NEWS

9 July 2024

Darwin features in ESA Space for Automotive report

Darwin features in ESA Space for Automotive report

In June, the European Space Agency (ESA) published the report ‘Space for Automotive: Use Cases and Market Opportunities’. This report looks at how modern technology is transforming the automotive industry, and at the role the space industry can play. In particular, the report talks about the importance of reliable connectivity for modern vehicles, especially self-driving vehicles.

In June, the European Space Agency (ESA) published the report ‘Space for Automotive: Use Cases and Market Opportunities’. This report looks at how modern technology is transforming the automotive industry, and at the role the space industry can play. In particular, the report talks about the importance of reliable connectivity for modern vehicles, especially self-driving vehicles. Rural areas, which are often underserved by public transport, could see strong benefits from self-driving vehicles. However, ESA notes that drivers on major European routes are disconnected for an estimated 12.4% of the time, particularly in rural areas. This creates a challenge: how do autonomous vehicles remain connected in areas with poor connectivity? Darwin was originally founded to address this challenge, and ESA’s support has played an important role in our work. The key to reliable connectivity lies in combining terrestrial networks with satellites. A vehicle is only able to connect to a terrestrial network if there’s a communications tower within range. This is why communications are less reliable in rural areas, which tend to have fewer communications towers than cities. However, if a vehicle is given the ability to communicate with satellites, it can remain connected anywhere it has a direct line of sight to the sky, making satellites ideal for rural connectivity. Darwin’s Hybrid User Terminal technology switches seamlessly between networks depending on availability, allowing vehicles to remain connected without interruption while driving. If a vehicle drives beyond the range of one network, another network will already be connected and ready to go. As the terminal can connect to both terrestrial and satellite networks, it can quickly adapt to changes in environment and pick up a signal almost anywhere. You can find ESA’s quick profile of Darwin’s work on page five of the report, but we’ve also included it below: Darwin Innovation Group, founded in 2019 with the goal of achieving reliable and widespread connectivity in autonomous driving, has developed a solution that combines terrestrial and satellite communications to overcome the limitations of each. Crucial to their success has been the support of the European Space Agency under the 5G/6G programme, which provided both funding and expertise to carry out the project. Traditional terrestrial networks often fail in remote areas or when a car moves in and out of range. Satellite networks, on the other hand, offer broad coverage but can be expensive and complex to integrate. By combining these technologies, Darwin’s Hybrid User Terminal seamlessly switches between networks, ensuring a constant connection for users on the move. This is particularly important for connected and autonomous vehicles. By gathering data from these vehicles, [Darwin] are not only improving their own services but also helping partners in the insurance sector, such as Aviva. With reliable connectivity, these vehicles can bridge gaps in rural public transport, reducing both dependence on single-occupancy vehicles and emissions. The full ESA report is available here. Take a look to learn more about how the automotive sector is changing, and about how the space sector can offer its support. Darwin Innovation Group is a UK-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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25 June 2024

One small step: the Apollo 11 moon landing

One small step: the Apollo 11 moon landing

As the first time humans walked on the moon, Apollo 11 is the Apollo mission you’ll hear most people talking about. In today’s post we’ll take a look at how Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made it to the moon’s surface, and at what stayed behind when they left.

