Tag Archives: communication

Space Junk Collision Could Set Off Catastrophic Chain Reaction, Disable Earth Communications

Pentagon: A Space Junk Collision Could Set Off Catastrophic Chain Reaction, Disable Earth Communications | Popular Science.


Orbital Debris The dots on this NASA-generated chart represent known pieces of large orbital debris. NASA

Every now and again someone raises a stern warning about the amount of space junk orbiting Earth. Those warnings are usually met with general indifference, as very few of us own satellites or travel regularly to low Earth orbit. But the DoD’s assessment of the space junk problem finds that perhaps we should be paying attention: space junk has reached a critical tipping point that could result in a cataclysmic chain reaction that brings everyday life on Earth to a grinding halt.

Our reliance on satellites goes beyond the obvious. We depend on them for television signals, the evening weather report, and to find our houses on Google Earth when we’re bored at work. But behind the scenes, they also inform our warfighting capabilities, keep track of the global shipping networks that keep our economies humming, and help us get to the places we need to get to via GPS.

According to the DoD’s interim Space Posture Review, that could all come crashing down. Literally. Our satellites are sorely outnumbered by space debris, to the tune of 370,000 pieces of junk up there versus 1,100 satellites. That junk ranges from nuts and bolts lost during spacewalks to pieces of older satellites to whole satellites that no longer function, and it’s all whipping around the Earth at a rate of about 4.8 miles per second.

The fear is that with so much junk already up there, a collision is numerically probable at some point. Two large pieces of junk colliding could theoretically send thousands more potential satellite killers into orbit, and those could in turn collide with other pieces of junk or with satellites, unleashing another swarm of debris. You get the idea.

To give an idea of how quickly a chain reaction could get out hand consider this: in February of last year a defunct Russian satellite collided with a communications satellite, turning 2 orbiting craft into 1,500 pieces of junk. The Chinese missile test that obliterated a satellite in 2007 spawned 100 times more than that, scattering 150,000 pieces of debris.

If a chain reaction got out of control up there, it could very quickly sever our communications, our GPS system (upon which the U.S. military heavily relies), and cripple the global economy (not to mention destroy the $250 billion space services industry), and whole orbits could be rendered unusable, potentially making some places on Earth technological dead zones.

Satellite problem causes phone and Internet outage

Satellite problem causes phone and Internet outage – North – CBC News.

Posted: Oct 6, 2011 9:56 AM CT

Last Updated: Oct 6, 2011 10:15 AM CT

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A malfunctioning satellite is affecting long distance telephone and Internet service in communities across the north.

Northwestel said all communities across Nunavut, N.W.T. and Yukon that receive their long distance calling and data service via satellite are affected by the outage, which began at about 6:30 a.m. ET.

People in Iqaluit are reporting they are without cell phone service and long-distance calling, bank machines and debit-card machines. At least one bank in the city has not opened today as a result. Flights are also being delayed.

The service disruption appears to be due to problems Telesat is having with its Anik F2 satellite.

At the present time, the satellite is pointing in the wrong direction, away from the Earth.

Telesat is working to regain proper Earth lock, which may take 12 to 18 hours.

Can we count on cell networks in disasters?

Can we count on cell networks in disasters? | Signal Strength – CNET News.

Andrea Mancuso was working just north of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, when two planes struck the towers. Soon after, she was the only person around who seemed to have cell phone service.

“I walked from downtown to Lincoln Center (about 4.5 miles) before I was able to hail a cab with four strangers,” she said. “Everyone was upset, and no one had a cell phone signal except me. I passed my phone around like a hot potato all the way to Harlem. Everyone including the cab driver graciously and tearfully called their families.”

Her story, of course, is not unique. For hours, family members and co-workers frantically tried to contact people they knew in Lower Manhattan.

The network failure could partially be pinned on infrastructure damage. Cell towers were destroyed in the attacks, along with switching equipment used for landline phones. But another cause of the problem was the huge surge in traffic from people trying to find loved ones or letting others know they were OK.

