Archive for May, 2008

A Bit of a Jolt: Seeing Ed Leave

Monday, May 12th, 2008

Friday I was more than a bit surprised to see a headline splashed all over the satellite industry online trade journals.  Ed Horowitz had resigned as President and CEO of SES Americom.   This announcement seemed a bit close to home for me since I recently left SES Americom myself after a 36 year stint. 

Ed Horowitz

Ed always had a bright hello for me when we crossed paths, which was fairly frequent even though my office was across  the country from the Princeton NJ headquarters of SES Americom, in the Seattle Washington area.  You will correctly  deduce that I did quite a bit of traveling.

Ed was pointed in sharing his admiration of the longevity I had accumulated at SES during one of our early meetings,  when he had occasion to be present when my boss was presenting me my 35 year award.  Recently Ed was kind enough to add a recommendation to my LinkedIn profile.  So, it is not surprising that because I still feel a certain closeness to the  company I worked for so long, I now feel a little emptiness for the company when seeing Ed leave.  I will join a group of many who wish the very best to Ed in his new endeavors, and hope that we will have every reason to stay in touch.

It is almost a kind of culmination for me to the upheavals we have been witnessing in the industry over the past few years, with all the mergers, acquisitions, and high level management changes.  Yet there are certain to be more of these changes ahead.

DIY Friday: French Fry iPod

Friday, May 9th, 2008

If you watched Juno and are at all like me, you were probably pretty fascinated by, and nostalgic for, Juno’s hamburger phone. Well, beleive it or not, they also make (or made) a french fry phone. But what’s the point in having both hamburger and french fry phones? Use it to make a French Fry iPod:

Our DIY-Friday stand-by, Make, has the not so tasty project plan. You’ll have to find the phone on Ebay. After that, its all about gutting and glue’ing.

i converted a french fry telephone into a carrying case for my video ipod. i had no good reason to, the idea just popped into my head when i was walking about with my ridiculously inconvenient hamburger phone. why not carry an oversized plastic french fry replica to match the equally absurd plastic hamburger. the build out was the same as the hamburger: gut the phone, cut some openings, fit the gadget, and then screw it back together. it actually works great (the case shields the sun, it has it’s own usb cable ready to go), it just doesn’t fit in my pocket anymore.

Panasonic to Pursue Broadband at 35,000 Feet

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

We’ve long been fans of inflight broadband, ever since Ed blogged two years ago about his experience watching TV at 35,000 feet while  reflecting on the use of Connexion by Boeing.


Way back in September of 2006, when Boeing shut down Connexion, we reported that Panasonic was looking to get onboard with inflight broadband. It took them longer than we expected to book their flight, as it were, but now Panasonic and Intelsat have announced that they are teaming up to bring broadband to air travelers:

Panasonic, known for delivering state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment technology, is introducing an advanced satellite transmission platform that will allow airline passengers the ability to access Internetbased information and entertainment. The service, Panasonic eXConnect, provides passengers Internet connectivity.

The platform will leverage Intelsat’s existing GlobalConnexSM Broadband service that is available on Intelsat’s global fleet of 53 in-orbit satellites, and regional teleport facilities. By utilizing Intelsat’s existing infrastructure, Panasonic will be able to introduce eXConnect in key regions around the world, providing an efficient and cost-effective means to scale the network capacity as demand grows.

Panasonic eXConnect enables two-way broadband connectivity that provides a wide range of applications useful to both the passengers and crew such as VPN, live TV, shopping, streaming media, tele-medicine, operational applications and personal devices integrated to the airline’s in-flight entertainment systems. With data rates comparable to ground public WIFI hotspots, eXConnect offers airlines the opportunity to further differentiate their in-flight product with a valuable service to their passengers.

ARINC is also working to put a wifi cloud up there with the regular puffy whites. They introduced their own inflight broadband service in Germany back in March

ARINC’s Oi connectivity enables passengers to surf the Internet (by the hour, day, or flight leg), access e-mail during flight, chat over Instant Messenger, watch real-time news and sports flashes, hear bulletins—all on their own personal laptops. They can even watch and download the latest Podcasts. ARINC’s Oi technology makes optimum use of Inmarsat Swift satellite communication services.

