SpaceX, a commercial space exploration company, launched an unmanned Falcon 9 rocket from southern California’s Vandenberg Air Force Station on Sunday, giving the company a chance to test engine and avionics upgrades before its commercial missions begin. But — perhaps most importantly for the rest of us — the event also provided a chance to launch the Canadian Space Agency’s satellite CASSIOPE, carrying an ultra-fast file-sharing prototype named Cascade.
Sailing into space atop the Falcon 9, Cascade promises to offer an alternative to internet-based file-transferring methods. As the satellite circles the globe once every 90 minutes, users would be able to upload very large files — in the tens of gigabytes — when it passes overhead, and Cascade would, when it’s in the right spot, forward them on to the proper recipient.
Clearly, a 90-minute delay isn’t the most convenient file-sharing method for someone who just wants to send cat photos to a friend. But for companies and government agencies that need to transfer 100-gigabyte-sized files, which could take up to 72 hours at the global average connection speed of 3.1 megabits per second, 90 minutes is an appealing option. (Super-fast internet connection services such as Google Fiber aren’t useful when the file recipient does not also have a super-fast connection.)
Dave Caddy of MDA Corp, which built Cascade, said its product would help ships on oil and gas expeditions deliver data to shore.
You have ships out on the ocean and they tend to be working in fairly inhospitable places where there’s not a lot of internet infrastructure. So, instead of having a helicopter courier, the ship would have a small antenna which would track CASSIOPE and the data would be uplinked as the satellite flies overhead.
The service could also prove especially helpful for disaster relief organizations and military personnel in remote locations far from reliable internet service. Findings from Sunday’s test launch will determine how soon the satellite might be ready for commercial service.