Constellations of satellites for Optical Earth Observations

Being able to access maps of any part of the globe updated on daily basis whenever necessary could have important benefits for scientific reason as well as for better emergencies evaluations.

Constellations can avoid one of the most common problems with Earth Optical Observations from satellite. Clouds covering a region and blocking the view. If there’s one single satellite that passes over a region every 30 days and there’s a cloudy day it may be necessary to wait till next time the satellite will be above the same region, 30 days later. Doubling the observation time for many applications is not acceptable.

Most of the time different satellite operators, from different countries, may share data solving the problem, perhaps with only some days of delay.

Why is the update frequency of the maps important?

Agricultural improvements. Instead of receiving data once each month, being able to access information everyday on crops and soil condition that may allow farmers to deal with droughts more efficiently increasing the overall productivity.

Emergencies like earthquakes, floods, forest fires, humanitarian crisis etc. All these need rapid information in order to coordinate the emergency teams more efficiently. For example in case of earthquakes or floods it could be possible to identify places with major damage or obstacles that could slow emergency teams.

Planet Labs is a company that works with a constellation of optical satellites (Doves) many about 10x10x30 cm in size. They manage to create maps of the whole globe updated on daily basis. Gallery of some of their photos from space.


Trappist-1 and the 7 Earth-Size planets

The discovery of 7 Earth-Size planets by Nasa has been very popular. Let’s see some key aspects of this star and its planets.

Trappist-1: red dwarf with a mass equal to 8% of the solar mass. Just above the limit for nuclear fusion to be possible.

7 planets: Orbital period from 1.51 to maximum 20 days. Distance from star is about 3% Earth distance from Sun. Planet radius between 0.76 and 1.13 Earth’s radius.

This chart shows, on the top row, artist conceptions of the seven planets of TRAPPIST-1 with their orbital periods, distances from their star, radii and masses as compared to those of Earth. The bottom row shows data about Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.

As we can see the 7 planets are Earth-Size planets but besides that the system itself is very different from our own. This could mean it had a completely different evolutionary process.

Planets the size of Earth do not guarantee the necessary conditions for life to develop even if situated in the habitable zone of the solar system. A planetary magnetic field is required in order to have an atmosphere. Latest discoveries have proved how Mars lost its atmosphere because of the solar wind that slowly ripped away the molecules.

Even if the Trappist-1 is smaller then the Sun the planets are much closer then Earth. Star radiation could be a problem and other negative aspects due to this proximity could also be present.

Life needs challenges that force it to evolve, an unstable environment. Systems that are too stable don’t create the necessary conditions for life to evolve. Too unstable ones destroy the elementary life forms.

So why should someone do these researches? Models built to describe how the Solar System has formed need to be verified. Similar stellar system at different evolutionary stages could help understand what happened and what will happen to our system.

Trappist-1 is about 39.5 light year away. The simplest conversation would take about 80 years just for the initial presentations. Finding extraterrestrial life sure is interesting but it’s just the last of the goals.

Drones and satellite observations. Biodiversity and LiDAR.

There are satellites constantly observing every single part of planet Earth. Some of them with a resolution of about a meter, military ones even less. Sometimes they are single objects, other times they form constellations. ESA Copernicus Program is based on a constellation of satellites called Sentinels.  

FA (TS Author)
Considering the price for same images you wonder if a drone cannot do the same or better for less money.

This is a good question, but I imagine drones would have to fly higher than is currently permitted in order to do useful imaging, making them a serious hazard to passenger aviation. As far as I’m concerned, the fewer drones in the sky, the better.

No doubt drones could become dangerous if not used properly. Still following rigorous rules they could become a resource being complementary to satellite data. 

FA (TS Author)
It depends on how vast is the observed area. Drones cannot compete with satellite when it comes to global observations. Still a city or a small agricultural region could be well covered. Since we have helicopters that fly over cities I think drones will be little hazard for civil aviation. Obviously we speak about a few drones per city not millions of them 🙂

Probably. But you have to be physically near your AOI. The municipality where I live does a lot of its urban planning photography from a balloon. I don’t know about the economics of IR sensors, either. I can’t imagine they are cheap or easy to replace if you land your drone in the river.

Particularly drones based on LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology able to analyse the biodiversity of a region by mapping the distribution of plants in a forest. They are much more then simple IR sensors. Though IR could also provide great information on vegetation.

LiDAR combined with new 3D and autonomous cars diffusion could really become a fantastic combination for the future. You could find many videos on this technology and here I suggest one that may visually explain the concepts in this post.

Continua a leggere

Tesla Motors and the electrical infrastructure

Looking at the electrical cars they came up with, Tesla Motors is doing a great job. Hopefully in the future this kind of technology would eliminate most of the greenhouse gases emissions due to road transportation.

Even if there’s actually a boom of customers for the next Tesla Model 3, a critical problem persists. The infrastructure of electrical charging points. Is there any real infrastructure able to guarantee the access to large number of cars?

Based on what can be found on Tesla Motors website, after charging the batteries for 30 minutes you get:

  • Home 11 kW -27 km
  • Chademo 50 kW – 137 km
  • Supercharger 120 kW -270 km

By improving the power there is a reduction of the recharging time. However even this way if there’s a need to charge the batteries of 10 cars, unless your electric station has a very high available power, it will prove to be quite difficult to do in short time.

So, the real news here is not Tesla launching a new car model. They actually plan to expand their charge stations based on Supercharger technology. This will be part of the infrastructure that will allow and easy expansion of electric cars on the market.

