Archive for March, 2008

Sky Angel to Take Flight on IPTV

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Sky Angel, the "faith and family" direct broadcast satellite service currently available on Echostar 3 at 61.5° West, is moving all the way to an IPTV platform in the United States:

 

Nancy Christopher, Sky Angel’s VP for Corporate Communication, [says] "Yes, we will be transitioning Sky Angel to a broadband Internet protocol called Internet Protocol Television (IPTV). It’s a proven technology that’s widely used in Europe and Asia and gaining popularity in the U.S. We already deliver our service into Canada using this technology."

IPTV provides viewers value-added services and conveniences such as the ability to set up their own equipment (no outside dish or antenna or professionally installed equipment needed), to retrieve programs that have already aired, much like a personal video recorder, and to utilize Video on Demand. IPTV enables programs to be viewed on conventional TVs, personal computers and handheld instruments, which will provide viewers the benefit of receiving programs at home and on the go. Enhanced programming, additional channels and more choices of programming packages for individual subscribers are other features afforded by IPTV.

The move is not without its controversies, as some of the comments over at Phil Cooke’s blog indicate. Some lifetime subscribers question whether abandoning satcom means abandoning Sky Angel’s vision of spreading the Gospel throughout the world. But with Sky Angel having already transferred their licenses to Echostar, the deal is done.

Defenders of the move note that more channels will be made available at the same price on the IPTV platform. Sky Angel just last week added the CBS College Sports network to its line up; and, unlike some cable operators, Sky Angel on IPTV will include the much-in-demand NFL Network.

Of course, Sky Angel’s news and religious channels will continue to provide coverage of major religious events, like the Pope’s upcoming visit to the United States

The move to IPTV isn’t the first time Sky Angel has been among the first to set up shop on the borders of new broadcasting technologies:

Sky Angel led the way in exploring and then utilizing another cutting-edge technology known as direct broadcast satellite (DBS) when DBS was in its infancy back in the 1980’s. Sky Angel was actually the second company to apply to the FCC for a DBS license back in 1981 when DBS was actually untested technology. Back then, frequency spectrum and orbital slots were yet to be assigned, and there was no satellite manufacturer with a high-power DBS satellite design; the DBS technology was widely opposed by television station and cable industry trade groups back then. Of course, DBS came into its own during the ’90’s. In 1999, Sky Angel became the sole surviving DBS pioneer from that first round of nine 1981 DBS licensees when USSB merged with DirecTV (DISH and DirecTV acquired their licenses later).

You can learn more about Sky Angel on their corporate website

Space Junk, Mate!

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

 

 

Via the Daily Mail, stories of space junk landing in the Outback:

 Outback farmer James Stirton’s property consisted of little more than a herd of cattle and a sea of dust – until a curious object from outer space dropped in.

Mr Stirton scratched his head in wonder as he stared at the mangled ball of metal.

No one in their senses would drive hundreds of miles across the desert just to dump it in the middle of nowhere. So it must have come from above.

But what was it and how had it got there?

It came from outer space: James Stirton surveys the lump of twisted metal, which he found on his cattle farm in Queensland, Australia

Mr Stirton asked aeronautical experts in Australia and the U.S. But no one could give him a clear-cut answer.

So he loaded the object onto his truck and drove it to Charleville, 100 miles from his 120,000-acre property in Queensland. In Charleville it was examined by Mark Rigby, a curator from the Brisbane Planetarium.

He declared he had no doubt what it was – a helium or nitrogen tank from a rocket used to blast a U.S. solar satellite into space. Mr Stirton came across the object last November.

Mr Rigby was able to establish that it had most likely been launched from Cape Canaveral on October 26, 2006, on one of two satellites that were to study the sun.

The tank had been predicted for re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere at 11.47am, Australian time, on November 1, which would have put it near Indonesia.

Space junk: The whorl of shredded metal is believed to have once been part of a rocket

"I don’t know why but I think it has just sort of limped on a bit and ended up in Charleville," said Mr Rigby. Mr Stirton was on his way to feed his cattle when he came across the lump, which is 21in wide and weighs 44lb.

"It gave me a great shock when I first saw it. I had no idea what it was. I know all about sheep and cattle but I don’t know much about satellites or space stuff."

He added: "We don’t get many visitors here but anyone who has seen it has either wanted to touch it or has stood back, afraid that someone or something was going to jump out of it."

