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IEEE Spectrum found out about Facebook’s plans to create a space laser for satellite communications

How exactly it will work is still unknown.

Photo from the Mount Wilson Laboratory Site

Facebook started developing its own system for communicating with satellites through lasers. For the project have already built two new observatories on Mount Wilson. This was reported by IEEE Spectrum, citing documents sent by PointView to the Federal Communications Commission and other regulators.

Spectrum believes PointView is a subsidiary of Facebook, which is working on an experimental Athena satellite system. In April 2018, she requested permission from the Federal Communications Commission to test radio signals in the E-band. The purpose of the test is designated as “checking the provision of unserved or low-maintenance areas by the Internet”.

According to the documents , PointView began construction of two observatories on Mount Wilson in July 2018 and was tested in mid-December. This is a popular place for observation: for example, there is a 2.5-meter Hooker telescope, which until 1949 was considered the largest in the world. And in 2004, an optical CHARA interferometer was built at the Mount Wilson complex .

As explained by the publication, Facebook has long been interested in laser and optical data transmission methods. Lasers can transmit much more data than radio transmitters with the same input power. In addition, this method of communication is better protected from hacking from the outside.

While working on the project of distributing Internet drones, Aquila Facebook has already experimented with a laser air-to-ground connection before closing the program. During the tests, engineers managed to establish a stable connection with a speed of 10 Gb / s between the device in the air and the ground station. As suggested by Spectrum, observatories can become a ground-based part of a laser satellite system.

Based on scientific documents from Facebook employees, the publication found out that the company really invests resources in creating orbital laser communications. In the 2017 and 2018 series of publications, engineers Rachel Aniceto (Reichelle Aniceto) and Slaven Moro subjected several components to cosmic radiation, including an optical modem. The level of radiation corresponded to that which is usually fixed in orbit.

During a talk at TedX in Boca Raton in October 2018, Aniceto talked about the enormous potential of laser satellites for developing countries. According to her, Internet access in such places will allow residents to “get opportunities such as education and do business.”

A Facebook employee explained that a geostationary orbit and an eye-safe laser close to the infrared range can be used for satellite Internet. She noted that this would allow data to be transmitted in the same way as by radio, but the device can be reduced in size, weight, and it will require less energy. Ancieto also said that the technology will be more attractive to newcomers to the industry, since the usual radio frequencies are already occupied by large players, and the laser communication is “not yet regulated.”

As noted in the IEEE Spectrum, the geostationary orbit involves a slower movement around the Earth, but even powerful signals will lose power at a distance of 36 thousand kilometers. In addition, if the satellite misses at least one degree, it will miss the planet.

Facebook could not comment on the Spectrum information. And at the Mount Wilson Institute, which runs the observatories, it was explained that the PointView Tech installation was “not yet finished.” The PointView application states that the launch of the Athena system is scheduled for early 2019

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