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Telemetry Made Simple: Rocket Phone Home 53

Posted by michael
from the please-deposit-$35-for-the-next-one-minute dept.
UserID 3.14 writes "This article from science daily talks about a communications module that will be strapped to the rockets of a shuttle or other payload delivery vehicle. It can be used to provide constant telemetry by making a cell phone call using the Globalstar Network. Does this mean that if you use a cell phone in space, even there people will ask you to step outside?" See NASA's web page about the Flight Modem, which seems to be very much a work in progress
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Telemetry Made Simple: Rocket Phone Home

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  • by pb (1020)
    What it means is that all geeks will be banned from the flight, because they use up too much bandwidth. :)

    "We've got to call Mission Control about..."

    "No way dude, I just got another frag; yes!"
    ---
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [ncsu.edu].
  • So like we can't use a cell phone on a normal plane and they are going to use them on the space shuttle?

    Must be because there are no stewardesses to tell you to turn them off.

  • by Morbid Curiosity (156888) on Sunday March 25, 2001 @07:30PM (#340380)
    Does this mean we can finally reach out and launch someone?

    Just so long as they don't try to WAP-enable the launch vehicles, I think we'll be juuust fine...

  • This is certainly an interesting application of cell phone technology and the existing cell phone network - NASA's page [nasa.gov] mentions savings of multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars per launch.

    However, it's hard to see what the significance is overall. Satellites have always been able to communicate in via "realtime telemetry", and could hardly function otherwise.

    I think the big thing here is simply that it decreases the amount of special instrumentation needed - any comments from the group?

  • by mlong (160620)
    This means 911 location tracking will work in space? Might be good for those space walks gone awry.

  • Hope they have some good batteries on it. Or do they simply plug it in to the onboard 12V cigarette lighter?

  • As we progress into the future of communications at an ever-expanding rapid rate, it is imperative that we occasionally take time to reflect on how these unprecendented advances will impact our daily life structure. The recent case of "space cell phones" shows how controversy can touch upon many aspects of a new communication paradigm. On one hand, we have enthusiastic "early adopters" who represent the tide of new ideas and schematics into the communication technology field. On the other hand, we have the more experienced, but possibly flawed, viewpoint of the current communication leaders.

    Who is correct? At this point, it's difficult to tell. Some detractors would argue that this technology presents an undue intrusion into existing social models. Cell-phone and other long distance communication technology is a revolutionary alterance in the existing capacity of communication; it alters the capacity for travel, communication, and intellectual exchange in ways that our current economic structure and techonological understanding may not be prepared to accomodate. Perhaps glitches in this untested process may condemn cell phones to a footnote in our history.

    Supporters, on the other hand, say that these kind of cell phones an important step forward for communications and society. With previous types of cell-phones, not all users could not take advantage of the most important technological benefits gained from modern-day research. Telemetry, they say, opens the proverbial floodgates by bringing this technology out of the laboratories and into the homes of the every-day user.

    There is some probably some merit to both viewpoints. Certainly, society as a whole will encounter some friction as it shifts to accomodate the mobility capacity and access provided by cell phones. However, the end result may be worth the infrastructural shifts; existing insular communities may not be as structurally capable as their newer cousin.

    Will telemetry sink or swim? The question is still up in the air; with many unique forces and viewpoints at work, we'll likely see many interesting challenges and confrontations for the pioneers in the telecommuncations field. Whatever the final result is, it's sure to give the key players on all sides of the issue a trial by fire.

    Yu Suzuki


  • I have to wonder if this is really going to be used by NASA for a few reasons well mainly, if you look at the timeline ont he NASA homepage, its about 6 years, and we all know how fast technology changes. 6 years before this is even used? Or did I misread it? Anyways it seems like a cost effective idea but I wonder if anyone knows of more specs on this, e.g.:

    GPS receiver; potential other sensors (e.g., accelerometers)

    Internet protocol (IP) communications and software tools

    GPS is readily available already so unless they're banking on some new hyper technical version, why was this listed? IP communications and software tools... Anyone know of any information on software of specs of the IP side of things, IPv6, v4, what? Also if this comes into play I wonder what will companies like Cisco, and Juniper do in order to capture this market, anyone with links to information like that? It'd be some neat Sunday night reading.

