Archive for October, 2008

Commercial Launches from Florida

Friday, October 24th, 2008

That’s the live view from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 39, where the Space Shuttle will launch from in November.

Meanwhile, lots of activity at Launch Complex 36 this week, too. The U.S. Air Force announced it will soon host civil and commercial payload launches:

Officials with the Air Force and Space Florida made history during a dedication ceremony held here Oct. 22 when Space Launch Complex 36 officially was made available for operational use by the State of Florida, subject to completion of the environmental impact analysis.

Attending the historic ceremony were Florida Governor Charlie Crist; Florida Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp; Space Florida President Steve Kohler; Lt. Gen. William Shelton, 14th Air Force commander; and Brig. Gen. Susan Helms, 45th Space Wing commander.

General Shelton said Air Force leaders supported the initiative because it will make it easier for commercial providers to launch from the U.S.  Having domestic launch options provides the U.S. with solid foundation for national security.

"This is a great partnership that is mutually beneficial to both the Air Force and the state," he said. "We take great pride in helping foster the success of the commercial space sector; I’m confident the spirit of innovation and the cooperation that made this a reality will continue in the years ahead."

Governor Crist also had positive things to say about the agreement.

"Florida has always been home to big ideas. The entrepreneurial spirit is woven into the DNA of Florida’s economy," the governor said. "And thanks to the Air Force’s decision, the door is now open to innovation and space opportunities never seen before. In tough economic times, it is important we do not sit idly by, but that we invest in economic opportunities for the future.

"What a tremendous opportunity to ensure that space exploration is a top priority and that the U.S. remains a leader right here from Florida," he said.

According to Space Florida officials, the reconfiguration of Launch Complex 36 will strengthen not only the state’s aerospace industry but other growing economic sectors such as biotechnology and environmentally friendly energy technology vital to Florida’s future. The launch complex will support light- to medium-lift vehicles that go into low-Earth orbit and beyond.

Space Florida’s president sees this ground-breaking ceremony as a great beginning,  both literally and figuratively.

"The Air Force assignment of Launch Complex 36 is an important next step to extending access to space," said Steve Kohler, Space Florida president.

"We are now making that available to both defense and security initiatives," he said, "with multiple commercial payloads and launch activities for both civil and private space businesses that want to launch from Florida. This direction by the Air Force, together with the tremendous support by the state, opens the door to attracting, supporting and sustaining national and international aerospace business here in Florida."

This effort also is in line with the mission of the 45th SW, according to General Helms.

"Our primary mission here is to assure access to the high frontier," she said. "This proposal better enables us to execute that mission. It’s the ultimate ‘win-win’ situation for both the Air Force and the State of Florida."



Hours later, PlanetSpace announced it is ready to start, spurring Florida Today to report it will generate 350 jobs and a $300 million economic impact:

PlanetSpace, a consortium of ATK, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, announced Wednesday a proposal to launch a 158-foot solid-fuel rocket by 2011 from the pad at Cape Canaveral, which the Air Force has agreed to lease to Space Florida. The rocket could carry about 2 metric tons of cargo to the International Space Station.

NASA aims to announce on Dec. 23 whether PlanetSpace, or a competitor, has been chosen to provide the service. The company says its plan would create 350 jobs in Florida, with a potential economic impact of $300 million. PlanetSpace said it has at least two competitors for the NASA award.

Using state money, Space Florida now will start turning the abandoned launch complex into a serviceable launch pad, which it hopes will attract other commercial customers.

"The door is now open to more innovation," said Gov. Charlie Crist, who spoke Wednesday at the groundbreaking of the launch complex upgrade.

Complex 36 is now just a domed bunker beside a concrete slab at Cape Canaveral. The Air Force, which controls the property, intends to lease the site to Space Florida after an environmental impact analysis.

Space Florida, a state economic development agency focused on aerospace projects, then would build a launch facility that could accommodate medium to light rockets. The state plans a commercial launch zone that would reduce bureaucratic requirements and eliminate tariffs, similar to a free trade zone.

"This is a rebirth of a historical launch complex," Space Florida President Steve Kohler said.

Kohler said he is negotiating with several launch companies that may use the pad. The state has appropriated $14.5 million for the project and has bonding authority for another $40 million.

"We hope that the first phase of development could reach $55 million to build it out," Kohler said.

PlanetSpace hopes to be the first to use the new site in 2011. Under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services program, the group is competing for a $3.1 billion government contract to move 20 metric tons of cargo to the space station with 10 to 12 rocket launches.

We see which bidder will be celebrating on 23 December 2008, with a great big contract under the tree (Solicitation Number: NNJ08ZBG001L).



