Archive for September, 2008

Canada’s New Friend

Monday, September 22nd, 2008


Telesat’s Nimiq 4 satellite was launched by International Launch Services over the weekend, which is already fully leased to Bell TV.


The news, via RIA Novosti:

The rocket was successfully launched from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan at 01:48 Moscow time (21:48 GMT)

"The Nimiq-4 satellite was successfully orbited," a source in the Khrunichev State Research and Production Center said.

The contract to launch the satellite was signed last April by Canada’s satellite communications company Telesat and International Launch Services (ILS), a U.S.-Russian joint venture with exclusive rights for worldwide commercial sales and mission management of satellite launches on Russia’s Proton rockets. Since 1996, ILS has carried out 47 commercial launches of Proton rockets.

Nimiq-4 was build by Astrium, a subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), to provide high definition television (HDTV) in North America. The satellite has a life span of 15 years.

Here’s the video highlight:


You can watch the full broadcast here.

DIY Friday: Satellite Tracker

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Check out this how-to for building your own "SAEBRTrack" box for tracking LEO satellites.

You can even find several examples from people who’ve built systems based on the SAEBRTrack design, like this one.

If that’s a bit too ambitious for your weekend plans, you can always use this site, which also has astronomical info including skycharts and daily sun and moon data.

This site is pretty awesome too. It tracks over a hundred satellites in real time. You can pick your favorites and track up to 5 on one map.


GMES Gets New Name

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

In Europe, there’s been a huge coordinated effort by scientists to monitor the state of the environment through the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security program, or GMES for short.

Of course, GMES is a bit of a tongue twister, which is why GMES now has a new name: Kopernikus, named, of course, after the Polish astronomer.

Their motto is "We care for a safer world."  Involving projects in numerous countries around the world, the objective of Kopernikus is to monitor the state of the environment on land, at sea and in the atmosphere and to improve the security of the citizens in a world facing an increased risk of natural and other disasters.

The ESA provides additional information:

More than 40 European and non-European Earth Observation satellites have united to provide data to GMES Services over the next years. ESA will coordinate the data acquisitions seeking to optimise resources from the variety of European and non-European EO satellite missions. Considered missions include ESA Member States’ missions, such as France’s Spot and Pleiades satellites, Germany’s TerraSAR-X, Italy’s CosmoSkyMed, the UK-led DMC constellation (including the soon-to-be launched DMC-UK2 and Spain’s Deimos-1), as well as Canada’s Radarsat, Israel’s Eros and other non-European missions distributed through European companies. In addition, ESA will act as data provider for its own EO missions, such as Envisat and ERS-2, as well as its Third Party Missions.

Here’s a great video of how the birds give scientists a nice view of the earth:


Pentagon’s BASIC Approved

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Via the AP:

 The Pentagon has approved plans to buy and launch two commercial-class imagery satellites to complement its classified constellation of spy satellites.

The Pentagon will also increase the amount of imagery purchased from private companies operating similar satellites already in the sky.

The decision last week caps months of wrangling between the Air Force, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the National Intelligence Directors Office and the Office of the Secretary of Defense over which agency would buy the satellites for about $1.7 billion. The satellites are to be launched around 2012. The NRO will head satellite acquisition, according to Pentagon documents obtained by The Associated Press.

But critics of the program say the Pentagon is spending billions to recreate and compete with private companies like GeoEye of Dulles, Va., and DigitalGlobe of Longmont, Colo., which are expected to put four new satellites into orbit by 2013. On its face the decision conflicts with the president’s national security space policy, which directs the government to buy as much commercial imagery as possible to help the companies withstand competition from subsidized foreign satellite companies.

Purchasing the imagery from the companies may also be less expensive. The GeoEye 1 satellite was launched on Sept. 6 for $502 million, including the satellite, launch, insurance and four ground stations, according to company spokesman Mark Brender. It is expected to begin taking 16-inch resolution imagery this weekend.

The Pentagon may decide to turn over operation of the new satellites to the private companies, the internal document notes.

The new satellites will comprise the Broad Area Space-Based Imagery Collection satellite system, or BASIC. They will also have 16-inch resolution. They could be used to spy on enemy troop movements, spot construction at suspected nuclear sites or alert commanders to militant training camps. Their still images would be pieced together with higher resolution secret satellites into one large mosaic.

