Scientists propose ‘Spaceline’ elevator to the Moon – gpgmail


Fans of sci-fi and fringe tech may already be familiar with the idea of the “space elevator,” which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — and totally impossible with today’s technology. But a pair of scientists think they’ve found an alternative: a Moon elevator. And it’s slightly less insane… technically.

The idea of the space elevator, first explored in detail by Arthur C. Clarke in his novel “The Fountains of Paradise,” is essentially a tower so tall it reaches space. Instead of launching ships and materials from the surface of the Earth to orbit, you just put them in the elevator of this tower and when they reach the top, somewhere about 26,000 miles up in geosynchronous orbit, they’re already beyond gravity’s pull, for all intents and purposes.

It’s a fun idea, but the simple fact is that this tower would need to be so strong to support its own weight, and that of the counterweight at the far end, that no known material or even reasonably hypothetical one will do it. Not by a long shot. So the space elevator has remained well on the “fiction” side of science fiction since its first proposal. Hasn’t stopped people from patenting it, though.

But what if I told you that we could make a space elevator even bigger, with materials available today? You’d say I am completely unqualified to engineer such a structure — and you’d be right. But two astronomers from Cambridge and Columbia Universities think they’ve got an alternative. They call it the Spaceline.

The secret is in abandoning the entire concept of anchoring the space elevator to the surface of the Earth. Instead they propose a tower or cable extending the other direction: From the surface of the Moon to geosynchronous orbit around the planet.

Unsurprisingly, this idea has been put out there before, as early as the ’70s. But as Zephyr Penoyre and Emily Sandford put it in their paper:

We present the derivations herein as a full standalone mathematical and physical description of the concept, one that we and authors before us have been surprised to find is eminently plausible and may have been overlooked as a major step in the development of our capacity as a species to move within our solar system.

Math by Cambridge and Columbia. Diagram by MS Paint.

In other words, others have suggested it before, but they did the math. And it actually works out. And it might only cost a few billion dollars.

The Spaceline would be more like a skyhook than a tower. A thin, strong piece of material (think the width of a pencil lead) that extends about 225,000 miles from the surface of the Moon to a safe distance above the planet, where it won’t interfere with satellites or encounter our pesky atmosphere.

Anyone interested in going to the Moon would simply launch to the correct orbit height and sync up with the tip of the Spaceline, where there would no doubt be a station of some kind. From there they could use solar-powered propulsion to zip along the line, no fuel required. At the other end, they simply slow down and have a soft landing at lunar orbit or whatever surface facility we put on the regolith there.

Importantly, the Spaceline would pass through the Earth-Moon Lagrange point, where there is effectively zero gravity and no other physical interference, making construction and storage a snap.

Having only a small team of scientists and engineers at such a base camp would allow hand construction and maintenance of a new generation of space based experiments – one could imagine telescopes, particle accelerators, gravitational wave detectors, vivariums, power generation and launch points for missions to the rest of the solar system.

Sounds nicer than the tiny Lunar Gateway NASA has planned.

While the researchers say this is “not idle theorycrafting,” it most certainly is, with the caveat that the theory is more realistic than a famously unrealistic one no one takes seriously. Still, the possibility is tantalizing now that someone has crunched the numbers. Perhaps one of these space-bound billionaires will make a Moon elevator their next passion project.


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Water Detected on Planet Inside the Habitable Zone for the First Time


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The astronomers who comb through data on planetary surveys looking for potentially habitable planets are searching for worlds with certain specific characteristics. We assume that any planet capable of supporting life has to exist within the habitable zone (also sometimes called the “Goldilocks zone”) of its host star. Too close to the star and you bake, too far away and you’ll freeze. Liquid water is considered another key component required for life as we know it to exist. (Ammonia-based life has been theorized, but not yet demonstrated to be able to exist).

Astronomers now believe they’ve detected liquid water in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting within the habitable zone of its parent star. The planet, K2-18b (aka EPIC 201912552 b) orbits its red-dwarf star every 33 days. The red dwarf K2-18 is roughly 111 light-years from Earth and is ~2.7 percent as luminous as our own sun. The habitable zones of red dwarves are close to the star for this reason, and the authors note that the equilibrium temperature on K2-18b could be quite similar to Earth’s. The equilibrium temperature of a planet is the temperature it would have if it were a black body heated only by its star. The presence of an atmosphere and associated greenhouse effect means the actual temperature on the planet can be quite different from the equilibrium temperature.