Passengers merely switch on their PCs and can connect instantly via a wired or wireless cabin backbone to the Oi Web Portal. The Portal is fully customized to each airline’s requirements, supporting a combination of free view or paid applications. Oi will feature a range of price points to suit most budgets, and ARINC expects webmail prices will be under US$10 a flight, with larger attachments requiring an extra charge.

$10 bucks really isn’t that bad for email access per flight leg, considering Sebadoh recently shelled out $3 for a mere half ounce of peanuts that lasted about 2 minutes. 

What about the other services we’ve blogged about in the past, like the Row 44 platform being pursued by Alaska Airlines? We hear Row 44 is moving up, but it’s not yet full.

Polish Space Program

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

Came across this in a recent UPI news item that read "Baniak and de Cooker sign agreement" — I know some Polish and the word "baniak" means "cooking pot" so I got a chuckle out of it.  

But seriously, as the European Community expands, will the European Space Agency (ESA) begin enlisting new members? Yes they will, with Poland joining ESA’s PECS (Plan for European Cooperating States) recently:

Europejska Agencja Kosmiczna dokonała ostatecznej selekcji wniosków na projekty w ramach Programu dla Europejskich Państw Współpracujących (PECS), realizowanego na podstawie Porozumienia o Europejskim Państwie Współpracującym między Rządem Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej a Europejską Agencją Kosmiczną (ESA), podpisane w Warszawie w dniu 27 kwietnia 2007 r.

ESA zaakceptowała ostatecznie 18 projektów jako spełniające wymogi włączeniado PECS oraz odnoszące się do jej bieżących lub planowanych działań. Podpisanie Karty działań PECS jest planowane na dzień 25 kwietnia 2008 w Ministerstwie Gospodarki.

Now in English, via the ESA:

On 28 April 2008 Poland reinforced its relations with ESA by signing the Plan for European Cooperating State Charter. This is a direct follow up to the signing of the European Cooperating State Agreement in April 2007.
The Plan for European Cooperating State (PECS) Charter was signed in Warsaw by Rafal Baniak, Secretary of State in the Polish Ministry of Economy, and Chris de Cooker, Head of the International Relations Department of ESA.

By signing the Charter, Poland now becomes the fourth European country to subscribe to PECS. Hungary signed the Charter in November 2003, the Czech Republic in November 2004 and Romania in February 2007.

The Polish scientific community has been active in space endeavors, with the most recent contribution was the development of the ARISS antenna on the Columbus module (an amateur radio set-up operating in the 1260 to 2400 MHz bands), mostly from Wrocław University of Technology. The Columbus module, as we blogged back in February, was launched aboard STS-122.

Korean astronaut Yi So Yeon Lee used the ham radio when she was at the ISS. Read and listen here.

Swedish Antenna for Norwegian Oil

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008


One of the better stabilized VSAT antennas built today is being picked up by the oil & gas guys in Norway:

C2SAT has reported a significant sale to the Norwegian Oil and Gas offshore industry. The order refers to C2SAT’s Stabilised VSAT model C2SAT 1.2m Ku.

C2SAT and Trac Networks, in co-operation, have delivered the first stabilised VSAT satellite communication solution in a larger tender. Trac provides the TracSAT service which offers global satellite coverage and functionality.

The strong growth in the off-shore industry originates from a high demand for asymmetric high bandwidth satellite services, which enable transmission of large volumes of data in ship-to-shore applications.

More about the new TracSat bundle, per Per:

"Trac Networks participates in several offshore transmission requests and we are very pleased to proceed to the next level in this business case", says Mr. Per Christiansen, Senior Vice President, Trac Networks.

"The Norwegian Oil & Gas industry is operating in many geographical regions and the need for well performing satellite communication systems, in different kinds of environments, is rapidly growing. This particular system is tailor made according to the customer’s demand. The key features making TracSAT the preferred solution were high reliability and attractive price", says Per Christiansen.

With the price of oil hitting new highs every other day, we know someone’s willing to pay for satcom bandwidth. Whether maritime broadband becomes the norm, as we blogged before, remains to be seen.



BBC, ITV to Launch Freesat

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

How much does the satellite TV subscription cost you?

