Even Google doesn’t open here!” That’s entrepreneur Prasad HL Bhat’s constant complaint when he visits his family in Shimoga, which is five to six hours away from Bengaluru. Surely he isn’t alone when it comes to whining about poor Internet connectivity in smaller cities, towns and villages across India. Yet, his startup Astrome is among a few in the world that is trying to fix this basic need of the 21st century.But how? The 18-member team, led by Neha Satak and Bhat at a lab in the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), plans to launch 200 micro-satellites into space, which will send you Internet that is ‘fast, reliable, available everywhere, and life-changing’, as the website declares. This will be achieved in three ways: One, their satellites can power existing cellular towers. Two, individuals can buy a set-top box and install an antenna for fixed-point uses at homes or offices. Three, one person can buy this set-up and redistribute the Internet to an entire locality.Running behind their deadline, they will send their first satellite into space next year, and the rest by 2021.“If you are developing an app, you can predict the timelines tightly, but when you are working on hardware like we are, it’s a different deal. Just finding the right vendor for fabrication can take up a lot of time. So delays are not a big red flag in the hardware (industry),” says Satak, the CEO, coolly. Take, for instance, OneWeb, she says. The American startup, in which Sunil Mittal of Bharti Airtel has acquired a minority stake, has deferred the launch of the first 10 of its total 882 Internet-beaming satellites to the year-end. Still, deadlines are important, feels Satak, so her team is working hard to meet the new target. Which, for now is fine tuning their technology for outdoor testing – they will transmit signals between two rooftops, one kilometre apart.Not just OneWeb, the race to beam broadband Internet from the sky is already hot. ViaSat has been at it, offering 100Mbps download speeds in some areas of America. There’s Google’s Project Loon, Boeing, and Space X. Facebook tried too, to shoot Internet-delivering drones in the air, but abandoned the project. So what is the USP of this tiny startup? It lies in their patented MM-wave technology that allows them to send 100Gbps of data per satellite, five-10 times higher than what these giants have proposed to offer. “So individuals can access 50Mbps of Internet while businesses up to 400Mbps,” says Bhat, the CTO and chairman.On that, laying optic fibre cable and servicing it in rural areas is an expensive affair, which their space mission can slash by “100 times”, claims Satak, who gravitated towards the outer world after watching Larry Hagman, the astronaut from the American sitcom, I Dream of Jeannie, and went on to promote space education and start a firm for asteroid exploration in the US, before returning to India. Bhat, on the other hand, loved Star Trek, Star Wars, and everything space, and was co- running a visual search tech firm.The duo first met at the IISc while studying and reconnected later to start Astrome in 2015, which has since won multiple grants, and awards (one of the three tech startups to be awarded by president Ram Nath Kovind on the National Technology Day this May).Not just India, other developing countries will also benefit from their floating routers. For, their constellation will hover strategically along the Equator to cover Southeast Asia, West Asia, Africa, South and Central America, and Australia (in the range of +/- 40 degree latitude). “We know the market for (Internet) is in these developing countries,” Bhat cuts in. Rightly so, as he says “63 per cent of Indians live in rural areas and the rest in cities”, and “5-6 per cent of land is all where our traditional, optic fibre grids are concentrated”. So ‘Digital India’ is a distant dream, as also stated in the Internet in India 2017 report. It notes that the Internet penetration in rural areas is critically low at 20.26 per cent as opposed to 64.84 per cent in urban areas. “But the demand for Internet is increasing in rural markets at a rate of 30-40 per cent, per year. Now if this demand goes unmet, people will migrate to cities,” adds Bhat. But why should that be the case, they ask.Internet is a great leveller and it can change lives, that’s why Satak is keen to deliver unhindered and cost-effective Internet. She says, “Most of the big companies are focussed in cities.How about if they move to or open branches in Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities and create value and jobs for people living there. It’s already happening in Germany with companies such as Bosch.” Plus, she’s observed that people in towns and villages are getting enterprising year after year. “If they have reliable Internet connection, they can sell stuff online, and can converse with the rest of the economy.” The next aim is even more dear. “I grew up in a smaller city (Beawar in Rajasthan), but my parents made sure I got the best of education. But how many kids in towns and villages will possibly know ofthe IISc? If they were to have access to the Internet, they might. Their options will increase,” she explains.Bhat agrees, “There is a lot of IoT innovation happening in the field of agriculture, edutech, telemedicine, and solar energy in villages. These innovators have all the solutions ready, the only missing thing is the Internet. ‘How do I push the data collected to the cloud or the central hub?’ they ask us.” He had more to share. “At an exhibition in Bengaluru last year, the moment we told people what we are doing, 30-40 of them asked if they can sign up for our services.” Which, can also be used for maritime tracking, real-time sensing, flight entertainment, wearable teach, and HD streaming.Yet, bridging this great Indian divide is going to be a long haul. “The capacity of each of our satellites is 100Gbps. So if each user was to consume 10Mbps, each satellite can serve about a lakh people. To meet the demand of India alone, we’ll need to send some 10,000 satellites,” Bhat says with a chuckle. So, by 2021, he admits while they will be able to “serve everybody, but not in the same capacity.” Expansion will certainly follow.Some more good news. Using its MM-wave technology (or GigaMesh), the startup will also fight mobile network congestion on the ground, and even make the telecom infrastructure 5G-ready. So forget call drops, voice breaks and unreachability over phones. It will go live before their aerial mission, but won’t use satellites.Ask Satak why she chose satellite Internet over satellite telephony, and she says crisply: “Mobile phone network is already a solved problem, why should I launch satellites for that? I would rather spend money to deploy more 2G towers (to fight congestion). So it will be conservative of us to focus on telephony. It won’t be a useful incremental step for the world to see.” With satellite Internet, however, she says Astrome is taking a “jump” for the mankind.

