Archive for November, 2006

A Successful Telemedicine Story

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

I used to live in a remote town that, for a time, literally had no doctors. One doctor moved away, another retired, and poof! — for six months you had to drive 100 miles to get your sore throat looked at.

Many people who’ve lived in rural areas, particularly in the West (where there’s a lot of dirt between the lights) can tell similar stories. Delivering quality healthcare in a remote place is difficult and economically challenging. And when the promptness of care is important, the long travel times that many rural residents must endure to get the services they need can be detrimental.

But satellites and cellular technology are helping to change that, and one particularly heartwarming success story comes to us today from the Dakotas: 

By using digital mammograms and a satellite link-up, radiologists in Michigan were able to examine the mammograms of rural Native American women in North Dakota and South Dakota.

This pilot program by University of Michigan researchers was designed as an improvement over the use of films typically used in mobile mammography. Currently, it can take up to a week for women to get their results after having a mobile mammogram, and it can also be difficult to arrange for additional tests.

"Mobile mammography is a critical way for Native American women to get a mammogram. But what happens when a woman needs to be called back for more images? By transmitting the mammograms by satellite, a radiologist could read them on the spot, and three-quarters of the women who needed new images had those done immediately or within fewer than three days," Dr. Marilyn Roubidoux, professor of radiology at the U-M Medical School, said in a prepared statement.

In this pilot program, a mobile mammography unit performed 515 digital mammograms on women living on seven reservations in North Dakota and South Dakota. The images were then transmitted by satellite to the Breast Imaging Division of the university’s radiology department.

On average, it took about 50 minutes from the time the mammography images were sent until the women received a report about the findings. In some cases, when weather and technological factors were perfect, results came back within 30 minutes.


 The University of Michigan press release on the pilot program can be found here.

WiMax Coming to India

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

Following up on Spektor’s post on EduSat in India (below) comes more news on how new technologies are bridging the communications gap in India’s rural areas. The Economic Times reports on how Motorola plans to cash in on the demand for wireless broadband:

The world’s second largest maker of mobiles is in discussions with telecom operators to provide network and equipment for offering Wimax (highspeed Internet access over a wireless connection).

The annual broadband wireless equipment market opportunity in India is pegged at around $4.5 billion by ’12 and Motorola is keen to bite into this pie. "Motorola will design networks and provide customer premises equipment (CPEs) and handhelds . Our end-to-end solutions will be deployed by operators beginning next October," Mr Amit Sharma, vice-president , strategy and business development, Motorola Asia Pacific, told ET.

India is targeting 30 million broadband (high speed Internet) users by 2010 while the current base is just 2 million. The most difficult part of providing broadband access is last mile, the final leg of delivering connectivity from a communications provider to a customer , as it requires fanning out of wires and cable. Wimax is an easy solution as it doesn’t require a direct line of sight between the source and endpoint. With a service range of 50 km, Wimax supports peak data rates of 23 Mbps. Samsung and Alcatel are other vendors eyeing the Indian wireless broadband market. 

SDAIndia has more projections of WiMax growth in India and Asia; also be sure to check out this article in CIOL from several months ago, outlining why WiMax is emerging as a popular technology for providing rural connectivity:

With common service centers dotting India’s rural map, WiMax can play a major role in delivering various applications. These include online bill payment, processing and submission of government documents, delivery of agriculture, healthcare and entertainment services, in education, research and information sharing and for e-commerce activities including commodity price information, online trading and banking transactions.

The government of India is already working on programs in order to develop simple, low-cost messaging terminals that could extend wireless communications to poorer communities; an operating system for smart cards; and various building blocks for an available mobile communications infrastructure, with Wi-Fi and WiMax key elements.

“WiMax can play a major role towards providing wireless broadband connectivity for the rural masses in India. We have already seen some pilot deployments going on at various locations in India. Moving forward, we are pretty positive about the potential of this technology and how it can deliver more for less for a country like India,” said Karthik Rangarajan, Product Manager, Navini Networks, a broadband wireless access solution provider.

