Archive for April, 2008

DIY Friday: Wireless Internet Cantenna

Friday, April 18th, 2008

For those of you who are unaware, a Cantenna is “a directional waveguide antenna for long-range Wi-Fi used to increase the range of (or snoop on) a wireless network.” WiFi antenna designs are almost limitless – you can use a mineral water bottle, a cable antenna, a pringles can, a fire extinguisher, a kitchen steamer, or a cooking strainer and thumbdrive. Leave me a comment if I missed something.

The most common design utilizes a simple tin can, an N-Female chassis mount connector, and some thick wire. Instructions are available here, but the process is fairly simple: “1. Collect the parts; 2. Drill or punch holes in your can to mount the probe; 3. Assemble the probe and mount in can.” If you want to optimize different size cans, the (somewhat complicated) math is described here.

For a good overview of WiFi antennas, check out this excellent episode of Systm:

But, since Really Rocket Science tries to push the DIY-limits (and since we really like satellite dishes), try “hot-rodding” a basic can-Cantenna by adding an old satellite dish. Instructions are available here – let’s just say it takes a fair amount of creative ingenuity. It’s for the DIY-expert.

And, as usual, you could just be lame and buy one.

Rumble in the Jungle

Friday, April 18th, 2008
Lancement ce soir (launch tonight). There’s going to be a big rumble in the jungles of French Guiana tonight when an Ariane 5 ECA rocket is scheduled to blast off, launching two geo satcoms into space later today. Roll-out yesterday:
Arianespace today rolled out the Ariane 5 for its second mission of 2008, clearing the way for a final countdown to its liftoff tomorrow evening with the Star One C2 and VINASAT-1 telecommunications satellites.
The heavy-lift Ariane 5 ECA emerged from its Final Assembly Building at 10:45 a.m., and arrived in the Spaceport’s ELA-3 launch zone at 12:00 noon.
This transfer utilized a 2.8-km. section of the dual-rail system that links the Spaceport’s major launch infrastructure elements. The Ariane 5 rode atop one of two mobile launch tables developed for the workhorse vehicle.
Star One C2 and VINASAT-1 will be deployed during the Ariane 5’s 31-minute-long flight, with liftoff from French Guiana scheduled at the 7:17 p.m. opening of a 1-hour, 7-min. launch window.


Live broadcast in Vietnam  on VTV-1. The launch will be available via webcast beginnging at 21:57 GMT. Launch window opens at 22:17 GMT.

Vinasat-1 will be owned and operated by VNPT and Star One C2 by Embratel’s satellite operator. Interesting. From the jungles of French Guiana, satellites covering the jungles of Southeast Asia and the Amazon.
La Revue d’Aptitude au Lancement (RAL) s’est déroulée le mercredi 16 avril à Kourou et a autorisée les opérations de chronologie pour le Vol Ariane 5 ECA – STAR ONE C2 & VINASAT-1. Pour son 2ème lancement de l’année, Arianespace mettra en orbite deux satellites de télécommunications : STAR ONE C2 pour l’opérateur Brésilien Star One, dans le cadre d’un contrat clés en main avec Thales Alenia Space et VINASAT-1 construit par Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems (LMCSS) pour le compte de l’opérateur Vietnamien Vietnam Post and Telecommunications Corporation (VNPT). Le lancement sera effectué depuis l’Ensemble de Lancement Ariane n° 3 (ELA 3) à Kourou en Guyane française. Le décollage du lanceur Ariane 5 ECA est prévu le plus tôt possible dans la fenêtre de lancement suivante:
GMT : de 22h17 à 23h24, le 18 avril 2008
PARIS : de 00h17 à 01h24, le 19 avril 2008
HANOÏ : de 05h17 à 06h24, le 19 avril 2008
KOUROU : de 19h17 à 20h24, le 18 avril 2008
RIO DE JANEIRO : de 19h17 à 20h24, le 18 avril 2008

Space Tug Gets Entangled

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

"Amid a flurry of legal wranglings, charges and countercharges, a North Salt Lake company and three former associates are in a tug-of-war over nuclear-powered space tugs, with perhaps billions of dollars at stake," the Salt Lake Tribune reports:

IOSTAR and its founder and CEO have filed suit against the three former associates, alleging theft of corporate secrets in order to develop competing satellites. In a counterclaim, the three allege that the CEO has misappropriated millions of dollars and violated tax and securities law.