Russia Invests in Space

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Russian Prime Minster Vladimir Putin’s black Labrador, Connie, has been given a tracking collar linked to the Russian navigation satellite system Glonass, the government website said on Friday.


But Connie’s GPS collar isn’t the only space initiative the Russians are investing in. In fact, Russia is set to spend more that $7 billion on space over the next few years, according to New Scientist Space

The former president, quoted by local news agencies, told a government meeting that Russia, which accounts for 40% of all space launches, would earmark more than 200 billion roubles ($7.68 billion) from the federal budget for development of the space industry from 2009 to 2011.

Russia’s Soyuz crewed spacecraft and Progress cargo vehicles have been the main workhorses serving the International Space Station (ISS) since the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on atmospheric re-entry in 2003….

NASA plans to mothball its entire space shuttle fleet by 2011.

"Evidently . . . between 2011 and 2016, the United States will not possess a new spaceship to replace the space shuttle," news agencies quoted Anatoly Perminov, the head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, as telling Putin.

"So Russian spacecraft will bear the brunt of transportation and maintenance works, as well as replacing [ISS] crews and launching European and Japanese cargo ships from time to time."

Putin said Russia’s group of space satellites had reached more than 100 units and would rise steadily. 

A good place to explore the Russian space program online is

Russia’s next scheduled launch from Baikonur will lift ASTRA-1M into orbit on 3 November 2008.

Is anything else going on that week?


Chandrayaan-1 Launched

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

ISRO‘s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft launched:

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) successfully launched the Chandrayaan-1, meaning "moon craft" in ancient Sanskrit, into orbit from a launch facility in southern India.

"It’s a historic moment, as far as India is concerned…  We have started our journey to the moon and the first leg of the journey has gone perfectly well," ISRO president Madhavan Nair said.  "It’s a remarkable performance by the launch vehicle, every parameter was on the dot… Today what we have started is a remarkable journey for the Indian spacecraft to go to the moon and try to unravel the mysteries of the moon."

Chandrayaan-1 will orbit 60 miles above the moon’s surface, while documenting its surface and chemical characteristics.

ISRO hopes this first launch will help the nation launch future lunar missions that can help researchers learn more about the moon and its origin.  ISRO hopes to one day launch a manned mission to the moon, but admitted that it would take years before it is able to develop the necessary technologies.

ISRO hopes to launch another moon mission in 2012, as the space agency continues to develop the necessary infrastructure for a manned moon mission.

"Earlier missions did not come out with a full understanding of the moon and that is the reason scientists are still interested.  This will lay the foundation for bigger missions and also open up new possibilities of international networking and support for planetary programs," the ISRO said in a statement published on its web site.

Here are two videos…



WorldSpace Ch. 11

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

No, we’re not talking about WorldSpace channel 11 ("Radio Voyager") here. We’re talking about Case Number 08-12412, the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by WorldSpace, the pioneering satellite radio service available in Africa and Asia. The board of directors voted unanimously to file for it.



In the U.S., we’ve all heard about Sirius XM Radio and their 18 million subscribers. Turns out WorldSpace has yet to break a million, according to the Wall Street Journal report:

The company, which broadcasts its satellite radio services to more than 170,000 paid subscribers in 10 countries throughout Europe, Africa and Asia, sought Chapter 11 protection in the U.S Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del. It listed assets of $307.4 million and liabilities of $2.12 billion.

The bulk of that debt, some $1.8 billion, is a contingent obligation under a royalty deal if the company’s pretax earnings reach a certain level, according to company spokeswoman Judith Pryor.

In court papers, Chief Executive Noah A. Samara said the company was forced to file for bankruptcy after seeking four forbearance agreements with its noteholders since June.

In addition, WorldSpace has failed to pay some of its workers for two months, causing "significant employee attrition," Mr. Samara said. The company owes 50 "critical employees" $1.35 million in back pay.

"As a result of WorldSpace’s growing concern regarding its inability to make timely payments to critical employees and other essential creditors, WorldSpace determined that it is in its best interests and the best interests of its subsidiaries and stakeholders to file these chapter 11 proceedings," said Mr. Samara, one of the key figures in the early stages of XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc.

The company, which intends to sell off its assets or recapitalize the business, is seeking court approval of a $13 million bankruptcy loan provided by a group of hedge funds to continue operating while under bankruptcy-court protection.

Worldspace was founded in 1990 with the intent to provide satellite radio services to the emerging markets of Asia and Africa. The company has two satellites currently in orbit and a third in storage.

Among the WorldSpace’s so called first-day motions the company is asking to secure the bankruptcy loan and use some of that funding to pay its employees. The company is also seeking the continued use of its bank accounts.