HabitableZones

The habitable zone of certain planets, Earth, and Mars for reference. K2-18b not shown above.

What the scientists are saying with this measurement is that Earth and this other planet start in roughly the same place, as far as their respective equilibrium temperatures are concerned (Earth is 257K, this K2-18b is 265K +/- 5K). The total amount of solar irradiation that Earth and K2-18b receive is approximately equal. The paper, which has not been peer-reviewed, notes that K2-18b is the least-massive planet to ever be detected with water vapor in its atmosphere.

“The water vapor detection was quite clear to us relatively early on,” lead author Björn Benneke, a professor at the Institute for Research on Exoplanets at the Université de Montréal, told Space.com in an interview. So he and his colleagues developed new analysis techniques to provide evidence that clouds made up of liquid water droplets likely exist on K2-18 b. “That’s in some ways the ‘holy grail’ of studying extrasolar planets … evidence of liquid water,” he said.

K2-12b probably isn’t habitable, at least not for humans. While the atmosphere contains water vapor, there’s evidence suggesting it’s quite thick, and that the planet may not have a surface in the first place.

While the study we’ve been discussing has not yet been peer-reviewed, Nature Astronomy has published the results of a different second study, which also confirms the presence of water vapor in K2-18b’s atmosphere. The lead scientist on the second study, Giovanna Tinetti, called these results “mind-blowing.”

“This is the first time that we have detected water on a planet in the habitable zone around a star where the temperature is potentially compatible with the presence of life,” she said.

We may not be flying off to explore K2-18b just yet — but now that we’ve found water vapor in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting inside a red dwarf’s habitable zone, we’re one step closer to finding a world that can work for creatures like ourselves. The James Webb Space Telescope, when it finally comes online, should be well-suited for exploring exoplanets like these.

Feature image by the ESA / UCL. 

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Hubble spots liquid water on a ‘super-Earth’ 110 light-years away – gpgmail


Water is not uncommon to find in our galaxy in ice or gaseous form, but liquid water is quite rare — and liquid and gaseous water on an Earth-like exoplanet? That’s never been observed… until now. Astronomers spotted this celestial unicorn, called K2-18 b, using the venerable Hubble space telescope.

K2-18 b is a “super-Earth,” a planet with a mass and size approximately like our own. Not only that, it exists in its solar system’s “habitable zone,” meaning a range of temperatures where liquid water can continuously exist. It’s about 110 light-years away in the constellation Leo.

Of course there are many super-Earths, and many planets in habitable zones, and many planets with water — but they’re never one and the same. This is the first time we’ve found the trifecta.

Researchers used past Hubble data to examine the spectral signature of light shining from K2-18 b’s sun through its atmosphere. They found evidence of both liquid and gaseous water, suggesting a water cycle like our own: evaporation, condensation, and all that.

To be clear, this is not an indication of little green men or anything like that; K2-18 b’s red dwarf sun is absolutely bombarding it with radiation. “It is highly unlikely that this world is habitable in any way that we understand based on life as we know it,” the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Hannah Wakeford told Nature.

Too bad — but that wasn’t what scientists were hoping to find. The discovery of an Earth-like planet with an Earth-like water cycle in the habitable zone is amazing, especially considering the relatively small number of exoplanets that have been examined this way. The galaxy is full of them, after all, so finding one with these qualities suggests there are plenty more where K2-18 b came from.

This discovery is an interesting one in another fashion: It was done, like lots of others are these days, by performing after-the-fact analysis on publicly available data (from 2016 and 2017), and the analysis used open-source algorithms. Essentially both the data and the methods were out there in the open — though naturally it takes serious scientific effort to actually put them together.

Two papers were published on K2-18 b, one from the University of Montreal and one from University College London. The former appeared on preprint site Arxiv yesterday, and the other was published in the journal Nature Astronomy today.


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NASA Tests Space Concrete for Future Mars Habitats


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NASA is looking toward a future when humans could visit Mars for an extended period, and Elon Musk is promising to send people there in the next decade. Whenever humans do set foot on Mars, they’re going to need someplace to hang their hat (or spacesuit helmet). Concrete could potentially allow explorers to build structures quickly and easily, assuming it sets correctly without Earth gravity. NASA has conducted experiments aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to assess the strength of concrete mixed in space. 