To date, no satellites have been developed, let alone launched. IOSTAR has seen its board of directors implode through dismissals or resignations. And a tangled web of companies and current and former officers is caught in the legal crossfire. 

IOSTAR’s dream of a nuclear-powered satellite that could serve as a tug pulling other satellites from a low orbit, where it’s cheaper to launch them into their proper orbits, is shared by many companies. Last December, Loral wanted in on the Space Tug proposal:

The Space System/Loral-team would use the company’s proven 1300-series satellite bus as a refuelable space tug that would remain in orbit for as long as 10 years. After docking with and escorting an essentially dumb cargo vessel to the [International Space Station], the vehicle would also remove it from the station and allow it to be deorbited over an ocean. 

While the space tug legal wranglings work themselves out in Utah, the ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) — the "most powerful space tug ever built" — is proving to be an indispensable ISS supply ship.


Approximately every 17 months, ATV is scheduled to carry 7.7 tonnes of cargo to the Station 400 km above the Earth. An onboard high precision navigation system will automatically guide ATV on a rendezvous trajectory towards ISS, where it will dock with the Station’s Russian service module Zvezda.

We blogged about ATV’s launch last month. The ISS is getting good use out of the ATV, as today’s status report from the ISS indicates. ATV1 is scheduled to undock from the ISS in August of this year.

Nice Science Project, Kid

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008


"Der Junge aus Potsdam habe recht" — that’s what NASA said, as reported by the Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten over the weekend. Translation: The boy from Potsdam is right:

Ein Potsdamer Schüler hat die Gefahr eines Asteroideneinschlags richtig berechnet und damit die Nasa blamiert. Was der 13-Jährige für das Jahr 2036 voraussagt, ist alles andere als beruhigend.

NASA figured there was a 1 in 45,000 chance the Apophis asteroid could collide with Earth. More like 1 in 450, according to Nico Marquardt. Here’s the story in English, via the AFP:

A 13-year-old German schoolboy corrected NASA’s estimates on the chances of an asteroid colliding with Earth, a German newspaper reported Tuesday, after spotting the boffins had miscalculated.

Nico Marquardt used telescopic findings from the Institute of Astrophysics in Potsdam (AIP) to calculate that there was a 1 in 450 chance that the Apophis asteroid will collide with Earth, the Potsdamer Neuerster Nachrichten reported.

NASA had previously estimated the chances at only 1 in 45,000 but told its sister organisation, the European Space Agency (ESA), that the young whizzkid had got it right.

The schoolboy took into consideration the risk of Apophis running into one or more of the 40,000 satellites orbiting Earth during its path close to the planet on April 13 2029.

Those satellites travel at 3.07 kilometres a second (1.9 miles), at up to 35,880 kilometres above earth — and the Apophis asteroid will pass by earth at a distance of 32,500 kilometres.

If the asteroid strikes a satellite in 2029, that will change its trajectory making it hit earth on its next orbit in 2036.

Both NASA and Marquardt agree that if the asteroid does collide with earth, it will create a ball of iron and iridium 320 metres (1049 feet) wide and weighing 200 billion tonnes, which will crash into the Atlantic Ocean.

The shockwaves from that would create huge tsunami waves, destroying both coastlines and inland areas, whilst creating a thick cloud of dust that would darken the skies indefinitely.

The 13-year old made his discovery as part of a regional science competition for which he submitted a project entitled: "Apophis — The Killer Astroid."

Black Holes & Taxes

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008


Paid my taxes the other day — yes, I had to pay. The forthcoming golden goose from the U.S. Treasury will act as a counter-balance, but I’m still paying up. Where does my money go?

The U.S. Defense Budget dwarfs hundreds of other counties’ budgets combined — in fact, the DoD overspent by $295 billion last year, reports the Christian Science Monitor.  Does that include the "black budget?" The New York Times did a great piece on it on April Fools Day:

The classified budget of the Defense Department, concealed from the public in all but outline, has nearly doubled in the Bush years, to $32 billion. That is more than the combined budgets of the Food and Drug Administration, the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Those billions have expanded a secret world of advanced science and technology in which military units and federal contractors push back the frontiers of warfare. In the past, such handiwork has produced some of the most advanced jets, weapons and spy satellites, as well as notorious boondoggles.

