Archive for June, 2007


Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

Last December, I blogged about satellite-naming being the new new creative gold prize of astronomy —or, as I wrote then, the "new UGG boots of the space agencies" (what was I thinking writing that?). The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was planning the launch of their new lunar orbiter (formerly called SELENE), advertised as the the biggest lunar exploration project since the Apollo Project. Who wouldn’t want to name that?

A winner has been chosen! KAGUYA. As LiveScience explains, the name is from an ancient Japanese tale “Taketori Monogatari” – the tale of the Bamboo-Cutter which involves Princess Kaguya, the Moon Princess." (To be clear, KAGUYA is not named after the genetically modified mouse born in 2004 from two parents of the same sex.)

As explains, the project is perhaps the world’s most extensive current study of the moon (and there are many projects):

SELENE consists of a main orbiting satellite located at about 100km altitude, and two small satellites (Relay Satellite and VRAD Satellite) in polar orbit. The orbiters will carry instruments for scientific investigation of the Moon, on the Moon, and from the Moon.

JAXA claims that SELENE will be the most sophisticated lunar exploration mission in the post-Apollo Era. According to the agency, SELENE will observe the distribution of the elements and minerals on the surface, the surface and sub-surface structure, the gravity field, the remnant of the magnetic field, and the environment of energetic particles and plasma of the Moon. The scientific data will also be used for exploring the possibilities of the future utilization of the Moon. JAXA will also establish the basic technologies for future Moon exploration: lunar polar orbit insertion, 3-axis attitude control and thermal control in lunar orbit. In addition, SELENE will take pictures and movies of Earth-rise from the Moon horizon.

Too bad "Spektor" wasn’t chosen.

EHF Satcom Upgrade For B-2 Stealth Bomber

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007



The U.S. Defense Department’s Global Information Grid (GIG) and the doctrine of network-centric warfare are about the touch the B-2 Stealth bomber. Prime contractor Northrop-Grumman got the go-ahead to develop a system using extremely high frequency (EHF) satellite communications earlier this year. Now we read they got a nice contract to really get going on it:

Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems was awarded a $171 million Air Force contract to begin a major step in developing a new satellite communications system for the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, the company said Monday.

This 62-month phase will be the first of three increments in developing and installing the communications system. Once all three increments are completed, the upgrade will allow the B-2 to send and receive battlefield information up to 100 times faster than its current satellite communications system, the company said.

This contract "provides significant momentum for the work Northrop Grumman and its subcontractors are doing to increase the B-2’s fighting effectiveness in the face of technological advances by our enemies," said Dave Mazur, vice president of Long Range Strike for Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Systems sector, in a statement.

The project will enhance the B-2’s satellite communications system from ultra high frequencies, known as UHF, to extremely high frequency, or EHF.

Most of the work will occur in Palmdale, where Northrop houses its B-2 program, spokesman Brooks McKinney said.

Known as a flying wing because of its unorthodox shape, the Spirit has stealth properties that block enemy detection of the plane.

First introduced into the Air Force’s fleet in 1993, the B-2 has been one of the nation’s most high-profile warplanes because of its technological advancement and success in conflicts.

The first increment will involve replacing the B-2’s flight management computers with a single processing unit developed by subcontractor Lockheed Martin Systems Integration in Owego, N.Y.

The next increment of the upgrade will enable the plane to process signals at EHF frequencies.

The final increment will integrate the EHF capabilities with the aircraft’s controls and displays.

The new satellite communications system also will allow the B-2 to connect easily to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Global Information Grid, a worldwide network of information systems, processes and personnel involved in processing information on demand to warfighters, policy makers and military support people, Northrop said.

The B-2’s new communications system will be compatible with current and future secure military satellite communications networks.

The modernization program is the latest in a series of Northrop’s B-2 upgrades. Other past or ongoing improvements include:

A bomb-rack assembly that allows the aircraft to deliver 80 independently targeted, 500-pound "smart" munitions, five times more than previously.

Application of a surface coating that has reduced B-2 maintenance time and improved operational readiness.

Installation of a line-of-sight tactical communications system to improve pilots’ ability to share targeting and threat information.