The new satellite system is meant to bridge what intelligence agencies fear will become a gap caused by the cancellation in September 2005 of a major component of the Future Imagery Architecture system overseen by the National Reconnaissance Office. The primary contractor, The Boeing Co., headquartered in Chicago, ran into technical problems developing the satellite and spent nearly $10 billion, blowing its budget by $3 billion to $5 billion before the Pentagon pulled the plug, according to industry experts and government reports.

A single satellite can visit one spot on Earth once or twice every day. BASIC’s additional satellites will allow multiple passes over the same sites, alerting U.S. government users to potential trouble, humanitarian crises or natural disasters such as floods.



Maybe now we’ll be able to see license plates from space.


Super Hi-Vision

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008


Thank you, Japanese taxpayers, for subsidizing the development of what we’ll expect to see in about ten years. 16 times better than today’s HDTV.

NHK’s Super Hi-Vision provides 7,680 x 4,320 pixel (32 million pixels) images at 60 progressive frames a second, with 22.2 channel immersive audio. By contrast, today’s HDTV offers 2 million pixels in 1,920 x 1,080 scanning system.

They had a live feed from London to the IBC show in Amsterdam earlier this week. What was the reaction? "Dude, I need a bigger wall!" The Hollywood Reporter used the word "agog" in their headline:

NHK’s developing Super Hi-Vision system was the subject of a stunning demonstration Monday at the IBC. SHV offers 8K resolution — 16 times that of HDTV — with a 22.2 channel surround sound system.

Delegates waited in long lines for a glimpse at the scenic images, which were broadcast to Amsterdam’s RAI Convention Center in two ways: From a live camera in London over a fiber connection and from a server in Torino, Italy, via satellite.

What kind of set-up/config are we talking here? Big broadband, accoriding to EE Times:

In London, the camera and audio mixing is operated by SIS Live (formerly BBC Outside Broadcasts).  Siemens IT Solutions and Services, the BBC’s technology partner, has built a control room that includes a bank of 16 MPEG-2 encoder channels which compress the native 24Gb/s of Super Hi-Vision to 600 Mb/s.

Siemens carries this, without any modulation, together with data, communications and reverse video and audio feeds, to Cable&Wireless, which is providing a gigabit Ethernet fiber connection from London to Amsterdam.

Besides the output of a live camera and microphone array in London transmitted over fiber optics connection, the BTF group is also showing content from a local server located in Torino, delivered to Amsterdam live over satellite.

RAI and Eutelsat provided Super Hi-Vision material live, using DVB-S2 modulation with "a channel efficiency that approaches closely theoretical limits," according to the group.

The Super Hi-Vision video and the 22.2 multichannel audio are coded using H.264 and AAC respectively. The 140 Mbits per second coded signal is then carried over two satellite transponders, using 8PSK 5/6 modulation.

Two transponders? Cool. Maybe they’ll start using the Kizuna satellite for these broadcasts.

Japan Inc. magazine gives a unique perspective, noting HD in Japan is nothing new:

“The public and private sector cooperation has been such that ordinary Japanese people don’t necessarily think of HDTV as anything special,” says NHK engineer Kenji Terada, noting that 93% of Japanese households already receive HDTV broadcast signals, thanks mainly to the country’s BS satellite service (BS-hi), which came online in 2000. The One-Seg system for mobile receivers (cell phones and car navigation systems, and so on) has been up since 2006.

Here’s a video with good background on the topic:


Wilmington, NC: First to Make the Digitial Transition

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008


The 49th state has been in the news lately, but we heard from the 50th state yesterday when Sen. Daniel Inouye raised the alarm that the next president could be a victim of the current administration’s handling of the digital TV transition:

“I am troubled that a bipartisan and noncontroversial public policy goal, intended to help our emergency first responders better serve and protect the American people, may end up as an albatross around the neck of our next president,” Inouye said.

The House will hold a hearing tomorrow morning on the status of the DTV transmission; the Senate will hold one next week.

This group of potential tube casualties includes a disproportionately large portion of Spanish-speaking, elderly and low-income Americans. Of the 21 million US households that rely exclusively on over-the-air television, the GAO found that almost half had incomes under $30,000 and that about 28 percent of them were Hispanic.

In advance of today’s House Commerce Committee "DTV Transition" hearing, the Consumer Electronics Association released new research findings.