RRS Reads: Please, Mr. Einstein

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

While you may not normally turn to Really Rocket Science for book recommendations, we’ve always believed that even the best engineers (and enthusiasts) could use a little literature in their life.  Still, if you’re going to indulge in the good stuff, its always a good idea to start with some work that has some applicability to your every day life, which is why we’re recommending a work written by a French playwright chronicle the afterlife of the 20th century’s most preeminent scientist… errr… ummm… Well, now that I think about it, it probably isn’t even close to applicable to your everyday life, but it does sound pretty cool, right?

While the review NYT Science Editor Dennis Overbye gave Jean-Claude Carrière’s Please, Mr. Einstein (Amazon, Powells) was a little ho-hum, the topic of the book, the musings and travails of Albert Einstein from beyond the grave, was interesting enough that it might be worth a look. Written as a play, it appears a little heavy on the monologue, but seems to work, overall, as a novel that "isn’t so much[…] about physics as it is[…] about how people feel about physics."

Sure, we may be more inclined to cosy up to a copy of Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Amazon, Powells) but, come on, how often do you find a play/novel that work in discussions of spacetime between the cameos of Picasso, Newton, and Elvis?

What SpaceTime is It?

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

The New York Times Review of Books takes a look at Jean-Claude Carrière’s new novel, Please Mr. Einstein:

In its uncounted hours of conversation, “Please, Mr. Einstein” touches down lightly and charmingly on some of the thorniest philosophical consequences of Einstein’s genius and, by extension, the scientific preoccupations of the 20th century — the nature of reality, the fate of causality, the comprehensibility of nature, the limits of the mind — while scrolling through Einstein’s life. It’s easy to see this novel as the germ of a future playlet or movie along the lines of Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” or the play and movie “Insignificance,” which featured a mythical Einstein in a hotel room with Marilyn Monroe.

I like Carrière’s Einstein. He’s frank, down to earth and not prone to cosmic mustiness. He’s actually worn an Einstein T-shirt and admits he’s happy to be talking to a woman, especially a woman from the 21st century, because that means his godchild, the atomic bomb, hasn’t destroyed civilization — yet. “I think better when eyes like yours are looking at me,” he tells her, “and when I’m talking to them.”…

Among the features of Einstein’s unusual office are doors he seems able to open on any time and place. At one point, discussing his years in Germany, he and his visitor step out into a Nazi book-burning. Another excursion provides the surprising climax to an amusing side plot about Newton, who just doesn’t get relativity and quantum theory and keeps pestering Einstein to explain what was so wrong with the clockwork world he described in the 17th century. Finally, exasperated, Einstein calls Newton over and opens a door on the atomic blast that destroyed Hiroshima. Newton’s wig flutters in the wind from the shock wave. He stares, aghast, then slowly turns transparent and disappears. Newton’s universe is truly, undeniably dead, and so his sojourn in this intellectual aerie is over.

Carrière’s novel relies upon spacetime as a literary device. But what is spacetime? This "Spacetime 101" page explains the history of spacetime from Pythagoras to Einstein. 

No Signal, No School

Monday, November 27th, 2006

While snow days might elicit cries of joy from kids here in the US, half-way around the world loss of a satellite signal might shutter the school house doors, albeit without as much elation.

The Indian Express (an online source for news from India) reported last week that many small towns and villages throughout India regularly suffer visual freezes for up to 10 minutes on live telecasts transmitted over the country’s EDUSAT education-only satellite. What’s worse is that residents of the country’s wetter northern regions occasionally lose access to the system for days and weeks at a time when rain blocks clear access to the bird.

The irony of the system’s failure, of course, is that it might be preventing those tasked with fixing its problem in the future from learning from it. While post graduate sociology students and civil service aspirants, who have been completely tuned out of the ongoing Maharashtra Public Service Commission (MPSC) exam coaching currently going on are rumored to be the one’s losing the most, Anna University, whose schools use the satellite system, educates engineers at 250 locations around the country.