  • by Seinfeld (243496) on Sunday March 25, 2001 @07:35PM (#340386)
    "Hey, it looks like booster rocket #4 made $500 worth of calls to a 900 line..."
    -----------
  • You know, since this applies to everyone in the world. You know, because we're all in the NASA program and going up in space shuttles next week.

    But seriously, this could be very interesting. I am guessing that this means that anyone who gets the number would also be able to call the astronauts on the shuttle ... unless of course our government is smart enough to block such a thing. (Hmm. Wait a second. DAMN!) It was worth a thought, though. Is there anything that the government doesn't control, here? Com'on. THINK! :)

    "Does this mean that if you use a cell phone in space, even there people will ask you to step outside?"

    Bah. Pointless and corny - I would have taken it out of the article.

  • Does this mean that if you use a cell phone in space, even there people will ask you to step outside

    No, because in space, no one can hear your cell phone calls.

    :)
  • by JAVAC THE GREAT (239850) on Sunday March 25, 2001 @07:41PM (#340389)
    I regularly participate in amateur rocket [samroc.org.za] competitions. For telemetry I find it quite simple to attach a Nokia 5100 (with detached Honey Orange faceplate) and wire it to a microprocessor that will send varying volumes in different audible frequency bands to indicate different values, scaled into audible ranges. For example, altitude, airspeed, latitude and longitude (as calculated by GPS and communicated to the uP). I simply record on DAT tape the audio on another cell phone. When I return home I play the audio into my computer as a WAV file, and then run spectrum analysis on it and scale and filter frequency analysis into raw telemetry data that I can then plot. (This is easily done with Matlab).
    ---
  • by Chester K (145560) on Sunday March 25, 2001 @07:45PM (#340390) Homepage
    It can be used to provide constant telemetry by making a cell phone call using the Globalstar Network.

    May I humbly suggest a cost-saving measure:

    Rocket: I'd like to make a collect call please.
    Operator: Who may I say is calling?
    Rocket: Bob I'm-at-23.494923N-82.293823W-3042.4293-feet-below- sea-level.
    Operator: One moment please.
    *Somewhere in a control room, a telephone rings*
    Chart Plotter: Hello?
    Operator: I have a collect call from Bob I'm-at-23.494923N-82.293823W-3042.4293-feet-below- sea-level, will you accept charges?
    Chart Plotter: Wrong number.
    *Chart Plotter hangs up*
    Operations Manager: Who was that?
    Chart Plotter: The rocket. It's over Cuba.
  • Does this mean you can phone the satellite (for whatever reason)?

    Why not use a TCP/IP like protocol for non-critical telemetry if the data rate is low on average ... whatever happened to Teledesic?

  • Considering the Bandwidth, I suppose this is not unexpected, although I got to wonder about the range of the cell phones in the first place. None orbital is probably fine. but lunar orbit is definitely subject to romaing charges.

    Roaming Charges? oh my loord ...

    look at all of those zones that you used during that conversation....

  • WHAT!@!
    The recent case of "space cell phones" shows how controversy can touch upon many aspects of a new communication paradigm. On one hand, we have enthusiastic "early adopters" who represent the tide of new ideas and schematics into the communication technology field. On the other hand, we have the more experienced, but possibly flawed, viewpoint of the current communication leaders.
    Sorry to seem like I'm flaming or starting a flamewar, but I haven't seen anyone, or read an article condemning anything in regards to cellular minus the people attempting to halt drivers from speaking on a cell unless they're hands free for obvious reasons. Maybe a link to what your intending to say would help me out here.

    Who is correct? At this point, it's difficult to tell. Some detractors would argue that this technology presents an undue intrusion into existing social models.
    Ummm Maybe this should be argued from NASA's standpoint (in relevance to this article), they are the ones who would suffer from intrusion should anyone intercept or hijack one of the sessions. How is NASA, by using this technology snooping on anything, I think your mistaking NASA with NSA.

    Perhaps glitches in this untested process may condemn cell phones to a footnote in our history.
    How did you mangle this connotation from the article at any point. You've confused me to the extent that...

