Archive for February, 2007

To Pluto at 52,000 MPH

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

The New Horizons spacecraft used Jupiter’s gravitational pull to increase its speed by 9,000 MPH to a total of 52,000 MPH, as reported by Alex DeMetrick at WJZ in Baltimore:

Heading To Pluto With Help From Jupiter

LAUREL, Md. There are all kinds of test drives, but only one at 52,000 miles per hour.

That’s the speed scientists here in Maryland are aiming for and as Alex DeMetrick reports, the test track is Jupiter.

Man’s first journey to Pluto left a little over a year ago. But for the New Horizons Spacecraft to get there, it’s difficult.

"There’s this little keyhole the spacecraft must reach," Dr. Hal Weaver from the Hopkins Applied Physics Lab said.

That little keyhole just happens to be the biggest planet in the solar system. Jupiter is the spacecraft’s turbo charger, guided by controllers at Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel.

"We’re using Jupiter as a catapult. By passing fairly close to Jupiter, it’s going to sling-shot us faster toward Pluto. We’re gaining 9,000 miles per hour," Weaver said.

It’s man’s fastest vehicle. While passing by, instruments will be checked out, observations made, including a ride down the planet’s massive magnetic tail.

New Horizons will train its instruments on Pluto in a fly-by in 2015. That’s a long time, but scientists hope it will get there thanks to Jupiter’s assistance.

Not only will New Horizons provide scientists with their first close look at Pluto, the spacecraft will also continue on into the Kuyper belt in search of other Pluto-type objects.


That spacecraft was speeding from the moment it was launched. Watch this launch video and you’ll see the camera operator had trouble keeping up with it:

Danger Of Early Daylight Savings: Mistimed Coffee Brewing

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

From the batten-down-the-hatches dept…

Los Alamos Highlights Real Danger Of Early Daylight Savings: Mistimed Coffee Brewing

The upcoming early arrival of Daylight Savings Time continues to make some headlines, even if there really isn’t a whole lot to worry about. The latest story looks at how the Los Alamos National Laboratory is coping with the change, and things seem fine, as its IT director is apparently most concerned about people who use calendar programs showing up for meetings on time. The lab’s newsletter, though, had some more pressing advice for employees: make sure things like the clocks on their coffee pots are set correctly, as clearly it would be a significant problem if their coffee wasn’t ready as expected on March 11. Perhaps when we repackage our Y2K preparedness kits and bunkers, we should make sure they include coffee pots that don’t contain a clock.

Real Danger Of Early Daylight Savings: Mistimed Coffee Brewing

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Los Alamos Highlights Real Danger Of Early Daylight Savings: Mistimed Coffee Brewing

from the batten-down-the-hatches dept

The upcoming early arrival of Daylight Savings Time continues to make some headlines, even if there really isn’t a whole lot to worry about. The latest story looks at how the Los Alamos National Laboratory is coping with the change, and things seem fine, as its IT director is apparently most concerned about people who use calendar programs showing up for meetings on time. The lab’s newsletter, though, had some more pressing advice for employees: make sure things like the clocks on their coffee pots are set correctly, as clearly it would be a significant problem if their coffee wasn’t ready as expected on March 11. Perhaps when we repackage our Y2K preparedness kits and bunkers, we should make sure they include coffee pots that don’t contain a clock.

Anti-Jamming Technology Goes Commercial

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

The Times reported yesterday that Boeing is looking to put anti-jamming technology previously reserved only for the military on commercial satellites used by business and the communications industry. According to the article,

"Anti-jamming technology is already used by military and spy satellites, but proposals to install similar protection in the 250 large satellites in commercial operation have been prompted by the threat of disruption.

The successful jamming of video, data, or voice signals by individuals or groups could jeopardise the millions of dollars spent on just a handful of satellites, operators fear.

Such jamming of government navigation satellites has already occurred, according to Lieutenant General Robert Kehler of the US Air Force, ‘as has jamming of commercial telecommunications satellites.’" has a great background report on Spy Satellites for those who want to know a little bit more about the technology and the American Military and Intelligence communities uses of the technology. While Spy Satellites have been used for quite a long time, even the latest anti-jamming technologies are unable to prevent detection, the spy satellite holy grail. While satellite project, such as MISTY, have been able to avoid detection by laser and microwave radar, none has been able to completely avoid visible detection, a limitation which has prompted the emergence of a small, but strong spy satellite monitoring enthusiast community.

Oh, and for those of you who might be worried about the commercial anti-jamming technologies making it into the wrong hands, it looks like your not alone. While Boeing seems confident that they’ll win it, the U.S. government does have to approve the use of the "top secret" anti-jamming technology on commercial satellites before the company can start introducing it on products sold to foreign customers.

