New simulation shows how Elon Musk’s internet satellite network might work

elon musk starlink space simulation img2

From Tesla to Hyperloop to plans to colonize Mars, it’s fair to say that Elon Musk thinks big. Among his many visionary ideas is the dream of building a space internet. Called Starlink, Musk’s ambition is to create a network for conveying a significant portion of internet traffic via thousands of satellites Musk hopes to have in orbit by the mid-2020s. But just how feasible is such a plan? And how do you avoid them crashing into one another?

To shed some light on the possibilities, Mark Handley, professor of Networked Systems in the Department of Computer Science at University College London, recently created a detailed simulation of Starlink. Handley’s experiment was carried out using a custom-built simulator written specifically for this purpose, with visualization made possible thanks to a 3D game engine.

“I’ve written network simulators before, but I don’t normally write them in a game engine,” Handley told Digital Trends. “However, in this case, being able to visualize the motion of the constellation was crucial to understanding what was going on. It’s just so much more intuitive what’s happening when you can watch it. At the low level of detail of these simulations, the problem is essentially a 3D geometry problem, and a game engine is actually really well suited to exploring such problems.”

Handley said that he was intrigued when he heard about Musk’s hopes for Starlink, although he had a number of questions he wanted answered. For example, he wondered if it was really possible to connect together thousands of low-Earth orbit satellites into a mesh so that the paths taken by the traffic are direct enough, despite first having to go 1,100km upwards. He also had questions about network capacity, particularly as compared to more conventional technology such as optical fiber.

So what’s Handley’s conclusion? “Yes, I think the concept is overall feasible,” he said. “It’s difficult though, and SpaceX [is] pushing the limits of technology in several areas simultaneously. Their use of phased array wireless links to steer narrow beams to and from the satellites will be pushing the limits of what has been done. This is mostly known technology, but doing it to the degree they’re doing it will be challenging. The use of free-space laser links between satellites is relatively unknown technology. [The European Space Agency] previously demonstrated that it was possible, but SpaceX will need to track more targets simultaneously and achieve higher data rates. I have confidence it can be done, but it may take some time to really get right.”

One thing’s for sure: From both a hardware and software perspective, “no internet provider has ever needed to manage a network like this before.”

Movies & TV

Why First Man’s Oscar-nominated visual effects are a giant leap for filmmaking

Paul Lambert, the award-winning visual effects supervisor on First Man, reveals the innovative techniques that blended old footage with modern movie magic to make the Apollo 11 mission to the moon resonate with audiences 50 years later and…
Product Review

Samsung's Galaxy S10 phones are its most refined yet. Be prepared to pay up

Samsung has unveiled its lineup for its most popular smartphones, and it includes the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus. The two flagship phones boast hole-punch cameras, fingerprint sensors embedded in the display, and beefier batteries.
Movies & TV

How Avengers: Infinity War’s Oscar-nominated VFX team made Thanos a movie star

The purple-skinned Thanos proved to be a breakout character in Avengers: Infinity War, thanks to the work of actor Josh Brolin and visual effects studios Digital Domain and Weta. Here's how they brought him to life and earned the film an…
Gaming

Take to the virtual skies with these free flight simulators

You don't have to spend the entirety of your paycheck to become a virtual ace, at least when it comes to flight simulation. Our list of the best free flight simulators will let you unleash your inner Maverick.
Smart Home

No strings attached: This levitating lamp uses science to defy gravity

Now on Kickstarter, the Levia lamp is a cool industrial-looking lamp which boasts a levitating bulb. Looking for a table light that will dazzle visitors? You've come to the right place.
Emerging Tech

The Great White Shark’s genome has been decoded, and it could help us end cancer

In a significant step for marine and genetic science, researchers have decoded the genome of the great white shark. The genetic code revealed a wealth of insight into what makes these creatures so successful from an evolutionary standpoint.
Emerging Tech

‘Guerrilla rainstorm’ warning system aims to prevent soakings, or worse

Japanese researchers have created a "guerrilla rainstorm" early-warning system aimed at preventing severe soakings, or worse. The team hopes to launch the system before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Mobile

Barbie’s Corvette ain’t got nothing on Sphero’s fully programmable robot car

Sphero is known for devices like the Sphero Bolt and BB-8 Star Wars toy, but now the company is back with another addition to its lineup -- the Sphero RVR. The RVR is a fully programmable robot car that can be expanding with different…
Emerging Tech

Japanese spacecraft will collect a sample from asteroid Ryugu by shooting at it

The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2 will soon touch down on the asteroid Ryugu, where it will collect a sample by shooting a bullet into the soil. The sample will be returned to Earth in 2020 to learn about the formation of asteroids.
Emerging Tech

Hong Kong’s vision for a smart prison is a full-blown Orwellian nightmare

Hong Kong wants to bring prisons up to date by introducing new location-tracking wristbands for inmates, and a robot arm whose job is to comb through poop on the lookout for contraband.
Emerging Tech

No faking! Doctors can now objectively measure how much pain you’re in

Researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine have discovered the blood biomarkers that can objectively reveal just how much pain a patient is in. Here's why that's so important.
Emerging Tech

SeaBubbles’ new electric hydrofoil boat is the aquatic equivalent of a Tesla

What do you get if you combine a Tesla, a flying car, and a sleek boat? Probably something a bit like SeaBubbles, the French "flying" boat startup which offers a fresh spin on the hydrofoil.
Emerging Tech

We tried a $500 electronic dab rig, and now we can’t go back to normal vaporizers

Induction heating is the future of cannabis vaporizers. Loto Labs wowed us with what likely is the best concentrate vaporizer on the market today. With a $500 price tag, it's expensive, but it should definitely be your next dab rig.
Emerging Tech

Israel will launch the world’s first privately-funded moon mission tomorrow

This week will see the world's first privately funded lunar mission launch. Israel's first mission to the moon will be launched aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday, February 21.