Archive for November, 2006

Space-based Narcissism

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

Ok, honestly, what could be cooler than having your name — yes, YOUR name — on a future piece of space junk? Well, I can probably think of a few things (a free donut, a good massage, etc.), but having your name blasted in to space does seem pretty cool.

If you agree, you should check out MIT and Georgia Tech’s Your Name In Space project, which aims to put "America’s most ambitious student spacecraft" up in the sky with the "tax-deductible" support of people looking for their "space in space". The Boson Globe had the story yesterday, but the project website gets a little more specific:

"In 2010, a small unmanned research spacecraft designed by students will launch into Earth’s orbit. The science on board will help pave the way for humankind to explore our solar system. We invite you to participate in this landmark mission by uploading content to be printed on our spacecraft…

Choose a location on the outside of the spacecraft and get pictures of your content photographed in space. Choose a location inside the return vehicle, and after five weeks in orbit we’ll return to you the actual piece of spacecraft hardware which carried your image into orbit."

The best part? Even if you can’t pony up the cold hard cash (a donation as small as $35 gets you a picture of your name or image on the craft before the flight, $250 gets you piece after reentry), you can still send your name up into the heavens. While financial supporters get a photograph of their name/logo/etc. in space or even a piece of the spacecraft following the mission, anyone can provide their name and information and have it encoded on to a DVD that will hitch a ride on the craft during its journey. Sure, it might not be a trip aboard the ISS, but, for now, its the next closest (and far cheaper) alternative.

Arabsat Launches Today

Wednesday, November 8th, 2006
ILS is launching the BADR-4 satellite today from Baikonur at 19:40 GMT. Watch it live or tune your satellite receivers to…
In North America:
IA-6 @ 93 West
C-band, analog/NTSC
Transponder 14, 3980H
In Europe & Asia:
NSS-7 @ 338 East
Ku-band, digital/PAL
Transponder: WHL4/EUH3,Channel-1, 11,098.9H
Symbol Rate: 6.1113 Msps
FEC: 3/4
In Africa & Asia:
BADR-C (formerly Arabsat 2C) @ 26 East
Ku-band, digital/PAL
Transponder: C21, 4,120H
Symbol Rate: 27.5 Msps
FEC: 3/4

We like their blog.





BIG Airplane Lands in Cayenne

Tuesday, November 7th, 2006

What is THAT? Is it the Big Kahuna landing for Election Day in Florida? No, that’s an Antonov 124 delivering the AMC-18 satellite at Cayenne’s Rochambeau International Airport. The satellite, scheduled for launch in December, is now being transferred to Europe’s Spaceport.

Earth-Wide A/C?

Monday, November 6th, 2006

The great science blog, Science-a-go-go, posted in an interesting story last night about an interesting last ditch solution to global warming problems, should the ice caps melt and, as Al Gore predicted, the sea start filling up lower Manhattan. The great idea? Some "sun parasols," according to University of Arizona’s Roger Angel.

"Angel’s plan involves launching a flotilla of trillions of small free-flying spacecraft a million miles above Earth into an orbit aligned with the sun, called the L1 Lagrange orbit. The spacecraft would form a long, cylindrical cloud about 4,000 miles in diameter and 60,000 miles in length. About 10 percent of the sunlight passing through the length of the cloud would be diverted away from Earth, uniformly reducing sunlight by about 2 percent over the entire planet. Enough to balance the heating caused by a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere, believes Angel."

Not a half bad plan, but, if you ask me, I think we might be a little better off beating this problem to the pass, parking our harms, and enjoying a few crisp, fall bike rides.

DMSP-17 Launched

Sunday, November 5th, 2006

A Delta IV rocket launches at 5:53 a.m. on Nov. 4 from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex-6. The rocket carried a Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellite in to space. The satellite will transition into a polar earth orbit to provide weather forcasts for servicemembers on battlefields around the world. (U.S. Air Force photo/Joe Davila)

DIY Friday: Build Your Own HDTV Antenna

Friday, November 3rd, 2006

Sure, you just spent $10,000 on a sweet Plasma HDTV Monitor and another $400 on a kick a$$ receiver, but that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank buying a super-expensive HDTV antenna, does it?

Not at all, according to pitman2 over in the Lumenlab 2.1 ("Saving the World from Bad TV") forums, who posted instructions on how to build your very own HD antenna using cardboard, a few hangers, and something called a UHF Matching Transformer. While its not entirely a MacGyver-esque construction (no saliva and papertowel tubes required), it seems to do the job.

"In my un-scientific tests this antenna seems to hold it’s own against the DB2 as an indoor antenna . In outdoor tests it performed almost as well as the DB2. Although I wouldn’t use this one outdoors, being card board and having a solid reflector. One good gust of wind and it’ll fly away. But there is no reason why you can’t build one with higher quality materials to be used outside. Like a cooling rack for a reflector so that it doesn’t catch the wind."