Without the bankruptcy financing, the remaining critical employees will likely depart, which would "impair" WorldSpace’s ability to operate the satellites and continue as a going concern, Samara said.

Yenura Pte. Ltd., a Singapore-based company controlled by Mr. Samara, is WorldSpace’s largest unsecured creditor, owed $55.2 million. Number 2 is Micronas GmbH, owed $18.2 million, and Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, owed $4.4 million.

Mr. Samara is the largest shareholder of the Silver Spring, Md. company, owning 47.15% of the firm. Aletheia Research & Management Inc., owning 37% percent, and Natixis Asset Management Advisor LP, owning 5.25%, are the other major shareholders of WorldSpace.


170,000 subscribers? And they’ve paid to build and launch two satellites? AfriStar launch in 1998, so I’m wondering how they could have kept going for the last ten years on so few paying subscribers.  Probably the dedication of Noah Samara, their CEO and founder. His speech before the African Development Forum in 1999 tells you something about what moved him (it’s so good I need to present it all):

The urgent imperative of our time and of this continent is the creation of an affluent African Information Society. I will speak to this need today. And I will be brief.

Over the past 15 years, we have seen the industrialized world shift its focus from connecting people to connecting nodes of information which people can universally access, share and grow. Focus on convergence technologies has brought unprecedented benefit and wealth resulting from net media or, if you will, information affluence.

In contrast, the developing world has focused on teledensity and lines per 1000 in its quest for universal access. The focus has been universal access to telephony and not to the electronic consciousness of mankind, more popularly known as the Internet. Accordingly, the progress in teledensity has not yielded the corresponding benefits and wealth which information affluence has created for the industrialized world.

Indeed, the information gap between nations is going through a quantum leap. It is volatile and threatens to explode into an irreparable gulf between rich and poor nations.

Developing efficient and effective ways to create information-affluent societies is the need for every need. I have pursued this vision with a sense of purpose and urgency; it animates my being and instructs my energies. Information affluence is, in my humble opinion, the sine-qua-non to development. Have it and wealth and development will follow. Without it, our attempt to alleviate poverty, bring health, wealth and education – indeed our attempt to create a sustainable, compassionate, civilization will be without success.

Information is the predicate to everything we know. It is ubiquitous. It is the building block behind the human DNA, the chair you are sitting on, the building you are in, the car you drive.

Look behind the wealth of nations and of individuals and — again — you will find information. Information about processes, techniques and organizations.

Look behind the poverty of individuals and nations and you will find ignorance.

The state of global information is the best allegory for the state of our planet. The gap between poor and rich has been made starker, not better, by the power of information and communications technologies.

While these technologies have liberated lives, created stock market miracles and improved economies, they have only touched a fraction of the world’s population.

An abyss is in the process of formation.

Nearly 2.5 billion people have never made a phone call; yet Manhattan alone has more phones than all those combined in sub-Saharan Africa. While there is a radio station for every thirty thousand people in most OECD countries, on average there is one radio station for every two million people in most of the developing world. There are more Internet hosts in Estonia than all of sub-Saharan Africa. The hardware disparity between poor and rich nations is not nearly as troubling as the scarcity of information which directly undermines the ability of a nation to not only keep its citizens informed and educated, but to simply keep them alive. 11 million people will die of AIDS this year in Sub-Saharan Africa. 40 million children will be orphaned. Either one of those numbers, by any definition, represents the population of an entire country. This is horror we do not really comprehend.

Asked about concerns he might have at the loss of thousands of citizens, Stalin is said to have once remarked that a single death is a tragedy; but a million a mere statistic.

Stalin was a bad man. We all agree he was ruthless, unmoved by human suffering. But does his comment reflect on him or is his an insight about all of us?

Consider the story of Yaguine Koita and Fode Tounkara – two boys from Guinea, ages 14 and 15. Eight weeks ago they tried to escape the turmoil and poverty of their homeland by sneaking on board the landing gear of a Sabena airliner. They died somewhere between Conakry and Brussels in the unpressurized compartment where the temperature at that altitude is 55 degrees below zero.

A letter they were carrying in their clothing read:

"Help us. We suffer a lot in Africa. We have no rights as children. We have no food. We have war and illness. We have schools but lack education. We want to study so we can be like you, in Africa. "

Their story was carried in every newspaper throughout Europe. It even made the Washington Post where I read about it.

A single death is a tragedy. Eleven million people will die this year from AIDS alone in Africa. How many thousand people do you think died in the few minutes I’ve been standing before you? Does it matter? It is after all a statistic!

But Yaguine and Fode’s death – that is eloquent. To me it is more than poignant.

