Archive for September, 2006

NASA Play-by-Play

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

Great piece on NPR yesterday:

All Things Considered, September 13, 2006 · Astronauts working on the International Space Station lost another screw today — but they made it through a seven-hour spacewalk. NASA provided coverage, with commentary, of the entire event. That got producer Jeremy Hobson thinking what it would be like to have a "color guy" to spice up NASA’s coverage.

You’ve got to listen to the podcast yourself.

Complete STS-115 and ISS coverage is on NASA TV.

MobiTV looking into WiMAX

Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

The Wireless Report notes that mobile-delivered television service provider MobiTV is looking into the much discussed WiMAX technology as an "alternative delivery platform." Sure to take notice are those, such as Rupert Murdoch, who think television might just be the "killer app" that helps the last-mile connection method take off.

Personally, I’m probably in line with Om Malick on this one. While WiMAX could do a serviceable job delivering tv programing to an array of devices (especially those with smaller screens), the HD future means that a lot more bandwidth is going to be needed to deliver the kind of signal people are going to expect to see on the 137-in Plasma/Organic LED display of choice.

My bet for WiMax "killer app"? VoIP/Interent telephony, which is far more compatible with the bandwidth limitations of the technology and could do a lot to free us from the crappy mobile phone networks that plague the rural areas where WiMax will first emerge.

NRTC Announces Recipients of ‘WildBlue U’ Scholarships

Tuesday, September 12th, 2006

Back in June, the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC) and satellite internet provider WildBlue announced the creation of "WildBlue U" (opens in PDF) — a program and contest to promote the use of WildBlue’s satellite internet services in rural areas where DSL or traditional cable access to high speed internet service is unavailable.

Today the NRTC awarded Bobby Mills a $10,000 scholarship for selling the most WildBlue satellite Internet subscriptions over the summer. From the NRTC press release:

Mills was one of 28 students who participated in "WildBlue U," a program NRTC created and implemented in partnership with local utilities. The program provided paid internships to students to market WildBlue in their communities. As of Sept. 1, 2006, the interns participating in WildBlue U sold nearly 1,500 WildBlue subscriptions over the summer. Mills attends the University of Nevada, Reno where he is majoring in journalism. To help drive WildBlue sales, Plumas Sierra and Mills developed a "Got Bobby?" campaign, which featured information about Bobby and WildBlue on its Web site with an appeal to help Bobby win the contest and earn a $10,000 scholarship. "The style and coordination of the WildBlue U program offered up a competitive atmosphere that provided one with a real sense of job contentment, and an uplifting feeling of success with each closed sale," said Mills. "Commissions and rewards within the program were extremely generous, especially when taking the state of a typical college student’s wages into consideration." In addition to the $10,000 scholarship, NRTC awarded eight $1,000 scholarships. 

The NRTC contest isn’t the only contest promoting the intersection of today’s students with satellite technology. Next Friday marks the final deadline for submissions to the SES Americom Arthur C. Clarke Challenge (preliminary applications were due Sepember 1st. The Clarke Challenge is a "new annual award program for the very best creative, problem-solving idea that can propel the continued growth and expansion of commercial communications services and applications from satellites operating in the Clarke Orbit." More information on the Clarke Challenge can be found here; we’ll also bring you updates on the submissions and awards here at Really Rocket Science after the application date closes.

Japan Launches New Spy Satellite

Monday, September 11th, 2006

Japan, seeking to reduce its dependence on the United States and other countries for its foreign intelligence capabilities, launched its third spy satellite into orbit today aboard an H2-A rocket, the BBC reports:

Japan has two spy satellites already in orbit. Two others were lost when a rocket failed in November 2003.

Japan began its intelligence-gathering satellite programme following North Korea’s test launch of a long-range missile that flew over Japan in 1998.

This launch follows a series of missile tests by Pyongyang in July, which included a new weapon, the Taepodong-2, which is potentially capable of hitting parts of the United States.

The Japan Times provides more detail on the need for the satellite in a preview article published on Saturday:

The satellite will likely focus mainly on North Korea, particularly its ballistic missile sites. Tokyo considers the missiles one of the main threats to the country.

But since Japan’s spy satellites are inferior to those of the U.S. military, and even some newer commercial satellites, government officials say Japan must keep developing its own surveillance technology to ensure it has an independent source of intelligence.

"We have been far behind the U.S. To put it bluntly, the gap is like the one between a kindergartner and a college student," said Yoshio Omori, former head of the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, an intelligence-gathering body that reports directly to the prime minister.

"Without independent information-gathering capability, Japan will be a blind follower (of other countries)," Omori warned.

