Archive for April, 2008

1400-megapixel Camera to Change View of Universe

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008


How many pixels? 1400-megapixel? That’s 1.4 billion pixels, shutterbugs. And it won’t fit in your pocket.

The camera is part of the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS), which promises to change our view of the Universe, producing the largest and most detailed map of the heavens ever produced. Defense Industry Daily reports the project is about to get $8 million in funding from the U.S. Air Force:

Kirkland AFB, NM recently gave the University of Hawaii of Honolulu, Hawaii a modified contract for $8 million for the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (PanSTARRS) multi-year program. The initial effort to develop and deploy a telescope data management system was awarded via a Grant to the University of Hawaii (considered a Minority Institute) and “as the various phases progressed, the Air Force determined that a Cooperative Agreement would be the more appropriate instrument as now we would be substantially involved.” At this time all $8 million has been committed (FA9451-06-2-0338, P00002).

Located on top of a dormant volcano in Hawaii, the Pan-STARRS telescope will survey the visible sky, taking up to 1,000 exposures per night. In fact, this one telescope may be able to discover up to five times as many near-Earth asteroids as all present survey telescopes combined.


 Check out this page for a comparison of what other observation platforms/systems can see: Hubble, Subaru, Pan-STARRS and Palomar Sky Survey. This is an amazing telescope, with 400 times the sensitivity of the Palomar Sky Survey.

Cambodia Launches Satellite TV Network

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008


Many Americans probably haven’t given Cambodia a great deal of thought since the 1984 film The Killing Fields, though memories of that epic tale of survival against incredible odds were likely rekindled by the recent death of its real life protagonist, Dith Pran, of pancreatic cancer.

But Cambodia, thankfully, has changed dramatically since the days of the Khmer Rouge. Like much of Asia, it’s been experiencing tremendous economic growth

GDP growth is expected to average about 9.3% in 2007 and 2008,propelled by a continued expansion of agricultural output and sustained activity in garment exports, tourism, construction, transport and communications,and real estate.

That projected growth in communications was made real on April 3rd, with the announcement of the launch of Cambodia’s first satellite television network

PHNOM PENH, April 3 (Xinhua) — The national Television of Kampuchea (TVK) and the Cambodian DTV Network Limited (CDN), a branch of the Shin Satellite Company from Thailand, here on Thursday launched Techo-DTV, the first satellite TV network of Cambodia.

"From now on, people in all the corners of Cambodia will be able to watch all programs of our TV networks easily through this satellite TV network," said Khieu Kahnarith, Cambodian government spokesman and Minister of Information….

Dumrong Kasemset, Chief of Executive for the Shin Satellite Company, said that the main benefit of Techo-DTV service includes digital quality of picture and sound similar to that of DVD and convenience to install at every location of houses and buildings.

The DTV service sells [for] 75 U.S. dollars with satellite dish and antenna.

Urban Cambodian people can now access cable TV networks, while about 20 percent of the 14 million population in remote places can’t access TV service. Satellite TV will be their solution if they can afford it.

The new network marks continued rapid growth of satcom in Southeast Asia. Last August, we blogged about Vietnam’s first satellite, VinSat 1, which is scheduled to lift on April 19th. The $200 million satellite, owned by Viet Nam Post and Telecommunications Group (VNPT), will provide more than 200 digital television channels and tens of thousands of data transmission and telephone lines to Vietnam.

Will Cambodia be the next country in Southeast Asia to have its own satellite? It’s too soon to tell, but the recent discovery of oil in Cambodia is likely to accelerate its already respectable economic growth. Oil revenues can pay for lots of things, obviously — including entry into the satellite business, as we recently saw in Dubai.


Monday, April 7th, 2008

Yi? Why, that’s Korea’s first astronaut. Yi So-yeon is scheduled to lift-off tomorrow, on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, rolled to its launching pad earlier today. Symbolizing the historic trip, the rocket will depart from the same launch pad that Soviet Yury Gagarin, the first man in space, blasted off on in 1961.

The Russian-Korean crew has already bonded in the usual, Russian fashion – “The White Sun of the Desert”:

As always with Russian space missions, the crew will sit down together before blast off to watch the old Soviet film “The White Sun of the Desert”. The comedy classic boosts morale and is thought to bring the mission good luck.