We’ve already given a general overview of the Apollo moon landings and the Apollo spacecraft, and we’ve talked about Apollo 7 to Apollo 10. Over the rest of our Apollo article series, we’ll be taking a closer look at each of the individual Apollo missions from Apollo 11, the first crewed moon landing, to Apollo 17, the last time to date that humanity set foot on the lunar surface. As the first time humans walked on the moon, Apollo 11 is the Apollo mission you’ll hear most people talking about. In today’s post we’ll take a look at how Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made it to the moon’s surface, and at what stayed behind when they left. The Apollo 11 crew and patch You’ve probably already heard the names of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first two people to walk on the moon. Armstrong was the commander and Aldrin was the lunar module pilot; you can read more about these roles in our post on the Apollo spacecraft. Michael Collins isn’t as much of a household name, but he played an essential role in Apollo 11 as the command module pilot. While Armstrong and Aldrin went down to the lunar surface, Collins remained in the main body of the spacecraft, orbiting the moon alone, to help ensure they would be able to return safely. Collins also designed the emblem for the mission patch, showing a bald eagle coming in to land on the moon. The emblems for previous crewed Apollo missions had included the names of the crew, but the Apollo 11 crew decided to leave their names off it, as they wanted the patch to represent all the many people who had made the moon landing possible. The eagle on the patch is carrying an olive branch: a symbol of peace. Originally, it was planned to be carrying this branch in its beak. Due to concerns that the eagle’s extended talons looked too warlike, the design was changed so it was instead gripping the branch with its feet. The lunar module for the Apollo 11 mission was named Eagle, leading to Armstrong’s famous phrase ‘The Eagle has landed’ when it touched down on the moon. Apollo 11 launch, landing and global impact Like all the Apollo missions from Apollo 8 onwards, Apollo 11 took off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch took place on 16 July 1969, and a few days later Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the surface of the moon, at the landing site that he and Aldrin had named ‘Tranquility Base’. The moon landing was a huge event, and the black-and-white live broadcast was watched by an estimated 650 million people around the world: close to a fifth of the global population at the time. If you were around in 1969, there’s a good chance you remember watching it. For the UK, Armstrong stepped onto the moon at around 4 am on 21 July, and BBC One stayed on air throughout the night to cover the event; it was the BBC’s first all-night broadcast. If you’re interested in how the moon landing felt for the people on the ground, the Guardian has an interesting collection of accounts from members of the public. What did Armstrong and Aldrin do on the moon? Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent 21 hours and 36 minutes on the moon, but most of that time was spent inside the lunar lander. They were actually on the moon’s surface, outside the lander, for about two and a half hours on a single excursion. After the crew of Apollo 11 had tested the waters, later Apollo astronauts would spend longer periods on the surface of the moon. Like later Apollo astronauts, the Apollo 11 crew had undergone scientific training as well as training in how to operate the spacecraft. They’d been educated in various scientific fields, with a focus on geology, so they would be able to make meaningful scientific observations on the moon. In NASA’s transcript of Armstrong and Aldrin stepping onto the surface, the astronauts report various details about the lunar surface and the physics of moving around on the moon: Armstrong: The surface appears to be very, very fine grained, as you get close to it. It's almost like a powder ... I can kick it up loosely with my toe. It does adhere in fine layers, like powdered charcoal, to the sole and sides of my boots ... There seems to be no difficulty in moving around – as we suspected. It's even perhaps easier than the simulations of one-sixth [gravity] that we performed in the various simulations on the ground. It's absolutely no trouble to walk around. Aldrin: The mass of the backpack does have some effect in inertia ... Traction seems quite good ... You do have to be rather careful to keep track of where your centre of mass is. Sometimes, it takes about two or three paces to make sure you've got your feet underneath you. Apollo 11 also gathered about 21 kg of lunar dust, soil and rocks to be returned to Earth for later study. Decades later, some of this soil would be used in experiments to determine whether it might be possible to grow plants on the moon. While on the moon’s surface, Armstrong and Aldrin received a call from Richard Nixon, the US president at the time, to congratulate them on their achievement. ‘For one priceless moment in the whole history of man,’ the president said, ‘all the people on this Earth are truly one: one in their pride in what you have done, and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.’ After their moonwalk, Armstrong and Aldrin tried to sleep in the lunar lander before leaving the moon. The original plan had been for them to sleep before stepping onto the surface instead, but they had asked permission to do the moonwalk first, as they were understandably excited to explore. The astronauts struggled to sleep on the moon. The lunar lander was cramped, noisy, too cold and too bright, and there was nothing to use as a bed. NASA learnt from Armstrong and Aldrin’s uncomfortable experience, and later Apollo missions were equipped with blankets and hammocks. What did Apollo 11 leave on the moon? As mentioned, Apollo 11 collected some material from the moon’s surface, but it also left some things behind. Some of these were tools such as tongs, scoops and a hammer, discarded to save weight, but others were more significant. The Apollo 11 crew placed several items on the moon to honour fellow spacefarers who had passed away, both from their own country and from overseas. Armstrong and Aldrin left behind an Apollo 1 patch, honouring Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, the crew of Apollo 1, who were killed in a fire during a launch rehearsal. They also left two Soviet medals that had been awarded posthumously to the Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Komarov. One item left on the moon was a coin-sized silicon disc inscribed with microscopic messages of goodwill from the leaders of 73 countries. You can read the messages over here. The Apollo 11 crew installed a retroreflector on the moon: an array of mirrors, designed to reflect a beam of light back the way it came rather than at an angle. Similar retroreflectors were also left on the moon by Apollo 14 and Apollo 15. The retroreflectors left behind by the Apollo missions are used to this day to measure the exact distance between the Earth and the moon, by bouncing laser pulses off the reflectors and calculating how long it takes the light to return to Earth. It’s not far off the way LiDAR works. Perhaps most famously, Apollo 11 left behind an American flag, with a horizontal bar holding it up at the top to prevent it from drooping in the absence of wind. This flag was purely a symbolic gesture, rather than an attempt to claim the moon as US territory, as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty declares that nations cannot claim ownership of celestial bodies. The flag wasn’t standing for long, though. Aldrin saw it being knocked over by the exhaust as the lunar lander took off. The flags planted by later Apollo missions were set down further from the lander. Speaking of the lunar lander, the lower part of it remained on the moon. As we mentioned in our article on the Apollo spacecraft, the lunar module was divided into a lower descent stage and an upper ascent stage. When it was time for Armstrong and Aldrin to return to the main Apollo spacecraft, the ascent stage used the descent stage as a launchpad to take off, leaving the descent stage of the lander on the moon. There’s also a plaque at the Apollo 11 landing site, attached to the descent stage of the lunar lander. Above the signatures of the three Apollo 11 crew members and President Nixon, the plaque reads: Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon July 1969, AD We came in peace for all mankind Similar plaques were left to commemorate all the Apollo landings that followed. To emphasise the message of peace, Neil Armstrong left behind a small olive branch symbol made of gold. You can see it in the below message from the NASA History Office’s Twitter account: Here's a fun fact you might not know about the Moon landing: This small olive branch crafted in gold was left on the Moon's surface by the Apollo 11 crew. Astronaut Neil Armstrong left it to emphasize that they came in peace for all humankind. pic.twitter.com/jVQQktNQ4m— NASA History Office (@NASAhistory) July 21, 2020 Perhaps most strikingly, Armstrong and Aldrin left behind their own footprints. With no wind or rain to disturb them, the footprints of the first people to walk on the moon are still there after five decades and will probably remain for a long time. Images: NASA Darwin Innovation Group is a UK-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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12 June 2024