Since 9/11, wireless networks have been tested time and again, and their performance has been shaky. A major blackout in the Northeast in 2003, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the Minneapolis bridge collapse in 2007 put strains on local networks. Cellular service in New York City even ground to a halt last month because of a minor earthquake centered several hundred miles away.

Undoubtedly, with each crisis, operators have learned more about what they can do to keep service up and running. But there’s a flip side to that growing expertise: we’re more dependent than ever on cell phones.

In September 2001, there were between 118 million and 128 million wireless subscribers who owned cell phones, according to data compiled by the CTIA Wireless Association. At the end of 2010, it was 302 million, or more than 96 percent of Americans. To keep up with the surge, wireless operators have spent billions of dollars upgrading their networks, adding more than 125,000 new cell sites since the end of 2001.


Related stories:
Hurricane Irene’s challenge for cell phone networks
Cell service jammed after East Coast earthquake
Wireless operators accelerate upgrade plans

But is that enough? Despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, industry experts interviewed by CNET believe that carriers have made huge strides on network reliability by doing simple things like expansion and adding generator backups, and complex things like forming emergency response units. They believe we’re in far better shape than we were 10 years ago…to a point.

“There’s no question the networks are in a much better position today than they were in 2001 to handle a significant crisis, even in the face of a staggering increase in users,” said Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research. “But it’s also important for people to make contingency plans for communications, in case the network isn’t working.”

On the plus side
There’s reason for that guarded optimism. Carriers have added spectrum and high-capacity connections from their cell towers to the wired networks that transport voice and data traffic. And they’ve hardened their networks with equipment that can withstand heavy wind and rain, as well as ensure that the equipment remains functional when commercial power is lost.

In fact, all the major wireless carriers have increased the number of cell sites with backup power supplies. They’ve also increased the number of cell sites on wheels that they can roll into locations that have had infrastructure damage.

“A good proportion of the cellular bay stations across all the major carriers now have some kind of battery or generator for backup power,” said Gerard Hallaren, an equities analyst at JRPG Research. “That wasn’t the case back in 2001.”

Verizon Wireless, for example, has for years been installing backup generators and batteries to many of its cell sites. During the 2003 blackout that kept much of the Northeast in the dark for hours, Verizon’s customers could still communicate when customers from other carriers could not.

There’s also that human element, in terms of specialized units that can quickly move into an area.

“In the event of a natural or man-made disaster, like 9/11, we have multiple groups within AT&T who are equipped to respond quickly to repair and restore network capabilities,” AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said. “Our network disaster recovery team is a great example of that. They were deployed after 9/11 to assist in restorations, and we’ve invested $600 million in our NDR team since its formation.”

There are also new services. Enhanced 911, which allows 911 operators to locate callers on a cell phone, is a prime example. A decade ago, cell phones in the U.S. didn’t yet support the technology. Today, every phone sold in the U.S. is capable of providing location information to emergency 911 operators.

While it was gaining popularity in Europe and elsewhere in 2001, SMS text-messaging services in the U.S. weren’t used much by wireless subscribers because they worked only within carrier networks. This meant that on September 11, 2001, if someone wanted to send a text message to a family member or loved one, they were able to send it only to someone who subscribed to the same carrier.

A few months later, in November 2001, carriers began to connect their networks for text messaging, allowing subscribers on different networks to exchange texts. Today, more than 187 billion text messages cross U.S. wireless networks each month.

Text messaging has become a critical form of communication during a crisis. In the lead-up to Hurricane Irene on the East Coast last month, wireless operators and public-safety officials were asking consumers to use text messaging during the storm instead of making voice calls to help alleviate network congestion.

Text messaging is a better way of communicating in a crisis for several reasons. To start, the messages are small and consume only a small amount of network resources. Second, messages are sent on a cell phone’s signaling channel. This means that they’re in a separate “lane” from voice and data messages, so they may have a clear path when the voice network is congested. And if the network is too congested even to send a text, the message can be stored. When service resumes, the message is sent.

The technology has become such a ubiquitous and reliable form of communication during an emergency that the Federal Communication Commission is working on rules to allow 911 call centers to accept SMS text messages, as well as photos, videos, and data communications, to provide more information to first responders for assessing and responding to emergencies.

