When [Elon] Says No, Just Reverse Engineer The Starlink Signal

We all know that it’s sometimes better to beg forgiveness than ask permission to do something, and we’ll venture a guess that more than a few of us have taken that advice to heart on occasion. But [Todd Humphreys] got the order of operations a bit mixed up with his attempt to leverage the Starlink network as a backup to the Global Positioning System, and ended up doing some interesting reverse engineering work as a result.

The story goes that [Todd] and his team at the University of Texas Austin’s Radionavigation Lab, on behalf of their sponsors in the US Army, approached Starlink about cooperating on a project to make their low-Earth orbit constellation provide position, navigation, and timing capabilities. Although initially interested in the project, Starlink honcho [Elon Musk] put the brakes on things, leaving [Todd]’s team high and dry. Not to be dissuaded, they bought a Starlink user terminal, built what amounts to a small radiotelescope — although we’ve seen something similar done with just an RTL-SDR — and proceeded to reverse-engineer the structure of Starlink’s Ku-band downlink signal. The paper (PDF link) on their findings is densely packed with details, such as the fact that Starlink uses an orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) scheme.

It’s important to note that their goal was not to break encryption or sniff in on user data; rather, they wanted access to the synchronization and timing signals embedded in the Starlink data structures. By using this data along with the publically available ephemera for each satellite, it’s possible to quickly calculate the exact distance to multiple satellites and determine the receiver’s location to within 30 meters. It’s not as good as some GPS-Starlink hacks we’ve seen, but it’s still pretty good in a pinch. Besides, the reverse engineering work here is well worth a read.

Thanks to [Adrian] for the tip!

Camera And Code Team Up To Make Impossible Hovering Laser Effect

Right off the bat, we’ll say that this video showing a laser beam stopping in mid-air is nothing but a camera trick. But it’s the trick that’s the hack, and you’ve got to admit that it looks really cool.

It starts with the [Tom Scott] video, the first one after the break. [Tom] is great at presenting fascinating topics in a polished and engaging way, and he certainly does that here. In a darkened room, a begoggled [Tom] poses with what appears to be a slow-moving beam of light, similar to a million sci-fi movies where laser weapons always seem to disregard the laws of physics. He even manages to pull a [Kylo Ren] on the slo-mo photons with a “Force Stop” as well as a slightly awkward Matrix-style bullet-time shot.  It’s entertaining stuff, and the effect is all courtesy of the rolling shutter effect. The laser beam is rapidly modulated in sync with the camera’s shutter, and with the camera turned 90 degrees, the effect is to slow down or even stop the beam.

The tricky part of the hack is the laser stuff, which is the handiwork of [Seb Lee-Delisle]. The second video below goes into detail on his end of the effect. We’ve seen [Seb]’s work before, with a giant laser Asteroids game and a trick NES laser blaster that rivals this effect.

Continue reading “Camera And Code Team Up To Make Impossible Hovering Laser Effect”

Xmarks Helps Polish Chrome


The guys over at Xmarks are working hard to bring their bookmark synchronization service to all browsers and platforms. They’ve recently begun a closed alpha test for their Google Chrome/Chromium extension. We got an invite and decided to give it a test run. Since extensions aren’t yet fully supported, and still a bit buggy you’ll need to use the latest build in the dev channel of Chrome, which means at least version or newer. We tested it on version for Ubuntu with great success. The extension is still pretty basic since it’s still at an alpha stage, but works very well with synchronizing bookmarks across different platforms and browsers. Some of the things left out from the Firefox version are profiles, smarter search, site info and suggested tags. For an alpha release, it’s very well done and functions great, and we’re certainly looking forward to this extension as it develops further.