Saturday, January 11, 2020

A Little Catching Up On Stories

After Monday night's launch of 60 of their Starlink satellites, SpaceX is now the world's largest satellite operator, with 180 of those satellites in orbit.  They're just getting started, with a possible 20 more launches of 60 satellites per launch (1200) this year.

With its highly reusable Falcon 9 rocket first stage, SpaceX also has a decided cost advantage in terms of getting its satellites into space.   As the saying goes, they get the launches at cost.  If they could capture just 3 percent of the global Internet market, those satellites could bring in about $30 billion in revenue.

The Starlink satellites are not without controversy.  Like pretty much all LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellites, they're visible when it's dark on the ground but sunlight is still reaching the satellites and the astronomy community is starting to sound alarms about the satellites wiping out photographs, or otherwise ruining observations.  There's a sample video here.   This is an early photograph from May of '19, the first batch of 60.

The company's responses seem like it's something they never thought of but they'll look at what they can do.  I suppose it's possible they never thought of this aspect since it's not something people who aren't sky watchers would think of right away.  I really don't see much they could do to the satellites to make them not reflect - they have a massive solar panel on them and they can't exactly paint that black.

I may have stumbled onto a player in my 5 year long struggle with my Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter popping randomly.  Last week, I had done a few experiments aimed down a simple-minded troubleshooting path.  I figure that side of the room has five outlets and about 60 feet of wire, and I'll just replace it all until I make the problem go away.  Outlets first, then wire.  I removed the obvious one to remove first, an outdoor outlet.  With the outlet removed (and the wires terminated with wire nuts), the GFCI popped in about 48 hours.  Then I unplugged a few more things and went another 48 hours before it popped.  Yesterday, I bought replacement outlets for the rest of that circuit and replaced them all today.  One of the existing outlets had this suspicious damage.

The plastic insulation is split all around the top outlet, but we're looking at the neutral side closest to the camera.  I have the rest of the shop plugged in but everything is turned off - except for the surge-protected power strip that would be plugged into this outlet.  That's unplugged until I need something on that circuit, then it will be plugged in for as long as I need the power. 


  1. Surprisingly, that one crack can take out your whole circuit, or your whole house, depending on how bad everything gets.

    Replace the circuit breaker for the circuit that is in the breaker box also. It's like replacing a battery when you replace the alternator on your car, or replacing the alternator if your battery self-destructs. Everything is connected. Especially with electricity.

    While you're replacing the circuit breaker (with the main breaker pulled, so everyone is going to be pissed at you) check out all the wires and connections in the breaker box. You'd be surprised at how many faults have been caused by anole lizards, small frogs, mice or cockroaches.

    As to SpaceX screwing up the skies, that's what really good computers are for. And soon SpaceX will be able to offer the ability (with Starship and the plain Cargo Ship) to start hoisting more and more telescopes up above the atmosphere.

    1. While I'm not going to bet my life that "there's no lizard poop, no lizards and no roaches in the breaker box," the box is indoors. Yeah, I see lizards in the garage, the addition where all this is going on, and in the house, but I've never found one inside a junction box. I expected that when I opened the one outside to pull that outlet, but it was as clean as can be in there.

      And shifting gears radically, of course there are many telescopes in LEO already. Those are beyond the budgets of small research institutions and do nothing for the hobby astrophotographers, admittedly probably only a few thousand worldwide or hobby astronomers, more like hundreds of thousands or millions worldwide.

      The best place to put a telescope would be on the far side of the moon. Putting a telescope in orbit is harder than putting it on a planet, and our moon is big enough to get most of the benefits of both orbit (solid structure advantages) and low gravity (really big optics). No reaction wheels and fancy stabilization methods. Even more points for figuring out how build it with materials from the moon so that we don't ship everything up at how ever many thousands of dollars per pound that costs. All of that goes double or triple for radio telescopes on the far side of the moon.