You see, I was born in Africa and left when I was 17, like Yaguine and Fode, in search of education. I did so weeks before a revolution, a period of terror, in Ethiopia killed many of my close friends.

But for the Grace of God, I could have gone the way of my friends.

Instead, I stand before this august assembly of distinction and achievement to speak on the urgency of creating information affluence for the dispossessed. What can I tell you that the death of Yaguine and Fode has not already conveyed? This is an imperative we must address. It is the same imperative that led me to founding WorldSpace fewer than 10 years ago.

The vision of founding WorldSpace was partly driven by a desire to stem the spread of AIDS in Africa. I felt that an efficient, cost effective system could be developed to deliver a variety of information across a whole continent, clearly and consistently. After sketching this idea, literally, on the back of a napkin, I went to my wife to tell her I was quitting my job as an up and coming legal and business advisor in the communications and satellite industry. "Right, Like hell you will" she said.

I said, no, no, no, no; this is important. I want to launch a satellite over Africa," I told her. She obviously thought I was crazy.

So in the hope of getting her consent, I told her this would be a piece of cake — easy and straightforward. You see all you have to do is:

  • Start a company
  • Apply for licenses
  • Raise capital
  • Get 130 countries to allocate frequencies
  • Get great engineers to design the system
  • Get great companies to build/launch the system
  • Get more companies to make/distribute millions of receivers

Needless to say, it took longer than I thought and it cost more than I thought. But we did start the company; got licenses; got 130 countries to allocate the choicest part of the radio spectrum globally for the service; and raised the money needed to build and launch the system. Starting this month, world brand manufacturers are distributing the receivers throughout Africa.

This is the first satellite ever launched specifically to cover Africa — something I am particularly proud of. The service is also the first of its kind and is being introduced in Africa two years before it gets to America.

The second satellite will be launched in a few months over Asia; soon after a third will cover Latin America in the largest footprint for a direct broadcast service ever created by a single company.

Simply stated, these satellites will broadcast 60 plus channels or radio stations directly to a new generation of receivers. No satellite dish is necessary; just a simple antenna on the receiver.

The receivers can also be connected to a computer to deliver a full-blown, internet-like multimedia content. This is important because the growth of internet-capable PC’s in the developing world is outstripping the capacity of the telephone infrastructure. The WorldSpace system can deliver gigabytes of information to computers without the need of a phone, direct via the receiver.

The service will carry music, information and entertainment. And we are dedicating capacity to carry content addressing women’s issues, environmental initiatives, health advisories and distance education. The system’s data delivery capability can be used to :

  • broadcast the entire school curriculum of a whole nation or an entire continent;
  • reach health professionals on a regular basis with information on pandemics, epidemics and share experiences of successes and failures;
  • telecommute agriculture extension programs;
  • reach women with solutions that address their needs in family planing or entrepreneurial training;
  • reach societies at large to think creatively about their environment and its input on the delicate balance of our planet; and
  • help the youth to reach their counterparts with initiatives, with their dreams.

We believe information is the key to change stark realities that are facing the peoples of the developing world.

WorldSpace is a business with a mission: namely, to create an infrastructure that will provide hundreds of millions of people with access to information. WorldSpace realizes there are 20 million households across Africa that are able to afford and utilize its system for a fee here and a fee there that soon adds up to real money.

But we cannot and will not be oblivious to the fact that more than 350 million people on this continent will not be able to access any information unless we do something about it.

At the end of the day, life is somewhat digital. You have either done something, or you have not. The word trying is a euphemism. In the harsh reality of existence the gray dissipates into a stark relief of black and white. I will not belabor the struggle, the lonliness, the humiliation and the failures we faced at WorldSpace throughout this decade-long journey.

But I can unequivocally tell you that I never doubted – even for an instant – that Africa had to have, indeed deserved, an infrastructure specifically tailored to meet its needs.

In the Book of Ecclesiastes it is written that "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding." In the end life and what we make of it comes down to human will.

It is in our power to bring information affluence to Africa. It is in our hands to make it happen.

Consider the following proposal: Every constituency in this august hall decides to work on a single initiative and this is the initiative: We put 5 million internet terminals in 5 million villages and neighborhoods in 5 fast-paced years. These terminals will have the capacity to deliver primary-to-college education; teach women to become bread-winners for their homes; teach health professionals how to address the pressing health needs in their areas. Maybe the system might even engender understanding between the variagated peoples of this, our beloved continent. It can be done if we want it so badly that we decide to work tenaciously and with a singularity of purpose.

