced, there are already 1,738 satellites already up in orbit, and while space may be infinite, the space directly around Earth… is significantly less infinite. We might not notice 2,000 satellites floating out amongst the stars, but an additional 12,000 might just change the landscape of the night sky. While maintaining the clarity of the stars is probably not the biggest concern in the world, I still worry a little bit about what sort of impact that having so many satellites up there will have.
Perhaps it will be better to broadcast network services from the moon? Vodafone Germany and Nokia think so, and are teaming up to put 4G cellphone service on the moon.
I confess, I’m a little bit skeptical about this concept as well. It’s really difficult to resist the knee jerk reaction of “Wow, great. Cellphone service on the moon that no one will ever use.” But! As it turns out, the Berlin-based private company, PTScientists, are making an effort to send rovers to the former Apollo 17 site. The rovers will then use the network to communicate with their base station, which will, in turn, relay that data back to earth. So it’s not just another weird publicity stunt for bragging rights, the cellphone network is actually going to be used to further scientific exploration.
Now we only have to worry about aliens hacking our extra-planar communication systems. No really. It seems unlikely, since we still haven’t found any evidence of alien life, but the recently discovered Trappist-1 system has two planets that could potentially harbor life. If nothing else, it’s likely that they contain enough water to be habitable, something that could almost be said for our very own moon.
An artistic rendering of the rovers Vodafone and Nokia intend to send to the moon.
You see, they just found evidence that the presence of water can be found all over the moon. Which is interesting. It raises a whole lot of questions such as: how did it get there? What state does it exist in? How easily accessible is it? Is there a water cycle like there is on earth? What happens if we send a bunch of astronauts up there, and they start using it for drinking water, or converting it into rocket fuel, or even breathable air?
Is water a finite resource on the moon? You would think so, since I have absolutely no idea how water got onto the moon in the first place, but to be fair, we also didn’t think water even could be on the moon until recently. So if nothing else, it’s a good reason to get astronauts up to the moon again. It could also mean that terraforming the moon for lunar colonies is not only a viable option, but also there is one less resource that would need to be imported.
In the meantime, we’ll be sending another robot up to the International Space Station, this time in the form of a volleyball sized/shaped device by the name of CIMON (Crew Interactive Mobile Companion). CIMON will essentially be the astronauts’ Alexa, helping them through experiments by providing checklists, and acting as an early warning system for technical problems. Right now, CIMON is going through image recognition training in order to learn ISS crew member faces, but since they’re a spin-off of Watson’s machine learning technology, I’m sure they’ll catch on quickly.
It’s exciting to finally see human expanding into space. Will we make it to Mars in the next 20 years? Are we entering a second era of space exploration? For all my worries and concerns about satellites invading the night sky, I certainly hope so. It feels like our passion, our ambition to launch ourselves out into the stars has been rekindled, and that we’re once again investing the technology that will get us there.