Archive for August, 2006

Koreasat-5 to Launch Tonight

Monday, August 21st, 2006

As we reported last week, SeaLaunch is set to lift the Koreasat-5 communications satellite from its launch facility in the Pacific this evening.


The Korea Times reports: 

KT, South Korea’s largest fixedline and broadband operator, said Monday that it will send its fourth commercial satellite into orbit from the Pacific Ocean this week, marking the nation’s first satellite launch from the open sea.

The Koreasat-5 will be launched at 12:27 p.m. Tuesday [8:27 p.m. U.S. Pacific time on Monday evening] from an area south of Hawaii. The launch will be controlled by an assembly and command ship and a launch platform ship, KT said.

The satellite will replace the Koreasat-2 satellite in providing wireless communications and broadcasting services, the company said.

Unlike previous KT satellites that helped telecommunications in local areas, the Koreasat- 5 will cover other Asian countries, including Japan, China, the Philippines and Taiwan.

The satellite will start its service after four months of testing, it added.

 The SeaLaunch Mission page can be found here.

DIY Friday: Solar Satellite Dish Cooker

Friday, August 18th, 2006

Here’s a true story. A few weeks ago, my gas grill was stolen from my backyard. I went outside one Friday afternoon with a spatula and some burgers and — there was nothing there.

I can’t say I was disappointed that the grill was gone. There was a certain satisfaction knowing that whoever had taken the thing had some arduous scrubbing ahead of them if they wanted to remove several years’ worth of crispy cheese and hamburger fragments that had ossified onto the grill. Losing the grill to theft, I reasoned,  had at least spared me from that long-avoided chore.

But replacing the grill did present me with another problem — that ancient dilemma that has plagued mankind for, oh, three generations now:

Gas, or charcoal? 

But now I learn that there is a new, third option for outdoor cooking: solar. A group of smart cookies from the Durango Renewable Energy Group have crafted a solar cooker made from a recycled satellite dish.

Reports have it that this fine addition to any suburban patio will bake cookies in under 15 minutes. Instructions on how you can create your own solar oven using mirrors (or a "cheaper" and lower-powered version using aluminum foil) can be found here.

My decision on how best to replace my grill has been further complicated by a neighbor who swears that the fourth option for grilling is pretty much the greatest invention in human history. I’m dubious about his assertion, and the clouds today raise my doubts about crafting my own solar cooker.

Which leaves me, metaphorically at least, still holding that spatula and a plate of uncooked burgers and wondering: gas, charcoal, solar, or George? 

The British Telecommunications Market 2006

Friday, August 18th, 2006

Doug Lung points to more evidence of the transformation of the media landscape. OfCom, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, has released The Telecommunications Market 2006 report. Lung summarizes:

The 293-page report contains some interesting findings about trends in the communications industry, including TV broadcasting, and consumer usage of, and attitudes to, various communications services. One conclusion reached was that a new "networked generation" is turning away from TV, radio and newspapers in favor of online services, downloadable content such as Podcasts and participation in online communities.

In a result that’s sure to concern traditional TV broadcasters, the report found that on average 16- to 24-year-olds in the United Kingdom spend one hour less per day watching television than the average television viewer. Their radio listening is lower too, by an average of 15 minutes per day compared to the wider population. One bright spot, however, is that among all groups, TV viewing increased slightly, by 11 minutes per week.

Digital television, consisting of both satellite and terrestrial Freeview channels, is growing in popularity. Freeview households spend more time watching digital-only channels than any of the five main public broadcasting channels, but the public service broadcasters’ own digital-only channels are gaining audience, with total viewing increasing nearly 6 percent between 2001 and 2005. Free TV remains popular and Freeview was the main driver of multichannel TV growth, adding 2.0 million homes in the 12 months ending March 2006. The report said there are now 7.1 million homes in the U.K. in which the main set receives digital terrestrial TV.

While the TV broadcasting model in the U.K. is quite different from that in the U.S., it is interesting to see that subscription revenues in 2005 were up by 8.5 percent to 3.9 billion pounds ($7.3 billon) for all pay TV services, exceeding commercial television advertising revenue in 2005 by almost 10 percent. Overall TV industry revenues increased 4 percent in 2005 compared with 2004.