According to their market research, consumer awareness of the digital-TV transition is now at 86%, up 12 percentage points from the beginning of the year. 32% of households with at least one analog-only over-the-air TV have applied for converter boxes, while another 37% know they will have to and plan to do so by year’s end. That adds up to 14 million converter boxes, the CEA said, for which the National Telecommunications and Information Administration should have enough coupons to cover.

Meanwhile, Wilmington, North Carolina last week became the first city in the U.S. to make the all digital transition, well ahead of next year’s February 17th deadline.

Those of you who may be working on the digital transition might want to follow this great blog on Wilmington’s transition, to gain a little advance insight into the stumbles and successes that Wilmington is facing with its residents in the immediate aftermath of the transition.

Local station WECT has also put up an informational page on their site, which will probably be held up as a good example for other stations to follow.

We can’t say that the "DTV Answers Booth" in Wilmington, pictured above, was overwhelmed by the curious, however.

Broadcasters certainly have their work cut out for them as the transition approaches, with lots of educating to do. Here’s a PDF from the FCC site featuring an analysis of calls from the second day of the Wilmington transition.


Russian HDTV

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Russians are getting an influx of HDTV offerings.

Platforma HD, the new Russian all-HDTV platform has selected the EUROBIRD(TM) 9 satellite operated by Eutelsat Communications (Euronext Paris: ETL) to deliver new HD content across western parts of Russia to the Urals. The new platform was launched in August in order to offer Platforma HD’s first subscribers the Beijing Olympics in HD with the Eurosport HD channel.

They’re using Eurobird 9, formerly Hotbird 2, in the 9 degrees East position, which doesn’t provide optimal coverage (as shown above). Hungarian HDTV, Hello HD, is also on the Eurobird 9, as we blogged a few months ago. But Platforma HD says they’ll be moving it to the 36 degrees East location in 2009. (Incase you read Russian, check it out here…)

This is bad news for people adding an LNB to their dishes in order to receive hundreds of Free-to-Air (FTA) channels from adjacent HOT BIRD at 13 degrees East.

We’re guessing this was all timed to coincide with the IBC show in Amsterdam, considered to be THE NAB show of Europe.

Speaking of Russian programming, Disney just announced that it is making its first Russian film. The movie will be based on some of Russia’s most famous fairy tales and is expected to be released next fall.

DIY Friday: Build Your Own Stolen Vehicle Tracker

Friday, September 12th, 2008

You may have heard about OnStar’s anti-theft device:

What happens is this — if you report your car as stolen, you can then call OnStar and have them work with law enforcement to use the car’s GPS system to find where your vehicle’s located. OnStar will then have the police make visual contact with your vehicle and once they’ve determined it’s safe to do it, will shut down the drivers ability to manually control acceleration. Basically, they shut down the accelerator, causing the vehicle to coast to an idle speed — but not causing the driver to lose steering or braking control. At the point in which the vehicle comes to a stop (or close to it — idle speed) — the police can then apprehend the "perp.

For those of you without OnStar, there are stand-alone alternatives, such as LoJack and Inilex. While neither of these will physically slow down a vehicle (think how different the OJ chase scene would have been if OnStar had been around then!), they can be used effectively for theft recovery.

But here’s the Catch-22. With the economy in a slowdown, crime is up. But with the economy in a slowdown, your cash is down. 

What do do? DIY.


The DIY SPY has a "Retro GPS tracker which, when combined with their tracking software, can be used to determine where a vehicle has travelled. Unfortunately, it appears you have to retrieve the unit to download the data, which makes it less than ideal for recovering stolen vehicles, but not a bad item to have in any modern PI’s bag of tricks.

If you want to go even cheaper, you can build your own "Ghetto Lojack" for $30 by picking up a cheap boost mobile phone at Target and combining it with the Mologogo website, which we first blogged about here.

If you’ve got the dough, and the REI outfit to match it, you could always get a SPOT personal locator beacon (with their great slogan: "live to tell about it") for $170.

Need more info? Detailed instructions for a Smart Car Surveillance System using a mobile phone can be found here; and here’s an open-source solution for your iPhone or laptop.

Gamma Burst!

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Did you see it?

The brightest explosion ever seen was observed in March this year, reports. Now a team of astronomers from around the world have combined their data from satellites and observatories to explain what happened.

What they saw — and indeed, it was visible to the naked human eye — was a Gamma-Ray Burst (GRB) aimed directly at our solar system.

