Archive for October, 2007


Friday, October 19th, 2007

Many IPTV systems use MPEG-2 video. But what if we want to upgrade to HDTV? It is not always an easy transition.


Entone, Inc., an innovator of IPTV home connectivity solutions, today announced the launch of HD NOW™, a solution that enables IPTV service operators to rapidly and cost-effectively deploy high-definition (HD) services alongside their existing MPEG-2, IPTV infrastructure.

HD NOW is a fully-integrated HD MPEG-4 solution that complements existing MPEG-2 IPTV headend infrastructures, without the high costs of building out an MPEG-4 headend. HD NOW enables operators to offer HD as a premium service and creates a smooth transition path to additional revenue-generating services enabled by HD content. In addition to Entone’s Hydra IP Video Gateway, HD NOW utilizes SES AMERICOM’s HD-4 technology and includes options for best-in-class middleware and content security systems.

“Operators need to remain competitive as consumers demand more HD content. HD NOW minimizes the risks associated with complex technical build-outs, and provides a cost-effective, ‘out–of-the-box’ solution for delivering HD content,” comments Bill Squadron, President of SES Americom’s IP-PRIME® group.

HD NOW is ready for rapid deployment. And using Entone’s Hydra IP Video Gateway eliminates the need for a set-top box at each TV. Investors are impressed: Jim Jones, managing director of Scale Ventures, cited “Entone Technologies’ ability to distribute high-definition video signals to multiple television sets throughout the home as a rare and valuable capability.”

Both IP-PRIME and Entone’s Hydra gateway will be on display at next week’s Telco TV show in Atlanta. Check it out.

Black Hole Sun

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

The Chandra X-Ray Observatory, run by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, MA, helped astronomers find a huge black hole orbiting a buddy star. Image above: artist’s representation of M33 X-7, a binary system in the nearby galaxy M33 (Credit: Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss; X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/ P.Plucinsky et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI/SDSU/J.Orosz et al.). Check out the Chandra blog, too.

Here’s the NASA release:

Astronomers have located an exceptionally massive black hole in orbit around a huge companion star. This result has intriguing implications for the evolution and ultimate fate of massive stars.

The black hole is part of a binary system in M33, a nearby galaxy about 3 million light years from Earth. By combining data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Gemini telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, the mass of the black hole, known as M33 X-7, was determined to be 15.7 times that of the Sun. This makes M33 X-7 the most massive stellar black hole known. A stellar black hole is formed from the collapse of the core of a massive star at the end of its life.

"This discovery raises all sorts of questions about how such a big black hole could have been formed,” said Jerome Orosz of San Diego State University, lead author of the paper appearing in the October 18th issue of the journal Nature.

M33 X-7 orbits a companion star that eclipses the black hole every three and a half days. The companion star also has an unusually large mass, 70 times that of the Sun. This makes it the most massive companion star in a binary system containing a black hole.

"This is a huge star that is partnered with a huge black hole," said coauthor Jeffrey McClintock of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. "Eventually, the companion will also go supernova and then we’ll have a pair of black holes."

The properties of the M33 X-7 binary system – a massive black hole in a close orbit around a massive companion star – are difficult to explain using conventional models for the evolution of massive stars. The parent star for the black hole must have had a mass greater than the existing companion in order to have formed a black hole before the companion star. Such a massive star would have had a radius larger than the present separation between the stars, so the stars must have been brought closer while sharing a common outer atmosphere. This process typically results in a large amount of mass being lost from the system, so much that the parent star should not have been able to form a 15.7 solar-mass black hole.

The black hole’s progenitor must have shed gas at a rate about 10 times less than predicted by models before it exploded. If even more massive stars also lose very little material, it could explain the incredibly luminous supernova seen recently as SN 2006gy. The progenitor for SN 2006gy is thought to have been about 150 times the mass of the Sun when it exploded.

"Massive stars can be much less extravagant than people think by hanging onto a lot more of their mass toward the end of their lives," said Orosz. “This can have a big effect on the black holes that these stellar time-bombs make."

Coauthor Wolfgang Pietsch was also the lead author of an article in the Astrophysical Journal that used Chandra observations to report that M33 X-7 is the first black hole in a binary system observed to undergo eclipses. The eclipsing nature enables unusually accurate estimates for the mass of the black hole and its companion.

"Because it’s eclipsing and because it has such extreme properties, this black hole is an incredible test-bed for studying astrophysics," said Pietsch.