Space Shuttle Launched

Sunday, September 10th, 2006


KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. – From the top of the Vehicle Assembly Building, the fiery launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis is seen against the background of the Atlantic Ocean to the east while billows of smoke and steam roll across the launch pad. Atlantis is heading for a rendezvous with the International Space Station on mission STS-115. After launch attempts were scrubbed Aug. 27 and 29 and Sept. 3 and 8 due to weather and technical concerns, this launch was executed perfectly. During the STS-115 mission, Atlantis’ astronauts will deliver and install the 17.5-ton, bus-sized P3/P4 integrated truss segment on the station. The girder-like truss includes a set of giant solar arrays, batteries and associated electronics and will provide one-fourth of the total power-generation capability for the completed station. This mission is the 116th space shuttle flight, the 27th flight for orbiter Atlantis, and the 19th U.S. flight to the ISS. STS-115 is scheduled to last 11 days with a planned landing at KSC. Photo credit: NASA/George Shelton


NASA videos rock.

Lockheed Pulls Out of Russian J.V.

Friday, September 8th, 2006

As reported in this morning’s Kommersant (Коммерсантъ):

The Lockheed Martin Corp. announced yesterday that it will withdraw from the Russian-American joint venture that markets Russian Proton rockets. The company cited the rising prices being demanded by the rockets maker, the Khrunichev State Space Research Center, and a number of unfulfilled obligations of the center, as the motivation for its decision. In the 11 years of its existence, the International Launch Services sold 37 Proton rockets for a total of $2.5 billion.

Lockheed Martin said yesterday that Space Transport Inc., a company registered in the Virgin Islands, would be the purchaser of its shares in ILS as well as Lockheed Khrunichev Energia International. A source in the Russian space industry said that Space Transport was being launched as a temporary holder of the assets Lockheed is selling. Eventually, those assets will be bought by Khrunichev, apparently with Vneshtorgbank acting as creditor. The value of the deal was estimated by the source as about $150 million. He added that the ILS would remain as a company registered in the United States and would also market Khrunichev’s new Angara rocket in the future. Lockheed Martin will sell its Atlas rockets through its Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services.

ILS has 11 open contracts for launches with a value of $500 million. At the center, they told Kommersant yesterday that they expect orders to increase. Analysts also predict that the industry will have a healthy growth rate in the next several years. Vitaly Davydov, deputy head of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, predicted recently that Russian rockets account for 40 percent of the world market. Roscosmos press secretary Igor Panarin commented to Kommersant yesterday that “Lockheed Martin’s decision will not affect Russian interests in launch services in the least. On the contrary, it will strengthen bilateral relations between Russia and the U.S. in the space field.” Khrunichev press secretary Alexander Bobrenev concurred, saying that “The Russian side will continue marketing the Proton and Angara carrier rockets. We are capable of meeting our obligations to our clients.”

A Lockheed Martin spokesman told Kommersant that that ending its partnership with Khrunichev was a purely business decision and does not affect its joint ventures with other Russian enterprises, such as Energomash. “Our collaboration with them [Khrunichev] was very fruitful and we still have projects that we will possibly work on jointly in the future,” the spokesman said.

Kommersant has learned that Lockheed informed Khrunichev of its intentions to pull out of the joint business in May. The official explanation for the move is a change in Lockheed’s marketing strategy. “After analyzing conditions on the world market, we decided to concentrate on launches of satellites with masses of 4.5-6.5 tons,” ILS president Dr. Mark Albrecht said in June. In essence, that means that Lockheed has decided to leave the commercial market in favor of more profitable state orders. Boeing made the same decision in 2003. Of the 11 Proton launches in the last three years only five of them were heavier then 4.5 tons.

Another source at Lockheed said that the company disagreed with Khrunichev’s decision to raise the price of the rockets by 15 percent, to $45-50 million each, to pay for the services of an intermediary to conclude contracts with ILS. ILS also received 15 percent of every contract. Another source of contention was $68 million that Lockheed paid in 1999 under an agreement to market the new Angara rocket. The first launch of that rocket was to take place in 2003, but now plans call for the first launch in 2010. “Lockheed Martin will consider its investment in the purchase of the marketing rights to the Angara and include them in the cost of its package in ILS and LKEI,” a source said.

DIY Friday: Satellite Reception on the Move

Friday, September 8th, 2006

On Wednesday, Rocco scooped the world with the first photographs of the Lyngbox, which was officially unveiled today in Europe.

What makes the Lyngbox "officially cool" by Really Rocket Science standards is its database of worldwide satellite ladder charts, which essentially allows users to "plug and play" the Lyngbox anywhere in the world. Travelling from London to Capetown? Just bring your Lyngbox with you, plug it in, peruse the database, and within moments you’ll be watching the local satellite channels.