What’s that you say? You haven’t shelled out yet for a new HDTV monitor and receiver yet? You’re waiting for the price of your next generation television to drop below the price of the house your grandparents bought in 1956? Oh, well, have no fear, we hear at RRS have you covered too. Actually, Popular Mechanics has the information, but we’ll link to their how-to on turning your PC into a lean, mean HDTV viewing machine and you can thank us later.

One word of warning on the last bit though: While turning your PC into an HDTV and building your own antenna maybe cheap, explaining to your significant other why you have to watch television under the phosphorescent glow of your computer monitor while coaxial cable from the antenna on the roof dangle overhead… well, that’s priceless.

Cuba Funding the Internet?

Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

According to government official in its Commission of Electronic Commerce, Juan Fernandez, Cuba is funding the Internet. While this may seem a little bit surprising, coming from a country whose widely known for limiting citizen access to the ‘net and censoring any access a citizen does find, the problem is a little complicated:

"Once the underdeveloped countries have undertaken this tremendous effort and sacrifice to create the minimum conditions for them to be able to connect up to the Internet, then they find themselves confronted with a situation whereby they have to pay for the connection up to the Internet at the same level as the developed countries, even though this might also be a channel used by users in the developed countries.

Which means that you can have technical means whereby you can do away with this paradox. And these poor countries seem to be financing (the) Internet by this system."

The only problem with making this argument, Wired’s Declan McCullagh points out, was that representatives from industry and researchers responsible for hooking Latin American countries up to the net were at the UN Internet Governance Forum during which Fernandez posed his argument and could respond, citing instead Cuba’s telecommunications monopoly and censorship policies as the source of the island nation’s struggle to pay for its Internet connection. Bill Woodcock, research director for the non-profit Packet Clearing House, stepped up and noted these challenges:

"Remember that the Internet is an end-to-end model. Zero percent of Cubans are connected to the Internet. The Cuban government operates an incumbent phone company, which maintains a Web cache. Cubans who wish to use the Internet browse the government Web cache. They do not have unrestricted access to the Internet.

And the question about whether there is an inequality in Cuban access to the global Internet, ask yourself whether a Cuban Internet service provider would face any challenges in connecting to a network in the United States or in Europe. And the answer is that, no, these are unregulated markets. They would face exactly the same costs as anyone anywhere else in the world."

The ultimate bit of irony? The UN Summit that this is all taking place at, opened by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, is occurring at a hotel in Athens that — get this — doesn’t have working Internet. Ooops…

NASA Looking to Invest in the Future

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

According the Washington Post, NASA is getting into the ventura capital biz with a new firm, Red Planet Capital, aimed at investing in start-ups developing emerging technologies that might someday prove useful to NASA. (NASA Watch, of course, had the story in February)

Peter Banks, an organizer and manager of the Red Planet project noted:

"We will invest with others in companies making products that aren’t being made elsewhere and that NASA might be able to use. We don’t really expect the companies to be making products that can be used as is on the moon, or in other low-gravity environments. NASA would do the adapting once the technology is developed."

While this is the first time the "federal government has started a venture capital fund for civilian purposes", its not the first time its utilized the venture capital model of investment for the purposes of government technology development. In fact, the present administrator of NASA, Michael D. Griffin, former president of the CIA-sponsored venture fund, In-Q-Tel, which was very successful in delivering technologies to the Agency… some 130 at last count.

Still, the plan is not without its critics already, some of whom wonder how the federal government can really make it in the cutthroat world of venture capital investing. Blogger Rick Rickertsen doubted, in particular, the usefulness of setting up an investment fund, when present VCs would be more than willing to tell the government what technologies are worth investing in:

"The U.S. has the largest, smartest, best funded venture capital industry on the planet (of Earth). There are hundreds of firms with brilliant technologists investing billions of dollars per year in leading technologies of all types — including private space exploration, which will hopefully put NASA out of business. Why on earth does NASA think they need to add to that? It is truly crazy and beyond wasteful. If NASA wanted a window on technology for the Federal Government, all they needed to do was write a letter to all VCs thought the National Venture Capital Association (Cost: about $200) and all of these good patriots would have sent them every promising business plan in their files. Then they would have had a REAL window on technology."

While Rickertsen may have a point, the success of In-Q-Tel and the fact that Red Planet Capital would basically do just what he requested (asking other VCs to send it the "best" business plans in their files) and then evaluate the quality of those business plans, makes me think that his argument might be a little naive. Oh sure, I imagine VC would be more than willing to send the Feds some pretty slick business plans, spending the next few nights dreaming while federal dollar signs danced over their heads, but to think that they’d do so out of the goodness of their hearts… well, that’s just dumb.