Apple's satellite program aims to send data directly to an iPhone

Posted:
in iPhone edited December 2019
Apple's satellite effort it began in 2017 may be starting to accelerate, with the company reportedly on a hiring spree to further its orbital ambitions.

SpaceX launch of some of the Starlink satellite constellation
SpaceX launch of some of the Starlink satellite constellation


Three recent hires after a 2017 program start highlight Apple's potential new focus. According to Bloomberg, Matt Ettus, Daneil Ellis, and Ashley Moore Williams have all come on board in the recent months.

Ettus formed wireless networking equipment company National Instruments Corp, and is presently leading the department after Greg Duffy's departure. Ellis is also reportedly attached to the initiative, after previously being one of the heads of Netflix's content delivery network. Williams comes from Aerospace Corp, a venue focused on communications satellites.

It isn't clear precisely what Apple is trying to accomplish, beyond sending data directly to an iPhone or iPad. It may decide to launch its own satellite constellation. An alternative, according to Friday's report from Bloomberg, is ground-based equipment to relay satellite data to users' devices.

The executives in charge of the program are John Fenwick, Google's ex-head of spacecraft operations, and Michael Trela, who was in charge of satellite engineering at Google. In February 2017, Google confirmed a deal to sell off its satellite mapping business, Terra Bella, to Planet Labs, which ultimately led to the departure of Fenwick and Trela for Apple.

The new hires were at one point co-founders of Skybox Imaging, a satellite imaging startup Google bought in 2014 for $500 million. It designed refigerator-sized satellites capable of producing detailed, rapidly-updated images of the Earth's surface.

It isn't yet clear if Apple wants to launch its own satellite cluster, which would provide it with proprietary data instead of having to rely on third parties. Boeing has allegedly talked to Apple about investing in a project to put over 1,000 satellites in low Earth orbit for expanding internet access, but it isn't clear how far the discussions went.

For Apple, satellite connectivity of some sort would presumably increase the appeal of its devices and services, guaranteeing access even in places normally cut off from broadband.

Bloomberg notes that the project is still in its early days, and "a clear direction and use for satellites hasn't been finalized."
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 29
    d_2d_2 Posts: 98member
    Apple has been investigating the satellite space for mobile comms for quite some time, well before the “program start” in 2017:

    https://www.patentlyapple.com/patently-apple/2013/02/apples-satellite-phone-patent-could-technically-apply-to-tv.html

    randominternetpersonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 29
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,383member
    iSpace?
    acheron2018watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 29
    dewmedewme Posts: 3,832member
    Steve Jobs always did want to put a dent in the universe. This may be the first attempt to kickstart that initiative. 

    Or perhaps Apple is going to precisely blanket the moon with sufficient anti reflective coating to turn the full moon into a giant Apple logo.
    jax44llamaStrangeDayswatto_cobraEwalkaceblu
  • Reply 4 of 29
    jd_in_sbjd_in_sb Posts: 1,600member
    An iPhone transmitting data hundreds or thousands of miles into space isnt going to happen so what ever Apple is planning, it will be passive reception - like GPS.
    macpluspluscornchip
  • Reply 5 of 29
    Boeing can't even successfully launch a supply ship to the International Space Station.   What the hell has happened to that company 
    flyingdpllamawatto_cobracornchip
  • Reply 6 of 29
    mike1mike1 Posts: 2,756member
    jd_in_sb said:
    An iPhone transmitting data hundreds or thousands of miles into space isnt going to happen so what ever Apple is planning, it will be passive reception - like GPS.

    It would be the next step towards the Star Trek communicator. First the "flip" version then the wearable.

    jd_in_sbwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 29
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,446member
    Mobile communications system for their car.
    minicoffeerusswwatto_cobracornchip
  • Reply 8 of 29
    eightzeroeightzero Posts: 2,633member
    jd_in_sb said:
    An iPhone transmitting data hundreds or thousands of miles into space isnt going to happen so what ever Apple is planning, it will be passive reception - like GPS.
    Why?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 29
    An iPhone communicating with a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite isn't as far fetched as some previous comments would imply. Satellite communications operate over Line-of-Sight (LoS) which is way more simple and straightforward than the multipath fading we have to deal on cellular networks. A sizable chunk out of the transmit power budget in a cellular modem is spent over the multipath fading.

