Weekly Takeaways-March 9, 2023
Updated: Jun 19
Theme of the Week
Time, Navigation and Hegemony When the British Empire was at its peak, a small island with only 2.5% of the world population held sway over a quarter of the world. They achieved this through a navy that dominated the seas thanks, in part, to the marine chronometer. This accurate timepiece revolutionized navigation and enabled the Age of Discovery by solving the longitude problem. Fast forward a century to the beginnings of GPS. What started as an experiment in creating “lighthouses in the sky” worked so well that it was made available for civilian use right as networks were moving from analog to digital and needed a clock. This happy accident created the "largest venture outcome in history” and trillions of dollars of economic benefit. It is now embedded in all aspects of our modern world: travel, communications, financial transactions, and power grids all rely on it. But GPS, and other global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), have a limit. Their signals don’t work well in urban canyons and buildings, which limits the advancement of self-driving vehicles, delivery drones, industrial robots, and disaggregated networks. Better timing still has the potential to unlock new opportunities - even on the moon. Last Week's Theme: Unlocking Potential
An Australian think tank released a report that claims that “China has a 'stunning lead' over the US in the research of 37 out of 44 critical and emerging technologies,” and is the leader in quantum communications, advanced optical communications, and quantum sensors.
According to The Quantum Insider, China isn’t just beating the US and the rest of the world in quantum research spending, it is also beating everyone as a percentage of GDP. China’s quantum investment is 0.088% of their GDP, well ahead of the US at 0.012% of GDP.
If the US wants to keep up with China, some groups are advocating the need to utilize innovation from the commercial sector:
National Space Council Executive Secretary Chirag Parikh: “The Venn diagram of civil, commercial and national security (space) is becoming more and more overlapped, and the real reason for that … is the value that commercial space services are providing to the economy, it’s providing to our civil capacity and it’s providing to our national security capacity.”
US Space Force vice chief of space operations David Thompson: “The national security space enterprise, the national security enterprise and the U.S. Space Force need to use commercial space capabilities directly in support of the nation’s security.”
Deloitte Government & Public Services CTO Scott Buchholz:“Revolutionary technologies from past eras — including the internet, GPS and touch screens — came to life with the support of robust federal funding and thoughtful regulations. For quantum technologies to mature in a way that drives tangible, safe and positive change for the American people, they will need the same kind of government support and regulation that benefitted other technologies.”
The US National Cybersecurity Strategy “acknowledges the importance of positioning, navigation, and timing” with a strong push for resiliency in networks and systems through public-private partnerships and support for the commercial sector.
The solar storms continue, causing GPS disruptions, radio blackouts, and even delaying a recent SpaceX rocket launch. But at least SpaceX learned their lesson after a solar storm destroyed 40 of their satellites last year.
The concern with solar storms is of a coronal mass ejection (CME) similar to the Carrington Event, with “estimates that in the next 10 years there is a 35% to 45% chance a CME will disrupt GPS service for up to several days. The cost to our nation and economy will be measured in the billions of dollars,” according to the deputy director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Workshop on Synchronization and Timing Systems, March 13 - 16, Vancouver, Canada
Satellite 2023, March 13 - 16, Washington DC
Commercialising Quantum US, March 23 - 24, San Francisco, CA
Space Symposium, April 17 - 20, Colorado Springs, CO
Commercialising Quantum Global, May 17 - 19, London UK
Quantum 2.0 Conference, Denver, CO, June 18 - 22
The More You Know...
One of the problems with GPS is that it is too embedded in our modern world to change. But that doesn’t stop other countries. The GPS signal is already readily available, so they have a clean slate to build something better. Case in point: China’s BeiDou global navigation satellite system (GNSS). Only operational since 2020, the BeiDou constellation is now the world’s largest GNSS. Not only is BeiDou nominally more accurate than GPS, it also demonstrated optical links and offers Global Short Message Communication and Search-and-Rescue Services. BeiDou officials also announced future plans for “global decimeter-level positioning and navigation” and “underwater, indoor and deep space coverage.” But these advancements aren’t the only concerns highlighted in a recent Harvard report, “China’s BeiDou: New Dimensions of Great Power Competition.” China is wielding it as a soft power tool, “encouraging foreign nations to rely on BeiDou for civilian uses.” Meanwhile, the report laments that the US “Department of Defense (DOD) plans for GPS modernization are not focused on advancing U.S. economic or diplomatic interests.”