Facebook Is Building Observatories: New Laser Communications Systems

Facebook is charging its lasers! Joke aside, Facebook is really building two observatories that will use lasers for new communications systems. The social networking company keeps on battling privacy issues and wary people, so how will these observatories be seen by the public and what will they be used for?

Back in 2015, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said something about the Connectivity Lab working on a “laser communication system” to shoot internet from the sky. Is this it?

Connecting to Satellites in Orbit

It seems that these two satellites will not be used as the current ones – for scientific purposes. The ones Facebook intends to build on Mount Wilson, California, “they could house Facebook’s first laser communications systems designed to connect to satellites in orbit” explains IEEE Spectrum.

These two observatories were revealed through the building permits that the County of Los Angeles has recently issued. The permits show that the construction is being handled by a small company called PointView Tech.

The permits reveal that two detached observatories will be built on the mountain peak. As for the small company, it is a subsidiary of Facebook, which IEEE Spectrum said it is currently building a satellite codenamed Athena.

According to the permission request from PointView in April from the US Federal Communications Commission, the company wanted to test if E-band radio signals can “be used for the provision of fixed and mobile broadband access in unserved and underserved areas.”

Will Lasers Be Better than Radio Transmitters?

There are improvements, but also issues with the laser communication system. First of all we must agree that it sounds cool!

Satellites are immune to hacking or interference, and laser communication can support higher data rates compared to radio transmitters. However, the issue is that space lasers for communication have a weakness: clouds!

According to the report from IEEE Spectrum, “in a series of papers published in 2017 and 2018, engineers Raichelle Aniceto and Slaven Moro subjected multiple components, including an optical modem, to radiation similar to that experienced on orbit.”

So far, neither Facebook nor the Mount Wilson Institute commented on the report or the observatories and the new communication system.

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Jeff Wilkinson

About the Author: Jeff Wilkinson

Jeff Wilkinson  is a Senior Politics Reporter at Debate Report covering provincial and national politics, . Before joining  Debate Report, Jeff worked on several provincial campaigns including Jack Layton. Jeff has worked as a freelance journalist in Toronto, having been published by over 20 outlets including CBC, the Center for Media and VICE.com.

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