Budget documents tell little. This year, for instance, the Pentagon says Program Element 0603891c is receiving $196 million but will disclose nothing about what the project does. Private analysts say it apparently aims at developing space weapons.

More than the FDA, NSF and NASA budget combined? Dude, that’s a black hole, which some find interesting. Hey, I’m all for space research and development, but a cure for cancer would be better 


More interesting, in my opinion, was the news from the ESA press release yesterday about a "certified monster" black hole:

A team of Japanese astronomers using ESA’s XMM-Newton, along with NASA and Japanese X-ray satellites, has discovered that our galaxy’s central black hole let loose a powerful flare three centuries ago.
The finding helps resolve a long-standing mystery: why is the Milky Way’s black hole so quiescent? The black hole, known as Sagittarius A-star (A*), is a certified monster, containing about 4 million times the mass of our Sun. Yet the energy radiated from its surroundings is thousands of millions of times weaker than the radiation emitted from central black holes in other galaxies.

"We have wondered why the Milky Way’s black hole appears to be a slumbering giant," says team leader Tatsuya Inui of Kyoto University in Japan. "But now we realise that the black hole was far more active in the past. Perhaps it’s just resting after a major outburst."

The observations, collected between 1994 and 2005, revealed that clouds of gas near the central black hole brightened and faded quickly in X-ray light as they responded to X-ray pulses emanating from just outside the black hole. When gas spirals inward toward the black hole, it heats up to millions of degrees and emits X-rays. As more matter piles up near the black hole, the X-ray output becomes greater. 
These X-ray pulses take 300 years to traverse the distance between the central black hole and a large cloud known as Sagittarius B2, so the cloud responds to events that occurred 300 years earlier.

Read more about the XMM-Newton.


Atlas Launches ICO G1 Satellite

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Yesterday at 4:12 pm at Cape Canaveral, an Atlas 5 rocket successfully lifted ICO Global Communications‘ ICO G1 North American geosynchronous satellite, "a mobile communications satellite to assist and entertain Americans on the go."

The launch marked the first commercial flight in two years of an Atlast 5, and the carrying of its heaviest payload ever

 Weighing 14,625 pounds, the ICO G1 spacecraft was the heftiest payload ever launched by an Atlas rocket. Built by Space Systems/Loral, the craft stands over 27 feet tall, features a 39-foot-diameter mesh reflector antenna that will be unfurled in space and a pair of power-generating solar wings to span over 100 feet tip-to-tip once extended in orbit.

It’s a pretty bird, the G1:


 The ICO G 1 satellite belongs to the 2-GHz mobile systems, which are driving a growing segment of today’s satellite manufacturing industry.

ICO’s G 1 satellite is based on SS/L’s space-proven LS-1300 platform, which has an excellent record of reliable operation. Its high efficiency solar arrays and lightweight batteries are designed to provide uninterrupted electrical power. In all, SS/L satellites have amassed almost 1,200 years of reliable on-orbit service.

ICO G1 is a next-generation satellite designed to deliver a wide variety of interactive services to mobile and portable devices using ICO’s Mobile Interactive Media (ICO mim™).

The launch marks the first deployment of DVB-SH service in North America. DVB-SH is short for Digital Video Broadcasting – Satellite services to Handhelds; it’s "a physical layer standard for delivering IP based media content and data to handheld terminals such as mobile phones or PDAs, based on a hybrid satellite/terrestrial downlink."

ICO mim addresses a wide variety of consumers’ entertainment, information and two-way communication needs, including live and stored mobile TV in vehicles, interactive navigation, and roadside assistance, all with nationwide coverage.

ICO mim will also initially provide 10-15 channels of premium television content to portable, larger-screen (4.5- to 10-inch) user devices. Initial partners for the trial phase of ICO mim include Alcatel-Lucent.

For a demo video of ICO mim click here. To see the current state of DVB-H reployments, click here.

Here’s the launch video…

Submarine Cable Cut Mystery Solved

Monday, April 14th, 2008

Earlier this year we discussed undersea fiber cables being cut in the Mediterranean. The event led to disruptions in 70% of Egypt’s Internet service (and lots of busy SES NEW SKIES sales offices). Now, thanks to satellite imagery, comes the swift hand of telecommunications justice:

Dubai authorities have impounded two ships suspected of damaging undersea telecom cables in the Middle East earlier this year. One of the ships has reportedly been released after paying for the damage. The cable cuts, which disrupted Internet traffic in much of the Middle East, India and Pakistan, sparked a flurry of conspiracy theories that the series of outages in the region were not a coincidence.

