Archive for September, 2008

Satellite Internet Making Inroads on the Backroads

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

It’s hard to believe for some of us who think of dial-up internet as a thing of the past, but up to 10 million Americans who live in our nation’s most remote places still don’t have the option of DSL or cable internet.

But dial up won’t suffice in today’s age of YouTube and World of Warcraft, so what to do?

The answer is satellite broadband Internet. 

We’ve written in the past about several of the players in the market, such as Wild Blue, HughesNet, and Spacenet’s Starband.  But today we want to focus on SkyWay USA, which touts itself as "rural America’s low-cost satellite provider."


For just $49 in equipment costs (after a rebate) and a monthly basic subscription of $29.95, you can be up and running with SkyWay USA in a matter of days. Installation is so easy, according to this press release (caution if you’re still on dial-up: opens in PDF) that Skyway claims they’ve even had a 69 year old grandmother install the system.

So how does it work?

Skyways use a hybrid or combination model, using your phone line for sending commands (upload) and satellite for content (download).

For capacity, they use Echostar Fixed Satellite Services — at least according to MarketWatch. (On their own website, SkyWay says it is partnering with SES Americom.)

FSS is the division of EchoStar that uses DISH Network’s excess capacity. Dean Olmstead,  who was behind the AMERICOM2Home concept, notes that SkyWay USA will be using both the Ku- and Ka-band capacity of Echostar FSS.  

Reverse Electromagnetic Waves

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008


Fascinating story, first posted to (and since garnering quite a few Diggs) Well, leave it to Doug Lung to draw some interesting conclusions:

What if you could design a satellite dish or microwave antenna with the feed horn behind the reflector instead of in front of it? That may be possible, thanks to research by Cesar Monzon, a senior scientist at Enig Associates presented in the paper Anomalous Power Flow and ‘Ghost’ Sources published in Physical Review Letters (payment required to view the full paper).

The abstract describes the effect this way:

"It is demonstrated that EM radiation from complex sources can result in real power in restricted regions of space flowing back towards the sources, thereby mimicking ‘ghost’ sources. This counterintuitive mechanism of radiation does not rely on backward waves, as ordinary waves carry the power. Ways to harness the effect by making it directional are presented, together with selected applications, of which deception is a prime example due to the nature of the phenomenon."

It goes on to say that this concept could be to such areas as mechanics, acoustics and others with technology that is already available.

The article In radiation ‘ventriloquism,’ electromagnetic waves travel backwards on describes how the waves are generated and listed some of the possible applications. Obviously hiding transmitters and radar emitters is desirable in military environments. quotes Monzon describing how the technology could be used with dish antennas: "On the case of satellite antenna feeds, the theory indicates it may be possible to build these behind the main reflector dish, which will offer a clear field of view without blocking or the disadvantages derived from feed offsetting. The same principle applies to both transmit and receive antennas."

I recall a paper from the mid-80s published in the Ukrainian Physics Journal (by O.S. Ilenko of the Kyivskii Politekhnicheskii Institut). The abstract, translated from the original Russian:

The diffusion of cylindrical electromagnetic waves and electromagnetic energy oscillations in the near field of a radiator is analyzed based on the physical principles of Huygens (1935). It is shown that the surface of a moving electromagnetic wave which conforms to the Huygens principle will be either spherical or planar in free space. Deviations from the planar or spherical forms can lead to the development of reverse electromagnetic waves. The geometry of the wave surfaces is illustrated.

Money Launch for SpaceX

Monday, September 29th, 2008


SpaceX did it:

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) announces that Flight 4 of the Falcon 1 launch vehicle has successfully launched and achieved Earth orbit. With this key milestone, Falcon 1 becomes the first privately developed liquid fuel rocket to orbit the Earth.

"This is a great day for SpaceX and the culmination of an enormous amount of work by a great team," said Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX. "The data shows we achieved a super precise orbit insertion—middle of the bull’s-eye — and then went on to coast and restart the second stage, which was icing on the cake."

