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Why a Facebook subsidiary wants to build observatories on Mt. Wilson to house space lasers




Radio Transmitters stand atop Mount Wilson
Radio Transmitters stand atop Mount Wilson
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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Historic Mt. Wilson is home to a number of transmitter and satellite arrays used for scientific research and communications, including KPCC’s main transmitter.

And soon, it could also house one of Facebook’s research endeavors: space lasers.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a space laser like Darth Vader used to destroy the planet Alderaan. These space lasers could be a revolutionary innovation that changes the way we transmit data on a large scale. The engineering publication IEEE obtained construction permits from the County of Los Angeles for a company called PointView Tech, which IEEE reported last year was a subsidiary of Facebook, to build two detached observatories on Mt. Wilson that could be for a laser communications system. Lasers can handle much higher data rates than the radio transmitters we currently use, they’re more secure and regulatory approval wouldn’t be required because lasers can’t interfere with another frequency like radio waves can.

We talk to science and tech writer Mark Harris, who broke the story for IEEE, about his reporting on Facebook’s research into space lasers and how close we are to seeing this kind of technology deployed on a large scale.

Guest:

Mark Harris, science and tech writer for various publications including the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), The Economist, WIRED, The Guardian, MIT Tech Review and more; his latest piece for IEEE is “Facebook’s Plans for Space Lasers Revealed”; he tweets @meharris