Archive for January, 2008

Bigfoot Found on Mars

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

One of the Mars rovers’ images from a few years ago shows what looks like Bigfoot or Sasquatch, according to the Mars Life blog.

Here’s the video clip from the Telegraph (U.K.):

See for yourself by downloading the original image from NASA’s JPL site — then try finding it. Fun for the whole family.

The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization will be looking into this one, as will the folks of Willow Creek, California: the Bigfoot Capital of the World.

Intrigue in India: Iran Interfered with Israeli Satellite Launch

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

On a cloudy day when the mist hung heavily in the air, India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, PSLV-C10, successfully put the Israeli satellite Tecsar into orbit. It was a textbook launch with the “core-alone” configuration of the PSLV lifting off on time from the first launch pad at Sriharikota at 9.15 a.m. on Monday and injecting Tecsar into its precise orbit 19 minutes and 45 seconds after the lift-off. Tecsar, weighing 300 kg, is a remote-sensing satellite that can take pictures of the earth 365 days of the year, 24 hours of the day, through rain, clouds, day and night. It has a one-metre resolution. It was earlier known as Polaris.

Top Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) engineers called this one "one of the very best launches" of the PSLV and "an excellent performance with a perfect injection of the satellite into orbit." But the road to launch wasn’t so smooth. Iran gave sabatoge a shot:

The successful launch on Monday of an advanced Israeli satellite was delayed in recent months by Iranian sabotage, The Jerusalem Post has learned from Western sources.

The TecSar satellite – developed and manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) – was supposed to be launched in September, on the heels of the June launch of the Ofek-7 spy satellite.

Its deployment will dramatically increase Israel’s intelligence-gathering capabilities regarding the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, since the satellite can transmit images in all weather conditions, a capability that Israel’s existing satellites lacked.

According to assessments recently received, Iran learned of the TecSar’s planned deployment from the media and has since applied heavy pressure through Indian opposition parties – particularly the Muslim and Communist political factions – to prevent the launch.

Teheran’s attempts to sabotage the operation may demonstrate concerns over Israel’s advancing intelligence capabilities. "The Iranians are scared of the potential this new satellite will bring Israel," a Western defense official had said earlier. "They are doing everything they can to prevent its launch."

IAI, the Israeli manufacturer of TECSAR, has more information on the aircraft here (and in the YouTube video, below). And, the ISRO engineers shouldn’t party too long – they’ve got a busy launch schedule this year.

Bharti Time for Gilat and IBM

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008


After a rough 2007 — in which they lost $335,000 on nearly $40 million in revenues,  compared to a 2006 profit of just over $250,000 — Israel’s Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd. is entering 2008 with some good news:

Israel’s Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd. announced Monday that it will supply India’s Bharti Airtel with a broadband satellite network comprising more than 13,000 small two-way ground stations.

The new network, using Gilat’s SkyEdge technology, will be used by Bharti Airtel to offer information and communication services to the local citizens of India’s Gujarat State.

The agreement "will enable remote citizens in the state of Gujarat to benefit from information and e-governance services," Erez Antebi, CEO of Gilat Network Systems, said in a statement.

Gilat offers VSATs or very small aperture terminal, a two-way satellite ground station with a dish antenna, in India.

SkyEdge is a satellite communications system that delivers high-quality voice, broadband data and video services over a powerful unified system. 

No word yet on the value of the contract, but it’s probably just a taste of the satellite broadband opportunities that are rapidly emerging in India. Compare it, for example, to the deal Bharti signed with IBM, which includes direct-to-home satellite services and IPTV:

In a bid to boost its triple play platform, Bharti Airtel has awarded a $150-million contract to IBM to provide IT solutions and services to support broadcasting services such as DTH and IPTV.

Bharti had already outsourced its IT requirement for the telecom business and the new deal is aimed at providing a one-stop experience spanning mobile, PC and television. 

A direct-to-home satellite TV service in India is, of course, the satcom motherloade. People have been trying to launch that kind of service for years. Back in 1999, News Corp’s ISkyB attempted it in partnership with Hughes; Star TV India was another service from News Corp, which is now a collection of premium content for India.  


DIY Friday: FTA Satellite

Friday, January 18th, 2008

No, politicos, we’re not talking about a "free trade agreement." This is rocket scientist shorthand for "free-to-air" satellite – free, unencrypted satellite television broadcasts.

Downlinkers looking for specialized content are the common customers – especially ex-pats looking for hometown TV.

