Every now and then we like to bring you a slightly off-topic post which may interest you. Today I spotted this news item about old satellites being re-used for new in-car entertainment systems in Europe.
Cast your mind back a few years. Remember when Sky TV was in its infancy? Big white dishes cropped up on houses across the UK and pictures were sent in “analogue” format from the satellites. The early Astra satellites had a lifetime of 10-15 years. After this the fuel powering the small thrusters would run out and the satellite would start to drift slightly off its allotted geo-stationary orbit position. This makes them completely useless for satellite TV as the dishes have to point at a preset point in the sky.
So what is planned for these old satellites? Well, although they may drift slightly from their positions they can still use their solar power to function. The European Space Agency (Esa) has come up with an idea which would provide an advanced in-car multimedia system similar to the American “XM-radio” and “Sirius” services which have more than 13 million subscribers already.
In the USA their platform offers high quality sound, hundreds of radio stations and song information. Special car stereo equipment is then used to receive the signals from “specially designed orbiting platforms and ground-based repeater stations, used to ensure signal strength particularly in built-up areas”.
If the European version becomes available commercially then it will be the first of its kind on this side of the Atlantic. It too will offer high quality sound but will work slightly differently. Firstly, the “recycled satellites” will be tracked and a small mobile antenna on the car will pick up a signal. There’s no need for ground repeater stations either, as signals are sent as files and stored in a cache which can be reassembled into complete programmes as and when they are needed. Thus, if a satellite cannot “see” the car (if it is in a tunnel or built-up area) the radio programme is not interrupted. This approach means also that other information such as short videos for backseat entertainment, travel information and system updates can be stored in memory.
Rolv Midthassel, a communications engineer at Esa, said of the old satellites…
“From a technical point of view they are still fine. As these satellites have done their duty for so many years and generated revenues, this extra life is a bonus and you can get them quite cheap.”
These old satellites have quite a following – there’s even tribute pages on the web when they run out of fuel. The prototype was demonstrated at the Noordwjk Space Expo in the Netherlands. All that’s needed now is for an audio system manufacturer to make a product to receive the signals.
Link – BBC News