Installation of an advanced antenna providing more advanced imaging capabilities in the future. El Segundo-based Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems is developing that antenna.


After the SR-71 Blackbird, the B-2 is the coolest aircraft around. Vice President Dick Cheney got to sit in one last October. How cool is that?

Europe Jumping Into Space Tourism Race

Monday, June 11th, 2007

A decade ago, space tourism was just a dream, even for the richest of the rich. In 2001, Dennis Tito became the first space tourist, paying more than $20 million. Since then, a number of multi-millionaire and billionaires have made the journey on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. (The program is booked-up until 2009.) Now, space tourism might be possible for even six-figure savings accounts.

Looking to cash-in on the new desire for out-of-this-world travel, an explosion of commercial space tourism is underway. Most of the proposed programs propose suborbital flights, which still provide a traveler with a view of the earth’s curvature and a short period of weightlessness, without the danger and expense of full re-entry. Single tickets are expected to sell for $200 to $300 thousand dollars.

While a half-dozen companies are already developing plans (including RocketPlane and PlanetSpace), Virgin Galactic appears to be the most established. Galactic draws together the only company to actually put a privately developed craft into outerspace (California-based Scaled Composites) with the financial and marketing genius of British Billionaire, Richard Branson. The company will launch its “flights” as early as late-2009 from California’s Mojave Spaceport until New Mexico’s Spaceport America is complete (making Virgin Galactic essentially an American enterprise). Watch Virgin’s promotional simulation (very cool):

Now, Europe is expected to jump into the game with an announcement at this week’s Paris Air Show. From the London Times:

EUROPE is to enter manned space travel for the first time, almost half a century after the first cosmonaut orbited the Earth.

EADS Astrium, Europe’s biggest builder of satellites and rockets, is this week expected to announce plans to carry tourists into space. The firm is due to unveil plans at the Paris air show for a spacecraft that will carry tourists out of the atmosphere for a brief ride at 3,000mph before ferrying them back to Earth.

Europe stood on the sidelines during the space race between America and Russia in the cold war, largely because of the vast cost. The first human space flight carried Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet cosmonaut, once round the Earth in 1961, and in 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon.

Europe’s programme, conducted through the European Space Agency, has confined itself to unmanned probes, such as the Giotto mission of 1986, which explored the tail of Halley’s comet. However, European astronauts, including the Britons Helen Sharman and Michael Foale, have flown on Russian and Nasa missions.

A spokesman for EADS Astrium said: “We are going to reveal a space tourism project next week for the Paris air show.” The scheme is thought to be the first step in a plan to take space tourists into orbit and even to dock at a “space hotel”.

DIY Friday: Build a backyard wind turbine

Friday, June 8th, 2007

This may not be too useful if you live in a New York City loft, but if you have a large property in a windy location, try generating some eco-energy. Of course, you could buy one — but that wouldn’t be any fun. This tutorial was "generated" after an astronomer bought a remote property without electricity — but with lots of wind:

I started by Googling for information on home-built wind turbines. There are a lot of them out there in an amazing variety of designs and complexities. All of them had five things in common though:

  1. A generator
  2. Blades
  3. A mounting that keeps it turned into the wind
  4. A tower to get it up into the wind
  5. Batteries and an electronic control system

I reduced the project to just five little systems. If attacked one at a time, the project didn’t seem too terribly difficult.

Step one — find a generator: A popular option is to adapt an old computer tape drive motor — Amatek PM motors appear to be the best option.

Check out ebay to purchase. As for the required technical specs:

When used as generators, motors generally have to be driven far faster than their rated speed to produce anything near their rated voltage. So what you are looking for is a motor that is rated for high DC voltage, low rpms and high current. Steer away from low voltage and/or high rpm motors. You want a motor that will put out over 12 Volts at a fairly low rpm, and a useful level of current. So a motor rated for say 325 rpm at 30 Volts when used as a generator, could be expected to produce 12+ volts at some reasonably low rpm. On the other hand, a motor rated at 7200 rpm at 24 volts probably won’t produce 12+ volts as a generator until it is spinning many thousands of rpm, which is way too fast for a wind turbine. So shop for motors accordingly.

