Apple may secretly develop satellites for a new type of information transfer
– What secret project is Apple working on
– who will capture the satellite internet market
– why Internet companies can ruin space research
20 years ago, satellite television was the ultimate dream for those who wanted to have access to “global information.” Especially in Ukraine, where the gifts of the World Wide Web became available a little later.
FROM traveler’s TV gave a great opportunity to spend nights all day watching the channels of the Western world, of different levels of content and degree of decency.
Today, even a pensioner, for whom T2 digital television has become the ultimate dream, cannot surprise a satellite antenna.
Particularly inventive users still use satellites for pirated card sharing and watching TV in high quality, but for most people high-speed Internet has replaced obsolete white plates on the roofs.
Now history can turn in the opposite direction: with the development of 4G and 5G mobile networks, as well as the established power of fiber-optic connection providers, some companies plan to restore satellites to their former glory and create a global Internet network with them.
Do not rush to rejoice or be upset, because the idea of a new satellite Internet can be as much positive as negative.
It is noteworthy that create your own space “Wi-Fi ”is planned not only by Elon Musk, but also by Apple: recently, journalists found out that Cupertino gadget manufacturers are secretly developing new satellite technology.
Why is Apple tearing into space?
At the end of December 2019, the New York-based technology publication Bloomberg published material about the “secret Apple project,” which will allow the use of satellites to instantly transmit information directly to the company’s iPhone clients.
Anonymous sources said the new technology will circumvent wireless networks, and more than 10 aerospace engineers have already been hired in Cupertino to develop special satellites and antennas over the next five years.
Prospective communications satellites and next-generation wireless technologies should provide protection against any vulnerabilities that classic networks such as mobile coverage and Wi-Fi suffer from. It is reported that the company plans to transfer information directly to Apple users’ devices, and this will improve the work of many services, including card applications, as well as provide new opportunities for data exchange.
Allegedly, for the past few months, Apple executives have begun hiring software and hardware experts who already have development experience. “components for communication equipment ”, aerospace devices and tools for wireless information transfer.
According to Bloomberg, Michael Thrall and John Fenwick, the two former aerospace engineers who led Skybox Imaging, a satellite imagery company before its takeover by Google, led the Apple department, which is responsible for preparing the new satellite system.
After that, Thrall and Fenwick already managed operations with satellites and spacecraft at Google, and in 2017, experts switched to Apple (similar to similar posts). Although, publicly, experts do not disclose what specific technologies they are working on.
National Instruments Corp.’s Wireless Networking Engineer is also known to be an Apple engineer. Matt Ettus, Head of Aerospace Corp. Ashley Moore Williams, who specializes in communications satellites, and even former Netflix manager Daniel Ellis. The latter managed a global content delivery network of a popular streaming service.
It is still unknown exactly how the new satellite network of Apple will work: the company will launch its own constellations of mobile data transmitters into orbit or will use terrestrial systems to transmit information using existing satellites. Representatives of the California-based manufacturer of gadgets and software have not yet commented on their potential project.
If you believe the sources of Bloomberg, the idea of satellite communication is supported by the CEO of the company, Tim Cook, so the project is a priority for the company and it can really be implemented in the coming years.
Why does Apple need this? In addition to improving the operation of current services and increasing the speed of information transfer between Apple devices, a separate satellite network can help the company avoid dependence on mobile operators and combine smartphones, tablets and computers of its customers into one network without intermediaries.
For Apple, this is extremely important, because the protection of user data is one of the basic rules of the company. Tim Cook himself has repeatedly stated that privacy is “basic human right “and Apple “will not allow someone to get into the privacy of their customers. ” Given the recent security problems in some Apple services, a new satellite communications project may well be the solution.
Moreover, there are opportunities for this: despite, to put it mildly, not the best situation with iPhone sales, in 2019 the Apple budget for research and development grew to $ 16 billion, which is 14% more than in 2018.
Not only Apple has the money for such developments – other large corporations, including Google, Amazon and SpaceX, are also involved in the development of satellite Internet.
