Archive for August, 2007

SNG Costs Less With BGAN

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

We’ve seen live or near-live video news reports on CNN or the BBC where a journalist uses an inexpensive terminal to uplink to a satellite — alone. No truck, camera operator, teleprompter or boom microphone. At first the frame rate was less than perfect, but hey, it’s live and very cheap. Packs up quickly, too.

Inmarsat’s BGAN service is getting better now. Upgraded equipment on the ground, and in orbit. Traditionally, they’ve promoted themselves by helping extremely remote locations connect, like this Polish expedition on Mt. Everest.



As with the Slingbox Traffic Web Cam in San Francisco, TV news people are getting more creative in using this new technology. We read in Broadcasting & Cable last week how WDIV in Detroit covered the Bayview-Mackinac Yacht Race from Lake Huron:

When WDIV Detroit covered the Bayview-Mackinac yacht race last month, it didn’t rely on traditional microwave or satellite equipment to pull live video from the middle of Lake Huron.

Instead, the Post-Newsweek NBC affiliate used a combination of IP-based streaming technology and wireless EVDO and broadband satellite transmitters to provide live broadcast and Website coverage of the four-day race, which drew more than 250 competing yachts.

WDIV is one of a growing number of news organizations to use the Streambox from Seattle-based Streambox Inc., an IP-based streaming device designed with broadcasters in mind. Costing around $20,000, the system includes a laptop loaded with proprietary compression software that is used to encode and stream images and a rack-mounted receive device that features professional video connections and is designed to interface with conventional broadcast equipment.




$20,000? Even the smallest SNG Trucks cost much more than that. How long before Streambox and NewTek’s "truck-in-a-box" change the game? Probably sooner than we think.

Hughes to Buy Gilat?

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

Globes Online reports on some major movement in the satcom industry:

Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd. (Nasdaq: GILT; TASE) has reputedly received an offer from Hughes Communications Inc. (Nasdaq:HUGH), the company’s US rival. This is not the first time that Hughes has expressed an interest in Gilat; in 2004, the companies were in negotiations for a possible a merger with Hughes Network Systems, which ultimately did not materialize. The failure led to the resignation of Gilat CEO Oren Most. Both Gilat and Hughes Network Systems manufacture very small aperture terminals (VSAT) for satellite communications. provides further analysis: 

Gilat has become a hot item. For two years the company’s results have been picking up and now the satellite division of Rupert Murdoch’s Hughes is bidding to buy the Israeli firm for a high $ 12 per share. …

Hughes’ satellite division is Gilat’s arch-rival in the United States. The two are considered leaders in the U.S. satellite communications industry.

Gilat operates in the U.S. through its subsidiary Spacenet, which reported an upswing in business in the second quarter of this year.

Assuming that Gilat’s board of directors decides to accept the offer, the transaction will require approval of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which will consider whether a merger of the two companies would negatively impact the market’s customers.

Hughes is controlled by media baron Rupert Murdoch and the Apollo Management fund, one of the investors in York Capital Management, which is Gilat’s largest shareholder with 20.8 percent. 

On Monday, we previewed yesterday’s launch of Hughes’ Spaceway 3 satellite, which expands Hughes’ ability to provide high-speed, two-way communications for Internet, data, voice, video and multimedia applications. The acquisition of Gilat would enable Hughes to increase its provision of such services to Africa and South America, where Gilat is particularly strong (they signed a deal just last month to provide IP and VOIP services to Tanzania).

The end result of the merger would position Hughes to become a major competitor to satellite internet provider WildBlue.

Street Insider first picked up news of the acquisition on Monday, while Asbury Park Press, which is also reporting the deal, cites Israeli tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth.

The offer comes on the heels of solid Q2 results from both Hughes (reporting a 12% revenue increase over Q1)  and Gilat (opens in PDF).

We’ll keep you updated on the details of the acquisition as they become available. To subscribe to the Business Network blog via RSS, click here.

Perseids Light Up The Sky

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

Astronomy buffs throughout the Northern Hemisphere have been staying up late recently to view the Perseids meteor shower, which peaked on August 12th during the new moon. has a fine collection of photographs of the meteor shower. (The photo above is taken from their collection.)  