The length of the eclipse seen by Chandra gives information about the size of the companion. The scale of the companion’s motion, as inferred from the Gemini observations, gives information about the mass of the black hole and its companion. Other observed properties of the binary were used to constrain the mass estimates.


This animation sequence begins with a wide-field optical image from Kitt Peak of M33, a spiral galaxy about 3 million light years from Earth, and then zooms into a view from the Gemini telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Next, the view zooms into an even smaller field, from the Hubble Space Telescope, that includes M33 X-7, the most massive known black hole to be formed from the collapse of a star. The final image is a composite of the region around M33 X-7 that contains both the Chandra and Hubble data.
(Credit: Kitt Peak: NOAO/AURA/NSF/T.A.Rector; Gemini: AURA/Gemini Obs./SDSU/J.Orosz et al.; HST: NASA/STScI/SDSU/J.Orosz et al.; Chandra: NASA/CXC/CfA/P.Plucinsky et al.)

China to hit the moon?

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007


We’ve discussed China’s space ambitions before (here and here), including Tom Delay’s over-the-top (if not ridiculous) assertion that the U.S. is losing a 21st "Space Race" with China.

And now it appears that China plans to "hit" the moon.

Gasp. Don’t worry — our Eastern "space race competitor" is not bombing the moon:

Chang’e I, China’s first lunar probe satellite will hit the moon to end its one-year orbital tour as part of the research mission, said Professor Xiao Naiyuan from the Department of Astronomy of Nanjing University in a scientific lecture held on October 6, according to a report by Nanjing Daily on October 8. The launch day of the satellite is yet to be determined.

The satellite is expected to shoot high-resolution photos when crashing into the moon, said Xiao.

I can’t wait to see the photos from that. The launch is in its final stages:

Chinese researchers and technicians are making final preparations for the launch of the country’s first moon orbiter.

Zhang Qingwei, minister in charge of the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, says his team has nearly finished pre-launch tests.

The rocket and orbiter have been transported to the launch site and will blast off at the end of October. The mission has three main goals: to map three-dimensional images of the lunar surface, analyze dust on the moon, and study the space environment between the Earth and the moon. The minister says the next mission will be to launch a moon vehicle, and then safely return it to Earth.

A video of the orbiter is available here.

And if you want to see the launch in-person, you better be a Chinese national and line-up for your tickets now:

China is offering 2,000 tickets to view the launch of the country’s first lunar mission, the Chang’e 1 probe satellite, a company said Friday.

Only Chinese nationals are allowed to buy the tickets, priced at 800 yuan (107 dollars) each, Yang Pei, a spokeswoman for the ticket agency, Chengdu Chang’e Benyue Co. Ltd., told AFP.

Viewers can choose from three viewing points, with two located 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles) away from the launch site and one four kilometres away, according to Friday’s Shanghai Morning Post.

Good Morning, Delta!

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007


I love the smell of hydrochloric acid in the morning! That’s what you get when you mix rocket fuel burn-off with the air around the launch pad.

A Delta II rocket will be the sight to see Wednesday morning at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (webcast). The details, courtesy of United Launch Alliance:

Rocket/Payload: Delta II launching the U.S. Air Force’s Global Positioning System (GPS) IIR-17M satellite.

Date/Launch Time/Site: Oct. 17, with a launch window of 8:23 – 8:38 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-17A, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. If the launch slips, the next launch attempt is set for Oct. 18, 8:19 – 8:34 a.m. EDT.

Description: GPS IIR-17 (M) will be the fourth modernized NAVSTAR Global Positioning System (GPS) military navigation satellite to launch. GPS is a space-based radio-positioning system consisting of a minimum of 24-satellite constellation that provides navigation and timing information to military and civilian users worldwide.

Launch Updates: To keep up to speed with updates to the launch countdown, dial the ULA launch hotline at 1-877-852-4321.

Satellite Feeds:
Test Signal Start Date/Time: 10/17/2007 07:45:00 EASTERN
Program Start Date/Time 10/17/2007 8:00:00 EASTERN
End Date/Time: 10/17/2007 10:00:00 EASTERN

Downlink: Galaxy 26
Transponder – G26C-09

All launches from the Cape are supported by the 45th Space Wing, Patrick Air Force Base — and people like Chris Bruce, who was featured in nice piece by Patrick Peterson in Florida Today:

When Chris Bruce isn’t keeping his 19-year-old daughter’s car running, he’s using his considerable mechanical ability to lead the team of technicians preparing the third stage of Delta 2 rockets for launch.