He has been told he could probably sell his space souvenir but hasn’t received any offers – yet.

 

 

Digg it. 

DIY Friday: Your Own Rocket Plane!

Friday, March 28th, 2008

Ok, it’s not really a DIY project. But we were mighty impressed by the news yesterday that Xcor’s Lynx Rocketplane (er, suborbital vehicle) could be bringing people into space within 2 years.

 

Bringing two people to an altitude of 200,000 feet is as close as you might get to DIY Space Travel — especially if the guy sitting next to you can’t fly.

The LA Times has more: 

Xcor Aerospace Inc. announced Wednesday that it would enter the space tourism market with a rocket plane that would carry passengers for about $100,000 a ride.

The Lynx will take off under its own power, carrying just a pilot and a single passenger, the Mojave, Calif., company said at a news conference in Beverly Hills.

Each flight will reach an altitude of 200,000 feet, close enough to space that passengers will experience about 90 seconds of weightlessness. Flight testing of the Lynx is expected to begin in 2010.

Popular Mechanics notes:

XCOR, however, does not plan to operate the space plane—only to build it, with Air Force Research Laboratory funding allegedly helping to test some of Lynx’s technology. If nothing else, XCOR’s announcement is yet another sign that private-space companies are finding access to funding and engineers, so that NASA won’t be the only agency heading north—way north—anytime soon.  

So what will it be like to fly in the Lynx? Check out the animated video from the company, conveniently posted for us space buffs on YouTube:

Also be sure to read the press release for more information, including a nice diagram (PDF) of the Lynx’s flight profile.  

FCC is Next for Sirius-XM Deal

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

 

So we get news the Department of Justice approved of the Sirius-XM deal on Monday. Today’s Washington Time summarizes what the FCC still needs to consider in giving the final OK:

Private equity group Georgetown Partners wants the commission to require a combined XM and Sirius to lease one-fifth of their total channel capacity and infrastructure to a "totally independent and unaffiliated third party, such as Georgetown, to remedy the anti-competitive monopoly that would otherwise result," according to the company’s FCC filing.

HD Radio pioneer iBiquity Digital thinks any new satellite-radio receivers should be equipped to play both over-the-air broadcast radio and HD radio, a requirement it says should last for three years in cars and one year for stand-alone radios.

The nonprofit Media Access Project urges any approval to be contingent on the company relinquishing half its spectrum, which would be used as either a set-aside for educational programing, leased to another commercial firm or returned to the FCC for a federal auction. D.C. public interest group Public Knowledge likewise calls for a set-aside (5 percent of channel capacity) for educational broadcasters, but also urges a three-year freeze on the new company’s combined programming.

Those groups and others endorse a proposal from U.S. Electronics, which makes car devices, that calls for an "open access" condition to force the companies to allow any hardware manufacturer to make a satellite-radio receiver.

Of all the wish lists, Clear Channel Communications’ appears to be the longest. The radio giant wants half of the satellite-radio spectrum to go to a competitor, as well as a 5 percent "public interest set-aside." Clear Channel also wants a prohibition on local programming and local advertising revenues. Like iBiquity, it wants HD radio receivers embedded in satellite-radio receivers.

Clear Channel’s most ambitious request is that satellite-radio content — which unlike broadcast is based on a pay-to-play model — be subject to broadcast indecency standards.

The Justice Department on Monday approved the merger with no conditions, concluding it is not likely to harm consumers. The FCC proceeding is separate, but the agency typically is influenced by the department’s assessment of market conditions.

Alan Dozinger, a professor at Villanova School of Business, said the FCC likely will consider issues affecting satellite subscribers, such as pricing and equipment. The companies have said that no radios will be made obsolete by the merger, but Mr. Dozinger noted that XM uses geosynchronous technology and Sirius uses a low-orbit satellite.

"It won’t be so hard for [Sirius and XM] to satisfy future subscribers, but what are they going to do about the 17 million people who already have these systems? I suspect the FCC will put something down on that," he said.

 

Professor Dozinger needs a lesson in satellite radio orbits. Sirius uses a variation of a tundra or molniya orbit. Near geosynchronous, but eliptical — lots of hand-offs.

The conditions the FCC attaches will be most interesting. 