At its peak Sunday night, the Perseids awed observers with up to 80 meteors per minute visible in a clear sky.

We’ve been fans of the Perseids since the early 1990s, when the comet Swift-Tuttle — the parent body of the Perseid meteor cloud — made its closest pass to earth since Abe Lincoln was president. The proximity of Swift-Tuttle meant that the Perseids were particularly spectacular during our salad days of 1993.

None of us, however, are likely to be around for the comet’s next perihelion passage in August of 2126 (when it may be as bright as Hale-Bopp), but until then the Perseids’ peak — usually August 12th — remains one of the best nights of the year to set up an astronomy date.

Several years ago, published a great article featuring the Top 10 Perseid Meteor Shower facts. Among them:

 1. Perseid meteoroids (which is what they’re called while in space) are fast. They enter Earth’s atmosphere (and are then called meteors) at roughly 133,200 mph (60 kilometers per second) relative to the planet. Most are the size of sand grains; a few are as big as peas or marbles. Almost none hit the ground, but if one does, it’s called a meteorite.

2. Comet Swift-Tuttle, whose debris creates the Perseids, is the largest object known to make repeated passes near Earth. Its nucleus is about 6 miles (9.7 kilometers) across, roughly equal to the object that wiped out the dinosaurs.

3. Back in the early 1990s, astronomer Brian Marsden calculated that Swift-Tuttle might actually hit Earth on a future pass. More observations quickly eliminated all possibility of a collision. Marsden found, however, that the comet and Earth might experience a cosmic near miss (about a million miles) in 3044.


Check out the complete article (and 7 other interesting facts) here

DirecTV Driving Satellite HDTV Expansion

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

With a huge subscriber base and plenty of existing HD content, DirecTV has been a major force in bringing HD to millions of people through various programming offerings. And it’s about to get even bigger.

About a month ago, DirecTV launched a new satellite to allow them to expand their HD content. So far it’s "going well" and they are on track to rollout a 70-plus HD channel package by the end of 3Q 2007 and build to 100 HD channels by the end of the year, according to notes from a recent investor call. Combined with the lowering costs of HD DVRs also mentioned on the call, the end of 2007 is shaping up to be the beginning of a new HD era for DirecTV.

A large factor driving DirecTV’s current HD success is its "NFL Sunday Ticket" package. DirecTV offers fans the chance to watch every single NFL game live, many in High Definition, making for very busy Sundays in the fall for many NFL fans. With the launch of the "Superfan" package in 2005, fans have been able to watch up to 9 games in HD and can watch games online over a broadband connection and see highlights and clips on their video-enable mobile phones. DirecTV’s new satellite launch and significant HD expansion will make the service even better, possibly increasing the number of available HD games and increasing the available bandwidth to deliver NFL content.

"NFL Sunday Ticket" has no doubt been a huge success for DirecTV. It currently has over 2 million subscribers and has successfully won over many DirecTV subscribers in areas where basic cable fails to meet the demands of NFL fans. The big takeaway here though is that DirecTV’s programming has pushed the industry as a whole to offer more HD content. As Scott Greczkowski from Multichannel News explains:

…I still feel that DirecTV deserves credit for waking up the industry, which is helping to accelerate the rollout of many new high definition channels on all providers. No matter who your cable or satellite provider is ultimately you can thank DirecTV for all the new HD content you will be seeing this fall.

More HD programming means better options for consumers. And in this area, DirecTV is clearly leading the way.



Stay tuned for more on NFL satellite programming later this week. Also, download the MP3 attached to this post for a quick football fix from our favorite sports song.

Arianespace to Lift Hughes, B-Sat Birds Tuesday

Monday, August 13th, 2007

If you remember Papillon, you remember that it’s the story of convicted felon Henri Charrière’s numerous attempts to escape from a penal colony on French Guiana.

Hopefully, Arianespace will only require one attempt to break free of the surly bonds of earth when they launch their heavy lift mission with the SPACEWAY 3 (artist’s conception at left) and BSAT-3a satellites tomorrow from the Spaceport in French Guiana:

  Arianespace’s third heavy-lift Ariane 5 mission of 2007 has been cleared for its August 14 liftoff following today’s successful launch readiness review, which was performed at the Spaceport in French Guiana.