If you didn’t already know about it, the EDUSAT, launched in 2004, is a path-breaking project that aims to insure access to education to everyone throughout the world’s largest democracy and is the first satellite meant exclusively for formal education, ranging from grade school to higher education. According to the Indian News article,

"It provides audio-visual lessons employing Direct To Home (DTH) quality broadcast. The satellite has multiple regional beams covering different parts of India — five Ku-band transponders with spot beams covering northern, north-eastern, eastern, southern and western regions and six C-band transponders with their footprints covering the entire country."

Crazy About Mercury

Monday, November 27th, 2006


The elusive planet, as Mercury is sometimes known, will be less elusive in the coming weeks. reports:  

Often cited as the most difficult of the five brightest naked-eye planets to see, because it’s the planet closest to the Sun, Mercury never strays too far from the Sun’s vicinity in our sky.

Mercury is called an "inferior planet" because its orbit is nearer to the Sun than the Earth’s.  Therefore, it always appears from our vantagepoint to be in the same general direction as the Sun. Thus relatively few people have set eyes on it; there is even a rumor that the great Polish astronomer, Copernicus, never saw it.  Yet it’s not really hard to see.  You simply must know when and where to look, and find a clear horizon.

And during these next two weeks we will be presented with an excellent opportunity to view Mercury in the early morning dawn sky [map].

In fact, if you’ve been an early riser this past week, it’s quite possible you might have stumbled across Mercury on your own.  Since Nov. 20, it has been rising at least 90 minutes before sunrise, which is also just about the same time that morning twilight is beginning.  If you scan low along the east-southeast horizon about 45 minutes before sunrise, Mercury has been visible as a distinctly bright, yellowish-orange "star." 

The best views of Mercury, however, are reserved for this weekend, as Mercury will be rising more than 100 minutes before the Sun.  This is even before the break of dawn, so for a short while at least, Mercury will be visible against a completely dark sky. 

Early to bed and early to rise — will, if nothing else, grant you a rare opportunity for a good glimpse of the planet. So get to bed early this week!

What Dish? That Antenna Looks Like a Turkey

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

There’s a revolutionary satellite antenna being sold in Japan, based on the Luneberg Lens, capable of receiving signals from multiple satcoms. JSAT’s press release in 2001 announced this breakthrough, and a joint release with Sumitomo Electric introduced it to the marketplace in 2003. This photo journal demonstrates assembly, which looks simple enough.

But was it really a “breakthrough?” I think it was – at least from a marketing perspective.  R. K. Luneberg proposed the principle of this lens for electromagnetic waves in 1944, where a sphere made of materials with relative dielectric constants varying in square distribution from 1 at the surface to 2 at the center becomes a dielectric lens with countless foci on its surface. A dielectric constant is a measurement of a material’s capacity to modify electromagnetic waves. This suggests a single lens antenna is capable of receiving and transmitting waves to and from multiple directions simultaneously – without moving the sphere. Brilliant!


What we have here is a high-gain, low-cost antenna that may have substantial market potential in the U.S and Europe, too.  Presently, antennae based on the Luneberg Lens have been used in mobile military applications, especially on aircraft where a low profile is required. Datron makes and sells a Luneberg Lens Array (LLA). Lun’tech of France is selling one today, and Raven in the U.K. has been talking about one for some time.


Pretty cool how this 60-year-old technology may have an impact in today’s most advanced satellite communications systems. Want to learn more? This comprehensive overview from Stevens Tech in Hoboken is very useful. And if you want to start selling them, the folks at Rozendal Associates can help you make them.

Bell ExpressVu Launches Web Interactive TV

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

Our Canadian readers may not have the day off tomorrow, but in lieu of turkey Canadians can spend the day calling up stats on a pair of the first truly interactive TV channels to go live. The Globe and Mail reports:

 In a glimpse of how television may look in the near future, satellite provider Bell ExpressVu LP launched two interactive channels yesterday that let viewers call up on-screen stats, headlines and other features while watching news or sports.

The channels — CBC News Plus and TSN Extra — are the first stage in what is believed to be the next battleground for cable, satellite and telecom providers, which have each talked about launching interactive TV in Canada for the past few years.

By pressing a button, viewers access menus with content from each network’s websites. The channel feed shifts to the right side of the TV screen, allowing room for the menu down the left side.