Cassini Tastes Organic Material

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

This isn’t a Whole Foods ad. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft “tasted” a surprising composition of organic materials erupting from Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, during a close flyby on March 12:

New heat maps of the surface show higher temperatures than previously known in the south polar region, with hot tracks running the length of giant fissures. Additionally, scientists say the organics “taste and smell” like some of those found in a comet. The jets themselves harmlessly peppered Cassini, exerting measurable torque on the spacecraft, and providing an indirect measure of the plume density.

“A completely unexpected surprise is that the chemistry of Enceladus, what’s coming out from inside, resembles that of a comet,” said Hunter Waite, principal investigator for the Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “To have primordial material coming out from inside a Saturn moon raises many questions on the formation of the Saturn system.”

“Enceladus is by no means a comet. Comets have tails and orbit the sun, and Enceladus’ activity is powered by internal heat while comet activity is powered by sunlight. Enceladus’ brew is like carbonated water with an essence of natural gas,” said Waite.

The Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer saw a much higher density of volatile gases, water vapor, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, as well as organic materials, some 20 times denser than expected. This dramatic increase in density was evident as the spacecraft flew over the area of the plumes.

The food metaphors don’t stop with “Whole Foods.” Apparently we have a “recipe for life:”

“Enceladus has got warmth, water and organic chemicals, some of the essential building blocks needed for life,” Dennis Matson, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in the statement. “We have quite a recipe for life on our hands, but we have yet to find the final ingredient, liquid water.”

Saturn’s moons have long been of interest to scientists, who say the largest, Titan, may resemble an early version of Earth, providing clues to how the planet developed. Enceladus, the sixth-largest moon, had already surprised scientists when in 2005 they detected a “significant atmosphere.”

Sox Fans Say, Where’s the Sat?

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

 

Boston Red Sox fans woke up at 6 am this morning to tune in the first pitch of the Major League baseball season opener (held this year in Tokyo) only to find — nothing:

I’ve been getting emails from DirecTV customers, who’ve said that their packages (ESPN2 and NESN) are out. Not sure if this is affecting all customers, or just some, but apparently there are some very unhappy early risers.

It’s been our general experience that it’s best not to anger Red Sox fans first thing in the morning — or any time of the day, for that matter. 

The customer service phone line said there was a system outage, according to the comments  the Extra Bases blog.

Turns out, the Standard Definition NESN Channel was out but NESN HD continued working. ESPN2HD was out, too, on DirecTV.

It was a dangerous situation, with one Boston fan warning, "I’m gonna go flip some cars."

Bobby Valentine himself thought the timing (of the game, not the outage) was "ludicrous." 

The Red Sox ended up defeating Oakland 6-5. No official word yet on what caused the broadcast out(r)age.

Tracking Sharks

Monday, March 24th, 2008

 

The speed with which a great white shark released from Monterey Bay Aquarium last month has made its way down to Mexico is making the news:

The great white shark that was released from the Monterey Bay Aquarium in February definitely knew what it meant to swim and don’t look back. The great white shark has made incredible progress since leaving the aquarium, and has many stunned.

The shark took just six weeks to make it all of the way to Baja.

The shark was a young male and spent 162 days at the aquarium after it was caught by a commercial fisherman in August.

The shark was caught accidentally.

San Jose Mercury News has more on this record-setting shark:

"It’s surprising that he did it as quick as he did," said John O’Sullivan, who oversees the live animal exhibits at the aquarium.

At a speed that’s astonished even longtime researchers tracking his progress through electronic tags, the shark has made it to 40 miles west of Mazatlán and is now the fastest young great white shark on record, O’Sullivan said.

None of the other sharks tagged and released by the aquarium have made it to Mexico with such accuracy and speed.

"It’s exciting to us that this animal has shown this behavior," O’Sullivan said.

So how does the tracking system work, and who does it? Check out the science behind the tracking

 Researchers from several institutions, including Stanford University, have joined their efforts in a Census of Marine Life project called Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP). Since the project began in 1999, they have attached more than 3,000 tags to sharks, seals, whales, tunas, squids, turtles, albatross and more. For the first time, these TOPP researchers are getting a glimpse of a pelagic ecosystem from the California Current to the North Pacific at daily, seasonal and yearly time scales….