    ... well...

    I just give up you confused the shit out of me their guy.

    Privacy you gotta love it [antioffline.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This is a QUALCOMM GSP-1620 Satellite Data Modem. http://www.qualcomm.com/globalstar/products/packet modem.html
  • by chris.bitmead (24598) on Sunday March 25, 2001 @07:54PM (#340395)

    Ground Control to Major Tom
    Ground Control to Major Tom
    Charge your mobile phone and put your hands free on.

    Ground Control to Major Tom
    Commencing dialup, cell-phone on
    Check phone number and may ATT's love be with you

    (spoken)
    Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six, Five, Four, Three, Two, One, Liftoff

    This is Ground Control to Major Tom
    You've really been connected
    And the papers want to know whose telco you use
    Now it's time to use the hands free if you dare

    "This is Major Tom to Ground Control
    I'm stepping through the door
    And my cell phone's floating in a most peculiar way
    And your voice sounds very different today

    For here
    Am I sitting in a tin can
    Far above the world
    My cell-phone's been cut off
    And there's nothing I can do

    Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles
    I'm feeling very still
    And I think my cell-phone knows which tower to use
    Tell customer support I love them very much - they know"

    Ground Control to Major Tom
    Your cell phone's dead, there's something wrong
    Can you hear me, Major Tom?
    Can you hear me, Major Tom?
    Can you hear me, Major Tom?
    Can you....

    "Here am I floating round my tin can
    Far above the Moon
    my cell phone's been cut off
    And there's nothing I can do."
  • In Space, no-one can hear you scream

    Oh well, it was good while it lasted.
  • Use your cell phone all you want in space. There will be no medium to carry the sound waves, so no one will ask you to "step outside".


    If you love God, burn a church!
  • Wow...just think of the roaming charges on that :-)
  • by jbuhler (489) on Sunday March 25, 2001 @08:50PM (#340399) Homepage
    NASA is willing to strap a cell phone to their tres expensive rockets filled with sensitive custom electronics, but Continental won't let me use my cell phone in the air. "Oh no, it might interfere with the aircraft's avionics. Besides, you can't use cell phones in flight because they'll see too many cells at once from way up there. Use our AirPhone instead, only $19.99/second!"

    I'll bet astronauts don't have to put their seat backs and tray tables in their full upright and locked positions, either. Lucky bastards.
  • Operator: I have a collect call from Bob I'm-at-23.494923N-82.293823W-3042.4293-feet-below- sea-level, will you accept charges?

    Cuba is 3000 feet below sea level?

    Maybe they decided to take over Holland.

  • How do you get the readouts on airspeed/altitude/etc. to send to the phone? You stick a GPS in there too?

    That's gotta be like a 1 pound payload. Something tells me that "amateur" is a bit of a misnomer :)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Which are small rockets such as surplus Nike SAMs, and the cost of the rocket and launching it can be under $150,000, plus the cost of your experiment. This could be a big savings to people launching sub-orbital experiments. This is mostly what NASA's Wallaps Island does, btw.
  • by Detritus (11846) on Sunday March 25, 2001 @09:26PM (#340403) Homepage
    There is a big difference between a GPS receiver that you buy from a store and a GPS receiver that will work reliably while attached to a rocket. You need multiple omnidirectional antennas for reliable reception of the GPS signals. The receiver also has to be able to handle high speeds and altitudes in its position/velocity determination calculations.

    The traditional way of doing this is to put an inertial platform and navigation unit on the rocket. That is what is used on most lauch vehicles.

    Telemetry data is usually downlinked as a synchronous serial stream composed of fixed length telemetry frames. Reed-Solomon and convolutional error correcting codes may be used to improve the bit-error-rate and link margins. Nobody, that I know of, uses IP for any air-to-ground communication links. IP is widely used for transferring data between ground stations and control centers.

    One problem with the "rocket phone" is the low bit rate. Most launch vehicles have telemetry data rates in the 200 kbps to 600 kbps range.

    Range safety is an important issue. Most range safety systems use multiple sources of data, such as launch vehicle telemetry, tracking antenna angle encoders, multiple C-band radar systems and optical trackers. You have to know where the rocket is, where it is heading, and whether the engines and other systems are working properly.