Step two — construct blades: Our astronomer DIY’er cut sections out of PVC pipe. He quartered a 24inch long, 6inch pipe (resulting in four blades — 3 for the turbine, with one spare), then shaped and sanded the blades.


Step three — connect the blades to a hub: Find a metal disc that can attach to the motor. Drill 6 holes on the perimeter (two for each blade). One option is to connect two discs together: one that will connect the blades, one that will connect to the motor (which is what our astronomer friend did).

Step four — mount the turbine using wood or piping connect the motor/blade apparatus to a base. Notice in the picture a sheet-metal "tail" that keeps the turbine directed towards the wind. The turbine should be mounted on a sturdy pipe, secured by guy-lines. Ideally, the power cord will run through the piping to the ground.


Step five — connect the electronics:

A wind power system consists of the wind turbine, one or more batteries to store power produced by the turbine, a blocking diode to prevent power from the batteries being wasted spinning the motor/generator, a secondary load to dump power from the turbine into when the batteries are fully charged, and a charge controller to run everything.

A lot of controllers are available on ebay or you can build your own (instructions are available here).


Need more details or want to build a larger, more elaborate design? Considering buying detailed plans here.

And if your own website isn’t "renewable" enough, you can always get "Web Hosting As Nature Intended". This company uses solar panels to power their servers (check out a webcam here). We’ll have to look into it here at ReallyRocketScience.


STS-117 Launch Update

Friday, June 8th, 2007

NASA’s space shuttle is on schedule to launch at 7:38 p.m. EDT (23:38 GMT) tonight, 8 June 2007. NASA’s Launch Blog will begin coverage at 1:30 p.m. (17:30 GMT). Read more about the countdown here. Take a close look at the photo above and you’ll see an alligator in the foreground.

Live HDTV coverage begins at 6:00 p.m. (22:00 GMT) on HDNet, and naturally NASA TV:

NASA Television is carried on an MPEG-2 digital signal accessed via satellite AMC-6, at 72 degrees west longitude, transponder 17C, 4040 MHz, vertical polarization. A Digital Video Broadcast (DVB) – compliant Integrated Receiver Decoder (IRD) with modulation of QPSK/DBV, data rate of 36.86 and FEC 3/4 is needed for reception. NASA TV Multichannel Broadcast includes: Public Services Channel (Channel 101); the Education Channel (Channel 102) and the Media Services Channel (Channel 103).

Satcom Supports Security at G8

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

It’s a reoccurring ritual. World leaders gather for a major summit such as the current G8 Summit in Rostock, Germany. Citizens and activist groups gather outside to unfurl banners, carry placards and hoist puppets in the air, all as a means of airing their grievances and points of view. And between these two groups, security personnel work to keep a respectable distance and, when possible, to keep the peace.

Serving those security and first responder forces is an integrated array of satcom technology

ND SatCom, an SES ASTRA company, is supporting reliable communications during the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm (Germany) for first responders of the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW). THW staff members will be providing technical assistance to the summit’s infrastructure and using the network for telephony and data exchange via satellite. A satellite-based communication network using SkyRAY Light, ND SatCom’s new antenna system, shall establish the link to THW headquarters in Bonn via a mobile station in Heiligendamm. The SkyRAY Light system is very fast to deploy and easy to use, which is of utmost importance in critical government applications. SkyRAY Light’s operational concept is plug & play. Antenna pointing is based on a one-button operation enabling non-technical first responders to be on air within minutes.

There’s no shortage of footage from the current G8 meeting in Rostock, incuding this clip from SkyNews featuring Annie Lennox:

Here’s more from CNN.

But not all the protests are turning into clashes. Here’s a Flickr photo from Tuesday’s campaign stunt by Oxfam, the day before the G8 leaders arrived in Rostock for 2007’s G8 Summit, featuring the infamous ‘Big Heads’ dressed as Pinnochio:



There’s Rocket Science in IPTV

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

I had a feeling this was going to happen. Apple introduced the iPhone and Apple TV earlier this year. The iPhone is shipping at the end of this month, but Apple TV became available in March. We liked the iPhone right away — as did millions of others. Both products have intriguing capabilities, we thought. Watch Mossberg interviewing Jobs at the D: All Things Digital Conference:


Now more of those capabilities are becoming apparent. First, we read about Apple TV being integrated with YouTube. That’s pretty cool. Next, with Apple’s AT&T relationship (exclusive iPhone wireless carrier, formerly Cingular), rumors surfaced on Engadget that AT&T’s U-verse IPTV offering will be using Apple TV as a set-top box option.


