Archive for July, 2006

Rock On for Paint On: Successful Test of “Paint On” Antenna Technology Announced

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006

Who was it that said technology for those who do not understand it is indistinguishable from magic?

I can’t recall at the moment, but I was reminded of the quote as I read about the successful test flight of an airship utilizing new "paint-on" antenna technology.

NASA’s Langley Research Center, RTI International, Applied EM, Inc., International Communications Group, Unitech, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and Techsphere Systems International, Inc. today announced the successful June 21 completion of the test flights in Nevada.

Azom provides additional details:

The experiment provided the first opportunity to test and evaluate the electrical, electromagnetic and mechanical properties of the "paint-on" antenna technology during an actual flight.

"The successful airship test flights demonstrate exciting possibilities for ‘paint-on’ antenna technologies," said David Myers, vice president of RTI’s Engineering and Technology Unit. "This new technology can be used to assist with hurricane disaster relief, provide enhanced security of ports and borders, perform science observation missions and improve military communications."

High altitude airships can be used for both defense and homeland security purposes including surveillance of battlefields and domestic borders and ports. The airships are intended to serve as economical station-keeping communications and/or ground-sensing platforms that will augment both ground-based and more expensive satellite systems. The airships will operate well above commercial air traffic and the jet stream and beyond the range of most ground-to-air missiles.

In addition to communications, the "paint-on" antennas are a key enabling technology to achieve the high altitudes necessary for Department of Defense and Homeland Security persistent surveillance missions of the nation’s coastal waters, land borders, urban areas and critical infrastructure.

"RTI also arranged for NASA to demonstrate the potential of a lower-cost alternative to satellite remote sensing by installing a GPS Reflectance Remote Sensing Experiment to conduct soil moisture measurements during the flight," according to Azom.

Although it’s certainly a long way off, one can imagine the technology one day applied to the side of your house — eliminating the need for either a satellite dish or (for some of us) the old bunny ears.

It doesn’t even have to look like aluminum foil, apparently.

ISRO Launch Failure

Monday, July 17th, 2006

The sense of relief felt by many following Discovery’s successful completion of its mission today is a reminder that spaceflight is a complicated and sometimes dangerous business.

Another reminder came just last week, when the launch of India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle GSLV-F02 ended in dramatic failure on July 10th, destroying "India’s newest communications satellite and the nation’s largest rocket,"" according to SpaceFlightNow

"ISRO officials were forced to destruct the GSLV F02 to prevent populated areas from being hit by the rocket debris falling from the sky," reports domain-B

You can see a video of the launch failure here. Details of the rocket’s satellite payload can be found here and here. IBN has the summary of the disaster:

Seconds after a perfect takeoff, the 49-metre-long launch vehicle, deviated from its trajectory and plunged into the Bay of Bengal.

The three-stage 414-tonne launch vehicle of the ISRO, which lifted off from Satish Dhawan Space Centre on Monday evening, started under-performing right from the start and veered off its path after travelling a few kilometres into the sky….

GSLV-F02 was carrying a 2,168-kg INSAT-4C, the latest satellite of the Indian National Satellite System series, aimed at augmenting the Direct-To-Home television services, facilitate video picture transmission, digital satellite news gathering and provide VSAT connectivity to National Informatics Centre.

Perhaps the worst news of the day: neither the rocket nor the satellite were insured


Discovery Lands

Monday, July 17th, 2006

MSNBC has some good video coverage as well.

Global IPTV Set to Make Huge Leap

Monday, July 17th, 2006

We’ve written before about the incredible growth potential of IPTV and mobile TV — both of which, after all, were all the buzz at this year’s NAB conference— but this snippet from Digital Trends really caught our eye:

Recent reports suggest that global IPTV subscriptions are expected to jump from 2 million to 34 million between 2005 and 2010. North America is expected to see the quickest growth with a forecasted 14 million households by 2010 accounting for 80% of these subscriptions….

What’s suprising is the slow IPTV deployments taking place in Asia as TDG predicts that Asia will only account for a mere 5.6 million subscriptions. This is primarily due to the impending launch of Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT)….

The Chinese government has stated publicly that this new standard (dubbed ‘Digital Multimedia Broadcasting – Terrestrial/Handheld’ or ‘DMB-T/H’) will eventually serve more than half of China’s TV viewers, especially those in suburban and rural areas. Until then, analog and broadband based services may well find a healthy market for the few years to come.

"IPTV market conditions vary widely depending on the country or geography in question, entailing that individual markets will evolve and behave in very unique ways," added Dixon. He also noted that a handful of individual service operators will account for 75% of the deployed volume with the remaining 25% split between hundreds of other operators. "These conditions will pose a challenge to all types of IPTV solutions vendors, one that requires detailed and flexible implementation and go-to-market strategies." 

IPTV will radically change the broadcast communications market– from technology to content. It truly is a new frontier, with the potential to be as transformative for video content as cell phones have been for telecommunications.

Bastille Day Shock

Friday, July 14th, 2006

Today is Bastille Day, commemorating the flare-up of the French Revolution in 1789. In that sense it’s kind of like our 4th of July, except that where we supply our own fireworks le soliel got supplied them for Bastille Day in 2000. It was called the Bastille Day Shock.