Scientists believe concrete could be an ideal material for building on other worlds because it’s durable, offers protection from radiation, and it may be possible to make it using materials present on the moon and Mars. Being able to manufacture building materials at your destination (known as in-situ resources) makes missions cheaper and easier to design because you don’t have to launch as much mass from Earth. 

However, there’s a lot we still don’t know about the molecular structure of concrete here on Earth. Concrete is a mixture of sand and gravel with lime or silicate (cement powder). As the cement dissolves in water, it forms crystal complexes that link together the aggregate to make a solid structure. The process of mixing and building with concrete is well established on Earth, but we don’t know how microgravity could affect it. Do we need to modify the ratios? Add additional materials? That’s what the ISS experiment aims to find out. 

ISS concrete above and Earth concrete below.

The experiment, known as Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification (MICS), is the first time concrete has been mixed outside of Earth’s gravity. Astronauts aboard the ISS mixed tricalcium silicate and water in varying amounts to create a concrete paste. The astronauts added alcohol to some of the packets to stop the hydration process at set intervals as well. A separate experiment used a centrifuge simulated lunar and Martian gravity on the samples as they mixed. 

The experiment confirms that concrete can harden in microgravity, which is a good thing. That means we can build structures with concrete outside of Earth’s gravity. The primary difference is an increase in pores compared with concrete mixed on Earth, and that could reduce the material’s strength. However, lower gravity on the moon or Mars would also put it under less strain. It may be possible to develop different binders that improve the strength of lunar or Martian concrete, and that may even lead to better concrete here on Earth.

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SpaceX ‘getting ready’ to fly orbital Starship design with new FCC filing – gpgmail


SpaceX is taking the steps necessary to begin test flying the orbital-class version of its Starship spacecraft, with new documents filed by the company (via Teslarati) with the FCC seeking necessary permissions for it to communicate with the prototype while it’s in flight.

The company filed documents with the U.S. regulatory agency this week in advance of the flight, which lists a max altitude of 74,000 feet, which is a far cry from Earth orbit but still a much greater distance vs. the 500 or so feet achieved by the squat ‘Starhopper’ demonstration and test vehicle that SpaceX has been actively operating in preparation for Starship .

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk confirmed that prep was underway via tweet. Musk has previously said that he hoped to follow the Starhopper’s most recent and final successful test quickly with tests of the full-scale vehicle. Like with that low-altitude test, SpaceX will aim to launch and land the Starhopper, with touch down planned just a short distance away.

Assembly and construction of the Starship prototype looks to be well underway, and Musk recently teased a Starship update event for September 28, which is likely when we’ll see this prototype assembled and ready to go ahead of its planned October first test flight window.

Starship is the next generation of SpaceX spacecraft, designed for maximum reusability, and with the aim of creating one vehicle that can serve the needs of current and future customers, eventually replacing both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. Starship is also a key ingredient in Musk’s ambitious plan to reach and establish a continuing human presence on Mars.


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Aerospace Corp CEO Steve Isakowitz to talk how to raise non-dilutive capital at Disrupt SF this Oct – gpgmail


The US government is awake to the remarkable innovation coming the startup scene in many deep tech categories, and the response has been diverse efforts across many government agencies and departments to support select startups with non-dilutive financial backing, technology sharing, fast-track procurement and even start-up competitions with cash prizes.

Space is one of those deep tech categories, and at we’re delighted to announce that Steve Isakowitz, CEO of Aerospace Corporation, is joining us on the Extra Crunch stage at Disrupt SF (Oct. 2-4) stage to discuss how Aerospace Corp sees the rapidly emerging space startup scene. Aerospace Corp is not all that widely known outside space circles, but its 59-year-old R&D legacy is remarkable. Based in El Segundo, California, the non-profit works with the US Air Force and other government space programs to identify emerging technologies from the commercial sector that could apply to future space programs. Examples of core space technologies include communications and spacecraft materials with an increased focus on cloud computing, data analytics, additive manufacturing, cyber security, and AI and robotics technologies.

Isakowitz was formerly CTO of Virgin, where he managed the company’s space launch program, and before that was CFO of the Department of Energy and an administrator at NASA, where he worked on space transportation and government-industry partnerships. He graduated from MIT, where he received his bachelors and masters in aerospace engineering.

We will talk on stage about how startups can take advantage of government funding initiatives, particularly in harder tech areas like space, satellites, defense, and health, as well as talk about what’s next in the space industry.

We’re amped for this conversation, and we can’t wait to see you there! Buy tickets to Disrupt SF here at an early-bird rate!