Reliance Globalcom, whose FLAG Telecom unit maintains the cables, contacted authorities after studying the satellite images of the ship movements around the area of undersea cable damage. The Hindu reports that Dubai Port Trust officials believe the two ships, MV Hounslow and MT Ann, improperly dropped anchor in the area. The cables then were damaged by "jerks and force of the ship(s)" the port said.

The action was taken after Reliance Globalcom provided details of its analysis of satellite images documenting the ship movements around the area of undersea cable damage. "The matter has been brought to the notice of appropriate authorities which are taking necessary action," the Reliance Globalcom official told The Hindu.

The National Terror Alert reports that a Korean ship was released after an official admitted that the vessel was in the area and made a payment of $60,000 to compensate FLAG Telecom for repairs. The second ship, which belongs to an Iraqi company, is still being held in Dubai, the report said, quoting Dubai police officials.

The news may put to rest a number of conspiracy theories, including the ever-popular Godzilla explanation.

DIY: Beer!

Friday, April 11th, 2008

When I was underage and in college (and with a very weak fake), my roommates and I looked into homemade beer kits for a cheap and reliable source of beer. Ultimately, we figured the stench of yeast might tip-off the dorm supervisor.

In writing this post, I trust I’m encouraging the craft of beermaking, not law aversion. Let’s respect beer.

Instructables gives us the step-by-step instructions, with photos. Most home brews combine four basic ingredients: malt, hops, yeast, and water. For video instructions, check out ExpertVillage. I suggest the how-to guide for my favorite brew – the Indian Pale Ale.

If this is just all too confusing, you could just buy Mr. Beer. It’s on sale!

For whatever process you choose, you can purchase an ingredients kit for your desired variety, but how DIY is that? This Pennsylvanian grew his own hops:

LAST SEASON’S disastrous hops shortage has sparked a run on rhizomes, the planted stems that grow into towering, hop-bearing bines.

Homebrewers and, remarkably, some small breweries are buying up hop rhizomes in a new wave of do-it-yourself farming of one the key ingredients of beer. The plants are becoming so scarce this spring that some would-be growers have resorted to buying them on eBay at marked-up prices.

"There’s definitely a panic out there, because brewers can’t buy the hops they need," said Dave Wills, an Oregon hops supplier who said his rhizome sales increased 400 percent this year.

"Brewers don’t want to be at the whim of big [hops] dealers," Wills said. "So now some of them are looking into growing their own."

In central Pennsylvania, for example, brewers Ryan Richards and Jesse Rotz have spent the past weeks planting 200 hop rhizomes on a family farm near Gettysburg.

"I’m not expecting very many hops in the first year," said Richards, who expects to open Roy Pitz Brewing in Chambersburg in June. "But hopefully after the second year, we’ll have significant yield that we can use for our own beer, plus trade and sell online."

The green, conelike hop flowers are the spice of beer, providing bitterness, flavor and aroma. Their production is controlled mainly by agricultural cartels in several distinct regions around the world, including Germany, the Czech Republic, China and the northwestern United States.

Most of the new generation of hops growers are homebrewers, hobbyists with a bit of backyard space for the sprouts.


And if you want to be super fresh and natural, make a certified organic brew:

As a home brewer you have many choices. Why not choose to brew organic! Your choice will give you clean tasting, fresh organic beer, and your choice will have a positive impact by supporting chemical and GMO* free sustainable agriculture. Organic homebrew might cost slightly more, but it is significantly less expensive than buying organic beer at a store. Plus, the cost is an investment in a better world!

Bosnian Phenomena

Thursday, April 10th, 2008


"Meteori padaju!!" That’s what Radivoje Lajic has been saying for months (that’s Croatian for "the meteors are falling"). The news item, via Daily News & Analysis:

A Bosnian man whose home has been hit an incredible five times by meteorites believes he is being targeted by aliens.

Experts at Belgrade University have confirmed that all the rocks Radivoje Lajic has handed over were meteorites. They are now investigating local magnetic fields to try and work out what makes the property so attractive to the heavenly bodies.