    I didn't run the math (although I could do it later), but I'm quite sure that for a LEO satellite (which can be as low as 220 miles, or 350 km), for a lower order modulation, like BPSK or QPSK, reliable data communications (Bit Error Rate—BER— as low as 1E–6) can be achieved within the current power envelope of an iPhone.

    As for the downlink vs. uplink theory, as a general rule, power availability is severely constrained in a satellite too. Not just because the size (and weight) of bigger solar panels, but mostly due to poor heat dissipation. Up there, the only heat dissipation phenomena available is irradiation, which is quite inefficient. You just can't run your electronics on many watts, or they'll simply burn up!
    appleinsideruserminicoffeebakedbananaswatto_cobracornchipbeowulfschmidt
  • Reply 10 of 29
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 2,442member
    This strikes me as an example where Googlebet would do this very publicly while Apple does it secretly and in both cases its very uncertain that it will amount to anything. 


    revenantwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 29
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,185member
    So being considered is something very similar to SpaceX Starlink, and yet another area of crossed interests with other big tech's?
    https://spacenews.com/spacex-gets-ok-to-re-space-starlink-orbits/
    https://www.teslarati.com/spacex-starlink-internet-satellite-constellation-expands/

    Amazon is also hiring former Google satellite execs and actively working on a launch of their own satellite system, while Google themselves who were originally planning their own are now a backer of Starlink from what I read and contributing some of their pertinent engineering and IP to the project as well as backing One Web.  Add to that other companies currently launching at least the beginnings of their own satellite internet services, and still others will likely be somewhere in the mix too. 
    https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/14/spacex-oneweb-and-amazon-to-launch-thousands-more-satellites-in-2020s.html

    I can't imagine the work that must be done simply to avoid the current sats during other launches including something like resupplying the Space Station much less the thousands more that will added within coming months. 

    EDIT: Check out this history Wiki, what a mess:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OneWeb_satellite_constellation


    edited December 2019 cornchip
  • Reply 12 of 29
    first, wow; is there a market they are not in. second, I am now waiting for the doom and gloom pieces from techy blogosphere that will no doubt claim to know all apple was hoping to do but is failing to do.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 29
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,185member
    blastdoor said:
    This strikes me as an example where Googlebet would do this very publicly while Apple does it secretly and in both cases its very uncertain that it will amount to anything. 


    I think Google is associating themselves with SpaceX's Starlink ($1B investment) and, at least according to Patently Apple, One Web too which are both very public projects. Amazon's Project Kuiper is as well, tho probably less well-known for now. With so many government approvals needed I doubt Apple could operate in secret once they've decided to play too. It will be public. 
    edited December 2019 revenant
  • Reply 14 of 29
    red oak said:
    Boeing can't even successfully launch a supply ship to the International Space Station.   What the hell has happened to that company 
    More profit in the war effort. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 29
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,120member
    Rather than satellite comms, why not just have long range UAVs (perhaps solar powered) that orbit at about 70,000 feet above a region.  Just have two or three for each region, and you just bring them down to land when they need servicing or a bandwidth upgrade.

    also have less internet lag.
    watto_cobracornchip
  • Reply 16 of 29
    I think the impact from SpaceX’s Starlink is going to be huge and sooner than people suspect.
    russwcornchip
  • Reply 17 of 29
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,120member
    Bloomberg.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 29
    The dystopian world of Wall-E is coming....
  • Reply 19 of 29
    JFC_PAJFC_PA Posts: 631member
    I’ve already got a Garmin 66i (mainly for wilderness area backpack emergency signaling and communication, though for more expensive service subscriptions larger amounts of texting is available)  that is a two way text communicator using existing satellite networks so I see this as reachable. 

    One thing: reports are the Starlink vehicles have turned out to be a nightmare for visible wavelength astronomers as there’re big and very very shiny and there’s going to be a LOT of them. Streaking long exposures and damaging data. (One proposal I’ve seen  is to rethink their shiny coating to make them non reflective.)

    The Verge:

    Why astronomers are worried that SpaceX’s satellite network will pollute the night sky


    edited December 2019 watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 29
    Way to late, even having several 100 billions in cash.
    SpaceX will own this space having the launch equipment and home build satellites.
    AppleCar 2
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