UN Getting Closer to Space Junk Guidelines

Monday, February 26th, 2007


We all know space debris (or space junk, as I like to call it) is a big problem. While the lost cameras, gloves, and toothbrushes may reenter the atmosphere and burn-up without too much of a problem, the sheer number of spent rocket stages, broken down satellites, and broken off bits and pieces that come along with both pose a real hazards for working satellites, the International Space station, and astronauts on a space-walk. Moreover, the more space junk we create the more we have to watch. Currently, U.S. Strategic Command tracks over 10,000 pieces of space junk to ensure each piece’s reentry is not mistaken for enemy fire from above.

Fortunately, according to Aviation Week, the UN is making some headway in the fight against the floating trash, having secured the support of China for a landmark resolution that would set guidelines for limiting space debris. China’s support for the resolution was less than certain, particularly given its recent testing of anti-satellite weapons technology that generated a fair amount of space junk, itself, in the process. Most likely the Chinese may have felt they were safe from scrutiny, because the new guidelines are designed to curtail unintended space debris.

"While the Chinese test, which has been described as the worst debris event in space-flight history, was deliberate, the problem of unintended debris generation was underscored this month by the apparent rupture of a fuel tank on a Russian rocket that malfunctioned during a communications-satellite launch last year."

Above you’ll find one of the better photos of last year’s explosions that we found on We found at least two other photos on the same site.

While it remains to be seen when an actual resolution will emerge from the UN regarding approaches for dealing with the problem of space trash and what (if any) teeth it might have when it’s passed, but its good to hear that someone is making some headway in solving this complicated problem.

Boring Press Releases

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

I’m so glad we have journalists around to make the news interesting. Imagine if we only had press releases.  B-O-R-I-N-G !

Just look at all these releases surrounding the Satellite 2007 show in Washington last week. Open your eyes wide and read these exciting excerpts:

"…released two new software options to their industry leading product lines that extend their already unique ability to…"

"This flexibility makes the product line more accessible to the networking requirements of government, military, and commercial customers who increasingly value high uplink and downlink speeds at a node and desire to blend terrestrial solutions with their satellite backhaul."

"The company’s DVB-RCS/S2 solutions are the only multiple-access satellite solutions capable of delivering data transfer rates of up to 80 Mbps for downloads and up to 8 Mbps for uploads at each remote terminal, or enough bandwidth to support a variety of users such as a small business or battalion unit to an entire community/military base from a single remote terminal."

And this quote is typical from apparently happy customers:

“We are looking forward to working with X on the development of this next generation intelligent network. Significant improvements can be made to future VSAT systems with the addition of artificial intelligence to the network. These capabilities offer the promise of enhanced performance and economic gains which will allow us to offer new and more cost effective services to our customers.”

I think it’s time we put some excitement in our "realeases" and start making some real news. I’ve noticed NASA’s public affairs people are putting some fun into their work and coming up with some very creative angles over the past year or so — just take a look at this "Camping on the Moon" release. Brilliant!

Japan Launches Spy Satellites

Saturday, February 24th, 2007



Japan Times reports a Japanese H-IIA rocket carrying two satellites blasted off from the Tanegashima Space Center (see web cam) in Kagoshima Prefecture:

JAXA used an H-IIA rocket Saturday to successfully place a radar satellite in orbit to complete Japan’s spy system for full global coverage.

The rocket also carried an experimental optical satellite.

Both satellites were placed in orbit about 20 minutes after the 1:40 p.m. launch from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said.

They began functioning and their solar-battery panels are open, JAXA said.

If the radar satellite continues to perform as planned, Japan’s compliment of four spy satellites will be able to photograph any point on Earth once a day for intelligence-gathering, the agency said.

The government decided to launch spy satellites after North Korea fired a Taepodong-1 ballistic missile in 1998, part of which flew over Japan into the Pacific Ocean. Pyongyang maintains it was for sending a satellite into orbit.

The launch of the radar satellite enhances a multibillion dollar, decade-old plan for Japan to have round-the-clock surveillance of the secretive North and other areas Japan wants to peer in on.

In the spy project, two optical satellites and one radar satellite have already been placed into orbit.

But weaknesses in the satellites’ capabilities have led to criticism that the program is a waste of money and, with better data available on the commercial market, that the government will continue to be dependent on Washington for its core intelligence.

The launch also comes just a month after China demonstrated its ability to shoot satellites out of orbit with ground-based missiles. Japan and other countries, including the United States, have strongly protested Beijing’s antisatellite test.

China has defended the test as peaceful, and said it presents no country with a threat.