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A planet and its moon are getting chatty in deep space. 

A new video from NASA shows off the complicated interactions between plasma waves moving from Saturn to its moon Enceladus and back. 

The new video, produced by converting plasma wave data into sound waves, shows that the plasma actually moves along magnetic field lines, like energy moving between the two bodies, NASA said.

SEE ALSO: NASA will visit an undersea volcano in Hawaii to figure out how to hunt for aliens

“Enceladus is this little generator going around Saturn, and we know it is a continuous source of energy,” planetary scientist Ali Sulaiman said in a NASA statementRead more…

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Photograph by NASA

 

NASA astronaut Robert Curbeam works on the International Space Station’s S1 truss during the space shuttle Discovery’s STS-116 mission in Dec. 2006. European Space Agency astronaut Christer Fuglesang (out of frame) was his partner in the 6-hour, 36-minute spacewalk.

During Discovery’s mission to the station, the STS-116 crew continued construction of the orbital outpost, adding the P5 spacer truss segment during the first of four spacewalks. The next two spacewalks rewired the station’s power system, preparing it to support the station’s final configuration and the arrival of additional science modules. A fourth spacewalk was added to allow the crew to retract solar arrays that had folded improperly.

Selected by NASA in December 1994, Curbeam reported to the Johnson Space Center in March 1995. He is a veteran of three space flights: STS-85 in 1997; STS-98 in 2001; and STS-116 in 2006, and has logged more than 900 hours in space. [written by Yvette Smith]

 

via NASA

 

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While three hurricanes swirled in the Caribbean and Atlantic Oceans on September 6, 2017, the sun blasted off a powerful flare of energy, which soon smacked into Earth and severed radio communications across half the planet for hours.

Just four days later, another solar flare — an intense burst of radiation from the sun — hit Earth and again disrupted communications, as major storms continued to churn toward land.

This confluence of tempestuous weather both on Earth and in space was recently described by scientists in the journal Space Weather, the research led by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researchers.  Read more…

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