Archive for February, 2006

NASA Satellite Technology Helps Fight Invasive Plant Species

Wednesday, February 15th, 2006

If you’ve spent much time on rivers in the Southwest, you know that tamarisk (also known as saltcedar) is a much-hated invasive species– and a threat to the region’s water supply.

Introduced from Eurasia in the early 1900s as an ornamental and erosion-control shrub, it has since spread through most of the Southwest’s riverways (and as far east as Minnesota), choking out native species and crowding out the good cottonwood-shaded beaches that river rafters favor. As well:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently identified saltcedar as one of the most harmful invasive species in the United States, because the plant’s long roots tap into underground aquifers. Its groundwater absorbing qualities may be adding to the severity of the drought in the western United States. Saltcedar also increases the salt concentration of the soil and degrades habitats for native species along river systems.

But even low-tech ecological conundrums can be aided by satellite technology. NASA reports:

Products based on NASA Earth observations and a new Internet-based decision tool are providing information to help land and water managers combat tamarisk (saltcedar)… This decision tool, called the Invasive Species Forecasting System (ISFS), is being used at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Institute of Invasive Species Science in Fort Collins, Colo. It is the result of combining USGS science and NASA Earth observations, software engineering and high-performance computing expertise….. The ISFS uses observations and science data products from NASA’s Terra, Aqua and Earth Observing-1 satellites and the USGS-operated Landsat satellites, together with field data from government and non-government contributors. The satellites observe and measure sunlight reflected by plants and their environments. The satellites lock in on unique aspects of the reflected light to determine saltcedar’s locations and habitats vulnerable to invasion. During the plant’s blooming season, ISFS-generated maps predicting locations match observations of it in the field. These predictive maps are an important new tool for land managers involved with saltcedar-related control and restoration efforts. "Satellite data coupled with computer modeling helps us understand where saltcedar is likely to be growing, even in remote locations that field researchers cannot easily reach," said John Schnase, principal investigator of the ISFS project at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

3-D Imaging with Lasers

Tuesday, February 14th, 2006

Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology has developed free-standing three-dimensional displays, using a laser to make the gases in the air emit light in a 3-meter cube.

You can read more about it here.


Alphabet Soup

Tuesday, February 14th, 2006

One of the things I came away with at Satellite2006 (besides some pretty cool pictures) was a head full of acronyms that I still haven’t sorted out. I was reminded of that when I came across CNet’s “Wireless Alphabet Soup” post. I did a little poking around online, and found even more. I’m not sure how many of these I saw or heard at the conference, but it bears more than a passing resemblance to alphabet soup:


I’m sure there are more that I’ve never even heard of before, but this is enough to wrap my brain around for now. If you know any that got left out, drop ’em in the comments. (And help a newbie out by throwing in a definition or two.)

Oh, and just for fun I made up a few of my own and tossed them in. Can ya find ’em? If so, good. Take notes. I have a feeling there might be a quiz of some sort later.

EchoStar Launch Delayed Again

Tuesday, February 14th, 2006

The Sea Launch of the EchoStar satellite (reported below) was scrubbed again on Sunday. "The Sea Launch team is currently working an issue at the launch site," according to the Sea Launch website. We’ll update our readers when the launch has been rescheduled. Who said Rocket Science was easy?

Satellite Used to Study Effects of General Relativity

Tuesday, February 14th, 2006

The Tartan Online, Carnegie-Mellon’s student newspaper, chooses Gravity Probe B as its "Experiment of the Week":

Gravity Probe B, a well-endowed NASA/Stanford satellite, is at this moment orbiting the Earth. The satellite’s main feature is its four perfectly spherical, shiny balls. These balls serve as the world’s most perfect gyroscopes, used in an extraordinarily complex and expensive experiment to observe the effects of general relativity…. Einstein’s theory predicts that a rotating massive body should slowly “frame-drag” space and time around with it. Over time, this dragging effect should push the gyroscope’s axis of rotation about 40 milliarc-seconds out of alignment. That’s the width of a human hair as seen from 10 miles. The probe intends to measure this to an accuracy of one percent.

Stanford University, which is working with NASA on the mission, has a mission status webpage that is worth checking out. Also be sure to check out the vehicle tour and the image gallery, featuring schematics of the satellite and pictures of the launch. What other satellite mission websites have you found? Post a link in the comment, or post your own blog entry, and we may promote your link to the homepage.