JAXA officials say the satellites provide an important means for the country to independently collect intelligence, and say improvements in the satellites’ capabilities are in the works.

The experimental optical satellite launched Saturday features higher-resolution optics that can be used in the future to improve the quality of orbital photographs taken by Japanese satellites.

The two optical satellites already in orbit are reportedly capable of detecting objects about 1 meter in size. The plan is to work toward a satellite capable of detecting objects half that size.

JAXA had originally intended to launch the rocket Feb. 15 but postponed it three times due to thunder and poor weather conditions.

DIY Friday: Sun Outage Calculator

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

There is no greater tool for DIY enthusiasts than the Internet, and today’s DIY activity is just a click away: a sun outage calculator!

But wait — what’s a sun outage? Now’s a good time to ask.

Sun outage is a natural phenomenon, which occurs twice a year (in the spring and fall) when the sun appears to be passing directly behind the satellite as seen from a receiving earth station.

Since the sun is a potent source of radio frequency energy, the earth station’s receivers are overwhelmed by the sun’s “noise” output and reception becomes impossible for a brief period of time, usually less than 10 minutes.

An observer at the earth station will notice that the antenna feed’s shadow will fall exactly in the center of the reflector during the peak of the sun outage period.  This indicates that the antenna, the satellite and the sun are in direct alignment.  At this point in time, the sun’s radio signals are being focused directly into the antenna’s receive feed.  This results in a temporary degradation in the signal to noise ratio of the signal being received from the satellite and a consequent degradation in Eb/N0 (Energy per bit over Noise referenced to zero) in digital systems.

Sun outage generally occurs between 9 AM and 3 PM for locations in the continental United States.  The duration and intensity of the outage will begin as a slight degradation in signal, increasing to a peak level over several days and will then begin to reduce in intensity and duration over a similar period.  These outages pose no danger to earth station equipment and they are not related to sunspot activity.

So how do you predict when the sun is going to mess up your signal? This sun outage calculator gives you predictions based upon the satellite you’re receiving from, your location on earth, and the time and date.

SES also offers a bunch of charts (good luck with that). Intelsat also offers marginally useful maps of sun outages for spacecraft — but they let you input your exact location. I like that.

Who Owns That Satellite?

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

According to Channel NewsAsia, things are heating up in Thailand, where concerns about spying may force the country to buy back satellites it sold to a Singapore investment firm, Temasek, last year. As you might expect, things get a little complicated when you viewed up closer:

"[The controversy]… centers around four satellites owned by ShinSat, which is a subsidiary of Shin Corp.

Shin Corp was founded by former [Thai] premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whose family sold a 49 percent stake in the company to Singapore investment firm Temasek in January 2006.

General Sonthi [Boonyaratglin, who led last September’s coup d’état] said the government should buy back these satellites, which transmit encrypted military communications, in the interest of national security.

The estimated price tag is US$294 million."

Most Thai’s on the street believe that the Thailand should reclaim ownership of the old satellite’s for reasons of national security, although many don’t think the country should have to pay for the reacquisition. As one Thai citizen said in an interview:

"Thaksin sold it, so he should buy it back for Thailand. Thai people are already paying taxes to the government, so we shouldn’t use the country’s money to buy it from Singapore."

The problem for Thailand is, however, that such an oddball move with a foreign company would probably inhibit the future foreign direct investment so crucial to their development.

Opening General Session at Satellite 2007

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

Here’s the write up of Tuesday’s Opening General Session by Mark Holmes in the Satellite 2007 Daily:

FSS operators Seek Ways To Capitalize on Growth Patterns

The satellite industry finds itself in a strong position, top executives said at the SATELLITE 2007 opening session, but there was an undercurrent of caution in their comments.

Overall, the panel was increasingly optimistic about the growth prospects for the satellite industry. “I think we see an industry that is healthier every day,” said Intelsat CEO David McGlade.. We see economies improving around the world. It is a great time to be in the industry. In 2004, the industry was not as healthy as it was today. It is improving even in areas like Asia.”

There was also a sense of renewed optimism in traditional market segments such as broadcasting with new direct-to-home (DTH) operators springing up throughout the world as well the move to high definition (HD) which is increasing capacity demands.
“People are going back to basics,” said Giuliano Berretta, CEO of Eutelsat. “TV is picking up very strongly. There is a resurgence in the TV business. For example, I think SES is becoming more traditional when you look at their recent divestments. In our most recent results, 70 percent mof revenues were derived from broadcasting. There are new countries which want pay TV.”

