Archive for December, 2006

RRS Over The Holidays: See You in ’07

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

ReallyRocketScience is going to be taking a bit of a break over the Holidays, but we’ll see you all back here bright and early on Tuesday, January 2nd, nursing our lingering hangovers, and still wondering what happened the evening before last.

 In all seriousness, whatever you celebrate (and even if you’re celebrating nothing in particular), best wishes to you and yours for a happy and safe holiday season.  See you in 2007!

DIY Friday: Car Laptop Desk and a Flash Diffuser (Holiday Edition)

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

With just three shopping days left before the big day, many of us are trying to frantically figure out how we’re going to get all our work done before the end of 2006, while simultaneously hitting the malls getting gifts of all 27 nieces and nephews that we all of the sudden have.


While you’re probably better off not turning to ReallyRocketScience for gift giving suggestions (Hint: Your girlfriend really isn’t going to love that "Build Your Own" Rocketry Kit as much as you think she is), we will direct you to site that will show you how to "build your own", cup-holder-based laptop desk for your car. Sure, checking your email while you’re hunting for that great parking space might lead to one or two fender benders or incidences of road rage, but, hey, at least you’ll be able to make sure your boss thinks you’re still at your desk.


For those of you that have the shopping done, but are planning to photograph the christmas morning festivities only to find out that you didn’t get the flash diffuser you wanted from Santa, here’s a site where you can figure out how to make your own. Just one word of caution: While the resulting diffuser may be good for your evening photos, the cigarettes it takes to make it are bad for your health and, in the long term, far more expensive than the priciest diffuser you can buy.

Solar Storms

Thursday, December 21st, 2006


We wrote yesterday about the challenges a hostile space environment presents to satellite technology; last week we were all reminded of those challenges when a solar flare disrupted satellite signals:

An "energetic" storm on the sun disrupted signals in space and forced mission controllers to shut systems down to avoid damage to spacecraft orbiting Earth, the European Space Agency said.

The sun on December 13 expelled a solar flare after a buildup of magnetic energy near its surface triggered an explosion, the agency said today in an e-mailed statement. The flare caused a so-called coronal mass ejection, which sent a stream of fast-moving atomic particles toward Earth…

The flare was the strongest of five categories for such ejections and was one of a series of eruptions this week that emanated from a region of active sunspots. 

The flare even affected the ISS:

 It may also have caused a fault in the system controlling the space station’s orientation in space.

The ISS usually relies on four large gyroscopes that spin to control its "attitude" without consuming copious amounts of propellant.

Space station flight director Joel Montalbano told reporters in Houston, US, that the unusual solar activity had caused the density of Earth’s atmosphere to increase.

"We’re seeing some problems with our software converging on a nice stable attitude for attitude control," quoted him as saying.

Last week, astronauts were forced to sleep in protective areas of the station and shuttle as a precaution against the storm.

What do satellite operators like SES AMERICOM do in a case like this? Nothing, really, other than ride it out. 

But all that solar activity can be beautiful. The image at the top of this post is from NASA’s twin Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatories (STEREO), which sent back their first images of the sun ‘s growing activity. And some musicians at Berkeley are even making music inspired by "the breeze of electrons from the sun."

Zamfir, eat your heart out.  

But as beautiful as the images of the sun are from last week, some impatient people may wonder what the sun looks like right now. For that, bookmark, which provides nearly real time images of the sun.


Rhythm and Blues Replacing Rock and Roll

Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

Is time running backwards, or are music lovers just getting back to their roots?

Well, neither, as it turns out. Rather, "Rhythm" and "Blues" are the names of the two new satellites that will bring XM Satellite Radio to consumers:  

On Friday, XM began broadcasting through its recently launched XM-4 satellite (known as "Blues") manufactured by Boeing Satellite Systems International, Inc. The combination of "Rhythm (the XM-3 satellite launched in early 2005)" and "Blues" provides a solid foundation to deliver a full complement of digital broadcasts to the XM Nation across the next two decades…

Rhythm and Blues replace XM’s original satellites, "Rock" and "Roll," launched in 2001, which will serve as in-orbit spares for the near-term.

"Rock" and "Roll" were just launched in 2001 — so why replace them so soon?

The first Boeing 702 spacecraft had problems with the solar arrays, which experienced "faster than expected performance degradation during early operational life."

That’s a mere euphemism, insurers say. In a satellite version of a "lemon law," the world’s "largest space-insurance underwriters have agreed to seek damages from Boeing Co. for what they allege was gross negligence in the manufacturing of the first six Boeing 702-class satellites, all of which had defective solar arrays," according to Space News.