  • The significance is exactly what you mentioned, saving money. NASA's mantra lately is 'cheaper, faster, better', trying to do things quickly using off-the-shelf equipment. Now that the world in general has reached a certain level of doesn't have to invent proprietary equipment themselves for everything that they do. They used to build computers and operating systems from scratch, now they just sent OS9 to Mars.

    Now we are seeing an extension of that same concept into communications. NASA has been using off-the-shelf components for communications components for a long time, but up until now most in-flight communications have come in via the TDRSS satellites. Taking a step toward using a commercial infrastructure instead is a pretty big deal.

    -Keslin [keslin.com], the naked nerd girl

  • than having to run 50,000 miles of Cat 3 cable.
  • by Chester K (145560) on Sunday March 25, 2001 @10:04PM (#340406) Homepage
    Cuba is 3000 feet below sea level? Maybe they decided to take over Holland.

    Nobody realistically expects version 1.0 to come out without any bugs now, do they? =P
  • This reminds me of the days when I fiddled with E, F, G and larger engine sizes for model rockets which required FAA licensing and airport control tower approval to launch (well the Fs and Gs did). As part of a project, we had to build a National Rocketry Assoc. certified launcher and radio retrieval system (homing beacon). The homing beacon operated on an unused FM frequency in the area and due to range requirements needed several banks of D-size batteries (you may have needed several watts of power). The difficulty is one like NASA's: trying to fit the peformance requirements while not exceeding payload weight. An automated cell phone which broadcasted GPS location would have been lighter (although not cheaper :)
  • Don't believe this guy! My real e-Mail it thegiver@goatse.cx !
    Damn, too bad you can't figure out a simple spam decoding!
  • two years ago would they have based this thing on motorolla's iridium [motorola.com]?
  • Now ETs really can phone home.

    But how do you calculate the long distance charges?
    --

  • Hey sweet, cell phones in space. Now if I could just find a space shuttle with the Executive Assistance of OnStar(tm)!
  • The engineer(s) who came up with this are the kind of people NASA was looking for with it's "Better, Faster, Cheaper" program. I hope NASA finds more engineers like this.

    -- Greg
  • Though this is immeasurably cool, judging by the ever rapid price decline of Globalstar's junk bonds, we can expect Iridium style bankruptcy pretty soon. Hell, Globalstar doesn't even have the massive millitary contract that Iridium did to help keep it afloat. That said, Qualcomm is a pretty big player in the wireless industry (much more so than those involved with Iridium), so there is still a chance that GS could stick around. In my opinion, all they really need to do to have a successful sat. phone company would be to create a small, sexy phone that can still work with the sats, analog cell, and digital cell. Though it would be an engineering marvel to make something like that and not give the users cancer after a couple minutes of use, it would certainly sell like nothing before it in the lucrative CEO/CEO-wannabe market. There are many executive types who would want such a phone, but don't like the golf-club-sized antennas on Iridium phones. The other possible customers - those placed outside of normal cell coverage (ships, airplanes, research stations, etc) are either already pleased with Iridium or stayed away because of the high price.

    Oh yeah, they also have to make the system, unlike Iridium, work in buildings, or anywhere in the vicinity of a city. With Iridium you have to go through hell to try and make a call with tall buildings around.
  • The Science Daily article says "The Flight Modem, located aboard the rocket, basically acts like a cell phone and places a call, through orbiting satellites, to ground controllers". Slashdot, supposedly News For Nerds turns this analogy into "It can be used to provide constant telemetry by making a cell phone call using the Globalstar Network".

    It obviously isn't going to be using cellular phone bands, which operate over relatively short distances to a network of ground-based cellular antenna towers, arranged in a hexagonal pattern (cells). The towers are allocated one of seven groups of frequencies, so that each tower is not using the same bandwidth as its 6 nearest neighbors. Transmission power of both the phones and towers must be kept low, so that it doesn't interfere with phones and towers more than 2 cell distances away. The geometry of this arrangement is clearly designed as a 2 dimentional coverage area, only on the surface of the planet. There certainly won't be cellular towers along the way to space.

