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The Sun’s gravity could allow interstellar video streaming

by Kayla Matthews | August 19, 2017August 19, 2017 9:00 am PDT

The problem with streaming media content through space is, well, it sucks. If you want to beam some good old-fashioned entertainment to nearby galaxies, you’re not going to have much luck. More importantly, if you want to beam streaming content back down to Earth, and the distance is great, quality will suffer.

According to a new proposal, however, we may be able to leverage the sun’s gravity to boost signals, specifically those coming from a research-based interstellar space probe. Imagine being able to visit other worlds, all while streaming the content live in high-definition. Keep in mind live is a relative term here, as the signal may be delayed, as is common with space broadcasts.

If the proposal is true, video content can be streamed reliably from as far away as Alpha Centauri, which enthusiasts and observers might recognize as our neighboring star system.

What is all this nonsense about? What is the proposal and who’s responsible for it? How do we know we can trust it? Calm down, we’ll get to that.

Leveraging the Sun’s Gravity for Interstellar Video Streaming

In a series of research papers published recently, an independent astrophysicist named Michael Hippke proposes an innovative way to get digital data back to Earth from remote probes, in a more reliable and efficient manner.

Through something called gravitational lensing, we could place a telescope or satellite in proximity to the sun. At a distance of about 90 billion kilometers away, the signal would be strengthened to the point where we can accurately stream video and media. An instrument for the same means on the planet’s surface would need to be bigger than New York City, about 53 kilometers wide.

With gravitation lensing, first discovered by Einstein in 1919, we can achieve the same thing with far fewer resources. More importantly, we can accurately ping a single-watt signal that is both reliable and strong.

Haven’t we been able to broadcast a reliable signal pretty far already? What about the probes on Mars, or elsewhere in the near solar system? Well, yes, but again we’re talking about reaching greater distances here.

The technology required to beam digital data — even in small amounts — great distances is expensive and takes a long time to develop. Proposals for sending probes and satellites to Alpha Centauri will cost in excess of $100 million. Not only is that a hefty amount of resources — including money and time — but if something goes wrong, it’s a huge loss.

Hippke’s design and proposal relies on off-the-shelf and much cheaper technologies that are accessible and less valuable. He outlines the entire process, including the necessary components and technology, which you can read about in his official paper.

The entire setup is quite similar to one we already use on Earth. For multiple devices in a single distribution system, cascading can be used to accommodate up to 14,000 devices in a wider service area. The same concept applies for boosting the signal to a much larger area, except with space streaming it’s more about distance than coverage area.

Possibilities and Practicalities

Of course, the next question — perhaps just as important — is whether or not this technology and setup is possible. If it’s nothing more than a pipe dream, then there’s no reason to entertain the idea.

Slava Turyshev, a physicist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says the plan is “challenging but not impossible.” In particular, it’s going to take an incredibly long time to get a probe to the 90 billion kilometer mark, about 25 to 30 years.

Turyshev does propose, however, using a slingshot technique around the sun to get the probe or satellite in place. Presumably, the technique would allow the device to travel faster than of its own volition.

If it is achievable, we can leverage a whole lot more than just interstellar streaming. We can also boost the signal of wireless communication of all kinds, including mobile wireless signals. How awesome would that be?

Such is the future, folks. Even though these are mere proposals and concepts, they are a step in the right direction for improving modern technology. It will be interesting to see if and when companies or organizations put these proposed ideas into action.

One could argue that if it takes another decade or so to make happen, many of us won’t be around to see it achieved. Thirty years or more is a long time to wait, especially for something like this.

Still, it’s a promising idea nonetheless, and one that would be fascinating should it ever come true. Heck, it’s fascinating now as-is.

Image by Pixabay


Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews is a writer and tech blogger, talking about connected devices and smart tech on websites like MakeUseOf, VentureBeat, Motherboard and...

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