In the UK, viewers will soon be able to answer "nothing," with the long-awaited release of Freesat, a digital satellite TV service from the BBC and ITV that is rolling out with more than 80 TV and radio channels. (That number is expected to rise to 200 by the end of the year.)

The full dish, as it were: 

Freesat will be available to 98% of UK homes, including those who currently cannot receive Freeview, which is broadcast via terrestrial transmitters and aerials.

Customers will have to make a one-off payment for a digital box, satellite dish and installation.

Viewers will need an HD-ready TV in order to view high-definition programmes.

Millions of people have already got HD-ready TV sets, but until now have not been able to access HD programmes for free.

Could such a free service be made available in the North American market? Bell Canada is contemplating it

 Bell Canada, which operates the Bell ExpressVu satellite service, says it is exploring a proposal to give Canadians "free" access to a limited number of high-definition channels.

Dubbed "FreeSat," Bell said yesterday the offer would be ideal for consumers who are eager to access local HD stations but wary of paying subscription fees to television service providers.

"Bell ExpressVu believes that we can provide a service whereby we carry a certain number of high-definition signals from each of the major national and regional networks on our satellites," Gary Smith, president of Bell Video Group, told the federal broadcast regulator yesterday. "All they (consumers) would need would be the reception equipment."

The front-end cost of that receiver was not specified. Bell executives, however, made it clear that "free" access would be restricted to local over-the-air signals and would not include specialty or "pay-TV" networks.

Smith said FreeSat would also be a boon to conventional broadcasters because it would allow them to avoid "huge investments" in new transmission towers and distribution systems to carry those high-definition signals across the country.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has set 2011 as the deadline for television channels to be broadcast in high-definition digital, and networks around the country are scrambling to meet that deadline.

Meanwhile, back in Britain, BSkyB is not taking the threat of Freesat to their subscription base lying down. They recently lowered prices to preempt the competition:  

BSkyB will not stand by and let Freesat take its market. As we report this week, the broadcaster has already reacted by reducing the price of its HDTV box. And BSkyB has the ability to target customers at the low end of the market beyond its £150 (US$297.63) “Freesat from Sky”. Its Sky Pay Once service is now available as a standard product after a successful trial last year.

For a one-off payment of £75, BSkyB provides a free four-month subscription to four of its six basic-tier television channel packages along with a set-top box, dish, viewing card and standard installation. This compares favourably to a basic Freesat box and installation, which will start from about £130.

So will Freesat steal huge market share from paid services? It’s possible, but not necessarily a given. The demand for premium channels, after all, has led millions of people around the globe to pay for broadcasting via satellite or cable despite it being available (mostly) for free over the air.

Nonetheless, on the margins, it will be interesting to see how Britons respond to the availability of Freesat.

Smiles via Satellite

Monday, May 5th, 2008

We spend a lot of time here on Really Rocket Science looking at new technology, telling jokes, and covering rocket launches. The human interest stories are rare – but incredibly important:

U.S. soldier Joseph Chavez couldn’t wipe the smile from his face at seeing his daughter Lilliana for the very first time on a video call via satellite uplink from Iraq.

“Oh wow, she’s so pretty,” a beaming Chavez said over and over from Baghdad as his wife Naomi held his sleeping one-day-old daughter up to the camera for him to see.

The video conference, organized by the American non-profit foundation Freedom Calls, was held in the basement of Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital and attended by throngs of media, at least for the first few minutes. Chavez was projected on a large screen, fuzzy but clearly elated.

“Look at her, she’s beautiful,” he said. “She looks happy to be alive right now.”

Naomi, who lives in Vancouver, had talked to her husband after Lilliana’s birth and sent pictures from her computer, but he was still beside himself to see his new wife and even newer daughter live onscreen.

“I saw all the pictures of everyone else getting to hold her,” said Chavez. “I’m very jealous.”

Freedom Calls is the charity behind the very slick effort:

Freedom Calls Foundation uses high technology to keep U.S. soldiers abroad connected with their families.

The signal from Iraq is bounced off a satellite and picked up in Germany, where it is sent by fibre-optic cable to Atlanta, Ga., and then by high-speed Internet to families in the United States — and this time to Canada. The service is slick, with only a 600-millisecond lag, which is noticeable but not enough to scramble conversation.