    Reading the NASA article, which avoids the unfortunately cellular analogy, it appears that a great portion of the cost savings is due to using only GPS to track the rocket's position, instead of using radar stations.

  • The engineer(s) who came up with this are the kind of people NASA was looking for with it's "Better, Faster, Cheaper" program. I hope NASA finds more engineers like this.

    Finding engineers that believe in "better, faster, cheaper" is easy. Finding NASA managers and bureaucrats that believe in it is the tough part. :-(

  • Besides, you can't use cell phones in flight because they'll see too many cells at once from way up there.

    If you had read the article, you'd know that the thing NASA is using is actually a satellite phone, so it shouldn't have that problem. The term "cell phone" apparently got added to the story in an effort to explain it to the masses.

  • Cell phone usage in flight is banned by the FCC because being that high in the air gives you line-of-sight to way too many base stations, and it'll confuse the cellular infrastructure. This is a SATELLITE PHONE, which won't be confused by such things. Also electronics that send and receive signals could potentially disrupt the aviation electronics; presumably anything that's going up into space is well shielded enough (and rockets are pretty dumb).
  • Rocket: Collect call from Atlas Itsaboy, will you accept charges?

    Mission Control #1: No.

    Mission Control #2: Who was that?

    Mission Control #1: It was our rocket. It's a boy.

    Mission Control #2: Wait a second.... (flips through large manual). HEY! It's not a boy, it's a GIRL. Range Safety! We've got a bird out there with a sexual identity crisis!

    Range Safety: I'm on it. It says here that Atlas is a masculine name. I don't see the problem on my screens.

    Mission Control #1: She's developing nominal thrust. And she's vaguely cigar shaped too.

    Mission Control #2: In cases like this we just wait to see what happens. Perhaps she'll achieve orbital insertion. Plenty of time to evaluate the situation before re-entry.

  • What if the rockets and such don't answer? NASA will never know if the call goes through, because in space, no one can hear you screen...

  • Cell-satellite beams aren't designed to hand-off subscriber units that are climbing through 100 miles at 9500 mph.

    The reliability of this connection is going to suck. Trying to time the launch so you get good cell coverage with minimal handoff will make the old solution the economical one.

    --Blair
    "Return to your homepages. There's nothing to see here."
  • Oh yeah, they also have to make the system, unlike Iridium, work in buildings, or anywhere in the vicinity of a city. With Iridium you have to go through hell to try and make a call with tall buildings around.

    The scarry thing is, compared to Globalstar, Iridium is 10x better at making these sorts of calls.

    I think that NASA is making a huge mistake by picking Globalstar over Iridium. First, Globalstar only works in Latitudes between 60 degrees north & 60 degrees south. It turns itself off when it is over the oceans to recharge its batteries, and when its over the land, it needs to be near a basestation to make it work

    Iridium does all of its call processing in space, so it will work anyplace in the world, during any time of the day.
  • by John Carmack (101025) on Monday March 26, 2001 @02:03PM (#340423)
    It used to be that NASA had to have a string of ground stations and ships around the world to get continuous data from space vehicles. This is still an issue for countries like China, and the logistics have impacted their space program. NASA does now use a lot of custom relay satellites, but the communications hardware is still $100k+ one-offs for each application. Using $5k of commercial equipment that is probably better developed is indeed a good thing. The articles also lumped together with the LEO sat communication aspect the increasing use of GPS to augment and eventually replace dedicated radar for positioning. John Carmack
  • I agree, with both you and Parkaran2. Nasa did begin using off-the-shelf components quite a while ago for several of it's system's rather than the design-from-scratch model that they used to follow.

    This began in earnest back in 1991 I believe (someone correct me if I'm wrong please) when Military and Space Exploration budgets were being hacked in half. (Part of an attempt to balance the ever growing budget)

    NASA was told that they needed to explore more commercially availible products and begin using as many as they could (without sacrificing mission safety) in order to save money. They have done a fairly good job of it.

    It's good to see that they are starting to use commercially availible telecommunications systems also. One point that should be made however, is that this is not a Cellular system that we are talking about. This is a Satilite telephone system. Cellular systems are land based and have no satilite components within them directly. They may be linked to other systems through some sort of satilite (by an outside provider) but in and of themselves, all cellular systems rest firmly on the ground.