EchoStar Launch Today

Sunday, February 12th, 2006

Here’s an update on the EchoStar launch, which was scrubbed on Wednesday:

After halting the countdown for launch on February 8, Sea Launch is now preparing for the launch of the EchoStar X satellite on Sunday, February 12, at the opening of a 49-minute launch window, at 3:35pm PST (23:35 GMT).

You can check out the live webcam here.

Fossett Breaks Flight Record

Saturday, February 11th, 2006

File this one under "cool stuff." From the AP:

Adventurer Steve Fossett completed the longest nonstop flight in aviation history Saturday after journeying around the globe — and then some — in about 80 hours, but had to land early because of mechanical problems. Ground control said Fossett, 61, broke the airplane distance record of 24,987 miles while his lightweight experimental plane was flying over Shannon, Ireland. He then was force to land at Bournemouth International Airport, in southern England, instead of at a military air strip in nearby Kent because of generator problems. The millionaire adventurer broke the record during 3 1/2 days of flying despite losing about 750 pounds of fuel during takeoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida because of a leak. Weak winds over the Atlantic and severe turbulence over India — which, at one point, forced Fossett to strap on a parachute — prompted fears Fossett would have to ditch his record-breaking attempt in Newfoundland.

Fosset flew the Global Flyer, modelled after the Rutan-designed Voyager. More details of the flight can be found on Mission Control homepage.

Oprah in Space

Friday, February 10th, 2006

Well, in space, and then in your car (not to mention everywhere else. No, the queen of all media isn’t donning a spacesuit, but thanks to a 3 year/$55 million deal with XM Satellite Radio she will soon be bouncing off the satellites and landing in your car (or at your desk, or wherever you listen to your satellite radio) with a new "Oprah & Friends" channel slated to debut in September.

Actually, it sounds like she’ll be there just often enough to keep the franchise.

"Oprah & Friends," which will debut in September, will rely more on the friends than on Oprah herself. Winfrey said yesterday in a teleconference from Chicago that she will have a half-hour "reality" show each week for 39 weeks — a recorded conversation with her confidante Gayle King.

The rest of the channel’s round-the-clock programming will be hosted by personalities who have become popular through appearances on Winfrey’s talk show, including fitness expert Bob Greene, self-help writer Marianne Williamson and designer Nate Berkus. The shows — which will focus on health, nutrition, self-improvement and current events — will originate from a new studio in Chicago.

So, if you’re a subscriber, you can share your commute with Oprah; occasionally, at least.

One of These Days, Alice: POW! To The Moon!

Thursday, February 9th, 2006

In today’s announcement on space tourism, U.S. DOT  Secretary Mineta is looking for feedback. Maybe Jeff Bezos will reveal more of his plans for space.


I think there was a typically-comprehensive piece in the New York Times, reprinted elsewhere, which got into who’s behind private space tourism.





Wireless, From Local to Global

Thursday, February 9th, 2006

If I keep returning to the idea of community wireless networks, it’s because I keep seeing stuff that reminds me of it. This morning, no fewer than three items showed up in my daily news/blog feeds, ranging from my back yard to the other side of the world. 

I’m more of a "sidewalk warrior" than a "road warrior," as I can work from anywhere I can get internet access. So, I’m often found wondering the metro-D.C. area, laptop in tow, looking for wireless access. This morning I found out via a local blog, that I can find wireless pretty close to home in Montgomery County, MD, where pretty much all the libraries have free wireless. Glad to hear it. Now I have a few more options besides the hotspots at Borders and Starbucks.

I’d only just finished catching up on local wireless news when I came across two more items from Engadget. The first  reported discussions between DirectTV and EchoStar about establishing a nationwide wireless high-speed internet service. Sure, they’re just talking about it right now, But reports are that Rupert Murdoch is poised to write a big check in support of the venture; the kind of money that moves discussion along and  makes stuff happen.

I couldn’t help thinking about my first post when I read the second Engadget piece, which revealed (via The Wireless Report) that Google is bringing wireless internet to Nigeria.

Nigeria’s Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala stated that Internet search technology company Google has selected Abuja as one of seven African cities to be fully connected with its wireless network.

The  project is one of several Google has planned for "select African nations." That is, aside from its plans for the west coast and the world.