We are doing just that at WorldSpace. We have embarked on a study with the Ethiopian Media Agency to put receivers in every school and attach these receivers to computers and printers. In addition to delivering the curriculum for each school, the units would address the needs of the other constituencies attached to the schools: like women, health professionals, farmers etc…. Each such unit may thus touch the lives of over 200 people — improving their physical well-being, their mental capabilities and their spiritual lives. We are interested in carrying this initiative to other countries in Africa. I once read that Mother Teresa said, "God doesn’t require us to succeed; He only requires that we try." You know she is right. Because in his boundless mercy, the God of big and small things sees into our hearts and souls and judges us by our intent as well as our actions.

History, by contrast, has no compassion whatsoever. Our attempts, and our intent mean nothing to history. Our well-intentioned efforts will not even earn us a footnote.

I am here to speak for industry at this august opening ceremony. Instead, permit me to speak to industry, to governments and to civil society. My message is simple: creating social and economic development in Africa is not about me and it’s not about you. It’s about getting it done. The Prime Minister hit it on the nail at our opening ceremony: by providing for the future of the dispossessed, we will secure our own and that of our families.

Our technology is digital and so is our task. It’s zero or one; we are either on or off; we have gotten it done or we have not.

Here’s what we might see if we get it done, however. Yaguine and Fode’s death will not happen in the next millennium. They would not have to leave their home in search of education. They would find it in the comfort of their village or their homes.

Why can’t we all come together on an initiative that would put us much closer in saying Yaguine and Fode will not die in the next millennium?

We should agree to act, believing that we have a lot more power to effect change, both individually and collectively. I for one have learned never to underestimate where a napkin, a handful of people and commitment can take you.

The great anthropologist Margaret Mead once said: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, she says, "It is the only thing that ever has."

Rainer Maria Rilke said it differently, beautifully:

Again and again in history some special people wake up
They have no ground in the crowd
They move to broader laws
They carry strange customs with them, demand room
        for bold and audacious actions
The future speaks ruthlessly through them
They change the world!

Change, commitment, resolve all center around the courage that affirms our lives or ideas in spite of all that threatens our lives or ideas! True courage or conviction is neither an opinion nor deterred by one. Rather it is a state of being.

I have no fear to stand alone in my conviction that change towards a compassionate sustainable civilization is not only possible, but inevitable. But I know there is a group of us out there and in this room that are rooted in the conviction that the shortest road to our goal is the creation of an information-affluent African society. Together we will honor our ancestors by creating the greatest of patrimony for our progeny.

The question for you, your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, is not whether the inevitable will happen; but whether your fingerprint will be among that small group of thoughtful, committed people who actually changed the world.

Just as moving today as it was nearly a decade ago. Let’s hope there’s some way this company can right itself and continue on with its noble mission. Maybe they’ll get some help from O3b Networks.

Ethan Zuckerman called him "…one of the most charming and inspiring men I’ve met in recent years" on his My Heart’s in Accra blog last June.

Gunter’s Space Page tells us more about the spacecraft they use, an Alcatel payload using an Astrium bus:

Broadcasters have access to the satellite, via either a small individual station, or a central hub station. Leading edge techniques are used to transmit the digital and compressed programmes to the satellite. The satellite will send these programs directly to the public. Each satellite carries an innovative payload that implement baseband processing – appearing for the first time in a commercial programme – and a more conventional and "transparent" payload.

The dual payload carried by WorIdSpace satellites has been designed by Alcatel Space at its Toulouse premises to supply the highest possible digital broadcasting performance and the highest level of reliability throughout the satellites lifetime. On board base-band processing Authorizes direct satellite access to a multitude of individual stations on one-third of the planet, without having to contribute to costly links towards an access “hub”. Thus, a small local station in Africa can broadcast throughout the continent. The conventional payload enables major radiobroadcasters to pool their resources and reduce operating costs.

The high L band power is achieved by a pair of 150 watt traveling wave tube amplifiers (TWTA) operating in parallel. The ability to set frequencies, in both reception and transmission, makes the System very flexible. In orbit antenna reconfiguration allows antenna coverage optimization and enables one satellite to replace another whenever necessary.




Korea Set to Enter Space Club Next Summer

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008


"A decade of effort and anxiety all comes down to a single moment next summer when South Korea attempts to launch a satellite into orbit from its brand new spaceport at the southern tip of the peninsula," Korea Times reports:

A successful launch would make Korea the ninth country in the world to launch a home-made satellite from its own soil and mark a huge step forward in national ambitions to have a man on the moon by 2020.

The planned rocket launch is further heightening the public interest toward the country’s space program, which had been hyped since Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) biologist Yi So-yeon boarded the Soyuz spacecraft in April to become the second Asian woman ever to travel into outer space. 