How are they reading this rumor in Redmond? If AT&T’s U-Verse, which inherited BellSouth’s Microsoft IPTV middleware, is talking to Apple, will they also provide an X-Box 360 as an option?



Wait a minute: AT&T, Apple TV, iPhone. I see media convergence. The "triple play" is buying voice, data and video services from one provider. The cable guys are selling it, so the telcos need to start selling video — and fast. Add mobile phone service and you’ve got a interesting proposition: a "quad play." According to the San Francisco Chronicle, this is sure to grow:

For consumers, the quad play means they can buy all four services from one provider and pay for it on one bill, increasingly at a reduced price. But the companies say it’s not only about the convenience and savings from one-stop shopping.

They see the new mega-bundles as a collection of services that will increasingly work together, giving you a new level of access and interaction with your entertainment and communications services. The cell phone will play a pivotal role as a portal to receive television or personal content from home, access home voice mail and e-mail, and program digital video recorders.

The move to the quad play is the latest escalation of a battle that’s been building between phone and cable companies, who, because of deregulation, are allowed to compete on each other’s traditional turf. The two industries have cranked up the competition recently, with cable entering the phone market while telecom companies have started to provide television services.

Both sides see the quad play as a way to hold onto customers, who are even more prized and valuable if they can be made to pay for four services.


Can Apple’s iPhone become the ultimate portable TV receiver? Think about that for a minute.

As we’ve mentioned before, Google is sure to play a role in the new IPTV ecosystem. The lifeblood of this new ecosystem will be advertising. According to Accenture’s latest IPTV Monitor, advertising revenue is key, but keeping customers from bolting is more important:

For although 52% of content providers believe targeted advertising will be the principal source of revenue for those in the IPTV industry, 7% also foresee subscription fees for premium content providing a major source of income, as do 41% of network operators. Yet for many telecom operators IPTV’s initial purpose is not to increase revenue. Instead it is both a defensive measure to stem the defection of customers to alternative broadband access providers and a means to increase sales of broadband access.

Where does that leave the two dominant satellite TV players? You can find some clues at the FCC, where Dish Network, DirecTV, Intel, Google, Yahoo!, and Skype are teaming up to bid for some of the spectrum becoming available once TV goes all digital in 2009. Could a WiMAX-style play developing here.

I still think advertising is where the action will be. As IP is inherently two-way communications, and the addressability can come down to the set-top box, the short-, mid- and long-term possibilities are very intriguing. Yesterday’s op-ed piece in Forbes was especially interesting. Enter "Television 2.0," bring together new possibilities. I especially like the idea of targeting two different IP addresses in the same house:

The convergence of TV with the Internet is transforming a technology that has gone largely unchanged for 60 years–a one-way, TV signal broadcast to a screen, whether that screen is a TV, PC or cellphone. Television is on the verge of becoming completely personalized, interactive and enjoyed on-demand.

Imagine a news broadcast where you as the viewer pre-select the types of stories you want to watch; television programming with interactive multiplayer gaming; personalized viewer-specific content and advertising embedded within national television broadcasts; highly localized and efficient Emergency Broadcast System and Amber alerts; viewing and interacting with the vast and growing catalog of high-quality, user-generated content.

By combining the interactivity of Web services and the Internet with the trend toward on-demand and anywhere viewing, the world of television is about to radically change in ways that will dwarf the changes to the Internet referred to as Web 2.0. We’re calling this change "Television 2.0."

These changes are important. Fueled by the (sometimes reluctant) acceptance of open standards and technology advances, the newly amalgamated television, telecommunications and Internet industries are jointly forging new paths to innovation. What’s in store for all of us is nothing short of exciting.

Think back just a few years to how you received television, telephone and Internet services. Chances are it involved separate providers for television and phone service, one of which might have provided broadband Internet service. And just how fast was the Internet connection then compared with now?