Yi’s historic stint in space will be very busy:

After a 50-hour flight, the Soyuz spacecraft will dock at the International Space Station on Thursday. There Yi will conduct several experiments until April 18, one day before she returns to Earth. The experiments include studies of the germination, growth and mutation of plants in space, the effects of micro-gravity on eye pressure, the effects of a space environment on the heart, and a study on gravitational effects on aging and genes. Yi will use fruit flies for the latter experiment since their life span is two weeks, making it possible to observe their growth to maturity during her 10-day stay. Having obtained a doctorate in bio and brain engineering from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) last February, Yi is considered well qualified for experiments involving biology, physics, and electronic engineering.

And Yi isn’t about to conform to the usual NASA/RSA diets during her busy trip:

When it comes to dining, astronauts must live on space food they bring with them. Hundreds of kinds of space foods have been developed in the U.S. and Russia, made by freeze-drying items after they are sterilized by radiation. Yi will bring about a dozen Korean comestibles developed by the Korea Food Research Institute and Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, including rice, kimchi, red pepper paste, soybean paste soup and instant noodles.

DIY Friday: WiFi Network Detector

Friday, April 4th, 2008

Ever been working on a train, and a “New Network Found” popup hits you everytime you pass through a station or suburb? Of course, you’ll never actually connect as the train whips past the station; it just annoys you 10-15 times until you have enough motivation to disable your network adaptor.

Now, imagine if you could carry that annoyance around with you all the time, only replacing it with a disturbing heart-beat sound. Great, huh? Let’s make a DIY hot-spot detecter:

This project is for a small electronic unit that allows the user to sense the presence and relative signal strength of wireless hotspots. It can be worn as a pendant or carried in a pocket. It is “always on” and communicates the presence and signal strength of an in-range hotspot by way of sequences of pulses – like a heartbeat you can feel. The stronger and faster the “heartbeat”, the stronger the wireless signal detected.

It does not actually authenticate or otherwise interact with a hotspot in any way. It is a 100% passive device, meaning it transmits nothing – it can detect hotspots, but cannot be detected itself.

This project consists of a microcontroller, some custom interface electronics, a small vibe motor, and an off-the-shelf Wi-Fi detector – the one I used is by D-Link and is keychain-sized.

Instructions on building your own are available here. And, in what appears to be a bad remake of the video game Doom, they provided us with a demonstration video.

If you want to be lame you could just purchase a key-chain version for about $20 dollars, but you will lose out on the heart beat. For a little more money, Canary Wireless sells a version that detects not just the signal strength, but the type of authentication – letting you know if you will be able to easily “borrow” a signal. Still no annoying heart beat, though.

Of course, all of this is quite useless if you have an iPhone or wirelessly enabled smart phone.

Hovercraft – they aren’t just for the movies

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

Hovering is no easy exercise. Remember Star Wars and the X-34 landspeeder? Even the SoroSuub Corporation struggled.

But hovering isn’t just for Sci-Fi movie fans and role-players. Today’s rocket scientists may have found a new way to hover using “magnetic pinning.”

Superconductor technologies designed at Cornell aim to hold space-station modules and satellites in place without tethers or retrorockets by magnetically “pinning” them in place. Using unpowered superconductors and fixed permanent magnets, the Cornell researchers claim a new-age solution to longstanding stability and control problems in space vehicles.

Cornell hopes to prove the concept of magnetic pinning using unpowered superconductors for NASA spacecraft that must assemble themselves in orbit without the help of astronauts.. Within six months, the researchers plan to have a working test bed in place to verify that unpowered superconducting architectures can stabilize and control spacecraft.

“We believe that magnetic pinning with superconductors will enable much more stable space platforms to be constructed and held together without physical connections,” said Cornell University professor Mason Peck. “Modules that are magnetically pinned will also have a built-in bumper that prevents them from accidentally bumping into each other, potentially preventing the kind of damage that is hard to repair in space.”

This type of hovering may very well be utilized in the next year – but how will it work?