Korean scientists recently unveiled a mock-up of the rocket:

The KSLV-1, a carrier rocket designed for transporting satellites, is a joint project with Russia’s Khrunichev State Space Science and Production Center, which is providing the technology for the project and designing the 25.8-meter-long lower assembly that contains the liquid-fueled propulsion system….

The first launch is expected as early as April, and if successful, another rocket will be launched from Naro nine months later. The Russians will provide the technology for a third launch if the first two attempts fail…

The rocket will head straight up for the first 25 seconds before making a “kick-turn” to about 10 degrees east, passing 100 kilometers above Okinawa on the way. The nose cone of the second-stage of the rocket that holds the satellite will split after 225 seconds and the lower assembly of the rocket will fall back to Earth 13 seconds later after burning all of its fuel. 

Construction of the Naro Space Center (built by Hyundai Heavy Industries) is 95% complete. Goheung County, where the Space Center is located, is hoping that the Center will attract additional investment.

Canadians Help Pakistan Buy Chinese Satellite

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Pakistan just bought a shiny new satellite from China, with the help of Canadian company Telesat.

Pakistan says the satellite, called PakSat-1R, for Pakistan in 2011, will be used for domestic telecommunication and broadcast services. Contracts for the deal were signed last week with both the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Chinese President Hu Jintao present.

The satellite’s chief contractor is the China Great Wall Industry Corp. This is the third time that the corporation has launched a satellite for another country. In 2007, two satellites were launched for Nigeria.

China has also signed a deal to launch a communications satellite for Venezuela. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez praised the project on a recent visit to China:

Venezuela’s Presidential Office also issued a statement in praise of the upcoming launch of the VENESAT-1 satellite, that will transmit telephone, Internet, video conferencing and other signals throughout the region from the Caribbean to Paraguay on South America’s southern tip.

More than 100 Venezuelans have been trained in China to operate the satellite, the office said.

"We will have a tool allowing us to say that there are no borders, or places in our region we cannot reach," the statement quoted Science and Technology Minister Nuris Orihuela, who was accompanying Chavez on his visit, as saying.

The satellite, also known as the Simon Bolivar after the Venezuelan-born South American independence hero, will be launched on Nov. 1 from western China’s Xichang launch site aboard a Chinese Long March 3B rocket.

The U.S. sees cause for concern in the rise of China’s satellite industry. The Defense Secretary has been charged with reviewing whether allowing companies with US defense contracts to launch satellites in China poses a national security threat. At the center of the debate is a bill signed into law just last week, the "Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009".

Satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space of Europe has built satellites that are free of U.S. parts, which are effectively barred from being shipped to China under U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) rules. Another company, OHB Technology of Germany, is designing a new satellite line with European Space Agency funds that is intended to include a so-called ITAR-free option for customers wanting to launch from China.

Space Systems/Loral, a major U.S. commercial satellite builder, has complained to U.S. government authorities that the ITAR-free option gives these European contractors an advantage because China’s rockets are less expensive to use than U.S., European or Japanese rockets.

DIY Friday: Drones/UAVs

Friday, October 17th, 2008

Bear with me for a bit of childhood nostalgia: When I was little, I had this great toy plane. I used to go to the park with my dad on the weekends and fly it around. As I got a bit older and bolder, I’d try new maneuvers, often careening way too close to the trees. Well, inevitably I got a bit too careless and broke it. But this weekend, I’m bringing back the toy plane. And this time it’s gonna be bigger, badder, and well, just plain awesome.

First of all, the word “toy” doesn’t really apply to this week’s DIY project. It’s more like…special ops tool.

This site provides a wide range of options for your DIY drone, with prices to match your budget. Fellow DIY-ers post helpful tips and videos.

PBS’s “Wired Science” did a segment on the site last year:

If helicopters are more your style, check out the ARCHA project (automated remote control helicopter assistant).

Once your DIY drone is done, you can see how it compares to the versions the military really uses in the field. The AE Puma is the latest and greatest in military-grade technology.

The Puma is an upgrade from the RQ-11 Raven, which we posted about in August after it won the Commando Olympics in Afghanistan.

FCC to Open White Space Spectrum

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Daily Wireless has the news that is sure to please advocates such as Google, Microsoft, and Motorola:

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said today that he will support allowing conditional unlicensed use of the so-called “white spaces” television spectrum. During a press conference, Martin said that he was proposing to let carriers and other vendors deploy devices in white space spectrum which operates unlicensed at powers of 100 milliwatts.

His proposal would also permit use of white space on channels adjacent to existing television stations at powers of up to 40 milliwatts. The FCC is planning to officially vote on whether to allow unlicensed white space use during its Nov. 4 meeting pdf..