Today an increasing number of households are getting "triple play" service–one provider delivering phone and television services over the same "pipe" that brings Internet into the home. This is a hugely important trend, which from the very beginning enables three disparate communications systems to work together increasing the functionality and utility of all three.

Whereas once interacting with the television set meant using the remote control to change channels or adjust the volume, today you can record multiple shows simultaneously and set user preferences. Tomorrow you’ll be able to apply rules regarding those preferences to your entire home communications system.

Who wants to be interrupted by a phone call during a favorite television program or movie? Simply instruct your system that you do not want to be disturbed and all your calls are delivered to voicemail while you’re watching TV. But what if it’s an emergency call from a family member? You can instruct the system to only pass along calls from people you allow.

Caller ID already helps us screen calls, and Television 2.0 will let us select which voicemail greeting to play for denied callers: serious for the boss or fun and personal for friends. Since your phone is now tied to your TV, why can’t all phone calls become video calls? These are enhanced functionalities we can all use, but we’re just scratching the surface.

Also, when television is delivered as a digital signal over an Internet connection, the program stream itself can be manipulated. When television was delivered over the air to antennas, each station was limited to one macro broadcast. What you watched was exactly the same as what your friend across town watched.

With the advent of digital television delivered to set top boxes, the paradigm shifted. Particularly important for advertisers, content can be targeted based on geography. You and your friend can still watch the same program, but now the ads are different, based on where in town each of you reside. This is no small market. Kagan Research says that in 2006, local ads sold by U.S. cable companies exceeded $4.3 billion.

In the Television 2.0 world, targeting gets personal. Not only are the commercials different for you and your friend across town, the commercial viewed by parents on the downstairs on one TV will be different than the commercial seen by the kids watching TV upstairs in the same house. With Internet Protocol (IP) set top boxes, demographic targeting is already upon us.

One key difference between the television of today and Television 2.0 is that it is delivered over an IP connection. Unlike television delivered over the air, IP connections are bidirectional. Soon the individual television experience will exploit this bidirectionality.

If advertising can be targeted to individual set top boxes, why can’t programming? Think of the news program referenced earlier. Consider how much news is taped for local and national broadcasts every day. Television 2.0 will make it possible to watch any of it. If you’ve relocated from a different part of the country, Television 2.0 will let you see the sports news about your old home team during your new local news program.

If such programming can be done with the news, it can be done with anything. Look forward to seeing more personal selections of sports, music and other entertainment programming. Programming can become interactive too. Instead of merely watching your favorite big city detectives solve crimes, you can lend a hand.

Many universities are adopting distance learning programs. Want the best education? Why not create a hybrid curriculum from the top universities around the world and attend classes from the comfort of your living room? Television 2.0 makes that possible.

Arguably the best part of Television 2.0 is that all these advances are happening independently from the TV itself. So, none of the investment in your state-of-the-art home theater system went to waste. Television 2.0 will just make that home theater all the more spectacular.

In Television 2.0, the possibilities are endless, and largely because the technology companies behind all these innovations are learning to play nicely together. The acceptance of open standards is the fuel powering these innovations. Between the television network and your television set lies the equipment and networks of many different companies all playing a different but complementary role in the Television 2.0 ecosystem.

Fo ‘shizzle: this is not the old TV we grew up with.

Union Strike at Kennedy Space Center?

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007


"A union representing about 570 United Space Alliance space shuttle program workers at Kennedy Space Center is recommending that the workers vote today to authorize a strike," Florida Today reports:

The bargaining team for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 2061 believes that the company’s latest contract offer is "substandard," in relation to contracts at other aerospace companies, according to Lynn Beattie, a member of the bargaining team and former Local 2061 president.

He said the company’s proposals related to health care and retirement benefits are among the provisions the union doesn’t like.

The company and union were negotiating into the evening Friday before talks ended. Beattie said the union would present members with the company’s latest offer this morning.

If Local 2061 members turn down the contract, both sides still have a chance to resolve the situation during a five-day "cooling-off "period, Beattie said. If that is not successful, the workers could go out on strike as early as the end of next week, he said.

