Last night at 8:52 PM, the NASA STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) mission launched from NASA in Cape Canaveral, Florida. STEREO is the third mission in NASA's Solar Terrestrial Probes Program whose goal is to predict, and prepare for stormy "space weather".
What is "STEREO", you may ask .. ?
A quote from NASA, and creator, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Labratory:
"The two-year STEREO mission is the first to take measurements of the sun and solar wind in 3-dimension. This new view will improve our understanding of space weather and its impact on the Earth. ".. The mission will employ two nearly identical space-based observatories to provide the first-ever, 3-D stereoscopic images to study the nature of coronal mass ejections, or CME's."
Why's all this important?
Solar weather, particularly these CME's can disrupt everything in their path that is microelectronics, e.g communications satellites, GPS systems et al, or even disable these satellites beyond what their remote repair procedures can cure.
A CME is typically a billion tons of energized matter, travelling at anywhere from one to five million miles per hour, and solar energetic particles generated by CME's can reach earth in sometimes 20 minutes. This nice, short video on CME's from NASA is a good look at this.
There's an eleven year cycle to solar weather, and researchers expect that the next cycle will begin in late 2007 or early 2008—about six to 12 months later than earlier predictions. Moreover, a little publicized fact:
The upcoming period threatens to be as much as 50% stronger than the previous cycle, (strong enough to cause blackouts) and poses a pretty serious threat to satellites for wireless communication networks.
The STEREO mission's twin observatories will provide a great basis for early-warning systems that satellite providers can use to possibly put communications satellites in a "safe" mode, or shielded mode, to protect themselves.
Bullet-proofing the satellites integral to our wireless communications especially when, for instance, mission critical scenarios require the best possible speech signals to get from here to there, makes a better world for wireless communications, and in the long run.. better wireless speech recognition - what we're all about.
GPS systems, cellphones, satellite phones, speech data transport et al can be crippled, and without warning or possibility of recovery. NASA's mission offers the ground floor for a system to preempt satellite disruption or damage, and the hundreds of millions of dollars often earmarked for replacement/repair in such an event could (we hope) be dedicated to improving the quality of wireless communications, and therefore better, more reliable wireless speech recognition for everyone!