Martin said portable devices must have sensing technologies as well as a geo-location database. This would make sure the devices would be able to detect nearby broadcasts in order to avoid those frequencies.

Companies such as Google that are part of the Wireless Innovation Alliance are asking for the white spaces to be unlicensed and open to all.

Here’s a video from the Washington Post on testing mobile devices that use the white space spectrum:

So what exactly is white space?

White space in telecommunications refers to unused frequencies in the radio waves portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

National and international bodies assign differing frequencies for specific uses, and in some cases license the rights to these. This frequency allocation process creates a bandplan which in some cases for technical reasons assigns white space between used bands to avoid interference. In this case, while the frequencies are unused they have been specifically assigned for a purpose.

In an opinion piece over at TVTechnology,  Frank Beacham argues that white space is an incredibly valuable public resource that could provide wireless broadband access for as little as $10 a month:

 Vacant space in TV Channels 5-51 is perfectly suited for cheap WiFi and other unlicensed wireless services. Failure to take advantage of this publicly owned resource would not only be an enormous waste, but eventually allow the spectrum to be tied up for far less noble purposes.

NAB lobbyists would have you believe that the use of wireless devices in these vacant slices of spectrum would cause interference and threaten the transition to terrestrial digital broadcasting. Sports leagues think the devices might cause static on wireless microphones and coaches’ headsets.

Perhaps they are right about the interference, at least at this early stage of the technology. But what doesn’t work now can be made to work. Sensors can detect which frequencies in an area have no usable TV signals and a device’s transmission can be limited to prevent it from interfering with occupied channels….


The NAB, [Ben Scott, policy director of FreePress, a nonpartisan group advocating an open, independent media] said, is engaged in “a campaign of misinformation” to persuade Congress and regulators to ignore the huge potential of unused public airwaves. “In some communities, more than three-quarters of these ‘white spaces’ are vacant,” he said. “The social and economic benefits of utilizing these unused airwaves far outweigh the shortsighted fears of the broadcast industry.”

By using “false assumptions and twisted facts,” Scott said, the NAB is attempting to collapse the entire white spaces debate into a single test of prototype devices at the FCC.

Scott, as well as the high-tech companies advocating the unlicensed use of white space, argues that the FCC’s initial tests actually demonstrated the viability of the smart sensing technology to reduce interference. The tests are being used as a bogeyman in the public lobbying campaign.

It is dangerous, Beacham writes, to allow technical obstacles to cloud the big picture—which is setting important policy as to how a valuable public resource is to be used.

What do you think?


Bread & Satellites

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

If you’ve spent some time in Ann Arbor, Michigan, you may have come across a Zingerman’s — a host of specialty foods delis, restaurants and related businesses. They’re known for having one of the best mail-order breads in the U.S.



The University of Michigan’s Student Space Systems Fabrication Laboratory is working on a micro-satellite about the size of a loaf of bread. The story, via Space Daily, gives us more:

U.S. scientists say they are developing a satellite about the size of a loaf of bread that will be deployed to study space weather.

The National Science Foundation-funded project called Radio Explorer, or RAX, is being led by the University of Michigan and the SRI International Corp., a California independent research and technology development organization.

The satellite, called CubeSat, is to be the first free-flying spacecraft, and will be built, in part, by members of the university’s Student Space Systems Fabrication Laboratory.

CubeSats are approximately 4-inch cube-shaped devices that launch from inside a P-Pod — a special rocket attachment developed by California Polytechnic State University and Stanford University.

The RAX satellite will essentially be made of three CubeSats and will measure the energy flow in the Earth’s ionosphere, where solar radiation turns regular atoms into charged particles.

"This project will help us better understand space weather processes, how the Earth and sun interact and how this weather produces noise in space communication signals — noise that translates to lower quality telecommunications capabilities and error in GPS signals," said Assistant Professor James Cutler, a co-principal investigator with physicist Hasan Bahcivan of SRI.

The grants from the National Science Foundation, who use a less-imaginative "half gallon carton of milk" metaphor, hopes to develop more student interest in space, too:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a grant to SRI International, an independent non-profit research and development organization based in Menlo Park, Calif., to carry out the first space weather CubeSat mission.

CubeSats are tiny satellites with dimensions of 10��10��10 centimeters, weighing about 1 kilogram, and typically using commercial off-the-shelf electronics components.

Developed through joint efforts, California Polytechnic State University and Stanford University introduced CubeSats to academia as a way for universities throughout the world to enter the realm of space science and exploration.

According to atmospheric scientists, CubeSats have the potential to be excellent platforms for technology development and small science missions, and promote student involvement in design, fabrication and flight missions.