There is nothing ticky or illegal here. Just buy a dish and receiver (or satellite pc card), look up a station, find its signal, and enjoy free-to-air’ing. You will also want an antenna motor if you wish to receive channels from more than one satellite.

More information is available here and here. Details on each satellite, including a list of all free HDTV channels, are available here.

Unplugging Propaganda

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

In today’s media-saturated world, even extremists have PR campaigns.

Because winning hearts and minds requires reaching as many eyes and ears as possible, it’s little wonder that satellite operators sometimes find themselves inadvertently in the midst of the battle against militant extremists.

The latest incident involves Thaicom and Hezbollah

Satellite operator Thaicom has terminated broadcasts by a Lebanese television channel, al-Manar TV, after learning it was backed by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. Shin Satellite, which owns Thaicom, pulled the plug on al-Manar TV on Monday.

The satellite had been broadcasting test transmissions for the station.

The abrupt cancellation followed a report by the Israel-based Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) a few weeks ago that a Thai communications satellite, Thaicom, was transmitting al-Manar, to a vast audience.

Thaicom broadcasts to most countries in Asia as well as to Australia, Africa and central Europe.

US counter-terrorism specialist Andrew Cochran said ITIC reported that al-Manar raised funds for Hezbollah through advertisements broadcast on the network and an accompanying website that requested donations for the terrorist organisation.

Al-Manar has also provided support to Palestinian terrorist organisations, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. It was known to have transferred tens of thousands of dollars for a PIJ-controlled charity, he said.

The report from the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center in Israel details the sequence of events that led Thaicom to being alerted to the issue and canceling the broadcast. The report can be read here. Wired also reports on the incident.

This isn’t the first time that Al-Manar has crept its way onto western satellites. Way back in August of 2006, we blogged about how one guy on Staten Island built an HDTV uplink in his back yard to distribute Al-Manar via satellite. And last year, Intelsat had its own embarrassing situation in Sri Lanka.

With the proliferation of satellite channels and capacity, we’re likely to see such incidents continue into the future.

AT&T’s Satellite Radio System

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

What happens to all that extra capacity if and once Sirius and XM merge? Mobile TV, perhaps? Judging from the initial success of vestigal sideband tests, they’d need something different.

I seem to recall AT&T owning Wireless Communications Services (WCS) spectrum that was in two 15MHz blocks at 2.3GHz with satellite radio (XM and Sirius) in and around those blocks. There was concern that once new WCS came around, there would be interference with satellite radio services — especially C and D channels of this WCS spectrum. But if you grab some of the spectrum that become available after a merger, then one could essentially coordinate the frequencies nicely.

So what do we see AT&T file with the patent office last week? Two applications for a satellite radio system with feedback. Nice catch by Satellite Radio TechWorld:

Through various mergers, AT&T has acquired enough spectrum that could possibly make satellite radio practical. Plus, technology has developed that would make spot beams more practical. There are only a few players left. It wouldn’t take but a few players to come together for nationwide service. Most of the WCS license holders are planning to use WiMax, but it is not practical under the current regulations. They are trying to change the rules in order to make it practical and the same time the FCC is trying to determine the final rules for satellite radio repeaters. If rules are not adapted that would make WiMax practical, then satellite radio might be the next best practical use of the spectrum.

And the timing? Ingenious:

It is interesting to note that this application was filed after XM and Sirius announced the merger (September 24, 2007). Applications can be kept away from the public for up to 18 months, if we recall correctly. This was less than four months ago. They wanted this to be public. However, this is not new. It is based on an application filed in September 2003 and recently became patent on September 25, 2007. No doubt it is enough to give XM and Sirius pause for consideration. 

Here are the two applications (in PDF):

Digital Radio Feedback Apparatuses, System, and Methods

Digital Radio Feedback Systems

More Satcom Internet in Europe

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

Last week, we wrote about ViaSat and Eutelsat teaming up to offer new broadband capacity via Ka-band, and the impact the joint effort may have on internet satellite offerings in the United States and Canada.

But the growing satellite broadband market isn’t limited to North America, of course. In Europe, SES Astra’s ASTRA2Connect (which we blogged about last August) utilizes the commercially mature Ku-band technology to deliver broadband across the continent:

The home equipment is so easy to install that you can even do it yourself. A complete kit of accessories comes with the package including:

  • A satellite antenna (typically 75-80cm)
  • A transmitter/receiver (LNB), which sits on the front of the dish
  • A satellite modem, which is connected via an Ethernet cable to your PC

ASTRA2Connect is sold through resellers.  Just last month, SES Astra signed deals with Euro Marketing Group (to offer ASTRA2Connect in Poland through such brands as SkySatPlus) and with Zug, Switzerland-based telecoms provider Yato, who will distribute the service in Germany.