The loading times for each item are about three seconds, said Pat Button, vice-president of marketing for Bell ExpressVu, a division of BCE Inc. The company believes features like on-screen statistics or commentary will be the most popular during the broadcasts of live sports or news programs.

This would be very convenient tomorrow on a cooking channel here in the U.S., as millions of households will be grappling with the question of just how long to roast their birds.

Happy Thanksgiving to all — Really Rocket Science will return to its regular posting schedule on Monday. Enjoy the holiday! 


No You Ditn’t: NASA’s Hanley Responds to Blog’s Diss

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

Maybe NASA Watch didn’t mean any disrespect when it said in an editors note a couple of weeks ago that,

"Sources inside the development of the Ares 1 launch vehicle (aka Crew Launch Vehicle or "The Stick") have reported that the current design is underpowered to the tune of a metric ton or more. As currently designed, Ares 1 would not be able to put the present Orion spacecraft design (Crew Exploration Vehicle) into the orbit NASA desires for missions to the ISS. This issue is more pronounced for CEV missions to the moon."

But Jeff Hanley, the manager of NASA’s Constellation Project which is responsible for developing the rockets and spacecraft the United States is building to replace the space shuttle and return to the Moon, took it as a "Yo Mama" joke gone too far and responded to the allegations as if the blog had broken his slide ruler just for the fun of it.

As he said in an email sent Nov. 13 and circulated far beyond NASA in the hours that followed:

"[M]any who carp from the sidelines do not seem to understand the systems engineering process. They instead want to sensationalize any issue to whatever end or preferred outcome they wish."

Ooooo, how do you like ‘dem apples NASA Watch?

According to a Nov. 15 Space News Interview, Hanley wanted to make sure that the critics of the program (e.g. that trash talking NASA Watch) got his message.

"I thought it was important that we set the record straight on some of the external stuff that’s been going around. I don’t want people to think that because they don’t see us responding to it on a regular basis that has any basis in truth."

For their part, Space Watch editor recognized the effort Hanley went to to make sure they got his message… and see it as a pretty chump move.

"Jeff Hanley went to great lengths to make certain that I got his email. The way he did so (I have the original distribution list) makes me wonder why he was so eager to use other people to get his thoughts to me – but not do so himself – either directly – or through PAO. Moreover, if Hanley holds PAO- accredited news sources such as NASA Watch in such distain, one wonders why he’d even bother to reply in the first place. Just one of life’s little mysteries, I suppose."

Awww, snap. Who said NASA wasn’t a little like high school?

SinoSat2, Optus D1 on the Fritz

Monday, November 20th, 2006

We wrote in September about China’s efforts to improve television coverage for up to 300 million mainland households through the launch of the SinoSat2 communications satellite, which lifted on October 29th.

Now reports are coming in that SinoSat2 is failing less than a month after being launched. IOL reports:

 A Chinese communications and broadcast satellite is failing less than a month into orbit because of malfunctioning solar panels, a China-watching Hong Kong-based group said on Monday.

The SinoSat-2 satellite, launched on October 29 in the southwestern province of Sichuan, is designed to serve live television signals and digital broadband multimedia systems in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

But technicians discovered its main solar panel had failed to unfold as planned on November 7, disabling some antennae from receiving ground instructions, the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said.

"Chinese satellite experts are doing their utmost to save it but the chance of success is slim," the group said in a faxed statement, quoting unnamed sources.

One hopes things are going better with China’s seed breeding satellite. 

SinoSat2’s failure was not the only satellite to give the satellite underwriting market "a serious setback this week," as Satellite Finance (subscription required) reports:

 Next came the problems faced by Optus D1…. After the satellite was launched in orbit tests showed that one of the antennas was not functioning properly. The insurance placement was done by ISB.
“Insurers were sworn to absolute secrecy on it,” said one source. “The rumour is that they’re looking at a 50% partial loss.” The satellite was insured for a total of US$130m and Optus may thus get US$65m. Whether underwriters will subsequently turn to Orbital Sciences, the satellite’s manufacturer, in an attempt to recoup some of the outlay remains to be seen.