The GPS IIR-17 launch from Complex 17A on Wednesday morning will be the latest of nearly 50 rockets on which the 45-year-old Mims resident has worked.

Weighing 4,540 pounds, the satellite will be the fourth to feature newer GPS technology. It will be able to provide more accurate navigation data for pilots, drivers, boaters, hikers and the military.

Working conditions are tough. The good-natured
ribbing between his colleagues at United Launch Alliance, who also are his golfing buddies, often rises to a level of nastiness that only the thick-skinned and steel-nerved can bear.

There is one consolation.

"What goes around comes around," he said, showing a good-natured grin. "What you’ve dished out the day before, you’re receiving the next day."

The constant needling and trading of verbal jabs keeps the crew on their toes, he added. Oddly, it also makes for a good work environment.

"We’re like a second family," he said. "It’s like hanging out with your brothers."

Long hours at work are required during crunch times, and Bruce’s boss depends on him to make sure people and parts are where they should be.

"He leads with his experience," said Robin Smith, an assembly and test manager with 37 years of aerospace experience. "And I do count on him and rely on him a lot."

Bruce’s easygoing personality makes him a good co-worker.

"He’s very good natured," Smith said.

Bruce is among about 4,000 United Launch Alliance employees who launch government satellites for the company formed by a merger of the rocket divisions of Lockheed Martin Corp. and The Boeing Co. in May 2005.

His crew assembles the launcher’s third stage, which is about six feet tall and will push the GPS satellite to its final orbit about 11,000 miles above Earth. The spacecraft will become one of 30 GPS satellites in orbit.

"We’ve been really good about putting them right where they need to be," Bruce said.

Bruce came to Brevard County 22 years ago, after completing a two-year associate’s degree in electronics at DeVry University in Atlanta.

"I had an uncle who worked for McDonnell Douglas. He got me an interview, and the rest is history," he said.

After several job changes, including working as a roofer for a year during a slowdown, Bruce started working on the Delta program in 1996.

If successful, this GPS launch would be the 77th Delta launch since the last failure in 1997. Consistency has been a hallmark of the program.

"There have been very few changes since I’ve been in this group," Bruce said. "It’s basic, but it’s efficient."

Bruce said the experienced crew is comfortable processing the rocket’s third stage because they have done the job many times before.

"It’s just like clockwork," he said. "Everything gets bolted and torqued. We’ve done it so much, we just know."

Bruce said attention to detail and the determination to do a good job are the personality traits that make his group successful.

"It was the way I was brought up," he said. "My dad always had the philosophy, ‘If you’re going to do it, do it right the first time. Put forth your best effort.’ "

"It’s the whole group. It has to be right," he said. "There’s no room for error."

During Wednesday’s launch, Bruce will follow the countdown even though he doesn’t work with the launch crew.

"I really don’t worry," he said. "I know the system is reliable and it always has been."

The Rockies are in. Will Frontier be watching?

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

With the Colorado Rockies making an improbable run to the World Series (winning 21 of their last 22 games), their home-town airline is scrambling to get the games, in-flight:

Denver-based Frontier Airlines apparently hopes it can get in on some of the hoopla surrounding the first-ever World Series appearance by the Colorado Rockies, who are also based in Denver. Frontier is negotiating with DirecTV for the rights to show the World Series games aboard its flights, The Denver Post reports. Frontier already has satellite TV access on its flights, but the Fox network –- which has the World Series rights -– is not part of Frontier’s in-flight programming contract, according to The Associated Press.

While this looks more like a PR-stunt than an honest service upgrade, it is amazing how much customers appreciate in-flight satellite television. Take JetBlue — the first airline to install Satellite TV: despite a number of embarrasing delays, tarmac-waiting-marathons, and no legacy-airline perks (like the occasional first-class upgrade), JetBlue still ranks at or near the top in most customer surveys.

JetBlue, by the way, already offers Fox programming on its DirecTV lineup.

Let’s hope the players stay warm and the flights are on time. It could be a cold, windy, maybe even snowy series in Denver and either Boston or Cleveland.