Solar array problems aren’t always a case of manufacturing errors, however. The space environment is extraordinarily hostile, and solar array failures can often be caused by conditions in space

In 1997, scientists and engineers of the Photovoltaic and Space Environments Branch of the NASA Lewis Research Center, Maxwell Technologies, and Space Systems/Loral discovered a new failure mechanism for solar arrays on communications satellites in orbit. Sustained electrical arcs, initiated by the space plasma and powered by the solar arrays themselves, were found to have destroyed solar array substrates on some Space Systems/Loral satellites, leading to array failure. The mechanism was tested at Lewis, and mitigation strategies were developed to prevent such disastrous occurrences on-orbit in the future.

Not all problems lead to array failure, however. But maintaining the functionality of solar arrays remains one of the key challenges to satellite engineers working in a difficult environment.

Satellite Internet Coming to Saskatchewan

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

Say that three times fast, eh?

We’ve written before about the challenges of bringing broadband access to remote, rural regions of Canada (in communities like Black Tickle, Labrador) — and the resulting lack of Internet access options for rural residents in the north.

But there’s good news today for those who want broadband in Saskatchewan:

Saskatchewan Communications Network (SCN) Minister Glenn Hagel and OmniGlobe Networks, Inc. (OGN) Chair Julian Costley today signed a Memorandum of Understanding to form a long-term strategic alliance.  The two companies will work together to deliver a satellite-based wireless broadband Internet service capable of supporting video-conferencing, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and other e-solutions to rural and remote communities across Canada….

Earlier this year, SCN and OGN undertook a six-month project together to deliver wireless broadband Internet service to several remote communities in northern Quebec.  The success of the Quebec project demonstrated large-scale interest for a national service combining satellite with terrestrial wireless access, inspiring the two organizations to jointly extend the model across Canada.

Omniglobe has years of experience delivering VSAT services (such as distant learning) to rural Canada. But delivering true broadband to Canada is going to require far more spectrum (bandwidth) then VSAT. Where will that spectrum come from?

The most likely answer is Ciel Satellite Group, which recently filed applications for 9 licences in Canada: 

On November 15, the Ciel Satellite Group filed nine applications with Industry Canada for multiple satellite orbital positions across several frequencies. The applications were submitted in response to Industry Canada’s Call for Applications to License Satellite Orbital Positions, the largest in Canadian history. Applicants who are awarded licences from the Call will have the opportunity to build and launch satellites to bring new spectrum into use for DTH, HD and broadband services, for the benefit of Canadians in all regions of the country….

David Lewis, President and CEO of Ciel, noted, "This is a key event in Ciel’s history and, at the same time, a defining moment in the history of Canadian telecommunications."

Yoga? In Space?

Monday, December 18th, 2006

Let it never be said that you don’t get all the angles on space travel and rocketry here on the Really Rocket Science blog. Oh sure, I could tell you about Japan’s launch this afternoon of the country’s largest satellite ever, but you’d much rather know about Yoga’s history in space, right? I thought so.

In any event, I came across this interesting story on the history of Yoga in America published in a recent issue of the Columbia Journalism Review from one of my favorite news/article blog, Arts & Letters Daily. While most of the article, obviously didn’t have much to do with what we talk about here on RRS, it turns out that Yoga has interesting relationship with space travel. For example, at the height of the Cold War Space Race, there was a fair amount of concern about India’s ties to the Soviet Union’s space program. In the 1950s,

"Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, obviously prompted by cold-war worries, denied reports that his nation would supply the Soviet Union with yogis to help cosmonauts breathe easier in outer space."

While yogi’s might have never made it to Mother Russia, Yoga did make it into outer-space (and on a Russian mission, no less) when Rakesh Sharma, who some have recently rumored is being considered for a second trip into space, became the first Indian in space in 1984. During the spring flight aboard the Soviet Soyuz T-11, Sharma often did a somewhat elaborate series of zero-gravity Yoga exercises, marking the first extraterrestrial practice of the asanas (postures). Ever since, there has been great interest in the potential benefits in stress relief, breathing, and circulation Yoga could bring to space travel in the future.

Moral of the story? If you’re thinking about hoping a trip on the Virgin Galactic-1 or one of the other opportunities for space travel that might come afterwards, maybe you should start thinking about picking up a matt and heading off to your your local Yoga center while you wait.

Loral Buying Telesat

Monday, December 18th, 2006

CFRA newsradio read the Wall Street Journal this morning and announced Loral and PSP were buying Telesat from BCE. Telesat was the first domestic satellite operator (Anik A, pictured below, was the first satellite).