A Gamma Ray Burst is not to be confused with Gamera:


GRBs are bright — but they are easy to miss.  NASA explains:

Like galactic fireworks in the night, gamma-ray bursts briefly light up the stellar sky as only the most powerful explosions in the universe can. Yet as magnificent as gamma-ray bursts are, their fleeting nature makes them elusive and difficult to study….

Gamma-ray bursts are incredibly intense releases of gamma radiation. Found at the highest frequency end of the electromagnetic spectrum, gamma radiation is a particularly energetic form of light that can only be generated by the most powerful astronomical events. Scientists suspect that these sporadic explosions may signal the birth of black holes or the death of stars.

The first gamma-ray bursts were detected in 1967 by the U.S. military’s Vela satellites. This fleet of satellites was originally designed to monitor nuclear weapons testing and could sense large releases of gamma radiation. While orbiting the Earth, a Vela satellite recorded a burst of concentrated gamma energy from deep space. For the first time, a gamma-ray burst was observed by humans.

So how was the GRB captured back in March? A bit of luck, combined with teamwork:

GRBs are the Universe’s most luminous explosions. Early in the morning of March 19, the Swift satellite, a joint NASA/UK/Italian mission, pinpointed an extremely bright GRB and immediately sent out an alert to observatories around the world. Two robotic wide-field optical cameras in Chile also observed the brief flash: "Pi of the Sky," which is operated by the Centre for Theoretical Physics in Warsaw, Poland, and TORTORA, based at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. TORTORA is operated by a Russian-Italian collaboration. Within minutes many more telescopes were observing, allowing for the most detailed study of a bright GRB ever undertaken using data from gamma-ray to radio wavelengths. 

Want to see it yourself? The Penn State website has some cool videos and images that you can check out; also be sure to watch this clip from Google video:


Large Hadron Collider

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

You’ll love this video, "Large Hadron Rap," explaining CERN’s large hadron collider in Switzerland…



What it is:

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a gigantic scientific instrument near Geneva, where it spans the border between Switzerland and France about 100 m underground. It is a particle accelerator used by physicists to study the smallest known particles – the fundamental building blocks of all things. It will revolutionise our understanding, from the minuscule world deep within atoms to the vastness of the Universe.

Two beams of subatomic particles called ‘hadrons’ – either protons or lead ions – will travel in opposite directions inside the circular accelerator, gaining energy with every lap. Physicists will use the LHC to recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang, by colliding the two beams head-on at very high energy. Teams of physicists from around the world will analyse the particles created in the collisions using special detectors in a number of experiments dedicated to the LHC.

There are many theories as to what will result from these collisions, but what’s for sure is that a brave new world of physics will emerge from the new accelerator, as knowledge in particle physics goes on to describe the workings of the Universe. For decades, the Standard Model of particle physics has served physicists well as a means of understanding the fundamental laws of Nature, but it does not tell the whole story. Only experimental data using the higher energies reached by the LHC can push knowledge forward, challenging those who seek confirmation of established knowledge, and those who dare to dream beyond the paradigm.

CERN had the world’s first Web site, and today’s "firing up" was a success, via Science Daily:

An international collaboration of scientists today sent the first beam of protons zooming at nearly the speed of light around the world’s most powerful particle accelerator—the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)—located at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) invested a total $531 million in the construction of the accelerator and its detectors, which scientists believe could help unlock extraordinary discoveries about the nature of the physical universe.
Celebrations across the U.S. and around the world mark the LHC’s first circulating beam, an occasion more than 15 years in the making. An estimated 10,000 people from 60 countries have helped design and build the accelerator and its massive particle detectors, including more than 1,700 scientists, engineers, students and technicians from 94 U.S. universities and laboratories supported by DOE’s Office of Science and NSF.

“As the largest and most powerful particle accelerator on Earth, the LHC represents a monumental technical achievement,” said U.S. Department of Energy Undersecretary for Science Raymond L. Orbach. “I congratulate the world’s scientists and engineers who have made contributions to the construction of the accelerator for reaching this milestone. We now eagerly await the results that will emerge from operation of this extraordinary machine.”


This really is big news. I found Stephen Hawking’s opinion interesting:

"Together they [the LHC and the space program] cost less than one tenth of a per cent of world GDP. If the human race can not afford that, then it doesn’t deserve the epithet ‘human’."


Here’s the AP video, with good background…


And here’s the Reuters clip of the joyous moment…