Did you know Extra Crunch annual members get 20% off all gpgmail event tickets? Head over here to get your annual pass, and then email extracrunch@Gpgmail.com to get your 20% discount. Please note that it can take up to 24 hours to issue the discount code.


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India loses contact with spacecraft during historic moon landing attempt – gpgmail


India’s attempt to become the first nation to soft land a robotic spacecraft at the moon’s South Pole, an unexplored region, has ended in failure, the space agency said Saturday.

Less than two miles above the lunar surface, the Vikram lander (named after Vikram Sarabhai, the father of India’s space program) lost communications with the mission control.

A live broadcast from ISRO, India’s equivalent of NASA, showed scientists grow tense as the control station struggled to get a signal from the lander.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was watching the landing attempt, offered words of encouragement to the scientists and children, who had accompanied him at the ISRO campus.

“Be courageous. Our faith in ISRO has not lost. I can proudly say that the effort was worth it and so was the journey. We are full of confidence that when it comes to our space program, the best is yet to come,” he said.

Space is hard. The lunar surface is filled with debris of spacecrafts that have attempted and failed to land in one piece. Because there is little to no atmosphere on the moon, parachutes can’t be used, leaving landers to rely completely on thrusters to modulate the speed.

Chandrayaan-2, a roughly $140 million mission, is, in part, intended to study moon craters that are believed to contain water deposits, something Chandrayaan-1 found in 2008.

A successful touchdown would have made India the fourth country to successfully complete a soft landing on the lunar surface. So far, only the former Soviet Union, the U.S., and China have accomplished it.

GettyImages 1165864210

Photo by Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images

The 142-foot tall spacecraft that blasted off Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on July 15, carried an orbiter, a lunar lander, and a six-wheeled rover. The lander and rover were expected to operate for just a couple of weeks, but the orbiter, which detached from the lander earlier this week, will continue to operate for at least one year.

ISRO has come a long way and specialized in low-cost space launches since the early 1960s, when components of rockets were transported by bicycles and assembled by hand in the country.

In 2013, ISRO also launched an orbiter to Mars in its maiden $74 million interplanetary mission — a fraction of the $671 million NASA spent for a Mars mission in the same year. In 2017, ISRO also deployed a record 104 satellites into space in just 18 minutes.

Earlier this year, ISRO said it intends to have its own space station in the future and conduct separate missions to study the Sun and Venus. It will begin working on its space station following its first manned mission to space, called Gaganyaan (which means “space vehicle” in Sanskrit), in 2022 — just in time to commemorate 75 years of the country’s independence from Britain. The government has sanctioned Rs 10,000 crores ($1.5 billion) for the Gaganyaan mission.




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Watch India’s Chandrayaan-2 make its historic moon landing attempt right here – gpgmail


It’s a big day for India’s highly audacious Chandrayaan-2 mission. The nation will attempt to land its lunar orbit on the moon’s surface shortly as it inches closer to become the fourth in the world to complete a successful lunar landing. ISRO, India’s equivalent of NASA, will be live streaming the landing on its website, and YouTube channel.

Additionally, if you are tuning in from India, dozens of channels including Doordarshan (DD1), Disney India, National Geographic, Star Plus and Star Bharat, DD News, will live telecast the India’s mission to the moon. The landing is scheduled for between 1pm and 2pm Pacific Time (4pm to 5pm Eastern Time; 8pm to 9pm GMT).

ISRO launched its 142 feet tall spacecraft from the the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on July 15. The spacecraft consists of an orbiter, a lander named Vikram (named after Vikram Sarabhai, the father of India’s space program), and a six-wheeled rover named Pragyaan (Sanskrit for “wisdom”). Earlier this week, the lander that carried the rover detached from the orbiter.

The mission’s budget is just $141 million, significantly lower than those of other countries, and less than half of the recently released blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame.”

Commenting on the landing, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will be watching the nation’s attempt at the moon landing from ISRO’s office, said earlier today that, “India, and the rest of the world will yet again see the exemplary prowess of our space scientists.”

Chandrayaan-2 aims to land on a plain surface that covers the ground between two of the moon’s craters, Simpelius N and Manzinus C — that is about 375 miles from the South Pole. It’s an understudied region that no one has seen closely yet.

NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger, said in a televised program today, “I just want everyone to know that the whole world is following this and it is not just Indians. This is the first time any country is going to the South Pole of the moon! India is leading this and as a representative of the US, we are nervous and we are hoping for success. This increases the knowledge base of the moon.”


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ESA Calls for Space Traffic Rules After Near Miss With SpaceX Satellite


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We talk often about how big space is, and indeed, it is really, mind-bogglingly big. However, space around Earth is feeling smaller all the time. SpaceX has launched the first few dozen of what will eventually grow to a swarm of thousands of satellites. Several days ago, the ESA had to perform the first-ever satellite avoidance maneuver to avoid colliding with a SpaceX Starlink satellite. This has prompted experts to call for a universal space traffic control system to avoid future collisions. 

SpaceX plans to use its Starlink satellite network to deliver broadband internet access to Earth and deployed 60 of them earlier this year. That’s just the beginning, though. Elon Musk and company plan to have around 2,000 satellites in space by the end of 2019. Eventually, the SpaceX “mega constellation” will include more than 12,000 satellites. SpaceX isn’t the only company planning to launch large fleets of satellites, either. Companies like OneWeb and Kuiper intend to have large networks in Earth orbit soon. 

What a SpaceX Starlink satellite looks like in orbit.

Despite the hugeness of Space, the ESA’s Aeolus satellite (above) found itself on a possible collision course with Starlink 44 earlier this week. The chance of collision was about 1 in 1,000, but that’s 10 times higher than the ESA’s acceptable risk level. That’s not great, sure, but the real issue is the ESA was unable to contact SpaceX operators to discuss the problem. The agency decided to alter Aeolus’ course just to be safe, and no satellites were harmed. 

SpaceX says a bug in its on-call paging system prevented officials from seeing the ESA’s messages. The company had last communicated with the ESA several days before when the estimated chance of collision was orders of magnitude less likely. However, all this communication happens over email, and the ESA contends this is a dangerously inefficient way to manage space traffic in the age of mega-constellations. 

There are currently about 5,000 satellites orbiting Earth, but only roughly 2,000 are active. SpaceX by itself could more than double the number of satellites whizzing around Earth. Add a few more companies with mega-constellations, and there could be some awful traffic jams. Attempting to coordinate all that via email is infeasible. Even one collision could produce thousands of microscopic pieces of debris that could hit other satellites, setting off a chain reaction that damages important space-based systems. 

According to the ESA, now is the time to develop traffic rules and communication protocols to prevent satellite collisions. It might be too late if we wait until SpaceX has 12,000 satellites beaming down broadband.

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Fleet Space Technologies raises $7.35M for its space-based IoT tech – gpgmail


Australian satellite startup Fleet Space Technologies has raised a $7.35 million round of funding to help launch its next generation of nanosatellites, extremely small satellites it employs to deliver Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity to customers globally.

Fleet’s satellites are roughly the size of shoe boxes, which are much cheaper and easier to launch than traditional geocommnications satellites, and the company intends to use a globe-spanning constellation of these in order to serve needs like tracking construction equipment assets, monitoring pipelines and other utility infrastructure and more.

Already, Fleet has launched four of its nanosatellites to orbit on a number of different rockets, including an Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) rocket, a Rocket Lab launch and via SpaceX . Its existing fleet is only a very small part of its planned constellation, but already the startup says it has witnessed “unprecedented demand” from more than three million compatible devices registered to join their network.

Connected IoT in industrial applications is a huge potential market, and could be made up of more than 14 billion low-power devices by 2025, Fleet Space says, based on IDC estimates. That’s a lot of hardware that needs to be able to effectively connect to, and communicate with, central hubs. Edge computing is a huge trend right now, where a lot of these previously fairly rudimentary on-device sensors and monitors are able to do more processing on-site, but at some point the value of a network of IoT devices is that the resulting data can be collected, analyzed, turned into product improvements and redeployed.

Fleet’s nanosatellite (dog for scale). Image courtesy of Fleet.

Fleet’s tech is the connective tissue that can bind all these devices in a way that’s much more scalable and affordable for commercial and industrial clients large and small. Satellite-based network coverage works in tandem with ground-based networks, which helps ensure there aren’t any blind spots in industries where communication can be hard to come by, like agriculture, forestry and mining.

This round of funding includes investment from Momenta Ventures and Horizon Ventures, and adds to the previous $5 million AUD ($3.4 million USD) that Fleet raised previously from Blackbird Ventures and Grok Ventures, with contribution from the South Australian government.


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