All is now set for Ariane 5’s transfer on August 13 from its Final Assembly Building to the ELA-3 launch pad, where the final countdown will lead to a liftoff the following day, at the opening of a window runs from 8:44 p.m. to 9:21 p.m. (local time at French Guiana).

SPACEWAY 3 arrived in French Guiana a month ago; it will be operated by the Maryland-based Hughes Network Systems, LLC to provide satellite-delivered broadband services to enterprise, government and consumer users throughout North America. It was built by Boeing:

SPACEWAYTM is Hughes next generation broadband satellite network that will provide high-speed, two-way communications for Internet, data, voice, video and multimedia applications. The initial contract includes three Boeing 702 geostationary satellites built by Boeing Satellite Systems, (BSS) and will operate in the Ka-band spectrum. The first orbital slot is currently planned for 99 degrees west longitude….

The SPACEWAY satellites feature innovative, on-board digital processors, packet switching and spot beam technology. Spot beam technology will enable the satellite to provide services to small terminals, while on-board routers will enable mesh connectivity; users of the system will be able to directly communicate with any other user of the system without requiring connection through a central hub.

The builder of the B-Sat system is Lockheed-Martin, which began building the satellite in 2005: 

Designated BSAT-3a, the 1.8-kW satellite will provide direct broadcast services throughout Japan following its scheduled launch the second quarter of 2007.  Contract terms were not disclosed.  B-SAT previously issued an authorization to proceed to Lockheed Martin for start of satellite design and construction. 

The BSAT-3a communications payload comprises eight 130-W Ku-band channels and will be located at 110 degrees East longitude.  With a design life of more than 13 years, BSAT-3a is based on the award-winning A2100A platform manufactured by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems (LMCSS), Newtown, Pa.  BSAT-3a marks the 12th Lockheed Martin satellite contract awarded in the 1- to 4-kW small-class satellite range and the second in 2005.

B-SAT3a will provide direct television links for the entire Japanese archipelago, and will be operated by Japan’s B-SAT Corporation. The complete launch kit from Arianespace, featuring information on the payload, launch countdown and flight trajectory, can be found in PDF format here.

Surfing Like Grandma

Friday, August 10th, 2007

No, not my grandmother. I tried the "computer experiment" with her — huge failure. In Europe, things may be a bit different: "According to a study by the European Interactive Advertising Association (EIAA), 68 per cent of the over 55s now connect to the net through broadband access, while internet adoption among this age group is growing faster than within any other."

Now, one Swedish Grandma sports the world’s fastest residential connection (link):

A 75 year old woman from Karlstad in central Sweden has been thrust into the IT history books – with the world’s fastest internet connection.

Sigbritt Löthberg’s home has been supplied with a blistering 40 Gigabits per second connection, many thousands of times faster than the average residential link and the first time ever that a home user has experienced such a high speed.

But Sigbritt, who had never had a computer until now, is no ordinary 75 year old. She is the mother of Swedish internet legend Peter Löthberg who, along with Karlstad Stadsnät, the local council’s network arm, has arranged the connection.

"This is more than just a demonstration," said network boss Hafsteinn Jonsson.

"As a network owner we’re trying to persuade internet operators to invest in faster connections. And Peter Löthberg wanted to show how you can build a low price, high capacity line over long distances," he told The Local.

Sigbritt will now be able to enjoy 1,500 high definition HDTV channels simultaneously. Or, if there is nothing worth watching there, she will be able to download a full high definition DVD in just two seconds.

The secret behind Sigbritt’s ultra-fast connection is a new modulation technique which allows data to be transferred directly between two routers up to 2,000 kilometres apart, with no intermediary transponders.

According to Karlstad Stadsnät the distance is, in theory, unlimited – there is no data loss as long as the fibre is in place.

"I want to show that there are other methods than the old fashioned ways such as copper wires and radio, which lack the possibilities that fibre has," said Peter Löthberg, who now works at Cisco.

Cisco contributed to the project but the point, said Hafsteinn Jonsson, is that fibre technology makes such high speed connections technically and commercially viable.

