If humans colonize other planets and they can’t share it on Instagram, did it really happen? Fortunately, one Texas startup may have the answer: build an interplanetary internet.
Hypergiant, a company better known for its A.I. software, has turned its attention to expanding the world’s largest computer network beyond the Earth. The moon, Mars, and beyond could get connected to all the musings and memes accessible on the world wide web, using a relay network of satellites that will also host an archive of human knowledge. It may sound like a rather pointless endeavor — who lives on the moon? — but that could soon change.
“What it will create is the infrastructure in space for humanity to eventually become a multi-planetary species,” Hypergiant CEO Ben Lamm tells Inverse.
A new space race is underway to reduce rocket costs and pave the way for bolder missions, like settlements on far-flung planets. Elon Musk’s SpaceX wants to establish a colony on Mars, Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos is aiming for a series of manmade worlds orbiting close by, and NASA has plans to build a lunar gateway that will orbit the moon, a pit-stop between Earth and Mars.
HOUSTON, Texas — In this sprawling city is the headquarters for Hypergiant Galactic Systems, a firm started by Ben Lamm, Will Womble, and John Fremont. In March, the company revealed its plans to start laying the foundations for a multi-planetary internet.
Hypergiant, founded in 2018 and listed on Crunchbase with around 100 to 250 employees, is a whirlwind of buzzwords. Its website declares that the “fourth industrial revolution of machine intelligence is real,” and that it can offer A.I.-powered solutions for businesses. Its space-age site, which bears resemblance to a sci-fi video game, lists six company divisions focused around machine learning:
- Space Age Solutions, which designs and builds software;
- Sensory Sciences, which builds camera-powered environment monitoring;
- Ventures, which invests in other machine learning companies;
- The previously-mentioned Galactic Systems;
- Two further divisions, scribbled out and covered with “Top Secret” logos to mimic redacted documents.
Considering the sheer ambition of the first four divisions, it’s hard to fathom what could be hiding behind doors number five and six.
Hypergiant Galactic’s space-based communications system will use small satellites to create a relay network, bouncing signals between Earth and humans in space. The first Mars colonizers may need to focus on life support systems, but at least they could check e-mail during breaks in the work.
The first phase, expected to cost in the tens of millions of dollars, would set up a small network between the moon, Earth and Mars. This would essentially act as a relay network, bouncing internet signals between the planets using carefully-placed satellites. The firm’s Smart Satellite Platform will enable satellites to pinpoint the best route to ping signals through this mesh using A.I. smarts. Hypergiant Galactic claims it is using an October 2018 research paper, from a team at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and University of Helsinki, as its model for developing an interplanetary internet.
It would also store a 30-million page archive of human knowledge provided by the Arch Mission Foundation. This includes 25,000 books, collections from Project Gutenberg, and the whole of the English language Wikipedia. The Long Now Foundation Rosetta and PanLex datasets will contain the resources to discover 5,000 languages, offering 1.5 billion cross-translations to build up a picture of humanity’s patchwork of language.
The archive is called the “Lagrange Library,” and it’s part of the foundation’s “Billion Year Archive” project that aims to establish a record of humanity that will last long after its extinction. The goal is to spread out these archives as much as possible, reducing the risk that they will ever be lost. Hypergiant Galactic’s network will store, forward and synchronize this set of data across its interplanetary network, spreading it through the solar system.
As per the project’s page:
The Billion Year Archive is the largest footprint and longest duration engineering project in human history. It is also the first practical initiative with potential to guarantee that our species and civilization will never be lost. The more locations that Arch Libraries that are sent to, the greater the probability that at least some of them will survive to be discovered in the distant future.
The first step in this project was when the foundation supplied Elon Musk with the Isaac Asimov Foundation sci-fi book trilogy on a “5D quartz laser storage device.” The record was placed inside Musk’s red Tesla Roadster and launched into space on a Falcon Heavy.
Another step in the Arch Mission Foundation’s project, an April launch to the moon, didn’t go so well. The team sent up a lunar lander carrying a 30-million-page archive, as well as other cargo including tardigrades, the resilient water bear-like creatures that can survive extreme conditions. The lander crashed, leaving the archive’s survival in question. The tardigrades, which spilled across the moon’s surface, sparked controversy this week after it emerged they may also have survived the crash.
As Hypergiant Galactic’s first satellite gears up for launch, it’s a harsh reminder from one of its own partners that success is not a certainty.
Hypergiant is planning to launch a cubesat — the industry term for a small, cube-shaped satellite — late next year. This will act as the first satellite in the network. It will be situated at a LaGrange point between the Earth and moon, where forces are ideally balanced to station a satellite for long periods, which will contain the large backup of Earth’s data.
The goal will be to demonstrate how the broader network could work in practice. It will send and receive large amounts of data, using the Arch Mission Foundation’s collection as a test set, to demonstrate its resilience. The satellite will also be fitted with cameras and sensors to detect obstacles, gathering data that could prove useful for planning a future launch.
If it all goes well, a second launch is planned for mid-2021, before further launches on an “ongoing basis.” That small initial cubesat launch could set up further expansion, eventually, one day, realizing Hypergiant’s overall dream of an internet-connected space species.