  2. Hey SiG, this article, quoted here might explain a lot.

    "The Defense Experimentation Using the Commercial Space Internet program seeks to establish resilient, high-bandwidth, high-availability Air Force communications and data sharing capabilities by leveraging developing commercial space internet networks.


    [T]aking advantage of the commercial space internet will concentrate government efforts on the few areas that are unique to Air Force applications."

    The .mil wants a bunch of assets in space they don't have to pay to launch or develop for "path-agnostic communications".

    That seems less than optimal, as how do you trust a path you don't control?

    nick flandrey

    1. Thanks for that link, Nick. I used to get the magazine back when I was still working, so I know them.

      It's an interesting idea.

      That seems less than optimal, as how do you trust a path you don't control? Isn't that the same with the whole Internet? It started out as ARPANet and a MIL project, but it hasn't been that for a long time. I've heard they wanted to make a private internet for themselves, but haven't seen whether or not they had.

      By analogy, I can see this as the DOD hiring a phone company and using the same telephone lines as all the other users. I assume it's not for classified data, and that if it is, the data will be encrypted before it's sent.

  3. I remember learning in school (how quaint is that) that one of the contributing factors to the "surprise" on December 7, 1941 was that the G-2 alert to raise the alert status for USF Hawaii was sent via Western Union due to problems with .mil wireless problems. Was delayed because Western Union treated .mil traffic like any other, that is first come first served, so the telegram arrived at Kimmel's HQ at about the same time as the first wave of Japanese aircraft. The more things change the more they remain the same.

    As to, "The company's responses seem like it's something they never thought of...." That is puzzling since circa 1965 any 15 year old American boy would have immediately thought, "Wow, I'll be able to see it." So what we are saying is that the current space program is in the hands of people who have never, in their lives, actually looked up at the night sky. Interesting. Wait till there is the first collision with a lifting or returning vehicle. I'm sure they've never considered the problem of two objects attempting to occupy the same space at the same time. I spent a career, once upon a time, in aviation and I can testify that the Blue Sky Theory of acft separation works, until it doesn't. Challenger was brought down by a $3 synthetic rubber o-ring, carefully engineered and lovingly placed. Imagine what one of these things will do to a vessel.
    Tom S.

  4. " I've heard they wanted to make a private internet for themselves, but haven't seen whether or not they had."

    --FirstNET is the private internet they are building for first responders. It's well underway here in Houston, and I saw the same antennas in many areas of Chicago. It's a huge and intrusive system, with antenna poles about one per block or every other block, on every single street. There is a massive amount of work for the underground guys here in Houston, pushing pipe to connect all the poles. It goes up fast though, and I've been hard pressed to see anyone actually doing the work setting the poles and antennas- it looks like it's being done in stealth mode, or as a 'fait accompli' in many neighborhoods. With literally hundreds of poles, I haven't seen ONE put in place. I see the guys pushing the pipe for the fiber and power links, but never anyone placing poles or hanging antennas. Weird.


    1. I think that's different, Nick.

      There have been talks about making sure the military addresses don't go over the same infrastructure as the current Internet. In the early days of the Internet, when it was basically a DARPA project, they segregated traffic for unclassified military only and called it MILnet. That was 1983.

      They left MILnet connected to the broader internet (which was still pretty limited almost 40 years ago!) so they could exchange emails but disconnect the MILnet if need be. It later became part of the DoD Defense Network (DDN), which had secure networks. I think that went away in 1995.

      There has been talk of having something like this again, entirely for the military, and not connected to larger Internet with civilian traffic. There has also been talk about a private network for the research centers that send big files to each other. Like the National Science Foundation's NSFnet which pretty much turned into today's bigger Internet.

  5. Yup, sorry if I wasn't clear about the FirstNet users... not military.

    Last time I did anything for .mil, they were still talking about SIPRNET and NIPRNET and the red and the black, so they must still have their own infrastructure. Although that was early 2000s.