Congestion problem
The biggest problem wireless networks face today in a crisis is a rapid increase in usage. The networks don’t have enough capacity to handle the surge in call volume. Cellular networks are designed to handle a certain amount of calls in each cell site or region, with wireless operators carefully calculating how much usage is needed to serve the average usage volume while having just enough capacity to handle spikes in demand.

The problem occurs when a disaster hits, and thousands of people all at once pick up their phones to call someone, send a text message, update Twitter, and so on. There simply isn’t enough capacity in the network to allow everyone in a cell site to make a phone call at the same time.

Steve Largent, the president of the CTIA Wireless Association, argues that more wireless spectrum is needed to ensure that more “lanes” for data can be opened up for wireless operators to direct traffic to during a crisis.

“Crisis situations are a perfect example of why it’s so important that the government makes more wireless spectrum available,” he said.

While more spectrum could help, it’s unclear if it would ever be cost-effective for wireless operators to configure their networks to withstand the highest demand for network resources. Analyst Gerard Hallaren said most networks are designed to handle only about 20 percent to 40 percent of maximum traffic, with 40 percent being on the conservative side.

“It’s just economic insanity for any carrier to try to solve the congestion problem,” he said. “It’s cost-prohibitive to build a network that could serve 330 million at the same time. A service like that would cost hundreds of dollars a month, and people are not willing to pay that much for cell phone service.”

That said, the carriers say they’ve made improvements to their networks and are trying to alleviate the issue.

“We continue to build redundancies into our network and increase capacity so that it is not overwhelmed by ‘sudden calling events,'” AT&T’s Siegel said.

New generations of cellular technology have also helped make wireless more available during a crisis. The move from 2G to 3G, and now to 4G, will offer carriers more efficiencies in how they use their spectrum, which could also be a benefit during an emergency to alleviate network congestion.

The other major difference between September 2001 and now is that the mobile Internet as we know it today did not exist. Third-generation, or so called 3G, wireless networks were not deployed, and most people did not have access to the Internet from their cell phones. Facebook, Twitter, and other social-networking apps that people access easily from their cell phones today to share pictures, updates, and other information weren’t even invented back then. While this traffic also increases the load on networks, sometimes it’s easier for users to get through to these sites than to make voice connections via their cell phones.

“People have so many more ways of communicating with each other now to tell someone where they are or that they are all right,” Forrester’s Golvin said. “Having these communication alternatives is a huge improvement over where we were a decade ago.”

Public-safety officials had their own communications challenges responding to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Tomorrow CNET will explain the problems first responders had that day and why the public-safety community is still waiting for their own wireless network.

Inflatable Sat antenna fits in your backpack

One Per Cent: Inflatable antenna you can stick in your backpack.

Jesse Emspak, contributor

Dish.jpg(Image: GATR Technologies)

A big issue in setting up satellite communications networks is the antennas – it takes time to set them up. In the wake of a big disaster cell networks can be damaged when the towers fall and take months to repair. For television crews and military units carrying a rigid satellite antenna can be a serious logistical problem, as even a metre-sized dish is quite heavy and difficult to transport.

Enter GATR Technologies, which has designed an inflatable 1.2-metre satellite antenna that can fit into a backpack and be carried by a single person. The company’s antenna looks something like a beach ball. It is a double-layered sphere with one layer a nylon mesh and the other made from sail material. The antenna is in the centre.

The receiving dish divides the sphere’s interior into two chambers and by applying pressure to one chamber you can push the antenna into a parabolic shape. The company already sells a larger, 2-metre version but this one is small enough to fit in an airline’s hand luggage area when folded.

GATR’s director of marketing, Dean Hudson, said the military is the major customer, though the company also hopes to get some interest from television crews who don’t want to go through the trouble of packing an entire satellite-link system up when they travel to areas without roads.

Media Complicit in Humanity's Demise?

Duane Elgin: The Last Taboo on Television.