    It's pretty awsome that NASA feels that satilite phones are reliable enough to include as communications links for missions. :)

  • Not to mis-state what Mr. S was talking about, but I believe he was refering to the fact that with telemetry information being provided to cellular (and satilite) communicaitons, your whereabouts now become public knowledge if they decide to sell it.

    Watching the telecommunications industry develop with this new system for E911 (Lat and Long. provided to Emergency service.) is going to be loads of fun. Companies are trying to develope software and databases full of location information that they can sell to cellular companies so that you can be notified when you are driving near something that might be of interest to you.

    From my understanding, these services are going to be optional for you, and no-one (entity) is going to be getting your location information, the network servers will recieve it and respond back with a short message alerting you of whats around you.

    My guess if that Mr. S. beleives people will be worried that their location is being given to someone that they don't know and that it could be concidered an invasion of privacy.

    Think about this one example:

    Law Enforcement: Your driving along at 45 mph in a 35 mph zone. Because your telemetry was being recorded, the police department sent a nice shiney high speed driving certificate to your house.

    It's issues like this that can raise fears in people. However, there are tons of benifits that could come from it also. For example:

    Travel: You visit a new town and decide on Chinese for diner but don't have a yellowpages. Just open your phone and select Local Restraunts:Type=Chinese (or something else that they dream up as a menu system) and your informed of the name of the 5 closest (distance shown next to their name) restraunts from where you are standing and then when you select which one you want, you get a step by step set of instructions on how to get there.

    So, do cell phones have a future, or are they going to invade privacy to the point that people will stop using them and find another means to communicate? My guess is that cellular companies want to stay in business selling cellular service.

  • It could be that they are planning on using the phone for their telemetery and data communications. (at least a portion of their telemetery.)

    CDMA service works on GPS provided timing. The phone has to be sync'd up to the gps system on three (we currently use three, but the technology provides specs for six) antennas in the phone. There is a fourth antenna in each phone right now, but it is for searching the network for your next cellsite.

    Also, with a lauch date of six years from now, NASA may be thinking about the fact that 3G Cellular telecommunications will be availible. Data transfer rates right now are a pathetic 14.4 kbps. That will soon be changing. The first step CDMA2000 will move the transfer rate up to 144 kbps, and then full 3G will be at 1.44 Mbps.

    Full 3G has been expected to come out for a while now, however there have been many delays in it's coming. Lucent [lucent.com] has some information posted. But not the hard and fast facts most people will be looking for. Oh, and here [lucent.com] is a cute picture of what they want as an all IP based cellular network.

  • It's not likely that they are going to put a transceiver next to your head that is strong enough to punch a signal out of the static noise barrier that surrounds most building now because of all the electronic equipment, gadgets and wiring in the building.

    Older analog cell phones had the same problem. They were a little more reliable around buildings because the base stations we ussually sitting on top of the building in downtown areas, but inside was murder. CDMA and TDMA have helped relieve this problem because they are noise tolerant technologies.

  • FYI, more info on the GSP-1620 Satellite Packet Data Modem that is on the NASA page is here. [qualcomm.com]
    Just in case any of you wanna build you own datahaven node in orbit.
  • Your very right about how analog cellular is laid out, however, Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) is laid out somewhat differently. Each base station uses the same exact frequency now as all the others around it. They simply encode the frequency that they are transmitting with a different PN (Psuedo-code Number). It seems to me that by the time NASA actually uses the Satilite technology, the data transfer rates sould be very high and they could integrate the always on high speed connection into the works also.
  • Not to mention that the only area Iridium was ever profitable in was sea and air communications. I worked for a company that sold $30,000 phones that were essentially the standard $2000 motorola phones packed into a large container for aeronautical use. Ships could use them for similar reasons as it is much cheaper than the alternative sattelite communication technologies. The problem with Iridium is that they somehow planned to profit off consumer use of their phones which is impossible seeing how the phones look like crap, don't work in urban areas, and are rather overpriced. Now they may have sold a phone or two to the rugged adventurer crowd, but that's about it.

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