Why do I need satellite internet?
It may seem to an ordinary user that with the development of mobile networks, access to the Internet is becoming absolute, and the speed will become higher and higher. However, fiber optic connectivity and mobile coverage have already, in some ways, reached their limit. If we talk about user experience. Current technologies allow us to download data at tremendous speed, why then do we need 5G and more advanced technologies?
Like the new standard for Wi-Fi 6 wireless connectivity, 5G coverage is more of an infrastructure project, which is necessary, for example, to support unmanned driving technologies, the Internet of things ecosystems (IoT), AR- and VR-devices, – in general, the exchange of information on an “industrial scale”.
For the average user there will not be much difference between 5G and 4G, because watching a video in 8K from a smartphone is still pointless, and the rest of our existing connection is quite manageable.
Companies like Apple, SpaceX, Amazon etc. With their satellite internet they plan to reinvent the wheel. The desire to help network users in hard-to-reach places is accepted, but the scale at which the global satellite Internet is being prepared is clearly aimed at a much wider audience. Yes, and it is unlikely that Apple customers, for whom the company is preparing a new way of transmitting information, live exclusively in the mountains.
Obviously, this is driven by the desire to get rid of the power of mobile operators and Internet providers, capturing a piece of a completely new pie and offering users literally space technology. But is satellite Internet really good?
Current technologies, to put it mildly, are not impressive. Yes, we daily use information transmission via satellites in the form of GPS, but as for the full satellite Internet, it is much more difficult and longer to transmit information.
Firstly, to transfer information from a server on Earth to the orbiting satellite and again to Earth, the end user needs to install special equipment, such as an antenna and a transmitter. Elon Musk claimed that such a transmitter would cost about $ 100.
Secondly, the satellite signal can often be interrupted due to radio interference from other satellites, which makes this connection not the most stable and reliable. Thirdly, and most importantly, satellite Internet has a limited resource so far, which means a return to a certain amount of traffic and a significant decrease in speed.
And this is not to mention the bandwidth of the transmitters, the life of one satellite and other factors that affect the formation of a new “global network. “
It is possible that Starlink Elon Musk and Apple developers who are working on a secret satellite project already have solutions to this. At a minimum, SpaceX satellites are located in low Earth orbits, several hundred kilometers high, which is not typical for classical communication satellites that are in geostationary orbit, almost 36 thousand kilometers high.
Perhaps such satellites can really provide a fast and reliable connection around the world, but then they will need to launch a lot, and constantly update, dropping from orbit. This can lead to a new large-scale problem.
Apple is by no means the first company that plans to use orbital devices to create a new communication network. In addition to the companies that announced the preparation of global satellite Internet, several years ago, one of the divisions of the parent company Google Alphabet began the development of the Loon project.
This service will have to provide network connectivity in hard-to-reach areas using balloons. The project has been criticized for a long time, in particular because such balls can fly only a few months, and the operation of ground-based antennas depends on solar panels, which makes the device useless in regions with constant rainfall.
Be that as it may, a few months ago, Google announced that they would conduct the first commercial test of Loon aircraft together with Kenyan mobile operator Telkom Kenya – balloons would provide 4G coverage for residents of mountain settlements. Earlier, Loon transmitters were tested in Peru and Puerto Rico.
Facebook should also contribute to the development of new information transmission networks: several years ago, Mark Zuckerberg’s wards presented a prototype of a solar-powered Aquila drone, which uses a laser to provide wireless high-speed Internet in areas where mobile networks and fiber optic connections are not available.
In addition, the company said that this experimental Terragraph wireless system will allow you to create a network connection with a speed of 1 Gbit / s in densely populated urban areas much cheaper than current providers offer.
Well, the most famous satellite Internet providers of the future now, of course, are SpaceX and Amazon, which in the coming years are going to send thousands of satellites into orbit to create a global connection around the world.