Falcon 1, designed from the ground up by SpaceX, lifted off at 4:15 p.m. (PDT) / 23:15 (UTC) from the Reagan Test Site (RTS) on Omelek Island at the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA) in the Central Pacific, about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii.

Preliminary data indicates that Falcon 1 achieved an elliptical orbit of 500 km by 700 km, 9.2 degrees inclination—exactly as targeted.

Falcon 1 carried into orbit a payload mass simulator of approximately 165 kg (364 lbs), designed and built by SpaceX, specifically for this mission. Consisting of a hexagonal aluminum alloy chamber 1.5 meters (5 feet) tall, the payload remains attached to the second stage as it orbits Earth.

 Here’s the video:


Noah Schactman brings light to a very interesting perspective: how this impacts launch costs and who controls entry into space. This could be a real game-changer:

Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, is promising to cut that $10,000-per-pound price in half. No wonder the Air Force has committed more than $100 million to the company, founded by PayPal’s Elon Musk. Darpa has made major investments, as well. "The military now has a stick to poke and prod the traditional big launch providers (Boeing and Lockheed Martin) into actually being competitive and saving the taxpayer money instead of just sucking off the government teat," former Air Force space officer Brian Weeden tells Danger Room.

But that stick only gets sharp if SpaceX can pull off the launch trick more than once. The company’s first three efforts were disasters. And there’s no guarantee the next three won’t be disasters, too. "Musk will need 20 or so launches before he knows how reliable his technology is — and how much it really costs," Hoffman wrote. And even if Musk can get these relatively-simple, relatively-small Falcon 1 rocket launches together, the real test will be whether the heavier, farther-reaching Falcon 9s will work out as planned.

It’s not just American launch costs that could go down. The next SpaceX rocket is supposed to carry a Malaysian reconaissance satellite into orbit. "This could be the beginning of a general diffusion of on-orbit capability of all sorts and a loss of U.S. ability to call the shots in space," says long time satellite-watcher (and former CIA officer) Allen Thomson.

Heat Pipes for TSAT

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Lockheed Martin has successfully demonstrated high performance radiator technology for the Transformational Satellite Communications System TSAT constellation.

Developed by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Sunnyvale, Calif. and Thermacore, Inc. of Lancaster, Pa., the High Performance Loop Heat Pipe (HP-LHP) Deployable Radiator System has been demonstrated to significantly improve the heat dissipation capability over existing systems.

The HP-LHP, designed and matured for TSAT, will provide substantially more radiator area, resulting in a cooler, more stable thermal environment for Lockheed Martin’s A2100 spacecraft bus and the communications payload provided by Northrop Grumman.

“This represents another major risk reduction milestone for TSAT," said Mark Pasquale, Lockheed Martin’s TSAT vice president. "Our unique approach will afford greater reliability and longevity for TSAT’s critical components and serves as another example of our thorough preparation and readiness to proceed with the next phase of this critical communications program."

A loop heat pipe is:

a two-phase heat transfer device that uses capillary action to remove heat from a source and passively move it to a condenser or radiator. LHPs are similar to heat pipes but have the advantage of being able provide reliable operation over long distance and the ability to operate against gravity.

For a more detailed description of the technology, check this out.

Either Lockheed Martin or Boeing will be awarded the multi-billion dollar contract for TSAT this fall. Because of the high stakes surrounding the contract, the Air Force has asked the Pentagon to conduct an independent review of the bids.

TSAT is entwined with another pricey satellite program, the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite program, run by Lockheed.

The Air Force told Congress earlier this month that the AEHF program had exceeded congressional caps on cost growth, which could lead to cancellation of the program unless it is certified as essential for national security reasons.

The cost of the AEHF program was now projected to be $9.2 billion, including $2 billion for a fourth satellite added to the Pentagon’s budget by Congress, accounting for about 80 percent of the overall cost increase.

TSAT is intended to follow AEHF and shares some of the same protected communications job. Congress added the fourth satellite — which requires a costly restart of Lockheed’s production line — due to concerns about a gap in providing satellite communications capability to troops if there was a delay in the TSAT program.