Through tracking the tagged sharks, the TOPP team has found two distant destinations that the sharks favor, both of which they visit on a regular, annual travel timetable. Each winter the white sharks head out from the California coast, with some going to the Hawaiian Islands. Most, however, head to another hotspot, out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This second location is roughly 1,300 miles from the mainland—about half the distance to Hawaii—and a few hundred miles to the south of the direct route to the islands. Dubbed "the white shark café" by the researchers, just what the attraction is out there remains something of a puzzle. But what is clear is that all the sharks that summer along the California coast show remarkable fidelity; when they return to the mainland, they head for the same local neighborhoods that they favor every summer.

Let’s just hope the great white released from Monterey Bay doesn’t favor a certain beach off the coast of Long Island. With his speed, he could just make it there by the 4th of July. 

 

DIY Friday: Flat Panel TV

Friday, March 21st, 2008

No, I’m not suggesting you build your own television. Having you mess with a capacitor would get me sued in no time. But, when you buy yourself that sleek, flat-panel HDTV for some improved March Madness’ing, you don’t necessarily need to pay for an expensive installation.

One of the major appeals of flat panel TVs such as plasmas and LCDs is the space savings they create by hanging on the wall, out of the way. But do you need a pro to get that clean on-the-wall look? Not if you’re handy with a screwdriver, drill and know how to draw a straight line. We walk you through the steps of a typical flat panel install and highlight some of the areas where home owners may get “hung up.”

Before you get started drilling or bolting anything, you must carefully select the location. This is a much more serious decision than just picking a good place for a TV. Once you mount your plasma, the design of the entire room must be planned around it, and there’s no going back–you can’t just move the TV to another wall without remounting it, patching holes and repainting. Pick a location where the TV will be easily viewed by all seats in the room, which will also accommodate your speakers and can be conveniently connected to the rest of your components. If you want to put your TV on one wall and your components on the other side of the room, you’ve just seriously complicated your job. Also consider the placement of electrical outlets and lines. Although you will need to add a new outlet for the TV, having other outlets nearby makes the job easier. Also consider the height. While eye level is often ideal for TV viewing, large plasma TVs look better if placed a few inches above eye level, but not high enough to cause neck strain. A plasma mounted above a fireplace may look cool, but running wires behind and around a brick fireplace is a big job, and the height of the TV will hurt your neck after prolonged viewing.

Complete instructions are here. In short: find the wall studs, draw where the tv will go, bolt in the mounting rails, and attach the tv.

But what about all those wires?

Aesthetically, running cables through a wall yields the best results. Yet from a practical perspective, this requires substantial DIY skills, and a lot of effort especially when retrofitting a room. Furthermore, should you decide to hire a professional installer, the whole job can turn out to be pretty expensive – costing several hundred dollars – and often complicated to manage.

In addition, once cables are installed in walls and access holes closed, it would not be easy to replace any faulty cables, nor pass extra cables later.

Equally important, burying cables in walls as a wiring solution is invasive in nature. It requires expensive patching should the day come when you decide to move that flat panel TV elsewhere.

Some old-fashioned wire camouflage might be your best bet. But if you want to brave the behind-the-wall strategy, try these instructions. (NOTE: flickr photo notes are perfect for DIY instructions.)

If you’re feeling discouraged because your tax rebate is still in the mail—because you’re still stuck with a clunky 27 inch rear-projection television—do not worry. Just make it flat-screen, hillbilly-style:

Turns out all you need to turn that bulky old clunker of a TV into a slick-looking flat panel is a little extra closet room! I bet your wheels are turning now, aren’t they — thinking up all the other cool things you could embed into your walls. I should warn you, however, that console TVs don’t look quite as nice as the newer model televisions.

   

700 MHz Spectrum Auction

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

 

[Antenna image courtesy of DMS Wireless

Very interesting to see EchoStar as one of the winners in the FCC auction, via Multichannel News:

EchoStar won sizable amounts of spectrum in the government’s 700-Megahertz wireless spectrum auction – and Cox Communications emerged as the largest winning cable entity – but the biggest slices went to Verizon Wireless and AT&T, the Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday.

The auction, which closed March 18, generated $19.592 billion in total bids. A portion of the funds will be allocated to the Commerce Department’s digital-to-analog converter box program.

“Even in a difficult economic climate, revenues raised in this auction exceeded congressional estimates of $10.182 billion by approximately 187%– nearly twice the amount Congress had anticipated would be raised to support public safety initiatives, the digital television transition and $7 billion in budget deficit reduction,” FCC chairman Kevin Martin said, in a statement.