The optimism also extended to new market opportunities and the opportunities for satellites to play an increased role in areas such as mobilebroadcasting, broadband and other areas. McGlade spoke of the need of making “small, smart, bets” when going into new areas. “When you see a take-up you grow with it. You have to seed some new activities. I feel there is the right kind of climate for responsible growth. Huge bets have been taken before, but we won’t be doing that again.”

Romain Bausch, CEO of SES Global, said there are strong growth opportunities for satellite manufacturers and launch providers, but admitted the industry “could be in trouble” if companies do not move quickly when attacking new markets and consolidating positions in existing markets.

Bausch admitted he was concerned of the impact players such as Deutsche Telekom (DT) could have on satellite players. “We need to make sure the satellite solution is developed further to compete with terrestrial solutions,” he said. “You look at someone like DT who is going into the video business, this may be dangerous for us, because of the vertical integration of such players.”

Changing landscape

The satellite landscape has changed since these CEOs gathered at SATELLITE 2006. In recent weeks, Eutelsat has announced new shareholders, SES has done a deal with GE to divest certain assets and repurchase stock, Loral and Telesat have hooked up. Unsurprisingly, all the executives painted a bright picture of these moves.

Bausch made the point that divesting certain assets was almost as important as acquiring new assets. “When we bought New Skies, we got new assets in Asia and Latin America. It allowed us to divest in minority of assets such as AsiaSat and StarOne,” he said. “Divestiture is also a key trend. It is removing the overhang and having a currency to use in the future. It is a rationalization of assets. It is clear with overlapping footprints you have to rationalize. From a strategic perspective, we are now built on three 100 percent-owned companies. This will allow us to be more aggressive and in control of our developments.”

McGlade said Intelsat believed in a different approach. “I do not believe as much as the regional entities standing alone,” he said. “We have put more people out into the field. I think the integration process has transformed us and been a tool to bring us forward. There are many areas of growth. I think broadband will continue to grow. We have an investment in WildBlue and that has done well. When I look at video, HDTV has reached an inflexion point. Once that trend starts to accelerate you will see many programmers go to HD both for offensive and defensive reasons. There are new DTH platforms being launched. As we see liberalization of regulatory regimes there are growth opportunities in every sector.”

Michael Targoff, CEO of Loral Space & Communications, said his company’s acquisition of Telesat was vital for the operator to be a long-term player in the market and would help Loral compete more effectively with the big guns in the industry.

“You need to offer the customer a sense of capability,” Targoff said. “It was clear to Loral when we sold assets to Intelsat we did not have a sustainable position in the long term. By buying Telesat, we believe we can compete. We are comfortable it provides us with the mass to compete. I don’t just see it as a step along the way.”

In terms of how he views new opportunities for Loral and other operators, “We will be using satellites to deliver video to handheld nphones,” Targoff said. “We will use satellites to deliver broadband where there is not broadband infrastructure. There will be a role of satellites. While there is clear strength in the traditional services, it is also clear the future the role of satellites is how we participate in the way people access content now.”

Besides competing with the other satellite players, Berretta called for more cooperation within the satellite industry as they look to compete against other infrastructures and operators.

His views were shared by McGlade. “I think an association together could make a lot of sense and add a lot of value,” he said. “… “We are such a small fish in the media and telecoms pond. We need to look at how we can spur growth. We can do more. When we look overall, we have to look at what is happening with customers as well as our competitors. We are moving the industry forward, but we could do more. We are not doing enough.”

Mobile satellite services

Andy Sukawaty, CEO of Inmarsat and the lone Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) representative, told the session that some of the plans being offered by the low-Earth orbit (LEO) operators are “deeply flawed”.

Sukawaty warned that the investment community may not have learned from its previous efforts in funding LEO constellations if investors believe there was so much money to be made from the MSS industry. “In the 1990s, $15 billion was lost by investors that invested in this business,” he said. “We have instilled a capital discipline. It is capital intensive business. I think that is where investors need to focus. If you look at the fund raising at the MSS sector people are looking to raise $12 billion over the next five years. I don’t think there is $12 billion of business out there.”

Sukawaty saved his strongest comments for some of the LEO operators. He said in a blistering attack on some of the players, “To spend $2 billion on a LEO constellation will not work. They have a distinct competitive disadvantage. That thinking is deeply flawed. That cannot compete against GEO systems.”

However, Sukawaty was optimistic about his own company’s growth prospects. While price erosion on the voice side means revenue growth is difficult despite volume growth, data applications could be the key to a successful future for the operator. “Historically, we have had targeted a 3 percent growth rate, but now we want to accelerate that to 6 [percent] to 8 percent growth,” he said. “That will be driven by data applications. Data applications will provide double digit growth. The question is who captures that double-digit growth."