The IAM website urges its visitors to "keep the pressure on." Negotiations opened on May 21st, and have focused on job security and retirement concerns "in the wake of plans by NASA to shift from the current Space Shuttle program to next generation Ares/Orion systems." The  United Space Alliance is a joint venture of The Boeing Company and Lockheed Martin, and is contracted as NASA’s main provider of services for the space shuttle program through 2010.

A strike, if voted upon, would not have an impact on the shuttle Atlantis launch scheduled for this Friday, because the Local 2061 workers’ jobs are not directly related to launches, according to a USA spokesperson. 

Long March Launches SinoSat-3

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Let’s hope this one turn out better than Sinosat-2 did. Here’s the news report, via IHT:

China launched a new communications satellite into orbit early Friday [1 June 2007] to provide broader radio and television signal coverage across the country, state media reported.

The Long March-3A rocket lifted off from the Xichang launching center in southwestern China eight minutes after midnight (1608 GMT) and separated from the SinoSat-3 satellite 24 minutes later, the Xinhua News Agency said.

The long-scheduled launch follows the failed deployment last October of another communications satellite, SinoSat-2, whose solar panels and communications antennae did not operate properly, Xinhua said.

China has spent decades building an indigenous space program and is trying to attract customers from abroad, after a series of failed launches in the 1990s dampened demand for Chinese launch services.

Both the rocket and the satellite used Friday were mainly developed and manufactured domestically, Xinhua said.

The satellite deployed Friday was not developed as a replacement for the inoperable SinoSat-2, Xinhua said, though Sino Satellite Communications Co., the satellite’s operators, may use SinoSat-3 to replace part of the service the other satellite was to have provided.

Xinhua quoted a company spokesman as saying that a substitute satellite would take at least three years to develop.


Robert Berry to be honored with Lifetime Achievement Award

Monday, June 4th, 2007

This Wednesday, at the ISCe 2007 Conference in San Diego, Robert E. Berry – former systems fellow and chairman of Ford Aerospace and SS/L – will be given a Lifetime Achievement Award.

More about Berry from the press release announcing the award:

"Berry led SS/L and its predecessor, Ford Aerospace, from 1977 to 2000 and, with his willingness to push innovative concepts, was responsible for some of the world’s most advanced communications and meteorological satellite projects for defense, civil, and commercial applications. He cultivated the international market for U.S.-based satellite manufacturing, and under his leadership, SS/L developed the technologies that have put the company at the forefront in providing high-power satellites for direct-to-home television, satellite radio, broadband Internet and international fixed satellite services."

During Berry’s tenure at Ford Aerospace, his team built many satellites for IntelSat, including the notable IntelSat 5 and IntelSat 7 series. After Ford Aerospace was sold to Loral in 1990, Berry led SS/L in developing the FS-1300, which was a very advanced and reliable satellite that in some cases exceeded its design life of 10 – 15 years.

More from the press release:

"Berry was instrumental in providing three generations of satellite platforms to Intelsat, helping the intergovernmental consortium provide fixed satellite services to more than 149 countries, territories, and dependencies. He initiated and managed Ford Aerospace’s participation on the Milstar industry team and advocated multi-mission satellite systems, with SS/L providing military communication payloads for commercial satellites for France, Japan, Spain and Australia. Currently at SS/L, he consults with both government and commercial interests to explore new applications arising from combining satellite, wireless, and fibered transmission."

The ISCe 2007 conference takes place this week, June 5th – 7th, in San Diego. Besides honoring Robert Berry, the conference is hosting a number of other impressive speakers and sure-to-be engaging talks. Check out the speaker list here.

In a related note, Berry’s company Ford Aerospace is also where Linda Hudson, currently of BAE Systems, got her start. She was the first woman manager at Ford, overseeing the quality assurance division. After making a name for herself as an executive at Ford, she eventually became the first female vice president at General Dynamics and now, as the president of BAE’s land and armaments division, has made a significant impact in the defense industry with BAE’s recent $4.1 billion purchase of Armor Holdings. London newspaper The Times calls her "the most powerful woman in the American defence industry" (link).

Recently, Hudson travelled to London to host a BAE leadership conference. She must have made quite an impression, as one British observer noted that "she talked a lot of sense – without the jingoism and rubbish you normally hear from American defence experts" (link).