Wozniak startup to share orbital space junk data

Privateer to help avoid collisions and more debris around our planet

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak opened up about his space startup Privateer at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia this week.

Privateer's mission is to build software that taps into data from various sources to track objects in Earth orbit, which includes satellites and debris that could potentially damage or even destroy those satellites.

It seems Privateer wants to gather up this information and share it with national space agencies, companies, lawmakers, regulators, and so on, so that the records can be used to avoid collisions and make better decisions about our use of space. To do this, Privateer has built a data engine, or proprietary knowledge graph technology as it likes to call it, that collects and processes this object information for others to use.

Woz said Privateer was actually started by a friend, Alex Fielding, who is now CEO, while he has taken the role of president.

"My best friend, the best man at my wedding, Alex Fielding, started this company and it was largely based on talking to other people in the academic spheres, of trying to study and analyse all the space junk, the space refuse, the satellites that are up there. We have nothing that tells us everything that's up there very well," Woz said.

The first fruit of this is a web app called Wayfinder, which is built on Privateer's data engine and provides an open-access and near real-time visualization of known objects in orbit.

There has been growing concern that orbiting space debris poses a huge threat to satellites providing services such as communications and environmental monitoring, and may even render Earth orbit too dangerous for manned missions such as the International Space Station.

Yet according to a report published over 18 months ago, it's estimated that as much as three-quarters of the orbital debris in geosynchronous orbits around Earth is not being tracked. This debris could come from old satellites, rockets and debris from catastrophic satellite fails.

There have been some efforts at creating technologies that can be used to clean Earth orbit of debris or defunct satellites, such as the magnetic system being trialed by a Japanese company mentioned by New Scientist. Other solutions include giant nets or harpooning objects to capture them.

But dealing with the problem has to start with knowing where the debris is, according to Woz.

"You think, OK, there's an effort here that's going to go up and maybe find a way to bring space refuse down to Earth, but it's very difficult to spot the dangerous small particles less than 10cm3.

"It's very difficult to spot those and they're travelling at 1,000 times the speed of a bullet. So, they're very dangerous," he said.

Our lives depend on things that come from satellites, our navigation systems, a lot of our television, a lot of our internet, our phone calls from country to country, go through satellites

"Our lives depend on things that come from satellites, our navigation systems, a lot of our television, a lot of our internet, our phone calls from country to country, go through satellites."

Woz hinted that Privateer is planning to launch its own satellites to help track objects in orbit. Meanwhile, having the ability to map and collate all of the data is vital.

"There are a lot of people actually thinking, what if we could clean up some of this stuff that's floating around space that might knock a satellite out that's an important part of our lives," he said.

"You know, things that we actually use and do, knocked out by accident, and a lot of people are talking that way because the cost has come way down to launch very small satellites with lots of sensors, and that's one of the things our Privateer is doing, but we are starting by saying we've got to map.

"We are largely focusing on space junk, but that means we got to track, to know the countries that have equipment up in space that can measure it, and spot it and detect it. They['ve] got to share their information. We need worldwide standards so that some of it can be understood."

His speech at the conference wasn't all about Privateer. In response to a question about what drives him, Woz said it wasn't about money.

"A lot of people have huge monetary success in business and it changes them – now they want to make much more wealth, more power, have more power over things," he said. "That was not my goal. My goal was just to create the greatest products of the time as an engineer. I didn't want to lose my values." ®

Other stories you might like

  • Drone ship carrying yet more drones launches in China
    Zhuhai Cloud will carry 50 flying and diving machines it can control with minimal human assistance

    Chinese academics have christened an ocean research vessel that has a twist: it will sail the seas with a complement of aerial and ocean-going drones and no human crew.

    The Zhu Hai Yun, or Zhuhai Cloud, launched in Guangzhou after a year of construction. The 290-foot-long mothership can hit a top speed of 18 knots (about 20 miles per hour) and will carry 50 flying, surface, and submersible drones that launch and self-recover autonomously. 

    According to this blurb from the shipbuilder behind its construction, the Cloud will also be equipped with a variety of additional observational instruments "which can be deployed in batches in the target sea area, and carry out task-oriented adaptive networking to achieve three-dimensional view of specific targets." Most of the ship is an open deck where flying drones can land and be stored. The ship is also equipped with launch and recovery equipment for its aquatic craft. 

    Continue reading
  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading
  • Big Tech loves talking up privacy – while trying to kill privacy legislation
    Study claims Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft work to derail data rules

    Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft often support privacy in public statements, but behind the scenes they've been working through some common organizations to weaken or kill privacy legislation in US states.

    That's according to a report this week from news non-profit The Markup, which said the corporations hire lobbyists from the same few groups and law firms to defang or drown state privacy bills.

    The report examined 31 states when state legislatures were considering privacy legislation and identified 445 lobbyists and lobbying firms working on behalf of Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft, along with industry groups like TechNet and the State Privacy and Security Coalition.

    Continue reading
  • SEC probes Musk for not properly disclosing Twitter stake
    Meanwhile, social network's board rejects resignation of one its directors

    America's financial watchdog is investigating whether Elon Musk adequately disclosed his purchase of Twitter shares last month, just as his bid to take over the social media company hangs in the balance. 

    A letter [PDF] from the SEC addressed to the tech billionaire said he "[did] not appear" to have filed the proper form detailing his 9.2 percent stake in Twitter "required 10 days from the date of acquisition," and asked him to provide more information. Musk's shares made him one of Twitter's largest shareholders. The letter is dated April 4, and was shared this week by the regulator.

    Musk quickly moved to try and buy the whole company outright in a deal initially worth over $44 billion. Musk sold a chunk of his shares in Tesla worth $8.4 billion and bagged another $7.14 billion from investors to help finance the $21 billion he promised to put forward for the deal. The remaining $25.5 billion bill was secured via debt financing by Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Barclays, and others. But the takeover is not going smoothly.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022