Of course, there has always been an alternative to purchasing cool gadgets — and that alternative is to Do It Yourself. This site has long offered instructions on Satellite for Caravans — how you can rig your RV (or car or "caravan") and stay connected to the world of satellite TV while on the road in Europe: 

You will not get a picture by simply waving the dish around; the digibox has to decode the signal before a picture can appear for the first time and that can take a couple of minutes or more. So if you just swing the dish around, you’ll have already moved it out of the signal again long before the picture has a chance to appear. Providing you know the technique however, it is fairly straightforward to tune in a digital system and once you’ve got the hang of it you would be very unlucky if it took longer than about 5 minutes. I’ve had people writing to say they got a signal within a few minutes, others took longer. For myself, it normally takes me only a minute or two these days. My own record is 10 seconds – pure fluke, I stuck the dish on its mast and obtained an immediate signal – just happened to point it in precisely the right direction first time!

You’ll need a satellite dish, a digibox, and a TV (don’t forget that) to catch signals while on the road from Astra or Sky:

 The Astra 2 system consists of 3 satellites close together in space so that your dish will ‘see’ all of them as if they were a single unit. All 3 transmit signals aimed at Europe but the coverage on the ground varies considerably. The 2 older satellites, 2A and 2B, can be thought of as flood lights, lighting up a huge area of Europe, whereas the newer Astra 2D is more like a spot light focused on the British Isles. For the sake of convenience the signals are referred to as the north beam, south beam and narrow beam (or more usually just the 2D beam).

If all of this is sounding confusing, the alternative to DIY is always to buy. Newsfactor magazine has a great article on gadgets available to bring you satellite content while in the fast lane, including some DIY tips for acquiring satellite radio in the U.S.:

Do-it-yourselfers have plenty of options too. There are two ways to go with DIY satellite radio: purchasing a car stereo with satellite radio built-in (requires professional installation) or purchasing a dashboard mounted controller that uses a vacant FM frequency to provide the satellite programming.

Dashboard-mounted models, such as the Delphi Roady XT ($79.99) or the Sirius Sportster Replay radio ($139.99), plug into the vehicle’s cigarette adapter and use a roof mounted magnetic antenna to capture the satellite signal. There is a caveat: as a vehicle travels over long distances an FM channel may no longer be unused and available for satellite signals, so the satellite signal will lose clarity as the FM signal gains strength. At that point, a new vacant FM frequency will have to be selected to improve satellite signal clarity. In spite of the limitations, these dash-mounted models provide a quick way to get satellite radio without having to install a compatible stereo system professionally.

So when it comes to acquiring satellite signals while on the road, the question is not whether or not you can receive them. The question is simply: DIY or buy?

Kenyan Post Office, Citizens Cut Off from Satellite-based Internet

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

In his best-selling memoir Dreams from My Father, U.S. Senator Barack Obama wrote extensively about how corruption in his father’s native Kenya constantly thwarted his father’s ambitions and drive toward personal and economic betterment.

Obama recently returned to Kenya; now it appears that such corruption continues to this day. According to BusinessDay, the Kenyan Post Office and the citizens who used the cheap, high speed Internet access available at their local post offices had their satellite-based access to the world-wide web cut off due to lack of payment. Universal Satspace, a satellite communications company-based in Israel (or Delaware, depending on who you ask) had to cut off the service after the African country failed to pay its bills for over five quarters and owed more than $12.3 million dollars to the company.

First reported last month in All Africa, the Kenyan government is supposedly holding back its payment to Universal Satspace because it suspects that the contracted is connected to government contract-leasing scandal that has emerged in the country over the past year and a half. Universal Satspace is, understandably, fervently denying any allegations of wrong doing, claiming that the Kenyan government is using the claims of corruption as a way of getting out of making the necessary payments.

The real tragedy, of course, is that the country’s refusal to pay and Universal Satspace’s response has resulted in the Kenyan people’s disconnection from the Internet. According to the Business Day report, while the agreement’s main goal was to modernize the state’s postal system (which, in turn, has made it a model for the rest of Africa) the introduction of Internet service to even the most rural of post offices enabled the government to provide its people access to fax and Internet service at prices far lower than what was offered by Internet cafes.

As we can see in the video above, the service really worked and was doing a great deal to connect Kenyans to growing online communities. Hopefully, an agreement between Universal Satspace and the government can be worked out soon.

New Satellite Receiver Stores 50,000 Channels; Can Be Used Worldwide

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

Most “satellite people” are very familiar with the Lyngsat Web site. It could very well be the world’s most complete database of accurate satellite ladder charts. Pick a satellite and you can view all the channels available for viewing. For example, the AMC-4 satellite carries a number faith-based and international channels in North America. On another site, LyngSat Address, select a country and you can find out which satellites their channels are using for broadcasting – in their home market and internationally. TV Prima Romania, for instance, is using several satellites over Europe, Asia and the Atlantic.

