Jim Hilton

Jim Hilton

Forestry Ink: How fast do wireless communications need to be?

Regular columnist Jim Hilton writes about satellites and wireless communication

Jim Hilton

Observer Contributor

There is lots of talk these days about faster wireless communication, with articles on G5 systems and SpaceX sending up more satellites (60 at a time and many thousands more in the plans).

Some people in the forest industry seem to think faster communication may also help us get out of our recent slump.

Two articles in the Logging and Sawmilling Journal discuss a memorandum of understanding between a Canadian and Swedish forest research company (FPInnovations and Skogforsk), which describes forest digitalization and machine automation. The central theme is as follows: “Imagine a time when people can operate forest machines deep in the woods from the comfort of the city through advanced wireless technology.”

The second article, “Forestry 4.0 connectivity,” describes the need for hundreds (possibly thousands) of Low Orbiting Satellites (LOS), which are in lower orbits and travel much faster (10times per day around the earth) than geostationary satellites.

My concern is who is controlling how many satellites are going into space when I read the summary statement, “It is a race to see which companies will fully deploy the first high speed high bandwidth LEO satellite constellation.”

The claim is increased productivity, lower costs and safer work conditions for the forest workers. While I could agree that it may be easier to get an operator to run the harvesting equipment from a warm office, it still does not solve the problem of transporting the various products from the remote areas to the processing facilities, which I think needs the attention at this time.

Many media outlets have reported that not everyone agrees with the rush to get more satellites into space.

Astronomers have warned that the exponential number of satellites being sent into orbit in the coming months risked “cutting us off from the cosmos” for good.

Throughout history, only about 8,000 satellites have ever been sent to space, and there are about 2,000 currently active satellites. But SpaceX has permission from regulators to launch more than 12,000 satellites, and it recently requested permission to add as many as 30,000 to that number. Mr. Musk has said the project could generate $30 billion or more in revenue each year.

Astronomers from around the world are concerned that the multiplication of such satellites “risks polluting space forever.” The “Low-Earth orbit,” the one near our planet, is already cluttered by numerous satellites and debris, so the proposal to put up 42,000 more could make astronomy studies difficult, if not impossible.

The International Astronomical Union has also expressed concern. SpaceX has pledged to work with experts to minimize potential impacts of its satellites, moving some to higher orbits and promising to paint their Earth-facing bases black to reduce their reflectiveness.

American astronomers are not convinced, particularly as other companies, including Amazon, Telesat and OneWeb, plan to launch similar mega-constellations.

While I appreciate what Elon Musk has done with the development of the electric vehicles, I am not as convinced that his SpaceX plan is in the best interest of the majority of the less rich side of the human race.

For an interesting perspective on this kind of philanthropy, I suggest reading Winner Takes All, where former New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas investigates how the global elite’s efforts to “change the world” also obscure their role in causing the problem. Will outer space end up as polluted as our oceans and water ways?

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo-Chilcotin for 40 years. Now retired, he volunteers with community forests organizations.

READ MORE: Forestry Ink: Building soil health through biodiversity

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