Showing posts with label Satellite Technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Satellite Technology. Show all posts

Adventure Tech: Planning for the Next Generation of Satellite Communications

For explorers and adventurers wandering into remote regions of the planet, satellite phones and data transmitters are the lifeline that allows them to stay in contact with the rest of the world, while also sharing updates on the progress of their expeditions. But today's satellite networks are aging rapidly, and are quickly becoming outdated. While they still handle voice calls fairly well, they lag far behind in data speeds. But two forward-thinking billionaires are in the planning stages for their own independent projects which will bring faster, more reliable voice and data coverage to the entire planet, and considering the track records of both of these gentleman, I wouldn't bet against either of them.

The first new satellite communications venture is being spearheaded by Elon Musk and his SpaceX program. Musk, who also runs electric car company Tesla Motors, and his researching building a high-speed train called HyperLoop, has announced plans to build a network consisting of hundreds of satellites in low-Earth orbit that would provide high speed data connections to the entire planet. The project is expected to take about 5 years to complete, and cost around $10 billion, but because the communications satellites will be at a relatively low altitude (750 miles up), they'll be able to exchange data at a far faster rate than current systems, which are as high as 22,000 miles.

Musk says that this project won't just benefit people on Earth however. He sees it as a stepping stone for what he eventually envisions as a permanent colony on Mars as well. That may seem far fetched at the moment, but considering the leaps that SpaceX has made in recent years (the company is one of the contractors that delivers supplies to the International Space Station), and their ambitious plans for the future, it doesn't seem completely out of the realm of possibility down the line.


Meanwhile, another rich visionary who has designs on the commercial space travel market is Richard Branson, who also has revealed similar plans for his own satellite communications network. The Virgin Galactic founder says he would also like to use his fledgling company to launch a network of low-orbit satellites as well, with the same aim of bringing improved communications and high speed data to the planet.

The concept would be to use Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo aircraft to launch small payloads carrying satellites that way about 500 pounds into orbit. This would be a far more efficient and cost effective way of getting those devices into space, and would speed up the time table dramatically. The problem is that the project took a step backwards with the recent crash of SpaceShipTwo, which claimed the life of a test pilot. Branson says he is committed to the concept none the less, and he hopes to begin deploying the first of these satellites in the next few years.

While both of these programs will obviously take some time to come to fruition, the payoff could be huge for our ability to say in contact while in remote areas. The fact that they'll include high speed data means that voice and video communications will improve dramatically, and likely drop in price when compared to current satellite offerings. But the traditional satcom companies like Iridium aren't exactly resting on their laurels either. Several have announced plans for their own next generation satellite systems which will hopefully deliver on the promise of faster performance as well.

ExWeb Mountaineering Round Table Part 2: Cameras, Video, and Staying Powered Up

Explorers Web has posted the second part of their technology round table, in which they discuss how some of the top mountaineers and explorers in the world stay connected while on their expeditions, while also documenting their adventures for sponsors and social media followers back home. If you missed Part 1 yesterday, and have an interest in how expedition technology works, I'd urge you to check it out here.

The panel consists of some big names, including Italian climber Simone Moro, and American Alan Arnette. Wingsuit pilot Joby Ogwyn is also part of the discussion, as is mountaineer and polar explorer Ryan Waters, amongst others. The panel was moderated by Tom Sjogren from ExWeb, who has climbed many big peaks, and skied to the North and South Pole.

Yesterday, the discussion mainly focused on satellite communications and staying in touch while in remote corners of the globe. The various members of the panel shared their strategies for which devices worked best for them, and what they preferred to carry when they go into the field. Today, the discussion shifts to camera equipment, with most of the panelists saying that they now take action cameras with them on their journeys, including a GoPro or the Garmin Virb. One even recommended the new Sony AX100, which is small, lightweight, and shoots in 4K.

Next, the panel moved on to how they stay powered up while at higher altitude and in base camp. Some, like Simone, carry USB battery packs to keep their gear functioning properly when high a mountain, while others turn to solar solutions from the likes of GoalZero and PowerTraveller. Back in BC, gasoline powered generators are still the best source of power, especially as more people travel with electronic gear, including guides and Sherpas.

Finally, the group talked about how they stay connected for high speed Internet while on their adventures. Most said they used the BGAN or Thuraya IP. These lightweight, yet powerful, solutions allow them to post dispatches, share photos and video, and stay in touch with friend and family. In this modern age, many sponsors want to see their athletes sharing the experience from the field, and these devices are crucial to that process.

The panel wrapped things up by discussing other tech gear that they day with them on their expeditions, including such items as foot warming systems, smartphones, and oxygen saturation meter. Some of the gear they touch on in this last section extends to everything from having proper tents, to their favorite climbing harnesses.