However, preliminary FCC data regarding winning bidders indicated that, based on self-reporting, women-owned bidders failed to win any licenses and minority-owned bidders won less 1% of licenses.

In a prepared statement, FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said: “It’s appalling that women and minorities were virtually shut out of this monumental auction… Here we had an enormous opportunity to open the airwaves to a new generation that reflects the diversity of America, and instead we just made a bad situation even worse. This gives whole new meaning to ‘white spaces’ in the spectrum.”

The spectrum in the 700-MHz band is being made available as a result of the government’s mandate that over-the-air broadcasters cease their analog over-the-air signals by Feb. 17, 2009.

EchoStar won 168 licenses in the E block, spectrum covering most of the United States, for a total of $711 million, according to the FCC’s Web site.

Cox, which was bidding as Cox Wireless, will pay $304.6 million for 22 licenses, in the A and B blocks, in California, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma. Cox’s largest single winning bid was $84.1 million for an A-block license in San Diego.

Paul Allen’s Vulcan Ventures secured two A Block licenses, in the Pacific Northwest, for $112 million. Analyst firm Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. predicted that spectrum will overlap with his cable holdings.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable did not participate in the auction. Cablevision Systems registered to bid but did not win any licenses.

Verizon Wireless and AT&T—the two largest wireless carriers in the U.S.—accounted for 83% of the total bid in the auction.

Verizon Wireless won the regional licenses in the C block necessary for a nationwide footprint, paying in total $9.63 billion. AT&T will fork over $6.64 billion for 227 licenses, which are all in the B block.

Qualcomm won a total of nine licenses for a total of $1.03 billion, and was the initial – and only – bidder for the D block, with a $472 million bid.

The FCC Thursday issued an order de-linking the D block from the other blocks in the auction. The D Block did not meet its $1.3 billion reserve price established in advance of the auction.

The agency said it “is committed to making this spectrum available for use quickly after the DTV transition on February 17, 2009.” The FCC said it will not re-offer the D block immediately in Auction 76 but will consider its options for how to license this spectrum in the future.”

All told, there were 99 winning bidders for 754 spectrum licenses. The auction had a total of 261 rounds.

Other notable 700-MHz winners and losers:

- Google ended up with no winning bids in the auction. The Internet search giant had pressed the FCC to adopt a rule requiring the winning bidder of the C block to provide “open access” to third-party applications and devices, if a minimum bid price of $4.3 billion was met.

- BendBroadband won a license in the B block in Oregon for $6.7 million.

- Neither Leap Wireless nor Alltel Wireless won any licenses.

 

 

Could a national mobile TV service be in the works? PocketDISH and iPod: a comparison.

 

SeaLaunch Lifts DirecTV 11

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

Sea Launch yesterday lifted the DIRECTV 11 satellite from its ocean-based platform on the Equator.

Yesteray’s launch marks Sea Launch’s 4th successful launch of a DIRECTV satellite:

A Zenit-3SL rocket lifted off at 3:48 pm PDT (22:48 GMT) from the Odyssey Launch Platform, positioned at 154 degrees West Longitude, precisely on schedule. All systems performed nominally throughout the flight. The Block DM-SL upper stage inserted the 5,923 kg (13,058 lb) DIRECTV 11 satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit, on its way to a final orbital position at 99.2 degrees West Longitude. Acquisition of the spacecraft’s first signals from orbit is expected in another few hours and will be reported when confirmed….

DIRECTV 11 is one of three recent Boeing 702-model spacecraft built for DIRECTV and is among the largest and most powerful Ka-band satellites built to date. The on-board technology of this direct-to-home satellite will enable DIRECTV to continue to expand its industry-leading lineup of quality high-definition television (HDTV) programming. DIRECTV 11, combined with the DIRECTV 10 satellite already in orbit, will provide DIRECTV with the capacity for 150 national HD channels and will be capable of supporting spot beams carrying 1,500 local HD channels.

Video of the launch can be seen here; a live webcam of the Sea Launch platform is viewable here

Boeing provides additional specs on the bird (opens in PDF).

It was just over a year ago that Sea Launch experienced a spectacular failure during its launch of the NSS-8 satellite. (The booster rocket exploded in a fireball during lift-off.) Additional details of that incident (as well as a pretty dramatic photo) can be seen in the comment thread of our blog post on that launch