Archive for March, 2009

Alfvén Waves

Thursday, March 19th, 2009


Twisting waves of the Sun’s corona can help us understand solar weather, via PhysOrg:

The massive solar twists, known as Alfvén waves, were discovered in the lower atmosphere with the Swedish Solar Telescope in the Canary Islands by scientists from Queen’s University Belfast, the University of Sheffield and California State University Northridge.

The increase in solar temperature from approximately 6000 degrees on the visible surface of the Sun (photosphere) to well over a million degrees in the higher overlaying solar corona, has remained at the forefront of astrophysical research for over half a century. The new observations reveal the process behind this phenomenon, whereby these unique magnetic oscillations spread upward from the solar surface to the Sun’s corona with an average speed of over 20km per second, carrying enough energy to heat the plasma to well over a few million degrees.

Prof. Mathioudakis, the leader of the Queen’s University Belfast Solar Group, said, "Understanding solar activity and its influence on the Earth’s climate is of paramount importance for human kind. The Sun is not as quiet as many people think. The solar corona, visible from Earth only during a total solar eclipse, is a very dynamic environment which can erupt suddenly, releasing more energy than 10 billion atomic bombs. Our study makes a major advancement in the understanding of how the million-degree corona manages to achieve this feat."

Alfvén waves are caused by the twisting of structures in the Sun’s atmosphere and can be detected by the periodic velocity signals emitted. The Alfvén waves detected in this study were found to be associated with a large magnetic field concentration on the surface of the Sun, approximately twice the size of the British Isles. These strong magnetic fields manifest as bright features, often with lifetimes exceeding one hour. The Swedish Solar Telescope is the largest solar telescope in Europe and produces some of the sharpest images currently available. Bearing in mind that the Sun is 150 million kilometres away, the measurements carried out are equivalent to reading the time on Big Ben in London from Tokyo.

Bat With Balls

Thursday, March 19th, 2009


Major League baseball is being played all over Florida lately. But there’s the story of the real bat that clung to Space Shuttle’s external tank during launch that’s got people talking:

A bat that was clinging to space shuttle Discovery’s external fuel tank during the countdown to launch the STS-119 mission remained with the spacecraft as it cleared the tower, analysts at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center concluded.

Based on images and video, a wildlife expert who provides support to the center said the small creature was a free tail bat that likely had a broken left wing and some problem with its right shoulder or wrist. The animal likely perished quickly during Discovery’s climb into orbit.

Because the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge coexists inside Kennedy Space Center, the launch pads have a number of measures available, including warning sirens, to deter birds and other creatures from getting too close. The launch team also uses radar to watch for birds before a shuttle liftoff.

Nevertheless, the bat stayed in place and it was seen changing positions from time to time.

Launch controllers spotted the bat after it had clawed onto the foam of the external tank as Discovery stood at Launch Pad 39A. The temperature never dropped below 60 degrees at that part of the tank, and infrared cameras showed that the bat was 70 degrees through launch.

The final inspection team that surveys the outside of the shuttle and tank for signs of ice buildup observed the small bat, hoping it would wake up and fly away before the shuttle engines ignited.

It was not the first bat to land on a shuttle during a countdown. Previously, one of the winged creatures landed on the tank during the countdown to launch shuttle Columbia on its STS-90 mission in 1998.


Alas, poor batstronaut, I knew him well.


Furious Euros

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009


"The commission process, if it goes ahead, is likely to set an ugly precedent that will ultimately destroy the fabric of international satellite communications and co-operation that has taken several decades to evolve," one satellite operator said. "What is to stop the Russians or other nations in Africa from unilaterally authorising their own systems to provide global coverage without co-ordinating with neighbouring countries? If all nations followed the commission process, then the end result is likely to be such interference that no satellite will be capable of operating."

That quote, from The Guardian, sums it up. If there’s one process all satellite operators respect in the satcom business, it’s making sure frequency coordinations are done properly and honestly. There’s speculation the former Luxembourg Parliament’s social committee president was behind this, so as to strengthen the EU’s regulatory powers.

Chris Forrester reports in Rapid TV News the winners will be Solaris Mobile and Inmarsat, and it could get ugly:

Today (March 18) the EU is expected to announce that Dublin-based Solaris Mobile (a j-v between SES Astra and Eutelsat) and London-based Inmarsat will each receive a slice of S-Band satellite bandwidth which will enable Europe-wide services like DVB-SH mobile TV. But there’s already controversy over the decision, with the powerful ITU arguing that the EU’s decision sets a dangerous precedent.