All in all, this two-part series from ExWeb has proven highly educational for anyone who wants to learn about the technology that keeps expeditions moving forward. I found it to be a good read, even for someone who stays on top of this kind of information. If you're planning a trip of your own, and want to be able to stay in touch with those back home, I'd suggest reading both part.

ExWeb Hosts Mountaineering Tech Round Table

ExWeb has posted a fascinating interview with some true luminaries from the world of mountaineering. Recently, the group got together in discuss the most crucial gear that they carry with them when they head out on an expedition, with the some really interesting insights into the technology that allows them to function in the Himalaya and beyond. What they shared will no doubt be of interest to other climbers, but also those of us back home who follow their exploits.

The panel consisted of Italian mountaineer Simone Moro, climbing documentary cameraman Elia Saikaly from Canada, Canadian mountaineer Louis Rousseau, wingsuit pilot Joby Ogwyn, American climber Alan Arnette, who runs a popular climbing blog often referenced here, climber and polar explorer Ryan Waters, Caroline Blaikie from Adventure Consultants, and Everest Base Camp manager Tim Robertson. The panel was moderated by Tom Sjogren from Explorers Web, who has also summited Everest, and skied to both the North and South Pole.

As you can see, this panel was filled with people who truly know their business. The group featured top climbers, explorers, extreme outdoor athletes, and guides. Collectively, and individually, this group has a great deal of experience in the Himalaya, the Karakoram, and a host of other mountain ranges across the world.

As mentioned, much of the discussion on the panel was about the technology that these adventurers take with them when they head into the mountains. Now days, in addition to satellite phones and GPS devices, mountaineers also carry laptops, tablets, smartphones, and a variety of other gadgets on their expeditions. Some of the discussion involved the technology that Ogwyn had planned to use to broadcast his wingsuit jump from the summit of Everest on live television, as well as touching on the tragedy that occurred on the South Side of the mountain in Nepal this past spring. Saikaly was one of the cameramen on that expedition, and was on the mountain when the avalanche claimed the lives of the Sherpas shuttling gear up to Camp 1. That topic also broached the topic of the use of avalanche airbags on the mountains.

From there, the discussion moves on to satellite phones, and the strategies for their use, as well as the implementation of satellite trackers such as the DeLorme InReach. Some of the panelists talked about their experience with the new Thuraya Satsleeve as well, as well as the Iridium Go.

There is a lot of information here for those thinking about a big expedition of their own and looking for some advice. Each of these panel members has years of experience in the field, and they have all worked out good strategies for the use of this type of gear. If you've ever wondered how they operate while in the field, this will certainly provide some solid insights.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this panel, when the same group will discuss their use of video on expeditions as well.

Adventure Tech: Iridium Go! Satellite Hotspot Now Shipping

Back in February of this year, I posted a story about a new product from satellite communications company Iridium called the Iridium Go! At that time, the device was newly announced, and we were just getting an early look at what it could do. The relatively small gadget would allow explorers and outdoor adventurers to stay in contact with the rest of the world while visiting remote places. Acting much like a portable WiFi hotspot, it would provide both data and voice communications, allowing a variety of devices to connect to Iridium's' network, with the Go! acting as the bridge. Thus, you could use your iPhone, tablet, or computer to send messages, post social media updates, and make phone calls from just about anywhere on the planet. The Go! promises to revolutionize the way we communicate from the field. Yesterday, Iridium announced that the device has begun shipping, and is available to consumers for the first time.

Designed for use in the remote corners of the planet, the Go! is rugged and durable. Once configured and powered on, it provides a WiFi network with a range of up to 100 feet (30 meters). This can allow users to set the device up in a location that has a clear view of the overhead sky, while they take shelter in a tent or close to natural protection. Their devices can then connect to the Go!, even though it isn't in the same physical location that they are. This helps to extend the versatility of the device for use in the backcountry. The Go! is even capable of connecting to up to five devices at the same time.

Iridium has created two free apps for use on smartphones and tablets. They include the Iridium Go! app, which is used for placing satellite phone calls, while the Iridium Mail & Web app serves as a portal for getting email, surfing the web, and connecting to social media. Additionally, Iridium has released an SDK for the platform, with other companies signing on to develop apps for the Go! as well.

The Go! carries an MSRP of $895, although there are already a few early adopter discounts being offered. Considering the amount of versatility it brings to our satellite communications from remote places, I'd say that is a reasonable price to ask. The fact that it allows you to use your existing devices, such as an iPhone or iPad, means that you can carry less gear into the field, and use a single device no matter where you go. Iridium as even future-proofed it, as the Go! is already compatible with their next generation of higher speed satellites that will begin coming online next year.

If you've been waiting for the Go! to arrive, now's your chance to pick one up, and put it to use in the field. It looks like a great little device, and I can't wait to hear how it performs.