Get ready for the LyngBox.

We were tipped off by a Polish Web site in February about a new project involving LyngSat for a “super receiver” based on the DVB-S2 standard, but also capable of receiving DVB-T and decoding HDTV:

Christian Lyngemark – właściciel legendarnego serwisu satelitarnego – zamierza wprowadzić na rynek "superodbiornik" HD combo DVB-S/DVB-T.

Projekt prowadzony jest przez firmę Lyngsat Media AB i Europejską Agencję Kosmiczną ESA. Najważniejsze cechy planowanego odbiornika to dwie głowice – satelitarna i naziemna, odbiór w nowym standardzie DVBS2, dekodowanie zarówno MPEG-2 jak i MPEG-4 oraz dysk do zgrywania programów.

Największą nowością ma być łączność przez internet z portalem i automatyczne aktualizowanie listy programów satelitarnych.


The Swedish National Space Board found it interesting as well:

Lyngbox är ett av de företag som för första gången 2005 genomför projekt med Rymdstyrelsens stöd. Lyngbox utvecklar ett intressant koncept för att via en databas på Internet automatiskt ställa in kanalerna på satellit-TV-mottagare, oberoende av var I världen man befinner sig.

More than a little intrigued, we looked it up and found it: a European Space Agency (ESA) project, for a telecom application called “LyngBox.” They set out to build a satellite receiver last July that would be able to continuously update itself from data published on the Internet. Brilliant. The ESA and Hollycroft Associates got together with LyngSat to develop this new “super satcom box” and got into the development work last December. Could they be using some of the new chips introduced at CES? According to the Swedish patent filing (see PDF, page 26) from earlier this year, this receiver can do it all.

With the patent issued, Lyngbox is set to debut at the IBC show in Amsterdam on Friday, 8 September 2006. Along with a 160-gig drive, it has all the features you’d expect:

> Can store up to 50,000 channels
> Free access to all LyngSat Network services (LyngSat, LyngSat Guide and LyngSat Maps) with exclusivity to the LyngBox. No other receiver has access to these services
> Always corrects channel names, not relying on service names in the DVB stream
> Family user profiles and parental lock. Each user can have their own selection of channels based on countries, languages and genres which will be updated automatically
> HDTV support (720p and 1080i)
> Supports H.264/MPEG-4 AVC and MPEG-2
> Built-in tuners for both satellite TV (DVB-S/DVB-S2) and terrestrial TV (DVB-T)
> Internal slot system which makes it possible to install an additional tuner card
> 4:3 and 16:9 TV screen format support
> Teletext decoding
> Dual Common Interface slots for use with pay-TV channels
> PVR functionality with hard disk
> Possibilities to store recordings on an external DVD recorder connected with USB2
> DiSEqC 1.2 support for controlling LNB and motorised dish
> Remote control as standard and a wireless remote keyboard as accessories
> Channel selection by typing the name of the channel on the keyboard
> View images from a digital camera connected to the LyngBox

> DVB-S2 input
> DVB-T input + output (pass-through)
> Expansion slot for additional tuner card
> 2 Common Interface slots
> HDMI-output.
> Component output
> Composite output
> SCART output (RGB and composite)
> S/PDIF optical output with AC-3 support
> Stereo audio (2 RCA)
> 4 USB 2.0 ports
> Ethernet connection (100BaseT)

Antennas on the Move

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

Andrew’s new MilSatCom 2.4 Meter Nomadic Antenna offers superior features—such as light weight design, high radio frequency performance, efficient gear driven pedestal mounts for high accuracy, and quad-band operation. The new antenna will debut at IBC 2006 in Amsterdam from September 8-12.

“Customers will find that Andrew has combined the best and most needed features into a single antenna system that meets the requirements of high-end users in the commercial and government sectors,” said George Tong, director, Government/Radar, Satellite Communications Group, Andrew Corporation.

The durable antenna supports interchangeable feeds that are engineered for simple removal and replacement in hostile or challenging communications environments, such as military situations, disaster relief efforts, and natural resource exploration.

Andrew’s Satellite Communications Group provides a complete line of antennas from 46 centimeters to 11.5 meters for all enterprise, government/military, and consumer satellite communication applications. Andrew-designed and -built products—which cover C, Ku, K, X, and the emerging Ka band—include type approved earth station antenna hubs and gateways for broadband and broadcast, VSAT broadband antennas for consumer and enterprise customers, DBS antennas for home satellite broadcast systems, and complete installation and testing services.