And today, the news is out that ASTRA2Connect is available in France and Italy as well:

Nine months after the product launch in April 2007, SES Astra now has distribution agreements in seven European countries, the satellite operator said.

Future revenue secured by these contracts amounts to 165 mln eur with more than 200,000 consumer terminals to be installed within three to five years, it said.

SES Astra had already signed contracts for Astra2Connect in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland and Poland. Additional contracts in several other European countries are under negotiation, the group said.

In France, the product will be distributed to consumers under the brand Viveole by communications service provider Auvea Ingenierie.

In Italy, Astra2Connect will be marketed to consumers by the broadband service provider Digitaria, an affiliate of the network and satellite service providers Netdish and Eurosatellite, SES SA said.

At last count, the ASTRA satellite system reaches 109 million homes in Europe and North Africa, broadcasting nearly 1,900 TV and radio channels in analogue and digital formats.

Satellite Split

Monday, January 14th, 2008

Today’s SkyREPORT revisits EchoStar’s split. The division will result in two companies: DISH Networks (DISH), which provides direct-to-home satellite service, and EchoStar (SATS) which does…well…pretty much everything else – designs set-top boxes, provides fixed satellite services, and develops Sling Media technology.

The satellite service provides capacity on nine owned and leased in-orbit satellites, and includes a network of seven full-service digital broadcast centers and leased fiber PoPs in 150 cities. Here at SES, we’re looking forward to launching a new satellite for EchoStar.

How’s this split faring on Wall Street?

In a note released last week, William Kidd of Wedbush Morgan lowered his price target on DISH shares (stock that represents the new DISH Network DBS split) from $48 to $37. The move was made given that DISH shares solely represent the pay-TV assets.

While the bulk of the adjustment represents the split, Kidd also said $2 of the change is the result of the company’s recent decision not to raise prices for subscribers this year.

The two stocks are slightly down so far this year. (But what stock isn’t these days?).

The move allows EchoStar to sell its products externally:

Last week, Ergen said that the company is aggressively planning to sell products — from Sling Media-enabled modems to set-tops — to Dish Network’s video rivals, namely cable operators and phone companies.

Ergen and Blake Krikorian, co-founder and chairman of Sling Media, both described the efforts of the spinoff company, EchoStar Holding, to seek buyers for its products beyond the Dish direct-broadcast satellite service.

“As a set-top manufacturer, EchoStar will certainly try to build products and sell them to the cable industry,” Ergen said at a CES press conference.

And this gives the company a way to "better highlight the value of some of its lesser-known technology assets." That publicity definitely hit last week’s CES 2008 convention:

It’s HD DVR, the TR-50, won CNET’s "best in show" for home video:

If you think everybody has cable or satellite, you couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, if you live in an area that’s well-served by digital broadcasters, now’s a better time than ever to get your TV over the air (or "OTA," as the cool kids say): yeah, you get only a handful of channels, but they’re in crystal-clear digital quality–DVD quality at "worst," uncompressed high-definition at best. The problem–as we’re reminded by many an e-mailer–is that there just isn’t a good DVR solution for the rabbit-ears crowd, especially if you prefer high-def. (You can opt for a TiVo HD, but you’d still have to pay a monthly fee for their programming guide.) But that may finally be changing, thanks to the EchoStar TR-50. For all intents and purposes, the TR-50 takes many of the features found on Dish Networks’ excellent satellite DVRs (such as the ViP622 and 722) and brings them to antenna-based TV viewers.

And, after months of delays and questions, the company announced a SlingPlayer mobile version for the Blackberry:

This past week at CES, Sling Media demonstrated its SlingPlayer Mobile on a BlackBerry Pearl at the technology expo; up until now, SlingPlayer Mobile and BlackBerry haven’t played nice together. Sling Media hasn’t given a firm date on when the new player will be available, but states that it’ll be introduced "later this year" for $29.99.

DIY Friday: Weather Satellite Station

Friday, January 11th, 2008

Sick of’s pop-up ads?

