Here on Earth, 2022 marks the year that 5G cellular becomes ubiquitously deployed, and all the technology buzz will turn to next-generation 6G cellular. That’s how it goes. By the time a major technology rolls out, it's already obsolete, and the next generation is already in design and development.
Enough about cellular technology. The important news is that SpaceX will field enough satellites in its StarLink Low Earth Orbit (LEO) communications system to transition from the beta phase, with intermittent service, to full operational phase with 24 x7 connectivity.
Space X is not alone; Telesat, OneWeb, and Amazon’s Kuiper have secured funds to deploy their own LEO satellite constellations systems. Funding does not mean success. The satellite world is littered with financial failures. Motorola’s Iridium system, the original “satphone” company, lost billions of dollars as ground-based cellular deployed far faster than expected. These new LEO satellite systems are big bets, and like Iridium, the available market of customers may not big enough for all of them to be successful.
SpaceX is making a bet that StarLink will generate enough revenue to fund both the rocket launch business and LEO communications operations, along with a few missions to Mars. The rocket launch business will feed off the deployment and replacement of StarLink LEO satellites, creating a virtuous circle of revenue generation. Jeff Bezos’s Kuiper LEO system and Blue Origin launcher investments will create a similar virtuous circle. Amazon has a distinct advantage over other LEO satellite operators– a number of financial evaluations show that Amazon’s connectivity needs for its vast delivery and warehouse business could fund Kuiper and Blue Origin while reducing costs. As for the other LEO systems, time will tell if they are economically viable.
In short, 2022 will see the dawn of the first self-funded integrated commercial space operators, with Starlink leading the way.
James Web Space Telescope
The other big space news in 2022 is the James Webb Space Telescope. The Hubble Space telescope is over 30 years old and still provides an amazing view of our universe. Telescopes, in a way, are time machines. The further out in space they
peer out, the farther back in time they observe. However, as we look further back in time and further in the distance, the faster the stars and galaxies we observe are traveling away from us. This velocity imparts a spectrum shift deeper and deeper into the infrared spectrum of the light a telescope captures. If we want to see back to the birth of the first stars and galaxies in our universe, we need a larger telescope that can see deeper into infrared frequencies of light. We also need greater magnification.
Enter the new James Web Space Telescope (JWST). As I write this blog, this marvel of technology, ten years in the making, has successfully launched, reached its orbit position at the L2 Lagrange Point, and deployed its heat shield and mirror array.
Here is a quick breakdown of the improvements in the James Web Space Telescope (JWST) over the Hubble Space Telescope (HST):
·Wavelengths of light detected: HST views only a small portion of the infrared spectrum, 0.8 to 2.5 microns. JWST covers 0.6 to 28 microns over 10x further into the infrared spectrum.
Mirror size (magnification): HST mirror is 2.4 meters in diameter and roughly 4.5square meters in area. JWST is 6.5 meters in diameter and approximately 33 square meters. Greater than 5x the light capture and magnification of the HST.
Orbit: HST is in Low Earth Orbit ~570 Km above the Earth. JWST sits at the L2 Lagrange point, 1.5 Million Km from Earth with both the Earth and son positioned behind the telescope.
Sun Shield: HST does not have a sun shield. This limits the depth of the infrared range for HST. JWST, by contrast, has a football field sized sun shield which blocks both sunlight and Earths Albedo (reflected sunlight)
In short, the James Webb Space Telescope represents a quantum leap over the Hubble Space Telescope. You can find further details and additional mission updates at the NASA site – HERE
In 2022 we’ll see the first images from James Webb and peer back in time to when the first stars and galaxies formed in the universe. My prediction is that, like Hubble 30 years ago, the world will learn something amazing within months of full operation. You can bet I’ll be blogging about the significance when we do.