If the launch of 3236 Amazon satellites to provide network access “to tens of millions of people ”still looks rather foggy, the company Ilona Mask is already in full swing implementing its Starlink satellite Internet project. In October 2019, Musk even announced that he was already using Starlink satellite Internet after SpaceX launched the first constellations of its information transmitters into orbit.
Although, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos plans to compete with Elon Musk not only through his online retailer, but also to help SpaceX rivals thanks to rockets from his aerospace company Blue Origin.
Last year, Bezos announced an agreement with the Canadian telecommunications company Telesat, which is to launch its satellites into orbit on Blue Origin New Glenn rockets. Telesat is going to solve the problem of insufficient Internet coverage, because, according to the US Federal Communications Commission, about 14 million Americans in rural areas do not have access to mobile networks.
It was reported that launches of Telesat satellites will begin in 2021. By that time, the New Glenn rocket should be ready. The Canadian telecom company is confident that the ability of the Blue Origin rocket to launch tens of tons of payload into low Earth orbit will help them significantly reduce the cost of launching satellites into space.
In addition to Telesat Canada, among the competitors of Elon Musk in the creation of global satellite Internet coverage are Canadian Kepler Communications, American LeoSat, British OneWeb and several other companies.
Internet versus science
As previously written HB, in total, within the framework of its Starlink project, Elon Musk plans to send about 42 thousand satellites. In the meantime, SpaceX has permission to place 12 thousand satellites in low Earth orbit, at an altitude of between 330 km and 580 km.
At the same time, now in slightly different orbits of our planet there are a little more than 2 thousand working satellites, and all other devices and their fragments are the so-called space debris, which can be a huge problem for future missile launches and extraterrestrial space exploration.
In this regard, not all astronomers and scientists have approved the SpaceX Starlink project. The global constellation of satellites for Internet coverage will be an unprecedented event in the history of space exploration and, in the best case, will increase the risk of collisions of space objects in different orbits of the Earth, and in the worst – will lead to the Kessler effect, which involves absolute pollution of the near-Earth space due to the destruction of all satellites.
Ilon Mask has a theoretical plan for solving this problem: after 5-7 years of operation of each satellite, SpaceX engineers will have to lower them from orbit into the earth’s atmosphere. However, according to Alice Gorman of Flinders University in Australia, the slightest miscalculation in SpaceX’s plans could lead to a real catastrophe: “If this system fails, then, according to SpaceX, it will take the satellite five years to re-enter the atmosphere. This is enough time for collisions to occur, especially in conditions of increased density of materials in orbit. ”
Recently, engineers from the European Space Agency (ESA) were forced to correct the flight path of their satellite due to a possible collision with one of the Starlink devices. The ESA said that the probability of a collision with a Starlink satellite was approximately 1 in 1000, which is 10 times higher than the threshold prescribed by the safety rules.
SpaceX replied that they were not going to change the trajectory of their satellites, since they have an automatic system built in that will change the direction of flight of the device in case of an imminent collision.
“This example shows that in the absence of traffic rules and communication protocols, collision avoidance is completely dependent on the pragmatism of the participating operators. Today, negotiations are being conducted by exchanging e-mails – an archaic process that is no longer viable, since an increase in the number of satellites in space means an increase in space traffic, ”said Holger Krag, the head of ESA’s space security department.
In addition, the dominance of satellites for the global Internet can interfere with space exploration from Earth: Astronomers have warned that reflecting light from a huge number of new satellites, as well as the radio interference that they create, can paralyze the work of ground-based and orbital telescopes, which are extremely important for scientists.
“The full constellation of Starlink satellites is likely to mean the end for terrestrial microwave radio telescopes that can scan the sky for minor radio objects,” said University of Swinburn astronomer Alan Duffy.
It is possible that while Apple will develop its satellite communications system, the US Federal Communications Commission will prohibit private companies from littering near-Earth space, and Elon Musk with his SpaceX will remain the only monopolist in this market.
Let’s hope that by that time, experts will come up with new methods to avoid collisions of spacecraft, otherwise not only satellite Internet, but also the path to space will be closed to us. But on Earth they will continue to shoot video in TikTok and post food on Instagram.