Now… non everyone has 11 kW Home power, and cars still cost a lot. The huge demand of electricity, imagining all cars will be electric,  will bring a rise of prices for electrical power. So there’s still much to be done.

AI and the market trends

Lately the AI, artificial intelligence, is becoming an increasingly important argument for many reasons. Most people are afraid that machines will overcome the humans and take control of the planet. But let’s just make clear this is not the case, or at least it will not happen this century.

Let’s also make clear that we didn’t invented yet any real AI, if we are reffering to the artificial intelligence as self aware algorithm. The AI we are speaking about is based on a deterministic mechanism improved by statistic data. This makes the AI behave in some kind of rational way even though it’s objectives are predetermined by a human programmer.

AI and finance are a very nice combination.
Finance is based on the exact principle the AI was implemented to work on. Analize data and build multiple models, choose the best option at any time based on the evolution of the situation. Allow it to control huge investments and it will non only be able to generate models but determine the effective evolution of the market itself.

When success lies at the end of the chain

What can we learn from people that shaped the modern world without even having an university degree?  What is that makes the difference between these people and others that had good ideas but just failed?

None of them would have had the same success if they weren’t have been able to spread their believes and inspire the best people to join them and give strength to their ideals. They are highly skilled people but their final success depends most on the people they work with.

Not only great disasters usually came as a result of a perfect chain of events that in extremely rare cases happen. Great successes use the same path and the ability of these influencers lies in finding the right people to build the perfect chain together.

Well obviously not everyone becomes a bilionaire. We could however learn this rule from others experiences and, if we’re lucky and hard working, there may be the chance to reach some success in life.

Moon, necessary step towards the future of space exploration

After the Apollo landings of the past century the Moon has been “abandoned” as Mars became much more attractive, at least for human landings and long permanence. The idea of establishing a permanent base on the red planet is yes ambitious but incredibly hard and dangerous at the same time.

As recent discoveries proved Moon may have resources necessary for the full development of a permanent base. But the main objective could consist in the construction of base models including orbit assistance. The technology would then be used for other missions by just adding little changes depending on the particular environment we need to deal with.

Let’s see some of the main problems we need to deal with in the case of a permanent Moon base:

  • lack of atmosphere

There is a need of structures easy to build to satisfy the need of expanding in short time and recreate life conditions for humans and plants. Lack of atmosphere or weak external pressure need structures capable of containing the internal pressure. In this particular case the technology of inflatable elements is the one that better meets the requirement of the project.

  • radiation

Some radiation is harmful to life. We therefore need to create a shield able to filtrate harmful radiation from the one essential for terrestrial life development. In some cases water could be used as a filter. Technology capable of extracting water from local resources is fundamental.
Underground structures may be considered, if ground radiation itself is absent. The thickness of the layer made by rocks and dust may prove an excellent shield against harmful radiation. External inflatable structures need to be integrated with the underground solution.

  • raw materials exploitation

A permanent base needs to rely on local resources for most of it’s needs. External radiation or fission from nuclear material could be used to power the station. Local soil has to be exploited in order to get water and other necessary minerals.

  • transport

Short range transportation could be guaranteed efficiently by land, possible by autonomous driving cars. In the case of multiple far apart bases long range transportation may prove cheaper by small rockets, since there is no drag due to atmosphere like in the case of Earth.

Management of new products

Companies usually choose to have an hierarchic way of organizing the internal activities that built up the lifecycle of a new product before it gets on the market. At least this is the case of bigger companies that have a R&D department.

Management team >> Strategy >> Requirements
Technical team >> Technical Requirements
Design team >> Configuration
Test team >> Validation >> Implementation

Activities Flow
Strategy >> Requirements >> Technical Requirements >> Configuration >> Validation >> Implementation

The management team determines the strategy based on the customers needs or more in general market data analysis. The technical team specifies technical requirements and asks the design team for most valid options in order to efficiently meet the goals.  A test team will verify each choice and determine whether it must be changed of it can be integrated into the final product.

R&D usually doesn’t bring to an immediate profit but if well implemented is the best way to save the competitiveness of the company on long term.

Improvement of car stability through aerodynamics

The study of car aerodynamics brings important improvement to the stability and therefore safety of cars. By improving safety we get major power efficiency and a lower environmental impact.

Aspects where aerodynamics could give important contribution:

  • turn
  • high speed stability
  • stop the car

The pressure field around the car plays a fundamental role in each of these 3 use phases. However the aerodynamic configuration it’s not unique. Therefore the field of pressure around the car body may need to be changed passing from one phase to another.

Hence variable aerodynamics is the best choice. Spoilers, flaps of airbrakes could be use as mobile surfaces able to generate the desired field of pressure. However the use of this technical components is regulated by specific automotive legislation.

A complementary way of improving the control of pressure can be realized by air blowing, like in the case of airplane low speed blowing flaps, or air suction, governing the boundary layer and avoid flow separation. This solution is however more complex and expensive since it requires dedicated pumps and motors.

This article was driven by an idea. Combine the mobile surfaces and the active govern of airflow techniques in order to change the field of pressure by using dynamic surfaces. A car without mobile flaps or any other open moving object that changes shape of its body according to instantaneous conditions of use.

However building a car that changes shape it’s not simple. Major changes must be done in many areas starting from safety issues. Materials would also need to change radically. In the end cars could become lighter, more environmental friendly and secure.