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Albuquerque students send text messages to space

The UP Aerospace SpaceLoft 8 rocket carried eight payloads into space Tuesday, reaching a speed of more than 4,000 feet per second. Greg Sorber / Albuquerque Journal

The UP Aerospace SpaceLoft 8 rocket carried eight payloads into space Tuesday, reaching a speed of more than 4,000 feet per second.
Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal

TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES – What do you text when you text to space?

Not “hey” or “what’s up” – at least not the first time. Albuquerque’s Satwest LLC on Tuesday successfully sent text messages to a satellite phone in space, and it was Bosque School seniors who tapped out the messages, all famous phrases from movies.

The satellite phone distributor’s first text to reach space was a line by Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Terminator 2,” the 1991 science fiction action flick: “Hasta la vista, baby.”

The company’s satellite phone was one of eight active payloads rocketed to 383,000 feet – more than 72 miles – in a flight powered by an UP Aerospace rocket and funded by NASA. Satwest’s text-messaging success was a first step toward providing satellite communications in space as it currently does on the ground and in the air.

It took two minutes to reach that altitude; the 14-minute flight included about four minutes in space, which begins at 250,000 feet.

The UP Aerospace rocket reached a speed of 4,039 feet per second, or Mach 3.7.

While teacher Ben Curry’s advanced physics students typed texts online from a classroom in Albuquerque, Satwest President and Chief Executive M. Brian Barnett monitored the launch from Spaceport America.

As a loudspeaker broadcasting from mission control boomed “380,000 feet and counting,” with the rocket well out of sight, Barnett announced, “All the messages are going off well.”

Barnett said he wants Satwest to provide satellite voice and Internet service to Virgin Galactic passengers, so that while up in space they can text, tweet and call friends and family on Earth.

Dick Blumenhein, left, Satwest technical adviser, and M. Brian Barnett, president of the satellite phone distributor, attend the launch Tuesday that would test whether text messages could reach space. Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal

Dick Blumenhein, left, Satwest technical adviser, and M. Brian Barnett, president of the satellite phone distributor, attend the launch Tuesday that would test whether text messages could reach space.
Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal

Spaceport America, funded by $209 million in taxpayer money, marked the day’s launch as its 20th. Although Virgin Galactic serves as the anchor tenant, the company is not yet flying from New Mexico. The spaceport has so far hosted launches by other companies including UP Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace and will soon welcome SpaceX.

Student Miles Horton said in a phone interview that while he texts all the time with friends, “this time we put a little more thought behind it.”

“It’s not ‘hey’ or ‘what’s up,’ ” said Horton, whose message was the first to reach space. “We spent a long time deciding which movie quotes we wanted to send.”

The students sent 30 texts, and 12 were successfully delivered.

Another aspect of Satwest’s experiment failed, however, caught by an all-too-familiar glitch: Although Barnett had planned to make the company’s first call to space, the connection dropped before the rocket left the ground.

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