SpaceX Sends First Text Messages Using Starlink Satellites

Just six days after being launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket, one of SpaceX’s six Starlink satellites was used to send text messages for the first time. reports: That update didn’t reveal what the first Starlink direct-to-cell text said. In a post on X on Wednesday, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said the message was “LFGMF2024,” but the chances are fairly high that he was joking. […] Beaming connectivity service from satellites directly to smartphones — which SpaceX is doing via a partnership with T-Mobile — is a difficult proposition, as SpaceX noted in Wednesday’s update.

“For example, in terrestrial networks cell towers are stationary, but in a satellite network they move at tens of thousands of miles per hour relative to users on Earth,” SpaceX wrote. “This requires seamless handoffs between satellites and accommodations for factors like Doppler shift and timing delays that challenge phone-to-space communications. Cell phones are also incredibly difficult to connect to satellites hundreds of kilometers away, given a mobile phone’s low antenna gain and transmit power.”

The direct-to-cell Starlink satellites overcome these challenges thanks to “innovative new custom silicon, phased-array antennas and advanced software algorithms,” SpaceX added. Overcoming tough challenges can lead to great rewards, and that’s the case here, according to SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell. “Satellite connectivity direct to cell phones will have a tremendous impact around the world, helping people communicate wherever and whenever they want or need to,” Shotwell said via X on Wednesday.

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Qualcomm’s Going Toe-To-Toe With Apple’s Satellite Messaging Feature

Qualcomm has announced that its new processors and modems will allow phones to communicate with the Iridium satellite network, letting users send and receive messages even in areas without cell coverage. The Verge reports: The feature, called Snapdragon Satellite, will be available in phones that have both Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor and its X70 Modem system, along with some additional radios. Phones that support it should be “launched in select regions starting in the second half of 2023,” according to the company’s press release, and there are several manufacturers working on designs, according to Francesco Grilli, a Qualcomm spokesperson who helped conduct a briefing for journalists. For now, the feature will likely only be available in flagship Android phones, as Qualcomm’s only including the tech in its premium chips. Companies that want to add it to their phones will work directly with Qualcomm to figure out the software and hardware, but they shouldn’t have to build new relationships with Iridium, according to Grilli. To the satellites, phones with the tech will look like any other Iridium-enabled devices. As for who will pay for the messages, “the cost of the satellite-based messaging service and dependent services will depend on OEMs and service providers and how they choose to offer the service,” according to Grilli.

At first, Snapdragon Satellite will be limited to use in emergency situations, letting you contact someone for help even if you’re in a remote area without cell service. According to Grilli, “Snapdragon Satellite leverages Garmin Response.” When you send an SOS, “response coordinators immediately see the customer’s Latitude/Longitude in their proprietary mapping and response coordination software to determine the appropriate agency to coordinate the rescue.” Qualcomm says that, eventually, it’ll support “premium messaging,” which will likely cost extra and will have to be implemented by OEMs, cell carriers, or other over-the-top service providers. So far, this isn’t something Apple offers; you can only send texts via satellite using its SOS feature.

While Qualcomm says the emergency service will be free or very cheap, it hasn’t provided details yet on how much it’ll cost you if you just want to be able to text your friends from remote areas, like a hiking trail, ski lift, or even a boat in the middle of the ocean. Once that service becomes available, however, Qualcomm says you’ll be able to use it with your regular phone number. (That likely won’t be the case for emergency use, but it matters less there.) […] While details are sparse on what it’ll be like to actually send and receive satellite messages, it sounds like the experience will be similar to Apple’s in that you’ll have to follow instructions on your phone to point it toward a satellite. According to Grilli, your phone will be able to predict where Iridium’s satellites are months in advance thanks to the way its constellation orbits the Earth. When you go to connect to one, it’ll use GPS and other measurements to determine where you need to be facing…

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iPhone 14 Satellite Feature Saves Stranded Man In Alaska

Apple’s iPhone 14 Emergency SOS via Satellite Feature was put to the test in Alaska yesterday, when a man became stranded in a rural area. MacRumors reports: In the early hours of the morning on December 1, Alaska State Troopers received an alert that a man traveling by snow machine from Noorvik to Kotzebue had become stranded. The man was in a cold, remote location with no connectivity, and he activated the Emergency SOS via satellite feature on his iPhone 14 to alert authorities to his predicament. Apple’s Emergency Response Center worked with local search and rescue teams and the Northwest Arctic Borough Search and Rescue Coordinator to send out volunteer searchers directly to the GPS coordinates that were relayed to Apple using the emergency function.

The man was rescued successfully and there were no injuries. The area where he was located is remote and on the fringes of where satellite connectivity is available. Apple says that satellite connectivity might not work in places above 62 degrees latitude, such as northern parts of Canada and Alaska, and Noorvik and Kotzebue are close to 69 degrees latitude. Troopers who helped with the rescue were “impressed with the accuracy and completeness of information included in the initial alert,” with the Emergency SOS via Satellite feature designed to ask several questions ahead of when an alert is sent out to expedite rescue missions.