Other than providing his grandma with speedy reruns of Matlock (if she is anything like my Grandma), Peter Löthberg is trying to make a point: why are our connection speeds not faster? But it is America that should be complaining: according to a report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Sweden’s average speed is 18.2 mbps, while the United States crawls at 4.8mbps (Japan averages a whopping 61.0 mbps). It is about time the States starts surfing like Japan (or, better yet, Grandma Löthberg).

Beer in Space

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Let’s start by saying that when you’re truly miles away from ordinary — ie, in space — drinking one of these is no swing in the hammock.

We don’t raise this issue because of Endeavor’s successful launch yesterday with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams on board. On shorter missions such as shuttle flights, we side with the teetotalers — astronauts can do without.

And they generally do, with some exceptions. "Small amounts of alcohol were apparently allowed on the Soviet space station Mir, and when Russian astronauts joined the International Space Station, there were some grumblings about the decree that it be dry," according to NewScientistSpace.

And in 1969, "Buzz Aldrin took communion after landing on the Moon, sipping wine from a small chalice. In the Moon’s feeble gravity, he later wrote, the wine swirled like syrup around the cup."

But when you start talking about multi-year voyages to Mars, for example, the question of beer in space — or any carbonated beverage, for that matter — becomes more than just a question at the bottom of your glass. Keeping astronauts on such extended voyages happy is a concern, and while kegstands in zero G aren’t likely to ever appear on the rec schedule, an occasional beer or even soda pop might help astronauts relax during the 2-year haul to Mars.

One of the chief obstacles to consuming carbonated beverages in space, however, is the wet burp:

Unfortunately for thirsty astronauts, beer is poorly suited to space consumption because of the gas it includes. Without gravity to draw liquids to the bottoms of their stomachs, leaving gases at the top, astronauts tend to produce wet burps.

"That’s one of the reasons why we don’t have carbonated beverages on the space menu," NASA spokesperson William Jeffs told New Scientist.

There are also questions about the effects of alcohol in space:

Jeffs says no research has been done on the effects of alcohol in a microgravity environment. But he says: "There may be differences in alcohol absorption and metabolism in space, which makes one suspect that there may be differences in the effects of alcohol in space."

Clark says medications sometimes have unusual effects in space, which "run the gamut from increased to decreased reactions".

At least one study has been done, however, on where astronauts would get their beer when the closest CircleK is a few million miles away:

 Graduate student Kirsten Sterrett at the University of Colorado in the US wrote a thesis on fermentation in space, with support from US beer behemoth Coors. She sent a miniature brewing kit into orbit aboard a space shuttle several years ago and produced a few sips of beer. She later sampled the space brew, but because of chemicals in and near it from her analysis, it didn’t taste great by the time she tried it.

Ok, so maybe even getting beer in space is still a problem. Still, as extended space voyages become a reality in the future, expect the question of drinks in space to come up — though hopefully not in the form of a wet burp.

Yahsat Means Billions

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007


First, Dubai rises from the desert seemingly overnight to become a first-class economic center. Haliburton’s CEO is moving his office there. It’s becoming a major airline hub. It’s building huge, jaw-dropping buildings and developments. Today we learned they’re ready to spend $1.66 billion to get into the satellite business.


$1.66 billion.  That’s a nice big bag of money. And a consortium of Thales Alenia Space and EADS Astrium are getting it. Abu Dhabi’s Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (Yahsat) announced a contract for the consotium to build a new satellite system, via Gulf News:

Two satellites and an earth station will comprise the system that will serve military and commercial communication purposes, providing broadcasting, tele-communication and broadband services.

"The system initially will serve the Middle East, Africa, most of Europe, and South East Asia regions," Jasem Mohammad Al Za’abi, Yahsat’s chief executive officer, said.

Sixty-five per cent of the financing will be through a syndicated loan, and the remaining 35 per cent will be through Yahsat, 100 per cent owned by Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Development Company, according to Waleed Ahmad Al Mokarrab, Yahsat’s chairman, and Mubadala’s chief operating officer.


Not a bad idea, considering how the oil market is behaving. Take the money and invest it in something that will last for generations: satcom, baby!  The people who run Yahsat-backers Mubadala seem to know what they’re doing.


Dropping the SpookSat

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

If you don’t like that headline, try The Register’s leader: "Cheesed-off spooks give up on duff spy-sat."