Setting-up a weather satellite station is remarkably simple: Connect a discone antenna ($50-100) to a PC-controlled receiver (HobbySpace used a ICOM – PCR1000 – now a 1500). The receiver includes software to receive the audio signal. You will need software to decode the audio to obtain the weather image. HobbySpace used WXSat (freeware). More advanced station designs are available here.

You can use WinOrbit to track when and where a polar satellite will pass. By the way, these polar satellites work a little different than your typical weather satellites that show weather patterns moving across the country on your local news:

The NOAA polar satellites orbit at 850km and pass within view of all areas on earth at least twice day. The satellite carries a number of instruments including cameras for both visible and Infrared light.

The cameras scan back and forth at right angles to the ground path, like a broom sweeping side-to-side as you walk forward, taking picture strips that cover an area 3000km wide. The satellite thus makes a continuous picture as if it was a tape reeling out from an endless roll.

The image, however, is not recorded on the satellite. Each image strip is immediately broadcast to the ground at a frequency just above 137MHz. The satellite will be in range for up to 12min as the satellite passes from horizon to horizon.

The broadcast uses the APT (Automatic Picture Transmission) analog format for the imagery. (A digital format – High Resolution Picture Transmission (HRPT ) signal is also transmitted but it is more difficult to receive and decode and we did not try to receive it in this project.)

Want the whole shebang? Build an ethernet weather station to collect temperature and air pressure readings, then feed the data through its very own web server.

And, if you’re looking for a location for your new venture, consider my old stomping grounds – southern Wisconsin. Among the bizarre events in the past few weeks: first Severe Thunderstorm Warning in 14 years during the month of January; numerous rivers exceeding flood stage…in JANUARY; and record high January temperatures throughout the area. Crazy. We’ll save the global warming debate for a different day. Let me just say I’m glad I did my cross-country skiing in December and not January.

Eutelsat, Viasat Team up to Offer Broadband Capacity

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

It’s incredible to reflect — and appropriate in these early days of a new year — on how rapidly broadband access has grown in the last four years. Back in 2004, some of us were still contending with dial up at home, while on the road, an 802.11b connection was a rare luxury.

Now, of course, WiFi is ubiquitous, but for true road warriors, seeking out a Starbucks is no longer  an acceptable way to maintain productivity. Aircards or satellite broadband are the way to go.

And for those in the rural and ex-urban hinterlands, satellite broadband is increasingly edging out DSL and Cable as the way to get connected. As we’ve blogged before, WildBlue has been so successful in signing up ex-urbanites that they’ve had to turn away business.


But more capacity is on the way. Eutelsat and ViaSat are working together in developing the Ka-band for Internet access services: 

ViaSat and Eutelsat are cooperating around ViaSat’s Ka-band SurfBeam networking system and a common wholesale business model to offer service through ISPs, telecommunication companies, and direct-to-home television providers, the US company said.

Eutelsat announced separately that it has selected EADS Astrium to deliver its first satellite operating exclusively in Ka-band frequencies.

ViaSat, too, is getting its own satellite — a first for them — to be built by Loral and operated by Telesat:

The new spacecraft is scheduled to launch in 2011 and is expected to provide more than 15 years of service life. It employs SS/L’s space-proven 1300 platform and high-capacity Ka-band spot beam technology to ultimately service more broadband users at faster data rates than any previous satellite.

The orbital location, 115 degrees West, is one Telesat has had for a while. (It was not one of the new licenses issued last June.)

Meanwhile, Telesat’s Canadian competitor broke ground on its satellite control center last month:

The Ciel Satellite Group announced today that it has selected SED Systems, a division of Calian Ltd, to expand SED’s satellite control center facilities in Saskatoon in preparation for the initiation of tracking, telemetry and control (TT&C) operations for Ciel-2, a satellite that is planned for operation by the first quarter of 2009….

SED Systems has been in operation since 1965. Headquartered in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the company is ideally located, in terms of look-angle to Ciel-2’s 129 degree West orbital position. In March 2008, ground will be broken to install the monitoring antenna, while the entire facility renovation and upgrade is expected to be complete by the end of summer 2008. A team of dedicated satellite controllers will be trained and in position, ready to operate Ciel-2 well before its planned fourth quarter 2008 launch and in-orbit testing.

It should be noted that ViaSat’s further adoption of its DOCSIS-based Surfbeam platform, which is used by WildBlue in the U.S., could lead to ViaSat helping WildBlue with additional capacity in the future.

For a local perspective on Viasat’s new venture, check out this article from the San Diego Union-Tribune

Without a doubt, the satellite broadband business continues to boom.