Apollo 9 and Apollo 10: preparing for landing

Apollo 9 and Apollo 10: preparing for landing

Our Apollo article series is getting closer to humanity’s first steps on the moon, taken during Apollo 11. Before that, though, we’re going to take a look at Apollo 9 and Apollo 10. These crewed missions tested the spacecraft’s lunar module, making sure that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would be able to land safely on the moon’s surface a few months later.

Our Apollo article series is getting closer to humanity’s first steps on the moon, taken during Apollo 11. Before that, though, we’re going to take a look at Apollo 9 and Apollo 10. These crewed missions tested the spacecraft’s lunar module, making sure that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would be able to land safely on the moon’s surface a few months later. Apollo 9 Apollo 9 launched on 3 March 1969. The crew were commander Jim McDivitt, lunar module pilot Rusty Schweickart and command module pilot Dave Scott. Scott would return to space two years later as the commander of Apollo 15, so we’ll be talking more about him in a later article. Although Apollo 8 had travelled all the way to the moon, the Apollo 9 mission was conducted closer to home. Apollo 9 flew in low Earth orbit, its altitude varying between about 200 and 500 km. For comparison, the International Space Station, which had its first launch about three decades later, orbits at an altitude of about 400 km. This was the first mission to test the performance of the Apollo spacesuit outside a spacecraft. Schweickart went out into space in the suit and spent a little under an hour spacewalking, ensuring that the suit’s life support systems functioned correctly. This suit would later be used by astronauts walking on the moon. It was absolutely essential for the spacesuits to work correctly. In order for the Apollo astronauts to survive on the moon’s surface, their suits needed to address many different issues. You can learn about some of the Apollo spacesuit’s functions in our first Apollo article. Apollo 9 was also the first flight to take the Apollo lunar module into space. The lunar module was the part of the spacecraft that was designed to take the astronauts down to the moon’s surface and return them to the main spacecraft afterwards. It wouldn’t be anywhere near the moon on this occasion, but the mission was an opportunity to ensure it could be flown as expected. During the mission, the crew detached the lunar module from the command and service module, which formed the main body of the Apollo spacecraft. McDivitt and Schweickart flew the lunar module for several hours before docking with the main spacecraft and joining Scott in the command module. Before detaching the lunar module, the crew also tested the lunar module’s engine while docked to the main spacecraft, to see whether the lunar module could provide backup propulsion for the spacecraft as a whole if the main engine in the service module failed. During the later Apollo 13 mission, that possibility of engine trouble became a reality. After an explosion in the service module compromised the spacecraft’s fuel cells, the Apollo 13 crew had to rely on the lunar module’s engine to get them safely home. In a later article, we’ll talk in more depth about Apollo 13. Apollo 10 Apollo 10 took off on 18 May 1969, crewed by commander Tom Stafford, lunar module pilot Gene Cernan and command module pilot John Young. Young and Cernan would later command their own missions to the moon; Young walked on the lunar surface during Apollo 16, and Cernan during Apollo 17. Each Apollo mission had its own name for the spacecraft. In the case of Apollo 10, the command module was named Charlie Brown and the lunar module was named Snoopy, after the characters from the Peanuts comic strip. It’s not the only time Snoopy has been to space; he was also aboard Artemis I in the form of a soft toy. Apollo 10 was essentially a full rehearsal for the planned moon landing during Apollo 11. The spacecraft reached the moon and went into lunar orbit. Stafford and Cernan took the lunar module close to the moon’s surface and returned in it to the main spacecraft, as if they were performing a moon landing, although they didn’t actually land; at their closest point, they were about 14 km from the moon. NASA wanted to be certain that everything would work as expected for the actual landing. There was an alarming moment when Stafford and Cernan fired the lunar module’s engines and, due to an incorrectly positioned switch, the module started spinning wildly. This was a case of human error, which is something that also affects Earth-based vehicles and which self-driving vehicles may help to reduce. Fortunately, they were able to get the situation under control and returned safely to the main spacecraft. The Apollo 10 crew returned to Earth at 39,938 km/h: the fastest speed at which humans have ever travelled. The rehearsal had been a success, and, with the knowledge gathered from this mission and the ones preceding it, humanity was finally ready to land on the moon. Two months later, during Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong would become the first person to step onto the lunar surface. We’ll talk more about that mission in the next article of our Apollo series. Cover image: NASA Darwin Innovation Group is a UK-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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23 May 2024

Apollo 7 and Apollo 8: approaching the moon

Apollo 7 and Apollo 8: approaching the moon

We kicked off our series of Apollo articles with a general introduction to the Apollo moon missions and a look at the Apollo spacecraft. Before we get to the moon landings, we’re going to take a look at the earlier crewed missions that made the landings possible. In this article, we’re reflecting on Apollo 7 and Apollo 8, the first crewed Apollo missions to make it into space.