A PDF of the key points of the report can be seen here.

Satellite Tops Cable in Customer Satisfaction

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

According to survey results recently released by J.D. Power and Associates, you’re more likely to be satisfied with satellite than cable television. As Multichanel News points out, DirecTV and EchoStar Communications did extreamly well in customer satisfaction throughout the country, while the nation’s largest cable provider, Comcast, ranked below average in every region in the United States. Steve Donehue reports:

"J.D. ranked DirecTV as the best pay TV company overall, with the direct-broadcast satellite provider receiving the top rankings in overall satisfaction; performance and reliability; cost of service; billing; image; offerings and promotions; and customer service."

But it wasn’t all bad news for cable companies. According to the same J.D. survey, digital cable penetration rose by 11% since last year, with 41% of all cable using households using the digital option. Moreover, while the average satellite bill has risen $3 over the past year — to nearly $61 — the average cable bill has dropped a $1 since 2005 to $58 a month, a change most likely due to the bundling of television, voice, and internet services modern cable companies are able to provide.

Air Force Guardian Challenge This Week

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

This week, the yearly battle between American space warriors is taking place at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. Known as the Guardian Challenge this competition "pits the best-of-the-best space warfighters against each other, determining the top space wing teams in the Air Force." But what do you get if you win the Air Force’s only space wing competion? The Airforce has the scoop:

"Awards are presented to the best Space squadron Wing Team team in in each mission area on the final day of the competition. The Blanchard Trophy is presented to the Best Space ICBM Wing Team; the O’Malley Trophy goes to the best Space Warning Team; the Arnold Trophy goes to the best Space Surveillance Team; the Aldridge Trophy goes to the Best Space Operations Wing Team; and the Best Space Launch Wing Team receives the Schriever Trophy."

Top Gun awards also go to the best Missile Operations Crew, best Space Operations Crew (selected from among the best Space Warning, Space Surveillance, and Satellite Operations crews), and best Spacelift Operations Crew. Additionally, functional area awards are presented to the best maintenance, security police, communications, helicopter, code controller and chef elements."

Not only does the Challenge represent a great place for space warriors to test their meddle in combat-like situations, but, according to U.S. Space Commander, Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, these soldiers probably need as much training as we can throw at them. According to Chilton, military satellite-based "eyes" and "ears" are major assets in modern conflicts and, in the future, may prove to be major targets for opponents looking to "level the playing field."  Knowing that — Good luck with the Challenge, guys!

Move Over Pluto?

Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

12 Planets

That was quick. Just days ago Sebadoh brought news that Pluto might be on its way out of the solar system, at least as far as being considered an actual planet is concerned. Now it looks like Pluto may get some company and keep its out at the far end of the solar system

The tally of planets in our solar system would jump instantly to a dozen under a highly controversial new definition proposed by the International Astronomical Union.

Eventually, there would be hundreds of planets, as more round objects are found beyond Neptune.

The proposal, which sources tell is gaining broad support, tries to plug a big gap in astronomy textbooks, which have never had a formal definition for the word "planet." It addresses discoveries of Pluto-sized worlds that have in recent years pitched astronomers into heated debates over terminology.

  • The asteroid Ceres, which is round, would be recast as a dwarf planet in the new scheme.
  • Pluto would remain a planet, and its moon Charon would be reclassified as a planet. Both would be called "plutons," however, to distinguish them from the eight "classical" planets.
  • A far-out Pluto-sized object known as 2003 UB313, currently nicknamed Xena, would also be called a pluton.

It’s not a popular idea, but it’s an interesting one. Should someone start a contest for the best mnemonic for the new solar system? "Mary Very Easily Makes C_____ Jam Saturday Unless No Plums C_____ X_____"?

Disney Dumps Kid Tracking Service

Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

I’ve been following the trend of mobile companies offering GPS tracking to families for a while now, starting with Sprint’s announcement of its service back in April, and Verizon’s launch of its “chaperone service.” Now it looks like competition is heating up in that market, as I just came across the first announcement I’ve seen of a company getting out of the business. Disney is dropping its mobile tracking service.