Steel WAN

Monday, October 15th, 2007

Steel giant, ArcelorMittal has signed a massive contract with BT to serve its wide area network needs worldwide. ComputerWorldUK has the details:

ArcelorMittal has signed a £13.9m global network services agreement with BT covering its wide area network services at 700 sites spread across 40 countries worldwide.

The deal forms part of the steel giant’s IT consolidation and standardisation strategy, which was put in place after the merger of Arcelor and Mittal towards the end of 2006.

The contract gives BT first and last refusal for any additional sites to be added to the network. It also paves the way for BT and ArcelorMittal to work together to deliver other forms of networked IT, such as VoIP and local area network services.

Under the deal, BT will install a "highly resilient" IP network to connect ArcelorMittal’s sites across the world. The network should be a key enabler for the firm’s global IT plan to optimise its production capability by moving work orders more efficiently around the world. It is also being touted as enabling global shared services for functions like HR.

According to EFY, the contract "comprises WAN-services such as MPLS (multi-protocol label switching), VSAT (very small aperture terminal), xDSL (digital subscriber line) and IPsec, a suite of protocols for securing Internet Protocol (IP) communications." This may lead to BT’s deployment of VoIP and LAN services for ArcelorMittal, as well.

For a company that isn’t very well known by an average Joe, ArcelorMittal is HUGE: It’s the world’s largest steel company, with 320,000 employees in more than 60 countries. Its 2006 revenues exceeded $88 billion. Not surprisingly, its IT needs are similarly large — its IT annual budget is £355.

Without even a dose of modesty, ArcelorMittal has a video series covering the 2006 merger of Arcelor and Mittal Steel (or as they put it, "the creation of one of the greatest companies in the world.").

This climb in the steel market hasn’t been an overnight surge. ArcelorMittal started out as Societe Anonyme des Hauts Fourneaux et Forge de Dudelange in Luxembourg in 1882 — that’s 22 years before U.S. Steel formed.

Also with a base in Luxembourg is SES, which may end up playing a roll in providing satcom capacity for this contract.


Rugby Fever

Monday, October 15th, 2007

This might be a stretch topic for this blog, but after Saturday’s game I just can’t stop thinking about Rugby. England had an improbable win over France on Saturday to reach the finals:

Even though it was achieved by five points this time, the England rugby team’s victory over France in Saturday’s semi-final was every bit as racked with nerve-shredding tension as last weekend’s two-point scramble over Australia.

By the end, there was barely enough energy left in the collective spirit to wander out into the street outside the pub and salute the triumph with a verse of Jerusalem. And if everyone was as drained as this just by watching, imagine how the players must have felt.

Actually, they must have felt wonderful. Exhausted, but vindicated; there can be no better combination for the sportsman than knowing that all that effort has reward.

Never in English sporting history can there have been a turnaround like theirs: a month ago, in defeat by South Africa, they were dismissed as hopeless and hapless, now they are mean and magnificent. Their self-belief has apparently been forged from tungsten.

The highlights:

I’m not the only person that is excited. ThisLondon describes the scene in England as the “The Great Ticket Scrum.” Tickets are going for “between £1,000 and £4,000 each – up to 13 times their face value.” The Eurostar train to Paris is sold-out and hotels rooms for Saturday’s final (the few that remain) are “advertised at between four and ten times their usual rates.”

Do you have the fever, yet? If yes — and if you don’t want to enter the ticket-scrum or rely on YouTube highlights, you better explore your pay-per-view options for Saturday’s final against South Africa. Dish Network and DirecTV will both offer the game for $25 and $30, respectively. iN DEMAND is offering the game for Cable subscribers. The fees will depend on you local provider.

Normally, European rugby games can be seen on Setanta Sports, a small but rapidly growing network. For this most-epic of games, Setanta will only be offering a tape-delayed broadcast on its network, plus a live pay-per-view web-stream. Setanta has an interesting story:

Setanta Sports was formed due to the football passion of its co-founders Michael O’Rourke and Leonard Ryan. Living in London and frustrated at the lack of live coverage in London of the Ireland v Holland World Cup clash in 1990, the two negotiated broadcasting rights and put the event on in Ealing. A thousand like-minded fans turned up and Setanta Sports was born. The word ‘Setanta’ is taken from one of Ireland’s great heroes, ‘Cúchulainn’, which means the ‘hound of Cullan’. As a child, this great hero’s name was ‘Setanta’ meaning ‘the little’. He was given the name Cúchulainn when he killed the fearsome watchdog of the smith Cullan, by hitting a sliotar (the small ball used in hurling) down the animal’s throat. Having killed the watchdog, he undertook to guard Cullan’s house in place of the hound.