But Lajic, who has had a steel girder reinforced roof put on the house he owns in the northern village of Gornja Lamovite, has an alternative explanation.

He said: “I am obviously being targeted by extraterrestrials. I don’t know what I have done to annoy them but there is no other explanation that makes sense.”

The Daily Mail is reporting he thinks he’s being targeted by aliens. What are the odds of five meteorites hitting the same house? Must be astronomical. Although he’s got rock-solid evidence, could his neighbors be playing tricks on him?  Consider also the idea of the Bosnian Pyramids:

Inhabitants in Visoko have been fascinated by the hill for thousands of years. Anthropologists discovered that Visoko has a rich history and that it was the center of organized human settlements in the Middle Ages. German and Bosnian archeologists found 24 000 Neolithic artifacts which are 7 000 years old.

Visocica hill is 2120 ft (650 m) high and has a triangular form. Back in time, the medieval fortress was constructed by Bosnian kings at the top of the hill. The fortress was built over an old Roman Empire observation post which was made over the ruins of a prehistoric settlement. In other words, the hill can be used as a typical illustration of cultures building on top of other cultures.

There are no records of any civilizations in Europe attempting to build pyramids. Local and international experts dispute the theory about Bosnian pyramids. They claim that ancient civilizations in Bosnia were not capable of constructing colossal structures as the Bosinan pyramids.

However, Mr. Osmanagic claims that the hill has 4 perfectly formed slopes pointing toward the cardinal points, a plane top and an entrance complex (not yet discovered). 

Could have been built by extraterrestrials? Is Bosnia littered with space rocks? If you find this intriguing, attend the International Scientific Conference for the Bosnian Valley of the Pyramids this August, in Sarajevo.


News from Satcom Africa 2008

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

The Satcom Africa 2008 conference just wrapped up four days at the Sandton Convention Center in Johannesburg — and naturally that means there’s a bit of news to catch up on from all the tradeshow announcements.


First up, Tatanet announced its plans to set up a satcom network in Africa: 

Tatanet, a satellite communication systems integrator, has bagged a contract to set up a satellite communication to provide internet connectivity across 53 countries across the African continent. The financial terms of the contract were not disclosed.

The company has bagged the order from the public sector unit Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd (TCIL), which is implementing the e-network project on turnkey basis. The network will create a network for tele-medicine, tele-education, internet, video conferencing, telecommunication, and e-governance services, Tatanet said in a statement.

Tatanet, a division of Nelco, is a satellite communication project systems integrator and V-Sat service provider.

Lot of use of the word "bag" as a verb in that excerpt, no?

The UAE’s Yahsat was at Satcom Africa for the first time to remind satcom players that it, too, is moving into the African market:

Yahsat earlier signed an agreement with Arianespace to launch the Yahsat 1A satellite in the second half of 2010. The satellite is currently being manufactured by the consortium of EADS Astrium and Thales Alenia Space. Another agreement was also signed with International Launch Services (ILS) to launch the Yahsat 1B satellite in first half of 2011. 

And Intelsat, one of the main sponsors of SatCom Africa 2008, is intent on bringing mobile telephone service via satcom to greater parts of Africa: 

 Intelsat currently runs 53 out of the 250 satellites that orbit the earth at a height of 30000km, serving mainly Africa.

The company provides capacity to 200 clients, including Multichoice, Vodacom, Internet Solutions, Verizon Business and national signal distributor Sentech….

Intelsat Africa has identified Africa, where populations are spread out and where the terrain make it too expensive to roll out extensive infrastructure, as its key market for introducing complete cellular coverage.

How will all of these initiatives in Africa effect prices? Ugandan ICT minister Alitumba Nsambu, who delivered the keynote address at the conference, noted that "many African countries regard satellite as an old and expensive technology" that drives up communications costs, leading some nations to turn to undersea cables and optical fibre networks.

That discussion, which has been playing out through legislative wrangling over the allocation of C-band spectrum, continued through the conference. SA’s science and technology minister Mosibudi Mangena, however, noted satellite still had a critical role to play in SA, in addressing the disparity of connectivity:

Satellite can be used in SA to provide connectivity in under-serviced areas, he said. “We view satellite as very important – integrating the country, building a more equal society.”

Hartshorn agreed, stating that the biggest satellite roll-out has been for e-government services. Satellite services are finding their way into the mix and developing applications to serve the poor. “So it’s an exciting time for them.”