"One of the goals is to help train future space scientists and aerospace engineers," said Therese Moretto Jorgensen, program director in NSF’s Division of Atmospheric Sciences. "CubeSats will also help answer questions in space weather such as the cause of disturbances in the ionosphere, and the rise and decay of the Earth’s radiation belts during geomagnetic storms."



SRI International’s team will include many, including support from NASA:

“SRI is excited about the NSF contract, and working in collaboration with the University of Michigan,” said Hasan Bahcivan, research physicist at SRI International. “This program provides a cost effective way to support space weather and atmospheric research. It is also well positioned to provide excellent training opportunities for students that hope to become engineers or scientists. We expect 20 to 30 students to take significant roles in the design, development, and science operations of the satellite.”

The project’s mission is designed to remotely explore small-scale ionization structures in the form of plasma turbulence that occurs in response to intense electrical currents in the space environment. The structures can adversely impact communication and navigation signals by perturbing the refractive index along the signal propagation paths. By utilizing signals from powerful transmitters on the ground and receiving the scattered signals in space, researchers are achieving effective and powerful space-based radar to probe these structures, which would be expensive to accomplish via a stand-alone satellite radar. 

"We have a multidisciplinary, cross-departmental team working on the project, that includes several engineers and faculty, and a large number of undergraduate and graduate students," said James Cutler, an assistant professor in the Aerospace Engineering Department at the University of Michigan. "My research laboratory will be partnering with several space-related classes and the Student Space Systems Fabrication Laboratory (S3FL) to build and fly RAX."   

The first launch opportunity for the NSF satellite program will be with the Department of Defense Space Test Program, and is scheduled for December 2009 aboard a Minotaur-4 launch vehicle out of Kodiak, Alaska. Commissioning and launch support for the mission will be provided by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Wallops Flight Facility.

This is the kind of government support we need to develop the future of rocket science.


Solar Power From Space

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

The Washington Post had an intriguing article on Sunday, titled An Energy Fix Written in the Stars:

 Solar energy is a favorite of environmentalists, but it works only when the sun is shining. But that’s the trick. There is a place where the sun never sets, and a way to use solar energy for power generation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year: Put the solar cells in space, in high orbits where they’d be in sunshine all the time.

You do it with the solar power satellite (SPS), a concept invented by Peter Glaser in 1968. The idea is simple: You build large assemblages of solar cells in space, where they convert sunlight into electricity and beam it to receiving stations on the ground.

The solar power satellite is the ultimate clean energy source. It doesn’t burn an ounce of fuel. And a single SPS could deliver five to 10 gigawatts of energy to the ground continually. Consider that the total electrical-generation capacity of the entire state of California is 4.4 gigawatts.

Conservative estimates have shown that an SPS could deliver electricity at a cost to the consumer of eight to 10 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s about the same as costs associated with conventional power generation stations. And operating costs would drop as more orbital platforms are constructed and the price of components, such as solar voltaic cells, is reduced. Solar power satellites could lower the average taxpayer’s electric bills while providing vastly more electricity.

They would be big — a mile or more across. Building them in space would be a challenge, but not an insurmountable one: We already know how to construct the International Space Station, which is about the size of a football field. And the SPS doesn’t require any new inventions. We have the technology at hand.


The SPS was granted a pantent in 1973, according to Wikipedia:

In 1973 Peter Glaser was granted U.S. patent number 3,781,647 for his method of transmitting power over long distances (eg, from an SPS to the Earth’s surface) using microwaves from a very large (up to one square kilometer) antenna on the satellite to a much larger one on the ground, now known as a rectenna.

What’s a rectenna, you ask?

A rectenna is a rectifying antenna, a special type of antenna that is used to directly convert microwave energy into DC electricity. Its elements are usually arranged in a multi element phased array with a mesh pattern reflector element to make it directional.

A simple rectenna can be constructed from a Schottky diode placed between antenna dipoles. The diode rectifies the current induced in the antenna by the microwaves. Schottky diodes are used because they have the lowest voltage drop and highest speed and therefore waste the least amount of power due to conduction and switching.

Rectennas are highly efficient at converting microwave energy to electricity. In laboratory environments, efficiencies above 90% have been observed with regularity. Some experimentation has been done with inverse rectennas, converting electricity into microwave energy, but efficiencies are much lower—only in the area of 1%.

Here’s a good article from last July’s Scientific American on SPS in Japan, which also cites the Japanese animated series "Mobile Suit Gundam," which has humanity turning to space-based solar power in the year 2307:


Want to learn more? Check out the Citizens for Space Based Power blog.