The United States Geological Survey (USGS) announced that the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, operated by EarthScope Consortium, has taken a significant step towards ensuring reliable internet communication for its monitoring equipment within the park. As part of an effort to improve data streaming and real-time monitoring of earthquake, volcanic, and hydrothermal activity, the park has started testing SpaceX's Starlink hardware, which has shown promising results in providing a stable and constant connection to the remote instruments. SpaceX operates a constellation of over 4,400 internet-beaming satellites operating in Low Earth Orbit designed to serve the world’s most remote regions.
The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory manages a network of GPS, borehole strainmeter, and seismometer instruments scattered throughout the park, all of which are essential for accurate data collection and analysis. Given the remote and often challenging locations of these monitoring stations, establishing a robust communication network has been an ongoing challenge for scientists and park staff.
Traditionally, a combination of radio, cellular, and satellite networks has been utilized to transmit data from these isolated instruments. Radio networks were favored for their low power consumption but were limited by line-of-sight connectivity. Cellular networks offered higher data rates but faced challenges during peak tourist seasons when increased usage caused congestion and impacted real-time data returns. Older satellite networks, while independent of terrestrial infrastructure, were phased out due to their higher power requirements. However, the arrival of SpaceX's Starlink service has brought a ray of hope for improved communication. Known for its high-speed capabilities and constant connectivity, Starlink has already replaced the satellite connection at Yellowstone park’s ‘Borehole station B945’ in a successful test in May 2023. This milestone marks the first application of Starlink's service on an instrument within Yellowstone National Park.
“The new Starlink service is capable of much higher speeds than other satellite networks and can more easily maintain a constant connection to stream real-time data,” said a spokesperson from EarthScope Consortium in the press release. "[...] If the positive results continue, we plan to transition more stations before the upcoming winter season, when these remote sites are snowed-in and rely heavily on autonomous systems."
The spokesperson noted that Starlink's power consumption remains higher than low-power alternatives like cell modems and radio transmitters. Engineers are now exploring the adaptability of Starlink for power-limited stations running on solar power, which will be essential for stations that are not connected to the park's electrical grid. “[...] So far the connection has been performing very well. If that continues, a few more stations may be switched over before this coming winter, when these snowed-in stations will be on their own,” they shared.
The implementation of reliable internet communication through Starlink hardware is expected to significantly enhance the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory's capabilities in monitoring and analyzing critical geological activity. By reducing data outages and interruptions, scientists hope to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the region's volcanic and seismic behavior, ultimately contributing to better disaster preparedness and public safety.
As the successful implementation of Starlink at borehole station B945 sets a positive precedent, stakeholders eagerly await the results of further tests and potential expansions of the service throughout the park. With the potential to revolutionize communication in remote areas like Yellowstone National Park, Starlink promises to be a game-changer for scientific research and environmental monitoring.
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Featured Image Source: USGS.gov
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.