Reuters explains:

The National Reconnaissance Office has deemed an experimental U.S. spy satellite a total loss and will allow it to slowly drop from orbit and burn up in the atmosphere, two defense officials told Reuters this week.

The classified L-21, built by Lockheed Martin Corp at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, was launched on December 14 but has been out of touch since reaching its low-earth orbit, put by satellite watchers at about 220 miles above the earth.

It will now gradually fall out of orbit over the coming decades, said the officials, who asked not to be named. At some later date, it will burn up as it enters the earth’s atmosphere, posing no danger to people below, they said.

We discussed these technology failures earlier in June. Now that the L-21 is a loss, what’s next?

Meanwhile, the Pentagon will likely now have to test aspects of new technologies that were on the L-21 by piggybacking them onto other satellites over the next four to five years, the officials said.

For instance, the military could put the new sensors aboard TacSat 3, the latest in a series of smaller satellites, when it launches later this year.

The NRO could still try to build a new spacecraft to test the technology, but it would take several years to get the funding for such a satellite and build it, one official said.

The U.S. may be lagging behind in this technology race:

The two officials declined to identify what exactly the experimental Lockheed satellite was meant to test, but said its failure was troubling, given that other countries were rapidly plowing ahead with development and launch of new capabilities, especially in the area of synthetic aperture radars.

Synthetic aperture radars offer high-resolution and can pierce darkness and thick clouds to identify targets, even peering below the surface of the ground or peeking into foliage that might obstruct the view of photo-based sensors.

One official said Germany in June launched TerraSAR-X, a sophisticated new satellite armed with a synthetic aperture radar that analysts say marks the start of a new level of quality in the mapping of the earth.

Canada is also working on this technology.

The Bourne Satellites

Monday, August 6th, 2007

We haven’t yet seen The Bourne Ultimatum, but at least some of us here at Really Rocket Science are counting the hours until we can sit in the darkness with our bucket of buttered popcorn and soda for the final installment of the series, loosely based on the Robert Ludlum novels.   

This is work-related, we tell ourselves, because of the extensive use of satcom in the film to drive the plot, which centers around rogue baddies in the intelligence community tapping into video surveillance networks (think of our Slingbox webcam on steroids) to track the film’s hero:

The plot goes something like this: London journalist Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) has stumbled onto a hyper-secret CIA black op code named Blackbriar.

It’s so sensitive the whisper of it on Ross’ cellphone sends sinister surveillance technology abuzz an ocean away in midtown Manhattan.

There, the Blackbriar leak may as well be a blot of blood in shark-infested waters, sparking the attention and ire of a Bush-league spook (David Strathairn) and Pam Landry (Joan Allen), the honourable but tough-as-nails CIA bureaucrat from 2004’s Supremacy who, in the last moments of that film, told Bourne his birth name.

Thing is, that still hasn’t happened yet — Ultimatum actually kicks off in Moscow following Bourne’s confession to a young Russian girl whose parents he murdered. Still racked by flashbacks to his vicious past — more replete with post-9/11 imagery than ever before — Bourne’s search for his identity leads him to Ross and, consequently, to Strathairn’s thinly-veiled Republican stooge.

From here, Greengrass piggybacks jaw-dropping set piece upon jaw-dropping set piece. When the ever-resourceful Bourne sets up a meet with Ross at London’s Waterloo Station, he puppeteers the reporter through corridors and crowds to evade a rapidly-constricting network of operatives and video surveillance cameras linked via satellite to Strathairn’s hi-tech hub.

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s the breathless review (one of many) from the Winnipeg Sun

Go ahead and ascribe an adjective — breathtaking, heart-stopping, head-spinning — the fact is no stream-of-consciousness thesaurusizing (pulse-pounding, nerve-rattling, spellbinding) does justice to the experience of this fastest, fiercest Bourne yet….

The best action movie of the summer? Try of a generation.

Director Paul Greengrass hasn’t manufactured a sequel — he’s written code for a template all future Bonds, Ryans and whoever-the-hell-else will have to match or stumble and die trying.

Given that the film brought in more than $70 million in its opening weekend, we suspect we’re not the only fans anxious to get into the theater this week.  What of you? Have you seen the film? What did you think of the director’s use of satcom technology as an integral part of the film?