“We can connect anywhere in the world via satellite, but this is our first-ever call to Canada,” said Freedom Calls spokeswoman Kathryn Hudacek.

“When soldiers go to Iraq they have a habit of leaving a lot of pregnant wives behind,” said Hudacek. “It’s a real deployment phenomenon.”

Freedom Calls organizes 2,000 video conferences a month and at least 200 are dads meeting new babies, she said.

One of these video conferences not only allowed a soldier to see his newborn, but to watch the actual birth. And this isn’t Freedom Call’s only schtick:

Satellite junkies with a conscience and some disposable income may have just found their perfect charity. You can donate here.

DIY Friday: Noise-cancelling Headphones

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

Noise Cancelling Headphones – they appear to be the newest trendy gadget, popping up everywhere in electronic stores and inflight catologs. But, damn, they can be expensive. Before we can get to the do-it-yourself option, let’s take a look at how they work:

Noise-cancelling headphones reduce unwanted ambient sounds (i.e., acoustic noise) by means of active noise control (ANC). Essentially, this involves using a microphone, placed near the ear, and electronic circuitry which generates an “antinoise” sound wave with the opposite polarity of the sound wave arriving at the microphone. This results in destructive interference, which cancels out the noise within the enclosed volume of the headphone.

Howstuffworks has a more detailed explanation, complete with graphics reminiscent of a high school physics course.

Now, if you not only aced that high school physics course, but also kept it going in college, you might be able to build a pair of headphones by following these complicated directions.

For the more modest, you could skip the physics and just hack together a pair using some industrial earmuffs for just $20 dollars:

Jason 2

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

Mrs. Voorhees is dead, and Camp Crystal Lake is shut down, but a camp next to the infamous place is stalked by an unknown assailant. Is it Mrs. Voorhee’s son Jason who didn’t drown in the lake some 30 years before?

No, this post is not about the Friday the 13th / Jason Part 2 horror movie (and April fools day was April, not May 1st). The real story is about the Jason-2 spacecraft and the Ocean Surface Topography Mission to launch on Sunday, June 15th (not Friday, June 13th):

PASADENA, Calif. – A NASA and French Space Agency (CNES) spacecraft designed to continue a long-term survey of Earth’s oceans has arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., for final launch preparations. The new satellite will study ocean circulation and the effect oceans have on weather, climate and how Earth is responding to global climate change.

The Ocean Surface Topography Mission, called OSTM for short, will be flown on the Jason-2 spacecraft, which was transported on April 24 from its manufacturer, Thales Alenia Space, in Cannes, France, to Toulouse, France. It was loaded onto a Boeing 747 aircraft for its trans-Atlantic journey and after refueling in Boston, it arrived April 29 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Following final tests, it will be integrated onto a United Launch Alliance Delta II launch vehicle in preparation for a planned launch in June.

With the launch of this satellite, the science of precisely measuring and studying the height of the sea surface across Earth’s oceans will come of age. Continuous collection of these measurements began in 1992 with the NASA/CNES Topex/Poseidon mission and continued in 2001 with NASA/CNES’s Jason-1 mission, which is currently providing near-real-time data to a variety of users. The addition of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) as partners on OSTM/Jason-2 begins transitioning the responsibility for collecting these data to weather and climate forecasting agencies, which will use them for short-range and seasonal-to-long-range ocean forecasting.

The Ocean Surface Topography Mission/Jason-2 is an international and interagency mission developed and operated as a four-party collaboration among NASA; NOAA; the French Space Agency, Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales; and EUMETSAT.

And this may have one of the more practical applications among NASA projects:

The 15-plus-year climate data record that this mission will continue is the only one capable of addressing how ocean circulation is linked to climate change and how global sea level, one of the most important consequences and indicators of global climate change, is changing.

Satellite observations of Earth’s oceans have revolutionized our understanding of global climate by improving ocean models and hurricane forecasts, and identifying and tracking large ocean/atmosphere phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña. The data are used every day in applications as diverse as, for example, routing ships, improving the safety and efficiency of offshore industry operations, managing fisheries and tracking marine mammals.

After this spacecraft launches, Jason fans can start anticipating their next event – the launch of the next Jason flick. When does it launch? You guessed it – Friday, 13 February 2009.