To everyday people, the Internet of Things may seem like a nebulous term. From smart locks to Apple Watches, it’s made up of anything on Earth connected to the Internet. And this week, a sensor-laden spacecraft is bringing the network to even more amazing heights.
Launching Feb. 23 at 12 p.m. ET, Pegasus II, an experimental high altitude balloon, is carrying a payload of sensors and instruments 20 miles into the atmosphere. Backed by Microsoft, the experiment can be followed by anyone with a smartphone, including students, researchers, stargazers, or just daydreamers. It aims to beam its information not just back to Earth, but to anyone who wants to play the role of Mission Control.
Taking off from Kankakee, Ill., the app-connected aerial will carry six cameras, seven radios, and 38 sensors. It will relay everything from meteorological data to telemetry information to anyone with the Pegasus Mission app (available on Android, iOS, and Windows Phone). But you don’t need to have a space-age communicator to follow along — you can also receive updates via SMS on your old-school cellphone.
But for the best connection to the clouds, the app is where it’s at. People using the smartphone apps can track the satellite on a map, parse its varied atmospheric data, and message the craft while it’s in flight. That’s an important part of the experiment, says Matt Long, a principal software engineer with Microsoft who’s leading the project. “[Pegasus II] challenges the assumptions about what is possible and attempts experiments in real-time communications that have never been done before in the remote and hostile environment of the upper atmosphere,” he says.
The launch is an extension of Pegasus I, which took flight last fall and explored whether the craft (and its Microsoft Azure cloud-backed technologies) had the right stuff to communicate without latency and at scale with a bunch of smartphone-packing earthlings.
Pegasus II continues that research. But if you want to follow along, you better think fast. According to the 50-person launch team’s calculations, the satellite will reach its target altitude approximately 100 minutes after launch — and just an hour later, it will be back on the ground.