We kicked off our series of Apollo articles with a general introduction to the Apollo moon missions and a look at the Apollo spacecraft. Before we get to the moon landings, we’re going to take a look at the earlier crewed missions that made the landings possible. In this article, we’re reflecting on Apollo 7 and Apollo 8, the first crewed Apollo missions to make it into space. Apollo 7 The first planned crewed mission of the Apollo programme, Apollo 1, never flew. It was intended to launch in February 1967, but the crew – Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee – were killed in a fire during a launch rehearsal. In response to this tragedy, NASA delayed the programme in order to ensure that the spacecraft was made safe. Apollo 7, the programme’s first successful crewed launch, eventually took off on 11 October 1968. On board were commander Wally Schirra, lunar module pilot Walt Cunningham and command module pilot Donn Eisele. Although there was no lunar module aboard Apollo 7 or Apollo 8, a member of the crew would still be assigned the role of ‘lunar module pilot’. Apollo 7’s purpose was to test the crewed Apollo spacecraft and simulate manoeuvres in low Earth orbit, so it didn’t travel to the moon. Whereas the later moon-bound missions were launched by a Saturn V rocket, Apollo 7, which didn’t have as far to travel, was launched by the less powerful Saturn IB. The mission went well, but the crew didn’t have a great time. All three of the astronauts developed a cold shortly into the flight. As NASA writes, having a cold can be particularly unpleasant when you’re in orbit: A cold is uncomfortable enough on the ground, but in weightlessness it presents a different problem. Mucus accumulates, fills the nasal passages and does not drain from the head. The only relief is to blow hard, which is painful to the ear drums. The crew had no choice but to endure their symptoms with the help of aspirin and decongestants. The astronauts landed safely after eleven days in space, and NASA used what they’d learnt from the mission to refine the Apollo spacecraft for future launches. Schirra and Eisele, meanwhile, after their unpleasant experience with illness in space, went on to advertise decongestants on television. Apollo 8 Apollo 8 was the first spacecraft to reach and orbit the moon, although it didn’t land. Its crew, the first people ever to travel to the moon, consisted of commander Frank Borman, lunar module pilot Bill Anders and command module pilot Jim Lovell. Lovell actually flew on two different Apollo missions, so we’ll talk more about him when we get to Apollo 13. The moon rotates slowly as it orbits the Earth, keeping the same side facing the Earth at all times. This is why the pattern on the moon’s surface always looks the same from Earth. Because of this, Borman, Lovell and Anders were also the first people to see the far side of the moon. As with Apollo 7, there were some struggles with illness aboard Apollo 8. Borman suffered from what’s now known as space sickness: nausea and disorientation caused by the change of gravity in orbit. Apollo 8 launched on 21 December 1968 and landed on 27 December, meaning that Borman, Lovell and Anders spent Christmas in space. From lunar orbit, they sent a message to Earth: a short reading from the Bible, a ‘Merry Christmas’, and good wishes for everyone on the planet. Using satellite communications, the message was broadcast on television and radio around the world. On Christmas Day, the astronauts enjoyed a full Christmas meal in the command module, although they opted not to drink the brandy shots on offer in case anything went wrong. During the mission, Anders took the famous photograph ‘Earthrise’, showing a half-Earth rising above the lunar surface. It was the first time people had seen the Earth from another celestial body. In our next Apollo article, we’ll talk about Apollo 9 and 10, which marked the first time the Apollo lunar module was flown in space. Later, during Apollo 11, this lunar module would take humans down to the surface of the moon. Images: NASA Darwin Innovation Group is a UK-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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7 May 2024

Darwin co-founder speaks at Saïd Business School

Darwin co-founder speaks at Saïd Business School

In April 2024, Darwin’s co-founder Daniela Petrovic had the opportunity to speak to MBA students at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. It was the second time Daniela had spoken at the business school, having previously been invited as a guest lecturer in February 2023.

In April 2024, Darwin’s co-founder Daniela Petrovic had the opportunity to speak to MBA students at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. It was the second time Daniela had spoken at the business school, having previously been invited as a guest lecturer in February 2023. Founded in 1996, Saïd Business School is a highly regarded centre for business and management studies. Its alumni include Dame Emily Lawson, who received a damehood in the 2022 New Year Honours for leading the NHS’s COVID-19 vaccination programme. Daniela delivered a lecture on the innovation ecosystem approach to digital transformation, took questions and encouraged discussion. The conversation examined the challenges and opportunities presented by new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, and the ways that industry and government can best make use of this emergent technology. ‘It was a pleasure to go back to my old school and provide insights to this year’s cohort of MBA students,’ Daniela said. ‘We’re honoured to see Darwin used as an emergent tech company example for the future leaders at one of the world’s most prestigious business schools.’ If you’d like to know more about the digital transformation insights that Darwin has to offer, you can learn about the Darwin Business Innovation Lab, which offers advice and support to interested organisations, on our R&D page. Darwin Innovation Group is a UK-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
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