by Mark Ollig
A group of motivated entrepreneurs have an ambitious idea for providing free information content and Internet access – on a global scale.
The plan: release into space hundreds of CubeSats which will orbit the Earth. While circling the Earth, they will transmit digital data content, and provide Internet access to all of us living on the surface.
“What are CubeSats?” you might be asking yourself.
Well, you are not alone, as I, too, was unaware of CubeSats.
And so, yours truly began to do some CubeSat research.
CubeSats are, in fact, fully- working, miniature cubed satellites used in space. They are also referred to as “nanosatellites.”
One type of CubeSat is roughly 4 inches square, and weighs approximately 3 pounds; hence the name is based upon their cubed shape.
OK, back to the plan. It is called Project Outernet.
The entrepreneur’s at Outernet envision hundreds of Earth-orbiting CubeSats, transmitting information to all corners of the globe, including the 40 percent of the world’s population which has no readily available Internet access.
Outernet plans on providing high-quality educational, news, and entertainment content, along with Internet access via Wi-Fi multicasting, at no cost.
Outernet is receiving support from Digital News Ventures, which is a subsidiary of Media Development Investment Fund, a non-profit investing in emerging markets news-related startups.
Today, there are regions of the world where mobile smartphones, tablets, and other mobile computing devices are unusable, due to the unavailability of a technical network infrastructure to support them.
The needed cell towers, fiber-optic, coaxial, or even telephone copper cables used for transmitting digital data, are not available in certain parts of the world.
The main page on the Outernet’s website states, “The primary objective of Outernet is to bridge the global information divide.”
They go further by declaring access to knowledge and information is a “human right.”
Providing everyone, located anywhere on the planet, with the means to access digital informational content, and Internet access at no cost, would truly be revolutionary.
According to Outernet, their Earth-orbiting CubeSats will receive digital data content via upload from ground stations, and then re-transmit this data directly to people’s mobile smartphones, computing devices, and tablets.
The free, two-way Internet nanosatellite access will come later.
Outernet points out how this new space network could also be utilized for “emergency communications” in the event cellular networks on the ground fail.
“Outernet consists of a constellation of hundreds of low-cost, miniature satellites in low Earth orbit. Each satellite receives data streams from a network of ground stations and transmits that data in a continuous loop until new content is received,” according to Outernet’s website.
Wouldn’t having hundreds of these small satellite cubes circling the earth just add to the current space debris problem?
Well, the answer is, “no,” because the CubeSats are placed in a very low orbit, and after a few weeks or months, their orbits will begin to decay, which causes them to fall back into the Earth’s atmosphere, and burn up.
I’m no Einstein, but it seems to me a constant, fresh supply of CubeSats will need to be regularly placed into orbit. This will cost money.
The California Polytechnic State University, located in San Luis Obispo, CA, first developed CubeSats in 1999.
The university (also known as Cal Poly) developed them in order to assist other universities around the world in accomplishing science exploration in space.
A CubeSat can be built for less than $50,000. This makes it financially achievable for some schools and universities to construct their own CubeSats for data-collecting science projects, and have them launched into space.
CubeSats are launched and released into space from inside a Poly-PicoSatellite Orbital Deployer, which is attached onto a rocket as a secondary payload.
The International Space Station uses the Small Satellite Orbital Deployer when releasing CubeSats into space from the space station.
NASA has established a NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) web page. This is for providing free, CubeSat rides into space for science missions, and is intended to offer data-collecting opportunities for students, teachers, professionals, and those involved in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program.
As of this writing, CubeSat Launch Initiative selectees have come from 25 states; some states have multiple selectees.
Minnesota currently has no selectees; however, in North Dakota, the University of North Dakota’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences does.
Here is a link with the updated locations of current CubeSat providers selected via the CubeSat Launch Initiative: http://tinyurl.com/bytes-nasa5.
NASA’s CSLI web page, which includes an informative 32-minute video, can be seen at http://tinyurl.com/bytes-nasa4.
Outernet’s project timeline began in December 2013, when the Phase I Technical Assessment was completed.
This June, development of prototype CubeSats and testing of long-range WiFi begins.
By September, they anticipate transmission testing onboard the International Space Station.
Outernet expects having established the manufacturing process for “hundreds of satellites” by April 2015.
The deployment into space of Outernet’s CubeSats is scheduled to begin in June 2015.
Will this plan become a reality? Stay tuned.
The website for Outernet is https://www.outernet.is.