With all this buzz, these broadcasters are cashing in. According to Jim McDonald, head of broadcast at MPG, the media planning agency, ITV (the network airing the games in London) has already boosted its income by about £2m.

“As for the final itself, I should think we are looking at £5m-£6m potentially in the additional value of the air time. ITV’s predictions were very conservative and were based on the England team only reaching as far as the quarter finals.”

Enjoy the game.

$10 Billion to Get Solar From Space?

Friday, October 12th, 2007

Here’s an interesting proposal to meet our future energy needs, perfectly timed with Al Gore’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize and the heightened awareness that brings to the need for clean, non-carbon energy:


A futuristic scheme to collect solar energy on satellites and beam it to Earth has gained a large supporter in the US military. A report released yesterday by the National Security Space Office recommends that the US government sponsor projects to demonstrate solar-power-generating satellites and provide financial incentives for further private development of the technology.

Space-based solar power would use kilometre-sized solar panel arrays to gather sunlight in orbit. It would then beam power down to Earth in the form of microwaves or a laser, which would be collected in antennas on the ground and then converted to electricity. Unlike solar panels based on the ground, solar power satellites placed in geostationary orbit above the Earth could operate at night and during cloudy conditions.

"We think we can be a catalyst to make this technology advance," said US Marine Corps lieutenant colonel Paul Damphousse of the NSSO at a press conference yesterday in Washington, DC, US.

The NSSO report recommends that the US government spend $10 billion over the next 10 years to build a test satellite capable of beaming 10 megawatts of electric power down to Earth.

The NSSO report can be found here


DIY Friday: Visit Kazakhstan!

Friday, October 12th, 2007

Remember last year’s hit movie Borat?

For today’s DIY project, we’re going to flip the plot of the film. Instead of Borat visiting America to understand the country better, we’re going to visit Kazakhstan (virtually, of course), to get a better understanding of the homeplace of the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

We’re not alone in our travels

Five star it is not: few creature comforts await the tourists who trickle to the birthplace of modern space flight for launches such as this week’s Soyuz blast-off.

But for some that is all part of the mystique.

Dotted with camels and the paraphernalia of half a century of space travel, the Baikonur cosmodrome on the arid plains of Kazakhstan has already been used to launch space tourists to the International Space Station (ISS) for as much as 30 million dollars (21 million euros) per person.

Now this once top secret installation is expecting its own tourist boom.

Ahead of a rocket launch on Wednesday, a group of visiting Britons, all male and laden with camera gear, appreciated the sight of soldiers with automatic weapons, full combat gear and visors guarding the astronauts’ send-off.

It added to the atmosphere, they said.

"We actually like that," said one middle-aged tourist from the English town of Hyde, referring to the soldiers.

We blogged about that security earlier this week. You can "tour" a map of Baikonur here, or check out the other tourist attractions through this travel bureau. If you want to get a better understanding of what it’s like to travel in Kazakhstan, check out this video of a visit to an iron mining camp:


A visit to Kazakhstan isn’t all space and mining facilities, however. Kazakhstan is actually rich in history and natural wonders, from the Silk Road to the Land of Seven Rivers. Check out this list to continue your DIY travels….

First Wideband Global SATCOM Launched

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007


Nice launch of the WGS SV-1 satellite. The news, via The A.P. and International Herald Tribune:

A rocket carrying a satellite used for communication by the United States Air Force lifted off Wednesday night.

The Atlas V, which launched at 8:22 p.m. (0022 Thursday), is carrying a Wideband Global SATCOM satellite. It is the first of at least five satellites that will be placed in orbit through 2008.

The system will replace the current Defense Satellite Communications System that has been used for military communications for the last two decades. This first satellite will cover the Pacific Zone which includes Hawaii, Japan and Southeast Asia. Each spacecraft will cost $350 million (€247.42 million).

The DSCS system will be used in conjunction with WGS until being phased out within the next few years.

Col. David Urich, the Military Satellite Communications Systems Wing vice commander, said the first spacecraft alone "will provide more capacity than all the current DSCS satellites currently in use."

The launch was scheduled for Tuesday, but delayed a day as engineers checked data that might have indicated the Atlas V rocket would have fallen short of its intended orbit.