The timeline for the launch of TSAT has been a tricky thing to pin down. It was initially planned for 2009. However, a senior Air Force official told Aviation Week that it might be pushed as late as 2018.

I, for one, can’t wait until this program is up and running. It’s pretty amazing technology, as we’ve mentioned before.

DIY Friday: Androids

Friday, September 26th, 2008

That’s right DIY-ers, this week we’re taking on a big one. So, pop in your copy of Android on VHS (you know you still have it) and get ready for some nerdy weekend fun.

For the more ambitious among you, this site has detailed instructions for creating an android head. All the parts will set you back about $600.

If the state of our economy is making you a bit wary of dropping that much cash – come on, you know it’s worth eating ramen noodles for a month – you can always try building this one. It’ll just set you back $30.

Or, heck, cash in those shares and dream big:

While you’re at it, live out your favorite Android fight-scene moments with this kick-boxing android.

Satphones for the Masses

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Qualcomm is teaming up with SkyTerra’s Mobile Satellite Ventures (MSV) and ICO Global Communications to integrate satellite communications into mass-market cellular handsets, Wireless Week reports:

Under the agreement, Qualcomm will integrate satellite and cellular communication technology by developing a satellite protocol and including it in the firmware of select Qualcomm multimode baseband chips.  Qualcomm also plans to support the L- and S-Band frequencies, in which MSV and ICO operate, in select RF processors.

In essence, the same mobile chipsets at the heart of wireless devices will let handset makers produce satellite-capable devices at comparable scale and cost.

I guess this might mean the end of the "can you hear me now?" commercials, eh?

The quality of the players in this venture (no pun intended) bode well for its ultimate outcome. Qualcomm developed its satellite-based asset-tracking service, OmniTRACS, years before GPS technology became commercially available. OmniTRACS  is what’s inside those little white domes you see on on Sears trucks.


Here’s a video of how it works: 

Qualcomm is also working on the Google Android phone, which is supported by the Android open-source operating system and intended as a major competitor to the Apple iPhone:


Qualcomm is likely to face stiff competition in the future from chipmakers who want in on the Android action. 

Perhaps we’ll see similar functionality as what’s found in the Thuraya system, with the Android switching between GSM and satellite as required?

Time will tell.


National Digital Media Day in Canada

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008


Tired of following politics in the U.S.? Go north of the border for more interesting news.

On 25 September 2008, at major urban intersections across Canada, National Digital Media Day will be marked by kissing mobs:

In celebration of National Digital Media Day, take part in the biggest Kiss across Canada on September 25th!

FLASH MOBBERS: Stop traffic at your city’s busiest intersection (TBA) for 2 minutes with some joyful kissing: simple peck, sloppy smooch, french kiss, full-on snog – you decide!

SHUTTERBUGS: Capture the Kiss moment with your iPhones, smartphones, or cameras and email/upload your pics to The Kiss website.

Kiss times:
Pacific time: 12pm
Mountain time: 1pm
Central time: 2pm
Eastern: 3pm
Atlantic: 4pm
Newfoundland: 4:30pm

Here’s the Facebook event.

Visit National Digital Media Day September 25

Visit National Digital Media Day September 25

From the Equator, A New Satellite Rises

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

1,500 miles south of Hawaii, from a converted oil rig, over a vast, dark Pacific Ocean. Suddenly, a huge Ukrainian rocket launches a multi-million dollar spacecraft built by Space Systems/Loral.

The report, via the AP and

A Zenit-3SL rocket carrying the Galaxy 19 satellite blasted off at 2:28 a.m. PDT and spacecraft separation occurred just over an hour later after reaching orbit, the company said in a Webcast of the launch.

“It’s what we call a very boring launch, which is very good,” said Kjell Karlsen, Sea Launch president and general manager. “It was right on target.”

The satellite is intended to serve Intelsat customers in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Sea Launch is a partnership of Chicago-based Boeing Co., RSC-Energia of Russia, Aker ASA of Norway and SDO Yuzhnoye/PO Yuzhmash of Ukraine.