Virtually every forbidden topic imaginable has been covered on television, except for one. The last taboo on television is television itself — and how it is profoundly biased toward high consumption lifestyles that the earth cannot sustain. In the U.S. the average person sees more than 25,000 commercials a year on TV. Commercials represent far more than a pitch for a particular product; they are also advertisements for the attitudes, values and lifestyles that surround the consumption of that product. Mass entertainment is being used to capture a mass audience that is then appealed to by mass advertising to promote mass consumption that, in turn, is devastating the Earth’s biosphere. By programming television for commercial success, the television industry is also programming the mindset of civilizations for ecological failure.

Nearly all of the world’s problems are, at their core, communication problems. Therefore, the future of the world will depend largely on the quality and depth of human communication. I agree with Lester Brown, author of the respected State of the World book series, who said that to respond to the global ecological crisis, “The communications industry is the only instrument that has the capacity to educate on a scale that is needed and in the time available.” At the heart of the communications industry is television. In the U.S. 98% of all homes have a TV set and the average person watches approximately four hours per day. Television has become our primary window onto the world: most of the people get most of their news about the world from television. Like it or not, television has become the central nervous system of modern society. The question then becomes, how well is our “social brain” responding to the immense challenge of sustainability?

The unrelenting consumerist bias of television distorts our view of reality and social priorities, leaving us entertainment rich and knowledge poor. Television may be our window onto the world, but the view it provides is cramped and narrow. Television may be the mirror in which we see ourselves as a society, but the reflection it gives is often distorted and unbalanced. Our evolutionary intelligence is being tested by how well we use this powerful vehicle to communicate collectively about our future.

Just how urgent our situation has become was made clear nearly two decades ago by a 1992 Warning to Humanity that was signed by over 1600 scientists, including a majority of the living Nobel laureates in the sciences. They said that “human beings and the natural world are on a collision course” and that, “A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it, is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.” If the future of human civilization is now at stake, then what is the mass media doing? Currently, the communications industry is actively participating in the “irretrievable mutilation” of the planet by aggressively promoting a lethal addiction — obsessive consumerism.

World leaders are wrestling with how to stabilize the planet’s population and achieve sustainable development. In an historic bargain, poor countries are being urged to curb their birth rates and rich countries are being urged to curb the rate at which they use up the world’s resources and pollute the planet’s environment. Yet, how can we in the wealthy nations be expected to consume less when the media that dominates our consciousness continuously tells us to buy ever more?

This linkage is one of the paramount political and social issue of our time, and yet it is rarely mentioned. Television almost never turns its cameras around to look at itself and its unrelenting consumerist bias. Building a sustainable future requires at least two major changes:

  • Viewer Feedback Forums — We need to create publicly sponsored, televised forums that hold the mass media accountable in the court of public opinion. Using live polling and citizen feedback in both local and national “feedback forums,” citizens can use the power of moral persuasion and public opinion to promote a more mature and balanced diet of programming.
  • Earth Commercials — To balance the onslaught of aggressively pro-consumerist commercials, we need “Earth commercials.” These could be ads for other species of animals, the rain forests, appeals from our great-great grandchildren, and so on. They could be done with humor, creativity, playfulness and intelligence to awaken our awareness of the web of life and the needs of future generations.

Most people understand that our planet is in trouble and that we will soon have to make dramatic changes in our manner of living, working and consuming if we are to live in harmony with the Earth. Never before in human history have so many people been called upon to make such sweeping changes in so little time. If a problem recognized is a problem half-solved, then we can make an enormous leap forward by breaking the last taboo on television and taking back a portion of the public’s airwaves for purposes of mature conversation about our common future.

Earthquake? Terrorist bomb? Call in the AI

Earthquake? Terrorist bomb? Call in the AI – tech – 23 May 2011 – New Scientist.

In the chaos of large-scale emergencies, artificially intelligent software could help direct first responders

9.47 am, Tavistock Square, London, 7 July 2005. Almost an hour has passed since the suicide bombs on board three underground trains exploded. Thirty-nine commuters are now dead or dying, and many more are badly injured.