Disney has shelved plans to launch a mobile virtual network operator in the U.K., saying the market is in flux.

The media giant had been planning to launch its family friendly mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) this year, piggybacking on wireless provider O2’s network. Now Disney has changed its mind, putting the plan on ice indefinitely.

A Disney spokeswoman said the decision had been made as a result of “the rapidly changing competitive environment.”

“Retail distribution outlets in particular have consolidated in recent weeks, which has impacted our distribution opportunities,” she added.

Apparently, Disney’s experience with market saturation in the U.S. influenced its decision in the UK. But the company is keeping an eye on the market, and may revisit offering its tracking service to customers in the UK.

Real Russian Rocket Report

Tuesday, August 15th, 2006

Last month’s Dnepr rocket crash in Kazakhstan, which destroyed Montana’s first satellite, blasted a crater 165 feet wide and 50 feet deep. Fortunately, there were no injuries or fatalities in the vast arid steppes near the Uzbek border. What about the environmental damage? Keep in mind most rocket fuel is considered "nasty stuff." According to NBC News space analyst James Oberg, this launch failure’s aftermath is reminiscent of old habits:

Last month’s crash of a Russian Dnepr space booster with 100 tons of toxic rocket propellant poisoned a small corner of the empty steppes in Central Asia — but may have left a wider legacy of bitterness that will impact Russian space activities for years to come.

And whatever the actual cause of the rocket’s embarrassing failure, the poisonous consequences could have been largely avoided if Moscow space officials hadn’t reverted to almost Soviet-style cover-ups and hollow reassurances about the accident.



I found Mr. Oberg’s piece on this topic, featured recently on the MSNBC site, superbly written, accurate and insightful.

Feeling adventurous? Try reading the original report, in Russian, from 31 July 2006. At least you’ll understand the pictures, and the gist of the English translation (scroll down for both).



All Hail Hale

Tuesday, August 15th, 2006

We found NASA’s Picture of the Day on Sunday to be particularly fascinating.

This Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) image shows dried streambeds—martian gullies— in the mountainous central peak region of Hale Crater. Some scientists have suggested that the fluid which carved these gullies was liquid water, and that it either resulted from ancient snowmelt or from release of groundwater that percolated to the surface in the intensely fractured rock of Hale’s central peak. In either case, the gullies are dry today, and dark sand can be seen as dunes near the right/lower right part of the image.







The Laptop Go Boom! Echo

Tuesday, August 15th, 2006

Loyal readers will recall our assiduous reporting earlier this summer on the explosion of a Dell laptop computer at a  business conference in Japan.

Now, it is evident, our remarkable editorial instinct has once again been proven correct, forcing the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today and the AP into a desperate scramble to catch up to the new and vaunted journalism embodied by Really Rocket Science.

(When you read breathless news stories about how blogs are changing the media, they are, of course, referring to us.)

Never the sort to gloat, our hearts brim with pity as we think of the strained and perspiring editors of the Gray Lady and the nation’s wire services, clumsily stabbing their porcine fingers at their keyboards, trying to figure out this Google thing in a vain attempt to stay apace with the very edge of the new media vanguard, to break the news that we have invariably already broken — ney, smashed to pieces, exposed for the world to see and understand, then meticulously reconstucted by the nimble prose and dazzling insights of the writers of Really Rocket Science, who selflessly offer their beacon of hope and reason in a world too frequently perceived as chaotic and incomprehensible by journalists of a lesser caliber.

 We do it because we care. We do it because we believing that exploring the vast interiors of ignorance is our small and humble way of contributing to a more civilized world. We are not journalists, nor mere bloggers. We are cartographers of the human spirit, and though others follow to fill in the details of roads and bridges and recalled laptop batteries and so on and so forth, we remain at the front, always, bringing you the news even before the masses have grasped it as news — outlining, as it were, the shapes of new continents that lie at the edge of this vast informational sea known as the Internet.

Land ho! we cry, through the lonesome gale, as the rest of the crew sleeps dreaming of their childhood cribs below the deck. 

We will persist. And we will continue to peer out into the darkness, to alert you of the shape of things to come. To find, as is our burden and fate, safe passage through the ongoing storm.

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