Satellites Space

Without GPS, modern civilization would perish

GPS provides location data to aircraft, cars, trucks, trains, and ships, while GPS timing signals support financial activities and cellular communications. According to a 2019 report supported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the loss of GPS would cost the US economy $1 billion per day, or $1.5 billion if it failed during the April-May planting season. With the rapid development in consumer services and location-based transportation and delivery services, the expenses could be considerably higher two years from now.

By email, Alan O’Connor, director of innovation economics and senior economist at RTI International, which is a non-profit research institute that produced the 2019 report, said: “Positioning, navigation, and timing signals are essential to so several partners and for so many diverse applications which an interruption in these signals will indeed likely be more financially significant today.”

GPS and its GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) competitors — Europe’s Galileo, Russia’s GLONASS, and China’s Beidou — are critical components in a wide range of economic operations. In their respective regions, India’s NavIC and Japan’s QZSS are equally essential.

The oldest and most extensively used PNT system is GPS. Many legacy infrastructure networks still use GPS-only receivers. To ensure GNSS continuity and accuracy, multi-constellation receivers have become the norm. These receivers should potentially ensure service consistency in the case of GPS failure because they pick up signals from every accessible GNSS satellite, regardless of the constellation. However, since they rely on GPS so heavily, it’s unclear how they would react if GPS were lost for several hours.

“GPS is quite vital in our daily life. I am confident lives would be lost if it went gone for an extended period,” Dana Goward, head of the charity Resilient Navigation & Timing Foundation, stated via email. GNSS disruptions have only lasted a few hours so far, but a prolonged outage is possible. Galileo experienced a six-hour system outage on December 14, 2020, and a week-long disruption in July 2019. In 2014, GLONASS failed when its satellites broadcast erroneous data for 11 hours.

Individual GNSS satellite outages are common, and the systems are frequently targeted for jamming and spoofing. After an earlier satellite was deactivated in 2016, GPS-based timing devices began to indicate errors. The 13-microsecond difference disrupted police and emergency communication devices across North America for hours, causing power grid outages.

The timing aspect is one of the reasons GNSS failures are so widespread. GNSS satellites employ atomic clocks for signal synchronization, allowing users to estimate the time with nanosecond accuracy. Consequently, banks depend on GPS to report precise transaction timing, and mobile towers utilize it to sync network nodes.

Satellites Space

SpaceX is rethinking the tiered pricing plan for the Starlink satellite internet service

The head of SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell, stated that the company is not likely to introduce tiered pricing for the Starlink satellite internet service’s direct consumers. The service will be going for a monthly price of $99 for the early adopters. Shotwell explained that this move is to prove to potential customers that their service is transparent and to motivate them to subscribe to it. The executive said this in a Satellite 2021 “LEO Digital Forum” webinar held two days ago. A tiered pricing system limits the customers to the service level that they have subscribed to with the choice of going overboard when their disposable income is sufficient.

Starlink is a project which brings together thousands of satellites to form a network and to provide internet service. This grouping of satellites is called a constellation, and it supplies high-speed internet to consumers in the entire globe. There are over 1200 satellites already in orbit to form a pilot test for the project. The company unveiled the service last year to customers situated in the US, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, and the UK.

The service costs $99 each month. It also comes with an additional cost for the devices tapping into the satellites in space for the internet. Elon Musk expanded the service garnering over 10000 users in the first quarter since the rollout. Shotwell reiterated that they would be operating in the public beta phase for quite some time while making the necessary changes to guarantee the transition to another phase.

Musk hopes that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can approve his plan of extending the service to mobile systems like cars, trucks, and aircraft. This move would open up a new market that the company is targeting to serve in the coming years. Currently, the company meets the demands of the rural and remote customers, who are about 60 million in the United States.

Shotwell explained that they decided to start with the US since there is no language barrier limiting their access to the remote and rural areas to install the devices compatible with the satellite signals. The company’s challenge is shipping the user terminals that communicate with the satellites to consumers’ residences. SpaceX has to shoulder the costs to encourage consumers to partake of this technology. Luckily, the company unveiled advanced terminals, which have minimized the cost of each by approximately $200.

Satellites Space

Pixxel launches a hyperspectral satellite seed series

An Indian startup has earned $7.3 million to build a constellation of the hyperspectral imaging satellites, the first phase towards a much larger venture.  Pixxel revealed the seed round on 17 March and received support from Omnivore VC as well as Techstars, among others. The organization had previously received $700,000 in the “pre-seed” financing to get underway.

Bengaluru, an India-centered firm, strives to stand out in a competitive area of Earth-imaging firms by concentrating on the hyperspectral imaging, which captures data through hundreds of spectral bands at the same time. Agriculture, oil, and natural resources will benefit from such imagery, which will offer a wealth of data. Despite its potential, hyperspectral data has yet to gain traction in the commercial imaging industry. Satellogic, for instance, flies hyperspectral imagers on its increasing constellation of satellites, but more traditional high-resolution imagery that such satellites often have has piqued interest.

Pixxel predicts that higher-quality hyperspectral data can help it succeed. In a conversation, Awais Ahmed, Pixxel’s co-founder, and CEO stated, “If you glance at Satellogic, it’s thirty bands at 30 meters resolution.” “We’re off with a 5-meter capacity and 150 bands.”

He says that the updated data can be paired with a tech interface that will make it simpler for consumers to interpret data, which is a problem for hyperspectral imaging. “People also shied away from hyperspectral photography in favour of the optical RGB imaging as it needs more computing capability,” stated Pixxel co-founder as well as chief technology officer (CTO) Kshitij Khandelwal. “We’re putting together a toolkit so that anyone can deal with hyperspectral data as well as other types of data.”

Pixxel has planned to launch the first satellite, a 15-kg spaceship, into orbit by now. However, due to software issues, the corporation had to pull satellite from the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle barely days before the deployment on February 28.

According to Ahmed, they discovered issues with GPS logging and acquisition tools a day before they were supposed to deliver satellite to the launch pad. He explained, “We wanted not to hurry it.” The business has resolved the software problem, done further tests, and is searching for launch options “in the coming months” on either an Indian or even an international rocket.

Pixxel is currently building a second satellite, which will weigh around 30 kg and be deployed in October. The satellite, just like the first, would be manufactured by the firm but with parts obtained from a variety of sources. Dragonfly Aerospace, which is a South African spacecraft imaging device manufacturer, provides the spacecraft’s camera, for instance. Khandelwal explained, “We are basically a satellite integrator and also a designer.”