We are so happy to report that we were invited to strike up a collaboration with this Joshua Tree, located near Hinkley, California at the Center for Land Use Interpretation‘s Desert Research Center. This is the first of two trees that will become a part of our global tree-antenna network (thanks to supporters of our recent Tree of Life Kickstarter campaign!). In May of 2022, the Space Song team headed into the desert, from points south and east, to 1) test the dielectric property of this tree specimen (which determines how well the organism can transmit and receive radio waves), and 2) see if it could actually receive transmission from a spacecraft already in orbit. Upon a full day of testing, we were so excited to find that the Joshua Tree is a ready and willing collaborator in this tree-antenna endeavor. Joshua Trees, like palm trees, have a much more porous inner structure than most other trees so that they can resist perspiration, ultimately storing the water in their bodies and delivering it to the root system without letting the moisture slip away. As a result, the tree has a nice, steady dielectric reading, even right after being “rained on” (as naturalist Roger Klemm is simulating in the image below).

Roger Klemm waters our Joshua Tree collaborator. To our pleasant surprise, the dielectric properties were incredibly stable while watering, and did not show the rapid dip in transmissive qualities we usually see during rain.

In the late summer/early fall of 2022, we will set up a long-term tree-antenna at the CLUI Desert Research Station. We are preparing to install sensors at the site of this tree to monitor its experience of light, moisture, and temperature, and ambient sound, which we will translate into sonic frequencies. This “song” will be accessible on the Internet, so the public can access the Joshua Tree’s live, real-time tree experience in song. The tree will receive pings from satellites in orbit, too, which will also be embedded in the song.

The most recent design of the antenna prototype includes a loosely fitting antenna ring, held in place by a 3D-printed harness that does not harm the tree. It has enough flexibility to move with the tree, while also holding the antenna steady in place. The tree antenna is very sensitive to changes in the tree, and this get-up creates enough distance between the metal of the antenna and the tree’s cortex for the dielectric relationship to remain steady and consistent.

Over the next couple of years, we will design and launch our own spacecraft, which will be built to test long-term technology in outer space–including the potential of communicating with our tree-antennae for long past our little human lifetimes. At the heart of the Tree of Life project, we are designing technology for Earth and outer space that transcends the technological obsolescence ubiquitous in today’s consumer technology. Centering trees in the technology we build––building around them and for them, rather than around and for humans––commits us to keeping them safe and happy for centuries. It is critical that we take good care of our home planet, even as we begin to explore other worlds.

Radio waves captured by the Joshua Tree with its antenna accoutrements. The transmission came from the ISS V/U Voice Repeater @ 437.800 Mhz (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station).

Finally, the team members––humans and tree––received their first transmission from outer space. Click above to hear the sound of the International Space Station’s V/U FM Voice Repeater, which beams down from outer space at around 437Mhz. This is at the outer edge of our 400Mhz prototype, so it is a bit fuzzy! Still, very exciting to hear the sounds from outer space as received by the living antenna of this Earthly tree. Space-to-SpaceSong link established!

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