More Satellites Than You Can Shake a Stick At

This video is really amazingly inspiring:

Not only does it show more satellites than I’ve ever seen in a single frame of video, but the rocket that took them up was launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation, who managed to launch not only the largest satellite constellation ever, but had room for a few more birds in the launch. It’s an impressive achievement, and it (visually) crystalizes a shift in how we approach space. Also, congratulations to the team at Planet, the ability to image all of Earth’s landmass every day.

Launching a micro satellite into low Earth orbit is now accessible to hobbyists. Many readers of this blog could do it. That’s astounding. Stop and think about that for a moment. Our failure to have exciting follow-on missions after Apollo can obscure the fascinating things which are happening in space, as it gets cheap and almost boring to get to low Earth orbit. The Economist has a good summary. That’s not to say that there aren’t things happening further out. This is the year that contestants in the Google Lunar XPrize competition must launch. Two tourists have paid a deposit to fly around the moon.

But what’s happening close to the planet is where the economic changes will be most visible soon. That’s not to say it’s the only thing to watch, but the same engines will enable more complex and daring missions.

For more on what’s happening in India around space exploration and commercialization, this is a fascinating interview with Susmita Mohanty.

Video link: ISRO PSLV-C37 onboard camera view of 104 satellites deployment

The Future Is So Cool

When you were growing up, 2014 was the future. And it’s become cliche to bemoan that we don’t have the flying cars we were promised, but did get early delivery on a dystopian surveillance state.

So living here in the future, I just wanted to point out how cool it is that you can detect extrasolar planets with a home kit.

A camera mounted on a clever set of hinges to track the sky

Read the story at IEEE Spectrum: DIY Exoplanet Detector.

#Apollo45

July 20, 1969.

I’ve blogged about it before.

There are people who can write eloquently about events of such significance.  I am not one of them.  I hope that doesn’t stand in the way of folks remembering the amazing accomplishment that the Apollo program was.

 

Lunar Oribter Image Recovery Project

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project needs help to recover data from the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft.

Frankly, it’s a bit of a disgrace that Congress funds, well, all sorts of things, over this element of our history, but that’s besides the point. Do I want to get angry, or do I want to see this data preserved? Yes to both.

First View of Earth from Moon
That’s why I’ve given the project some money on Rockethub, and I urge you to do the same.

Neil Armstrong, RIP

Neil Armstrong in Eagle, photographed by Buzz Aldrin

Neil Armstrong died August 25, aged 82.

It’s difficult to properly memorialize this man, because, to a degree almost unheard of in our media-saturated times, he avoided the limelight. A statement by his family notes:

As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life.

EC has a certain fondness for privacy and for Apollo. If you do, too, please consider this suggestion made by Armstrong’s family:

For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.

Image source: NASA

Emergent Planetary Detection via Gravitational Lensing



The CBC Quirks and Quarks podcast on “The 10% Solar System Solution” is a really interesting 9 minutes with Scott Gaudi on how to find small planets far away:

We have to rely on nature to give us the microlensing events. That means we can’t actually pick and choose which stars to look at, and we can’t actually pick what times to look at. So the best suited telescopes are those telescopes we can use at anytime that are located throughout the globe so that it’s dark somewhere. And so we use a lot of amateurs, actually we don’t use, we work with a lot of amatuers who have their own telescopes, relatively small telescopes, .3 meters, .4 meters in their backyard which they can use anytime they want. We call them up when we see a microlensing event happening that we think might be interesting and we ask them to get data for us. In fact in many cases they’ve gotten crucial data for us which has helped to discover a micro-lensing event.

What’s most amazing to me is how useful it is to have small parts loosely coupled, each pursuing their own interests. What emerges is, quoting Gaudi again:

One of our amatuers, Jenny McCormick who works in New Zealand and has her own observatory which she calls Farm Cove Observatory has said “It just goes to show: you can go out there you can work full time, you can be a mother and you can still find planets.”

Photo: The ESO Telescopes, by Paul Browne

Quanta In Space!

Space-QUEST.jpg

What’s the biggest problem with quantum cryptography? That it’s too expensive, of course. Quantum anything is inherently cool, just as certain things are inherently funny. Ducks, for example. However, it’s hard to justify a point-to-point quantum crypto link that starts at one-hundred grand just for the encryptors (fiber link not included, some assembly required), when you can get a couple of routers from CDW that do IPsec at a 99%+ discount.

What to do, then? Why not show the future and down-to-earth practicality of quantum cryptography by — I know! Let’s do it in space!

And so a proposal by thirty-nine co-authors for the Space-QUEST (Quantum Entanglement for Space Experiments) mission describes just that. The New Scientist also has an article, but the proposal is short and readable.

Space-QUEST proposes to the European Space Agency (ESA) that an experiment be taken to the International Space Station (ISS) that will do Quantum Key Distribution between the ISS and a ground station with an ultraviolet laser.

They would establish the one link, which shows “the generation of a provably unconditionally secure key at distance, which is not possible with classical cryptography.”

They would then establish two links with separate keys and XOR the two keys together. This ensures that no one can intercept the communications of the two ground stations, according to the proposal.

Out of that one unconditionally secure key between the two ground stations can be computed. Using such a scheme would allow for the first demonstration of global quantum key distribution.

An important step towards the applicability of quantum communication on a global scale, is to extend single QKD links to a quantum network by key relaying along a chain of trusted nodes using satellites as well as fiber-based systems.

A security analysis of this XOR-and-trusted-relay system is let as an exercise for the reader.

The experimental device will meet ESA standards for a module for the European Columbus laboratory, namely volume of 1.39
× 1.17 × 0.86 m3, mass < 100 kg, and a peak power consumption of < 250W.

Photo extracted from the Space-QUEST proposal. I don’t know about you, but I love the little quantum beams joining the two data rings.