Theme of the Week
The Lonely Halls Meeting Over Labor Day 1973 a small group of scientists convened at the now-famous “Lonely Halls” meeting and gave birth to a revolution. Their initial mission - figure out a way “to drop five bombs in the same hole” - led to GPS, a system that is now critical to our modern lives and spawned trillions of dollars of economic benefit. But, hard to believe now, it initially met resistance: “The Air Force never fully backed this system. They wanted it their way, but they didn’t want to pay for it… They were not happy.” So they leveraged the resources that they could muster, putting their careers at risk in the process, working their “way through the morass of “no” logs that they tended to throw in our path.” But their perseverance paid off: “By 1978, the concept was established, and the test results rolled in over the next two years and confirmed our claim of ten meter.” It worked too well, in fact. “The DOD, in its great wisdom, elected to deliberately perturb the satellite timing in a way that makes the ranging accuracy for a civil user less than it can be.” Today, a half century later, we are at a similar crossroad. GPS has become so valuable – and so pervasive – that it represents a single point of failure for modern society. But, ironically, that success has stunted new development. There is a need for something new, leveraging modern technology, to take the “bullseye off of GPS” and build off its success. What is needed is another Lonely Halls meeting. “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.” Last Week's Theme: As the World Turns
JammerTest 2023 was completed by Norwegian and other authorities “to assess the impact of jamming and spoofing on satellite navigation systems” with a focus on spoofing.
Over two decades ago US officials warned of a “Space Pearl Harbor.” But these concerns are growing based on China’s anti-satellite capabilities which include “dual-use spacecraft capable of rendezvous and proximity operations” that “could yield about 200 rendezvous spacecraft capable of forcibly docking and disabling U.S. critical satellites as early as 2026.”
US officials are also concerned about satellite vulnerability to “advanced jamming techniques and illegal satellite uplinks. Our operations are hindered by compromised communication integrity and potential data breaches.”
And it isn’t just our sun we have to worry about – even a star two billion light years away can wreak havoc: “A powerful blast of gamma-rays that may have been the most powerful cosmic explosion since the Big Bang caused significant disturbance around Earth when it struck our planet.”
NASA recently completed the longest optical communications link in history when it “beamed a near-infrared laser encoded with test data from nearly 10 million miles (16 million kilometers) away – about 40 times farther than the Moon is from Earth” between Earth and the Psyche satellite.
The More You Know...
One of the challenges coming out of the Lonely Halls meeting was the technology necessary to realize their new vision for “lighthouses in the sky.” This include development of the system design, GPS signal, space hardened atomic clocks, digital receivers, and the satellites themselves. A modern day Lonely Halls session can fortunately draw on existing technology, including:
Many of these developments are direct beneficiaries of the new space revolution. Fifty years ago, satellites were novel and bespoke, and even today each GPS satellite costs over $200M. The new space ecosystem, which was practically non-existent a decade ago, has now blossomed into $272B invested in nearly 1800 companies today. This enabled innovative space systems at a fraction of the "old space" cost and cheap access to space, with launch prices falling from tens of thousands of dollars to a few hundred dollars per kilogram.