about 5,000 miles ( 8,062 kilometers) above the Earth, which
reduces both latency and costs.
In addition, an O3b satellite has the capacity to handle
exponentially larger amounts
of data—up to 1. 6 gigabits
per second compared to the
traditional range of 1 to 10
megabits of data per second, says Stewart Sanders, CTO, O3b Networks, the Hague, the
Netherlands. And while high-orbit satellites have a broader reach, O3b satellites’ lower orbit
level provides a much lower latency and makes it easier to launch more of them as demand
for Internet access increases. O3b has successfully launched 12 satellites through three projects executed since 2008—each with a 27-month timeline from build to launch.
Yet the satellites’ closer position has also presented technical challenges. Because satellites
can’t be geostationary (residing in a fixed position) at lower orbits, the project team had to
develop movable ground antennas to maintain a strong signal with each satellite.
O3b’s projects also must contend with myriad stakeholders across sectors and borders.
“The satellite is made of components built by hundreds of different subcontractors,” Mr.
Sanders says. “There are also our own shareholders and the customers themselves.” The key
to managing so many voices, he says, is “keeping the information flowing to everyone.”
More Than Hot Air
Google has a different approach to extraterrestrial connectivity: balloons.
As part of a US$1billion program, Google’s Project Loon is building a fleet of high-altitude
balloons that will provide broadband service to unconnected regions. Project Loon started
with a 2013 pilot in New Zealand that put 30 balloons in the air. That project allowed
Google to refine its manufacturing process, decrease the number of balloon leaks and
improve its ability to pinpoint their positions.
The pilot project refined Google’s vision for expanded Internet access, and helped convince potential partners that Project Loon wasn’t so loony, after all. In December 2014,
French space agency CNES announced it would work with Google to deploy more than
But to succeed, airborne connectivity projects must have international support. “We
needed authorizations from 78 nations in the latitudes we wanted to use,” Philippe Coc-querez, CNES project head, told SpaceNews. “It’s a lot of diplomatic work.” —Novid Parsi
A Blooming Mess
Beware the algae. As water temperatures rise—and as fertilizer and sewage runoff
increases—lakes and rivers around the world are seeing a drastic uptick in harmful algal
blooms (HABs). Such blooms can rob these waters of oxygen and produce toxins, threatening the well-being of aquatic species as well as people who rely on affected areas as sources
of fresh water and food.
“The frequency and distribution of HABs and their impacts have increased considerably
in recent years, both in the United States and globally,” says Alan J. Lewitus, PhD, chief of
ecosystem stressors research branch, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA), Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.
Urban growth in the Philippines
faces both a looming crisis and a
In a country burdened with polluted and congested urban centers,
about half of its population— 50 million
Filipinos—now lives in cities. But that’s
expected to rise to 70 percent of the
nation, or 90 million people, by 2030.
Almost one-fourth of Filipino urbanites
reside in the sprawling capital of Manila,
one of the densest cities in the world.
Yet just 60 miles (97 kilometers)
from Manila, the Clark Green City project aims to turn a former U.S. military
base into the country’s first sustainable
city—and a model for others to come.
“Our vision is a metropolis that will
be a benchmark for urban development
in the Philippines,” Arnel Casanova,
president of the project sponsor—
state-run agency the Bases Conversion
and Development Authority—told The
Wall Street Journal.
Launched last year and set to be
complete in 2019, the first phase
covers 1,321 hectares ( 5 square miles)
and will cost US$1.35 billion, most
of it private investment. The following two phases of the 9,450-hectare
(36-square-mile) city will be completed over the next five decades. Powered
by renewable energy facilities, the new
city promises to generate US$36 billion
in annual output, or about 4 percent of
To get there, project leaders will
need to secure the buy-in of myriad
stakeholders. Real-estate professionals
have expressed skepticism about such
a large-scale ecologically sustainable
project that has never before been attempted in the Philippines. Area farmers also have voiced their criticism.
For all stakeholders, Mr. Casanova
added, the project’s benefits will have
to be better communicated. “Once
they know what is going on, they’ll
have full confidence in the project,” he
said. —M. Wright