Here’s the scoop from WSJ (subscription):

Loral Space & Communications Inc., in partnership with a Canadian pension fund, is expected today to announce a deal to acquire the Telesat satellite unit of Canada’s BCE Inc. for more than three billion Canadian dollars (US$2.59 billion), according to people familiar with the details.

As part of the transaction, Loral will contribute cash as well as all of its own satellite assets to form a new company, based in Canada, that will own and operate the combined satellite fleet, these people said. The structure is intended to create the fourth-largest global commercial fixed-satellite operator, with 11 satellites in orbit and four more under construction, while complying with Canadian laws restricting foreign ownership of such firms.

A Loral spokesman declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Telesat. It was unclear which pension fund was participating in the deal. The combined company would have an order backlog of more than C$5 billion for leasing in-orbit capacity to customers who use it to transmit video and data for applications ranging from television service to Internet connections. For the first nine months of this year, Telesat reported revenue of C$351 million.

By combining Telesat’s existing coverage over North America with Loral’s international business and longstanding ties to large customers and other operators, the new entity would be designed to compete more effectively against global satellite behemoths such as Intelsat Ltd. and SES Global SA of Luxembourg.

A deal would pave the way for BCE to follow its strategic plan to exit the satellite business. And the pension fund will have two-thirds of the voting rights in the new entity, the people familiar with the matter said. But Loral, which also had been toying with the idea of bailing out of what is known as the satellite-services sector, is expected to have control over two-thirds of the economic assets, these people said. Loral’s satellite-manufacturing business won’t be affected.

Consolidation among smaller satellite operators has picked up momentum following a spate of larger acquisitions over the past few years. Daniel Goldberg, who became president and chief executive of Telesat in September, will become chief executive of the newly formed company. Since the summer, BCE has been weighing an initial public offering of the unit in the U.S. and also inviting alternative bids from private-equity groups and others. Loral took part in the auction despite comments from Chief Executive Michael Targoff earlier this year that the New York company was considering exiting the segment because its fleet was too small to compete against larger global rivals.

Private-equity groups have invested nearly US$10 billion in various satellite-related acquisitions and mergers over the past few years, pledging to reduce capital expenditures and improve profitability. But the latest deal signals that the next industry trend may feature consolidation among regional and second-tier and third-tier operators, hoping to gain size and coverage to compete with global rivals.

Frisbee in Space

Monday, December 18th, 2006


The Swedish astronaut on STS-116, Christer Fuglesang,  is a former Frisbee champion back home. reports he set a new world record for maximum speed aloft last Friday.

DirecTV Now Connects to Viiv Boxes

Friday, December 15th, 2006


Very interesting post on Engadget this morning:

After DirecTV’s long-awaited HR20 HD DVR finally got its rightful announcements and actually hit users’ hands, it wasn’t too long before folks were plugging and praying in hopes of getting their new toy to play nice with that HTPC beside it. While we knew the two firms had gone hand-in-hand awhile back, we finally got the thumbs-up that a new, Viiv-alicious DirecTV Plus HD DVR would be unveiled soon to interact out-of-the-box with Viiv-enabled systems, but more importantly, that a software update was coming to the plain ole HR20s to accomplish the same thing. The time has come, and users are reporting over at DBSTalk that the “0×108 software” has opened up the Ethernet port for use, and allows browsing / connections via a Viiv-certified machine, but definitely made things difficult for those not exactly keen on shelling out for a few new components. Nevertheless, there’s already been somewhat of a workaround worked out, which allows PCs with just Windows MCE installed to “see” the HR20, but not “serve up files in a way that HR20 can work with,” which we’re all but certain will change as the wheels spin in owners’ heads. Reportedly, DirecTV is establishing a dedicated website to getting folks up and running with the new connectivity options, and be sure to keep an eye on the linked thread for any “future developments” regarding non-Viiv-savvy PCs.



But do you really need a Viiv PC? This Digger doesn’t think so.

DIY Friday: Build an Air Laser

Friday, December 15th, 2006




Ever dream of blasting your friends (or your enemies) with really freakin’ cool laser gun when you were kid? Well, it might not be the gun, but the MAKE blog points to a really cool how-two guide for building your own Air Laser. That’s right, "Laser" (insert Dr. Evil air quotes) technology for $10 and none of the crazy stuff that requires a government license and HAZMAT signage.

We describe a very simple laser: no special gas, no chemical products, no vacuum and no glass work! This Nitrogen laser uses normal air at atmospheric pressure. All you need is some metal parts and an about 10 kV 1 mA adjustable High tension DC source.

Dig it! Oh, and if you dig our DIY feature and haven’t checked out the MAKE blog or the quarterly magazine of the same name, do yourself a favor and take a look. You won’t regret it.