To the Stars with Data: November 21 2021
Recapping Q3 2021 launches, haptic gloves for the metaverse, Starship is getting closer, and more
This week, I take a journey through the previous quarter’s launches, the upcoming test of SpaceX’s Starship, and Russia’s reckless anti-satellite test. I also peer into the metaverse with Meta’s new haptic glove prototype and dig into some medical news with predicting protein complexes in yeast with AI. Oh, and I included some future-thinking companies, of course!
Also, heads up that I will be skipping next week’s newsletter as it is Thanksgiving weekend here in the United States and I will be giving thanks and celebrating with my family. To everyone who celebrates, happy early Thanksgiving!
Let’s go to the stars with data!
Thought-Provoking Data Viz
Quick hits. This report from Bryce Tech describes the worldwide space launches that took place in the third quarter of 2021. A majority of the 33 launches came from China (17) and the US (8). The world launched 226 spacecraft, 73% of which were communication satellites, and 90% of which were smallsats (weighing 600kg or less). There are more insights in the relatively short and easy-to-digest report, so I suggest checking it out!
Digging deeper. If you dig space launches, there are a plethora of resources available. Here are just a few that I’m a particular fan of:
Worldwide Space Launches (Google Calendar version). A Google Calendar filled with worldwide space launches. Simply subscribe and you can see it alongside your normal calendar!
Space Roundup. Other than being a fun newsletter, The Curious Astronaut also includes a list of the upcoming launches each week.
Quick hits. Meta, formerly Facebook, recently unveiled a prototype of a new haptic glove that allows users to physically feel what they’re interacting with in augmented or virtual reality. The glove works by inflating compartments, called actuators, along the user’s fingers and palm to provide a sense of touch. This development is in line with Meta’s recent rebrand and announcement of their focus on building the metaverse.
Digging deeper. Haptic technology is not new. Just think, any device that vibrates to communicate something via touch, like your phone, uses haptic technology. Though I’m NOT a fan of Meta and its dismal data privacy and data protection practices, I’m excited about this development because it will drive competition in the VR/metaverse/haptics space. I predict that haptic technology will play a large role in adoption of the metaverse—and AR/VR more broadly—because people will be more likely to partake in the metaverse if more of their senses are engaged.
Bonus. Meta published a deeper look into the development of their haptic gloves on their blog, if you’re interested in learning more.
Quick hits. A team of researchers used RoseTTAFold and AlphaFold2 to predict protein complexes in yeast. (Protein complexes are protein interactions and are involved in many, if not most, of our key biological processes.) The new AI predicted over 1500 pairs of proteins that were likely to interact, 800 of which have not yet been characterized. Though there are many potential applications of this technology, one exciting example is figuring out how to coerce cells to better accept medications.
Digging deeper. You know how I discussed the “protein folding problem”—how we barely know how proteins “fold”—a few months back? Well, we know even less about protein complexes because they require us to understand how proteins fold. 😅 I find this update particularly riveting because, as our AI models become more powerful, their ability to predict protein complexes will only increase, allowing us to predict human protein complexes and create more specialized medicines and treatments as a result.
Bonus. Are you into reading scientific papers? Have at it.
Quick hits. Elon Musk said that SpaceX’s Starship will begin testing with the Super Heavy (it’s booster) in early 2022 (Jan or Feb) after receiving clearance from the US’s Federal Aviation Administration. Elon further said that the combo will successfully reach orbit sometime in 2022 and start launching satellites and carrying payloads in 2023. The combination of the Starship and Super Heavy will be the largest rocket to ever fly, coming in at 394 feet (120 meters). That’s taller than the Statue of Liberty, which stands at 305 feet!
Starship won’t just give us the ability to send human explorers to Mars, the moon, and other destinations in the inner solar system, it offers us a two-order-of-magnitude increase in overall operational capability to do pretty much anything we want to do in space.
Quick hits. On Monday, Russia conducted a reckless anti-satellite test, blowing up a defunct 2,200kg Soviet satellite. The "successful" test resulted in 1,500+ new pieces of trackable debris, endangering the International Space Station (ISS) and its onboard astronauts (including cosmonauts from Russia!). Luckily, the ISS was closer to Earth than a lot of the debris, but astronauts were still told to take shelter. Unfortunately, the debris will remain in orbit for years.
Digging deeper. The Orbital Index’s discussion of the anti-satellite test provided juicy context. I’ll quote two rather ironic headlines here:
The Paris Peace Forum had just released its “Net Zero Space” declaration targeting global support by 2030 for generating no new hazardous debris and remediating extant debris.
Just last week, the ISS conducted a planned avoidance maneuver to avoid debris generated by China’s 2007 ASAT test.
🛰 Sierra Space. They “build and deliver the future of space transportation, destinations and infrastructure, offering “space-as-a-service” in support of the new space economy.” They raised $1.4 billion in Nov 2021 with a $4.5 billion valuation and are partnering with Blue Origin on the Orbital Reef project (video above). 🔥
🌱 SupPlant. The produce AI-enabled sensors that are placed in the soil and on plants that recommend when/how much to water the plant based on various inputs.