A transient flow system containing several streams and shocks associated with the Bastille Day 2000 solar event was observed by the WIND and ACE spacecraft at 1 AU. Voyager 2 (V2) at 63 AU observed this flow system after it moved through the interplanetary medium and into the distant heliosphere, where the interstellar pickup protons strongly influence the MHD structures and flow dynamics.

Um. Yeah. Just what all that means, I don’t know. But I do know that it looked really cool, thanks to the pictures and videos accompanying this somewhat simpler explanation of what happened when the sun celebrated Bastille Day.

Bastille Day Shock

On July 14, 2000, an enormous x-class flare was observed near the center of the solar disk of the Sun (a-b).

An x-class flare is the most intense flare recorded and, like smaller flares, is thought to be the result of reconnection at the base of the solar corona.

The Bastille Day flare may have been produced by a larger, more violent and active version of the reconnection event being shown in this movie (c).

More on Bigelow, Genesis

Thursday, July 13th, 2006

Via Space Pragmatism, here are not one but two interviews with Robert Bigelow, the man responsible for yesterday’s launch of an experimental inflatable spacecraft. There’s also a pretty neat Google Maps site for tracking Genesis in orbit.

Tracking Genesis

Bigelow’s Balloon

Thursday, July 13th, 2006

Commercial spaceflight took a big leap forward recently. You might even say it sent up a test balloon, in the form of Robert Bigelow’s inflatable spacecraft.


An experimental inflatable spacecraft bankrolled by real estate magnate Robert Bigelow rocketed into orbit Wednesday to test technology that could be used to fulfill his dream of building a commercial space station.

The Genesis I satellite flew aboard a converted Cold War ballistic missile from Russia’s southern ro Mountains at 6:53 p.m. Moscow time. It was boosted about 320 miles above Earth minutes after launch, according to the Russian Strategic Missile Forces.

The launch was a first for the startup Bigelow Aerospace, founded by Bigelow, who owns the Budget Suites of America hotel chain. Bigelow is among several entrepreneurs attempting to break into the fledgling manned commercial spaceflight business.

Bigelow’s balloon was bankrolled to the tune of about $75 million, out of about $500 million dedicated to having an entire fleet of similar modules circling the earth like sausage links. Mars Blog notes that, even allowing for unexpected costs adding up to $3 billion or more, private entrepreneurs might actually be able to get to the point of having manned spacecraft servicing manned space stations faster and cheaper than, say, NASA.

That’s interesting, given that Bigelow’s balloon could lead to hotels and sports arenas in space by 2015, if all goes according to plan. With the price tag for building ’em, though, I can only imagine what the ticket price will be.

A Computer in Your Brain?

Wednesday, July 12th, 2006

I posted earlier about the possibility of brain-machine interfacing in sometime in the future, but it was only the tiniest hint. Now it turns out there’s a lot more afoot, and DARPA — the people who brought you the robot races — is in on it.

A new brain-computer-interface technology could turn our brains into automatic image-identifying machines that operate faster than human consciousness.

Researchers at Columbia University are combining the processing power of the human brain with computer vision to develop a novel device that will allow people to search through images ten times faster than they can on their own.

Darpa, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is funding research into the system with hopes of making federal agents’ jobs easier. The technology would allow hours of footage to be very quickly processed, so security officers could identify terrorists or other criminals caught on surveillance video much more efficiently.

The “cortically coupled computer vision system,” known as C3 Vision, is the brainchild of professor Paul Sajda, director of the Laboratory for Intelligent Imaging and Neural Computing at Columbia University. He received a one-year, $758,000 grant from Darpa for the project in late 2005.

Given DARPA’s interest in advanced robot vehicles, I can’t help but wonder what kind of synergy might develop between “cortically coupled computer vision system” and “autonomous vehicles” like those participating in the Grand Challenge.

Even More Shuttle Video

Tuesday, July 11th, 2006

Just in case you didn’t get enough video in yesterdays post, Phil over at Bad Astronomy points to even more NASA video of the July 4th space shuttle launch, with camera angles from on top and right aft of the starboard solid rocket booster.

The NASA videos area without audio, but here’s a YouTube video of the launch with a play-by-play of the launch.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Tesla

Monday, July 10th, 2006


If you’re reading this, chances are you’re doing so on a computer or laptop that’s plugged into an electrical outlet (or in the case of the latter, running on energy stored in its battery), so you should take a moment to thank the guy some say made it all possible. Nikola Tesla, born (according to A Blog Around the Clock) on this date, 150 years ago.

I have to admit that, although I knew Tesla’s name, I couldn’t claim to know much about his involvement with much of what I (and lots of others, I’m sure) take for granted about modern life. I haven’t often given much thought to who’s being the reality that I wake up in the morning in an air-conditioned house, turn on the lights, retrieve breakfast from the fridge and consume it while either sitting in front of the television or the computer.

Yet all of that’s possible due to alternating current; something Tesla contributed to developing. I had to do a bit of googling to find this PBS site devoted to Tesla, to learn that in fact the AC motor was among his inventions and that he’d patented some 20 different types of AC motors. And that’s not to even mention the radio and remote control. (Channel surfers of the world, we now know whom to thank.)

There’s a bit of irony in remembering Tesla’s birthday, as Archy points out. Tesla is credited with bringing electricity to the United States, of which he became a naturalized citizen. Yet, today many of the villages around his hometown have no electricity. But the occasion of his 150th birthday is bringing people together in Tesla’s homeland, and thus his memory may yet get the lights turned on again.