Here’s the video…


Taikonauts Ready for First SpaceWalk

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008


The Shenzhou VII spacecraft will blast off tomorrow with three astronauts aboard, one of whom will be the first Chinese to walk in space:

The taikonauts, as they are known in the mainland, will be equipped with space-age gadgets as well as down- to-earth pencils.

Responding to the challenge experienced by international experts in producing a writing instrument that works in no-gravity conditions, mainland scientists came up with the common lead pencil. Thicker than the earth variety, China’s space pencil has a special carbon compound.

Shenzhou VII will release a small satellite to monitor the operation of the spacecraft itself and the progress of the spacewalk. During the mission, new satellite communications technology will be tried out as well.

China is using five satellite tracking ships to monitor the mission. They’re now in place:

The final Yuanwang ship arrived at its destination on Monday, said Jian Shilong, director with the China Maritime Tracking and Control Department.

The ships will remotely track and support the Shenzhou VII space shuttle which will blast off in late September.

Four ships are on the Pacific ocean and one is on the Atlantic.

"In previous missions including the Shenzhou V and Shenzhou VI missions, only four tracking ships were deployed," Jian said. "We added one more to the Shenzhou VII mission to monitor the taikonaut’s extra-vehicular activities."

Jian said the tracking ships will monitor the entire space walk and also keep tabs on the depressurization of the orbital module when taikonauts leave and re-enter the spaceship.

The Yuanwang ships can control the shuttle’s solar panels, its orbit maneuvers and maintenance.

 In all, China boasts a fleet of six Yuanwang space tracking ships which have carried out 68 expeditions and traveled more than1.4 million sea miles in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans.

The tracking ships, combined with 20 terrestrial surveying stations, constitute China’s space telemetry network.

Why the extra ship? Because the planned space walk is a big deal in Chinese popular culture — presenting an unprecedented [communications] challenge for the Chinese, who want to provide seamless, high-quality live video feeds of the outing.

A space industry source explains:

The source said China had proved to the world it could maintain long-distance communication with its lunar project, but stable broadband communication had always been a barrier for Chinese technology. The deficiency meant China was still unable to compete with the US and Russia in the civilian commercial communication satellite markets.

But in the past couple of years, China had achieved several breakthroughs in antennas that were used for rapid communication with the Earth, and the space walk "will be a window to show how much China has caught up in this highly important field", the source said.

Because the antenna was directional and must be pointed to a small target area, the source said the astronaut would probably emerge from the spacecraft while orbiting over China, to enable the Chinese people to witness the event.

 And what will they do on the spacewalk? Nothing much, really:

When asked about what the astronaut will actually do outside the spacecraft Qi said he once suggested retrieving the national flag that hangs outside the spaceship. After consideration it was finally decided the astronaut would perform some test and control experiments. He added, "Whether it’s fetching the national flag or doing some experiments, the astronaut will have to do something, so that it’s not just a case of proving our ability to put someone outside the spaceship."

HDTV Race Update

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

In the HDTV race, it looks like satellite is still winning. At least according to this report from CNET. The report only tracks a few providers in each category, but the result is pretty clear.

In fact DirecTV claims even more HD channels than the CNET report counts. Their website lists over 130. DISH Network isn’t far behind, and they’re promising 150 HD channels by the end of this year.

About a year ago, Comcast promised 800 HD channels by the end of 2008. Though their definition of "channel" was a bit fishy:

[They] include everything from local stations to high-def networks such as Discovery HD Theater to HD Video on Demand services such as new video releases. In other words, if the movie Casino Royale is available in high-def on Comcast On Demand, that would be a channel choice. If Discovery HD Theater offers a handful of Planet Earth documentaries in high-def on demand, that, too, would be a channel choice.

They’re doing pretty well in reaching their target. Right now, they’re claiming "over 500 HD shows and movies at any given time".

If you’re a little (er…a lot) late jumping on the HD bandwagon, you can still buy a Pansat 9200HD for less than 400 bucks and downlink HD free-to-air via satellite. Check the Satellite Guys fora for more detail than you can handle.