Magnetic pinning works by placing two space modules—one with an unpowered, but supercooled, superconducting coil and the other with an ordinary permanent magnet—near each other. The permanent magnet induces a current in the superconductor that is persistent and exactly opposite to the field of the magnet. In essence, one essentially “grips” the other with an invisible magnetic glove.

“When you bring a permanent magnet near a superconductor, it induces a current that stays there and exactly opposes the magnet’s own field–these are tiny current loops at the quantum level,” said Peck. “This in effect links the two objects with equal, opposing magnetic fields that keep them hovering next to each other indefinitely without supplying any external power. Even when external forces perturb them, they will maintain both their rotational and translational position.”

Of course, hovercraft are not new. Hell, Minnesota is using a much simpler version for ice rescues on Lake Minnetonka:

The department recently purchased the 16-foot vehicle that, using pressurized air power, travels above the ground, ice or water. It is perfect for when the ice is too thin to support another vehicle but too thick for a boat.

“The suits, the crawling – we were putting the victims and the firefighters in more danger,” said Dana George, assistant fire chief.

“This is not only a safer but a quicker way to reach people.”

At just $34,000, I can’t help but wonder why I can’t buy a hovercraft and go cruising. Or maybe I can:

WOW, On My BlackBerry

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008


I knew this would happen. Adding satellite radio reception to smartphones is very cool. I subscribe to Sirius, so I’m a little jealous to hear XM will be offered on some BlackBerry models, according to TWICE:

XM Satellite Radio today became available on BlackBerry devices from all leading carriers, broadening the availability of XM’s Radio Mobile service.

Previously XM Radio Mobile, which offers a selection of XM channels, was available only on select phones using the Alltel and AT&T networks.

Research in Motion BlackBerry devices will carry a selection of 20 XM channels on models including the Pearl, Curve, 8700 and 8000 series for a fee of $7.99 per month.

The service is enabled across many carriers through the OpenVideo platform from QuickPlay Media, a leading provider of mobile TV and video solutions. It will operate on BlackBerry devices using the Verizon, AT&T, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile networks, said an XM spokesman.

The select XM music and comedy channels are accessed via a downloadable application. They appear in a user interface with graphical icons and the software lets users see the song title, artist and album of a song that’s playing as well as the songs playing in real-time on other XM Radio Mobile channels. Subscribers can also listen to XM while performing other BlackBerry tasks.

Does this now open the door for Apple’s iPhone to begin offering the competing satellite radio service? If you read Apple’s patent application from two years ago ("Mobile Me"), it does include satellite reception.

Cool: it includes "The Virus" — the channel featuring O&A. Here’s the channel line up. It might be worth $8 a month after all. Get the download here.


Mars Colony

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Screw $200,000 sub-orbital flights, when you can go to Mars. You heard me right – Mars:

Earth has issues, and it’s time humanity got started on a Plan B. So, starting in 2014, Virgin founder Richard Branson and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin will be leading hundreds of users on one of the grandest adventures in human history: Project Virgle, the first permanent human colony on Mars.

Using their massive combined wealth, Branson, Page, and Brin will begin settling Mars in 2014. Worried by the coming climate crisis and aided by dramatic advances in spacecraft development and new Mars discoveries, the team is convinced the project is doable in the next 6-8 years. The team’s scientists have already chosen a location:

Our landing site is located on Lunae Planum on the northwest side of Kasei Valles. Lunae Planum marks the transition between the high Tharsis rise, a giant volcanic bulge, and the northern lowland plains. This region shows many signs of significant crustal deformation and other structures that are likely caused by ice. Scientists have hypothesized that this area’s valleys and ridges (called "fretted terrain") may have developed as icy debris flowed onto the northern plains eons ago, during the great Martian flood epoch. It’s an ideal place for our settlement, because of the likelihood of both subsurface water and nearby lava tubes and pits; mild weather (in Martian terms) due to its proximity to the equator; and proximity to Kasei Valles, which, after terraformation, will be highly attractive shorefront property. The Virgle 1 should settle down not far from Chryse Planitia, the Plains of Gold, where the Viking 1 spacecraft landed on July 20, 1976.

Watch Branson’s introductory video:

In other news, G-Mail announced a much anticipated custom time feature, TechCrunch is suing Facebook, and today marks the 500th anniversary of a major holiday.