If those claims sound too bold to be true, you’re not the first to think so. SpaceNews opined that the firm is “perhaps the strongest sign to date that the space industry is in some kind of bubble.”
In fact, the signs of an overinflated space industry led venture capital firm SpaceFund to start ranking space-faring startups based on which ones are realistic at the start of this year. Rick Tumlinsom, the fund’s founder, told Inverse in February that he sees the industry as having an “overabundance” of companies in terms of available markets. (However, the fund does not currently list Hypergiant.)
Amid an excited market, filled with what Tumlinson refers to as “young male engineers who like rockets,” Hypergiant stands out for its chutzpah.
Inverse spoke with Lamm to find out more about this plan for the space internet.
Inverse: Hypergiant announced its plans to introduce interplanetary internet back in March. How is progress?
Lamm: This is an ongoing project that’s a critical development at Hypergiant Industries. Essentially, we’re working to build digital telephone poles with a laser-based relay system that’s capable of delivering data and communication within Local Solar (between the Earth, Moon and Mars). Last March, we set out to begin testing a commercial-grade interplanetary internet, as an infrastructure for all future space activity. Our goal is to support the inevitable, that humanity becomes an interplanetary species, and we need the infrastructure in space to support that.
"We’re working to build digital telephone poles
We’re progressing quite well. In February, we launched Hypergiant Galactic Systems, which focuses on A.I.-driven aerospace and astronautic software and hardware for the space industry, which included the acquisition of SEOPS (Satellite & Extraterrestrial Operations & Procedures), a satellite deployment and services provider offering proprietary launch and deployment systems for the CubeSat and Microsat markets. The ability to harness the capabilities of CubeSats and Microsats gives us a jump start towards making interplanetary internet a reality. But, this is a long project: we will be at it for at least the next 10-12 years. Big ambitious projects take time and dedication but we know this is a necessity, and we are going to make it a reality. We have plans to demo a working simulation, as well as part of our research before the end of the year.
I: Why the focus on interplanetary internet, while everyone is still on Earth?
L: If we’re going to be a multi-planet species, at a minimum, we need to have critical infrastructure in space. That means we need data and communications, in order to get us there —- with a slew of other critical infrastructure. This will also be incredibly helpful for deeper space missions, as we begin sending humans to Mars, and probes further than ever before. Additionally, it will benefit planetary defense — there was recently an asteroid that came within 45,000 miles of earth with little warning.
I: Jeff Bezos criticized Mars colonies because data speeds would be too slow versus establishing a colony near Earth’s orbit, what do you make of that?
L: Data speeds may be too slow to colonize Mars in the near future, however like most space exploration, interplanetary internet requires the establishment of basic infrastructure first. We agree that the basic next step is a colony on the moon or in near space, but we will eventually get to Mars - it is inevitable. Establishing a colony within Local Solar (between the Earth, Moon and eventually Mars) initially could reap faster data speeds. As we figure out these critical next steps, we’ll be able to better determine how fast data speeds can reach with regards to Mars. We are taking small steps that result in big leaps, but all of that is guided by big audacious goals. Short-term thinking delivers only short-term results. Just like the existing internet, we are working on various data storage and cache models to localized data, which is a separate issue from communications.
I: How fast will the internet be? Will this enable a true multi-planetary species?
L: Interplanetary internet will need to be as fast and efficient as earth-based internet eventually —- but that will take time. We will get there as a species over time but will also need to do smart cache and various nodes to ensure speed. As the technology on earth evolves, we need to be ensuring its use-case in space. What it will create is the infrastructure in space for humanity to eventually become a multi-planetary species.
I: What are some of the biggest issues with establishing an interplanetary internet?
L: This may come as a surprise, but the biggest issue with establishing interplanetary internet is jurisdiction. I believe humans already have the technology and vision to build it, it’s more a matter of, when will we be permitted to implement it and how will it be funded? We need the right coalition of partners and people supporting the growth of these industries. We do not believe it will be a 100 percent Hypergiant Industries project because this will require the support of many great companies and agencies over a period of time. Many of the protocols have been established for years. It is not simply applying new technologies to their protocols.
I: What do you make of Starlink [SpaceX’s laser-based satellite internet project]?
L: It’s a grid of Geo-Synchronized satellite systems. The A.I. behind Starlink keeps everything in sync in order to determine the most efficient pathways to deliver communications on earth. It’s a great concept and we all know communications on Earth should be more efficient than it is. We are happy someone is focused on this massive issue.
At Hypergiant, we’re more focused on space communications and preparing humanity for the next fifty to a hundred years; using AI and satellites to make data and communications more efficient in space. This is all to ensure the safety and cohesiveness of deep space missions, which is paramount to us.
I: What does the internet look like in the future? Five years, 10 years from now?
L: Computing power is rapidly changing. With the advances in 5G, we will see our ability to connect to the internet change through the use of Nano-devices. At the same time, we will see an increase in AR/VR interfaces and use cases. The internet is a mechanism by which we realize vastly changing human experiences, and we are just beginning to explore what’s possible: Implantable chips with internet access for gameplay and work? Possible. Contact lenses that access your work files? Possible. Even eventual quantum computing? Possible. What matters though, is the thoughtful and democratic engagement around the internet, and that as computing power, everyone advances with it.