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Friday, February 16, 2024

From Earth to space-based: future of the Internet

The author explores how difficulties with subsea cables have caused the world to shift to space-based internet. Companies gear up to launch satellites that will provide internet access, however, thousands of man-made objects in space will create dangers of collision and debris.

We are living in an age of hyper-globalization. The world is virtually connected more than it has ever been so, historically. Technology has given us amazing things like smartphones, supercomputers and a plethora of other Internet of Things (IoT).

Internet is the only network that connects the whole globe with great ease. It allows billions of souls to communicate, share ideas and even make financial transactions online. But some credit for this great invention can be attributed to cold war times when the internet technology was developed for military purpose to share documents and communicate rapidly.

Read more: Artificial intelligence: Undeniable reality – Dr. Zafar Jaspal

The world’s information superhighways

The internet majorly depends upon subsea cables that carry over 95% of international data. There are about 400 submarine cables that carry every type of data including telephone calls, streaming videos, transactions of debit and credit cards, even the data of stock exchanges.

Subsea cables are called the world’s information superhighways and have become an integral part of life. Any interruption of the internet ceases life for those who are professionals and working in government and private industries.

However, there are about 4 billion people who still are not having access to reliable internet networks. This much population constitutes almost more than half of the world population.

Read more: FATA to get internet access for the first time

Internet disruption has become frequent due to damage to optics fibre. The reason is that fibre-optics cables cannot be taken to everywhere on the planet earth due to difficult terrain, seas, mountains and jungles, and this is why some private companies thought of providing space-based internet to global citizens.

Elon Musk’s Starlink

The space-based internet is the ability to send and receive data through satellites orbiting around the earth. It is believed that space-based internet will be faster and more reliable than submarine cables.

SpaceX of Elon Musk is building a vast satellite internet network in space(satellite constellation) which is called Starlink. Starlink has established a network of 1000 working satellites in space and the target is to get 42000 satellites in the orbit by 2027.

Read more: Elon Musk launches Starlink satellites to provide worldwide internet access

The internet service of Starlink is already available in some countries including the U.S., Canada and the UK. Starlink is almost ready to launch internet services in Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. It also wants to expand to Spain, Italy, India, and Japan but the internet speed at this point is not so impressive to attract users to switch to Starlink.

That is why Starlink is aiming to put around 42000 satellites in the orbit. Another milestone will be achieved that the space-based internet service will also be available in navigating ships, running trains, flying aeroplanes and fast-moving vehicles.

An era of space-based internet

In future, space-based internet will be replacing optic-fibre. The purpose of space-based internet is to provide internet services across the globe. Artificial intelligence (AI) and the devices having AI will also be controlled with the internet from remote locations.

There are two leading companies that have been successful in obtaining licenses and they include SpaceX and OneWeb. The already provided space-based internet services by Hughes, Gilat and Viasat are slow and interruptive because of the satellites in high geostationary orbit(36,000 km above the surface of the earth). This makes the internet an expensive enterprise for the providers as well.

Read more: SpaceX initiates its Space Internet Network with Launch of First 60 Satellites

However, the emerging technology of the internet will be in the low-orbit of the earth which normally ranges between 160 km to 2000 km. SpaceX and OneWeb aim to put 42000 and 47000 satellites respectively which will be massive constellation and causing night light addition to space pollution.

A revolution or a threat to humanity?

According to the National Geographic website, “hundreds of thousand man-made objects are zipping around our planet from dead satellite to errant nuts and bolts, putting our working satellites at risk”.

There is a reported collision of two satellites in 2009 when Russian inactive satellite ‘Cosmos 2251’ and the U.S.-based satellite ‘Iridium 33’ had a collision. That collision at the speed of 22300 mph made a cloud of debris that has thousands of pieces that are more than 4 to 6 inches in size.

Read more: Indian satellite destruction created 400 pieces of debris, endangering ISS: NASA

According to SPACE.com, the International Union has expressed concerns over satellite constellation that pose a significant threat to existing astronomical infrastructure. It also urged designers, deployers and policymakers to seriously take into account the threats posed by satellite constellation.

Donald Kessler who feared collisional cascading in the space is also known as ‘Kessler Syndrome’. According to Kessler the debris already in space accumulated has the likelihood of a collision and creating more of a runaway chain reaction of collisions. This can destroy all the modern life that humans have achieved so far.

The monopoly of internet technology will provide the U.S. with a technological military edge over other nations. It will help the U.S. in maintaining space supremacy. Space-based internet will incur new revolution on earth in the domains of health, education and military.

Read more: AI and national security; a new arms race?

Dr Rizwan Naseer is a strategic security analyst. He can be reached at multirizzz@gmail.com.The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Global Village Space.