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SpaceX Asserts 5G Would ‘Blow Out’ Satellite Users In 12 GHz Band

Monica Alleven writes via Fierce Wireless: So much for the “win-win-win” scenario that Dish Network envisioned for the 12 GHz band. Dish and fellow MVDDS licensee RS Access have argued that the 12 GHz band can be used by both satellite players like SpaceX’s Starlink and by companies like Dish that want to use it for 5G, all for the public’s benefit. SpaceX on Tuesday submitted its own analysis (PDF) of the effect of terrestrial mobile deployment on non-geostationary orbit fixed satellite service (NGSO FSS) downlink operations. The upshot: The SpaceX study shows terrestrial mobile service would cause harmful interference to SpaceX’s Starlink terminals in the 12.2-12.7 GHz band more than 77% of the time, resulting in full outages 74% of the time.

Although entities like RS Access note that SpaceX has access to plenty of other spectrum to accomplish its broadband mission, SpaceX insists that the 12 GHz band has become one of the most important and intensely used spectrum bands for Americans who depend on satellite services. In fact, SpaceX said it depends on the 12 GHz band for the workhorse frequencies in critical downlink services to serve Americans “in every corner of the nation.” […] SpaceX would like the FCC to drop the 12 GHz proceeding, but Dish and RS Access have been urging the FCC for years to change the rules so that their MVDDS licenses can be used for two-way 5G services. In response to SpaceX’s submission, the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition, issued the following statement: “We understand that SpaceX has — after 18 months and both a robust comment and reply period — just filed its own in-house technical submission to the 12 GHz proceeding. Our engineers and technical experts are reviewing the filing in depth and remain committed to working in good faith with the FCC and stakeholders to ensure that the American public is able to reap the immense benefits of 5G services in this band.”

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Global Science Project Links Android Phones With Satellites To Improve Weather Forecasts

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Collecting satellite data for research is a group effort thanks to this app developed for Android users. Camaliot is a campaign funded by the European Space Agency, and its first project focuses on making smartphone owners around the world part of a project that can help improve weather forecasts by using your phone’s GPS receiver. The Camaliot app works on devices running Android version 7.0 or later that support satellite navigation. Researchers think that they can use satellite signals to get more information about the atmosphere. For example, the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere can affect how a satellite signal travels through the air to something like a phone.

The app gathers information to track signal strength, the distance between the satellite and the phone being used, and the satellite’s carrier phase, according to Camaliot’s FAQs. With enough data collected from around the world, researchers can theoretically combine that with existing weather readings to measure long-term water vapor trends. They hope to use that data to inform weather forecasting models with machine learning. They can also track changes in Earth’s ionosphere — the part of the atmosphere near space. Creating better ionospheric forecasts could be relevant in tracking space weather and could eventually make Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) more accurate by accounting for events like geomagnetic storms. Camaliot could eventually expand to include more attempts at collecting data on a massive scale using sensors present in “Internet of Things” connected home devices. According to The Verge, these are the steps to take to begin using the Camaliot app on your Android phone:

1. Select “start logging” and place your phone in an area with a clear sky view to begin logging the data
2. Once you have measured to your liking, select “stop logging”
3. Then, upload your session to the server and repeat the process over time to collect more data. You can also delete your locally-stored log files at this step.

“In addition to being able to view your own measurements against others accumulated over time, you can also see a leaderboard showing logging sessions done by other participants,” adds The Verge. “Eventually, the information collected for the study will be available in a separate portal.”

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Satellite Outage Knocks Out Thousands of Enercon’s Wind Turbines

Germany’s Enercon on Monday said a “massive disruption” of satellite connections in Europe was affecting the operations of 5,800 wind turbines in central Europe. MarketScreener reports: It said the satellite connections stopped working on Thursday, knocking out remote monitoring and control of the wind turbines, which have a total capacity of 11 gigawatt (GW). “The exact cause of the disruption is not yet known. The communication services failed almost simultaneously with the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Enercon said in a statement.

Enercon has informed Germany’s cybersecurity watchdog BSI and is working with the relevant providers of the satellite communication networks to resolve the disruption, which it said affected around 30,000 satellite terminals used by companies and organisations from various sectors across Europe. “However, no effects on power grid stability are currently expected due to redundant communication capabilities of the responsible grid operators. Further investigations into the cause are being carried out by the company concerned in close exchange with the responsible authorities,” BSI said. There was no risk to the turbines as they continued to operate on “auto mode,” the company said. The report also notes that Viasat was “investigating a suspected cyberattack that caused a partial outage in its residential broadband services in Ukraine and other European countries”

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