Hassib Hussain, aged 18, now detonates his own device on the number 30 bus – murdering a further 13 and leaving behind one of the most striking images of the day: a bus ripped open like a tin of sardines.

In the aftermath of the bus bomb, questions were raised about how emergency services had reacted to the blast. Citizens and police called emergency services within 5 minutes, but ambulance teams did not arrive on the scene for nearly an hour.

As the events of that day show, the anatomy of a disaster – whether a terrorist attack or an earthquake – can change in a flash, and lives often depend on how police, paramedics and firefighters respond to the changing conditions. To help train for and navigate such chaos, new research is employing computer-simulation techniques to help first responders adapt to emergencies as they unfold.

Most emergency services prepare for the worst with a limited number of incident plans – sometimes fewer than 10 – that tell them how to react in specific scenarios, says Graham Coates of Durham University, UK. It is not enough, he says. “They need something that is flexible, that actually presents them with a dynamic, tailor-made response.”

A government inquest, concluded last month, found that no additional lives were lost because of the delay in responding to the Tavistock Square bomb, but that “communication difficulties” on the day were worrying.

So Coates and colleagues are developing a training simulation that will help emergency services adapt more readily. The “Rescue” system comprises up to 4000 individual software agents that represent the public and members of emergency services. Each is equipped with a rudimentary level of programmed behaviours, such as “help an injured person”.

In the simulation, agents are given a set of orders that adhere to standard operating procedure for emergency services – such as “resuscitate injured victims before moving them”. When the situation changes – a fire in a building threatens the victims, for example – agents can deviate from their orders if it helps them achieve a better outcome.

Meanwhile, a decision-support system takes a big-picture view of the unfolding situation. By analysing information fed back by the agents on the ground, it can issue updated orders to help make sure resources like paramedics, ambulances and firefighters are distributed optimally.

Humans that train with the system can accept, reject or modify its recommendations, and unfolding event scenarios are recorded and replayed to see how different approaches yield different results. Coates presented his team’s work at the International Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management in Lisbon, Portugal, last week.

That still leaves the problem of predicting how a panicked public might react to a crisis – will fleeing crowds hamper a rescue effort, or will bystanders comply with any instructions they receive?

To explore this, researchers at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, have built a detailed simulation of how crowds respond to disaster. The Dynamic Adaptive Disaster Simulation (DADS) also uses basic software agents representing humans, only here they are programmed to simply flee from danger and move towards safety.

When used in a real emergency situation, DADS will utilise location data from thousands of cellphones, triangulated and streamed from masts in the region of the emergency. It can make predictions of how crowds will move by advancing the simulation faster than real-time events. This would give emergency services a valuable head start, says Greg Madey, who is overseeing the project.

A similar study led by Mehdi Moussaïd of Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse, France, sought to address what happens when such crowds are packed into tight spaces.

In his simulation, he presumed that pedestrians choose the most direct route to their destination if there is nothing in their way, and always try to keep their distance from those around them. Running a simulation based on these two rules, Moussaïd and his colleagues found that as they increased the crowd’s density, the model produced crushes and waves of people just like those seen in real-life events such as stampedes or crushes at football stadiums (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1016507108). The team hope to use their model to help plan emergency evacuations.

Jenny Cole, head of emergency services at London-based independent think tank The Royal United Services Institute, wrote a report on how the different emergency services worked together in the wake of the London bombings. She remains “sceptical” about these kinds of simulations. “No matter how practical or useful they would be, there’s usually no money left in the end to implement them,” she says.

For his part, Coates says he plans to release his system to local authorities for free as soon as it is ready.

A cacophony of tweets

In the chaotic moments after disaster strikes, people often turn to Twitter for information. But making sense of a flurry of Twitter posts can be difficult.

Now Jacob Rogstadius at the University of Madeira in Portugal and his team have developed a system that sorts updates from Twitter by keyword – for example “Japan” or “earthquake” – and places them into an event timeline, without the need for hashtags.

In the next phase of development, people will look at tweets clustered in this way to judge the pertinence and reliability of different sources of information, or request more – pictures of the area, for example – to create a virtual “incident room” as the crisis unfolds.