The ITU is responsible, amongst other things, for ensuring safe and interference-free coordination of various satellite operators and their terrestrial broadcasting counterparts. The complaint raised by the ITU argues that there’s nothing to stop other similar players, like Russia, or African or Middle East groupings now issuing their own – uncoordinated – ‘permissions to operate’.

"We see the EU as an unnecessary level [of regulation]," said Aarti Holla-Maini, secretary general of the European Space Operators Association. The allegation is that the decisions have not been reached fairly and may be uncompetitive, favouring European-based businesses.

You’re not surprised, are you? TerreStar and ICO Global, both U.S.-based, will likely litigate this, and Solaris Mobile has Luxembourg-based SES backing it up. Relationships do matter in business and government.

Solaris Mobile will use the S-band payload on Eutelsat’s W2A spacecraft. Launch preparations are in full swing, and the S-band coverage is mostly western Europe…


Go for GOCE

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

The ESA’s gravity spacecraft couldn’t get off the ground yesterday, but it’s a "go" for today:

Attempt One Issue:

“The doors on the launch service tower did not open,” noted ESA. ”Due to this anomaly, the tower was held in position and did not move back as required for a launch.”

I suspect some people around the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York will be dealing with gravity issues today. More about GOCE:

Clarified by Isaac Newton in the 17th century, gravity is a fundamental force of nature. Everything that has mass is pulled by gravity. As Earth is not a perfect sphere and its interior has layers and zones of different density, gravity varies around the globe.
Gravity and its variation in space are fundamental for every dynamic process on Earth’s surface and in its interior. Improving our knowledge of how gravity affects the interaction between these processes has practical benefits in today’s changing world.

An accurate gravity map – the geoid – is also crucial for geodesy applications and for defining a sea surface height reference model with which to accurately survey ocean circulation patterns and sea-level changes.



Satellite News Bits

Monday, March 16th, 2009




For the week ending 13 March 2009, courtesy of Bill McDonald:

Inmarsat reports 20% jump in revenue, representative of strong earnings being reported by the world’s largest satellite-services companies, apparently unaffected by current economic climate. [Wall Street Journal – 03/13/2009]

North Korea notifies international agencies that it plans to launch a satellite between April 4 and April 8; U.S. and south Korea say there are signs North Korea may test a missile capable of reaching Alaska. [Bloomberg – 03/12/2009]

Japan warns North Korea, saying it can legally shoot down any threatening object if it falls toward its territory. [New York Times – 03/13/2009]

Five years since last its reboot, Odyssey’s backup systems are restored by a restart, and other systems may also be restored. [SatNews – 03/13/2009]

Arianespace and European Space Agency elect to postpone launch of Herschel and Planck satellites to perform additional ground segment checks. [SatNews – 03/13/2009]

Astronauts evacuate International Space Station as a piece of space debris is expected to pass close to the station. [SatNews – 03/12/2009]

The U.S. Air Force will launch the second Wideband Global Satellite Communications satellite aboard an Atlas V rocket on March 14. [Patrick AFB News – 03/12/2009]

Iridium places backup satellite in service for satellite lost in collision with Russian satellite over Siberia in February. [msnbc – 03/12/2009]

W3C satellite commissioned by Eutelsat, to be built by Thales Alenia Space, a rapid satellite order following the decision in January not to integrate W2M into its fleet due to a major anomaly which occurred during its transfer to its operating orbit position. [SatNews – 03/12/2009]

Networkfleet, Inc. uses high-resolution satellite and hybrid maps to observe vehicles in a real-world setting with 3-D Earth imagery. [SatNews – 03/12/2009]

SpaceX completes full mission firing of Merlin vacuum engine. [Satellite today – 03/12/2009]

Financially struggling Sirius XM Radio plans to stream its subscription radio service to the iPhone and iPod Touch devices from Apple this spring. [CED Magazine – 03/12/2009]

AsiaSat will deregister from U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and terminate its reporting obligations. [Satellite Today – 03/12/2009]

The Society of Satellite Professionals International will induct five new members into its Satellite Hall of Fame on March 25. [SatNews – 03/11/2009]

SES Astra will move Astra 2C satellite from 28.2 degrees East to 31.5 degrees East to take over mission of Astra 5A, which is no longer in service. [Satellite Today – 03/11/2009]

France’s Orange Business Services deploys customized satellite communications system for Bourbon marine services group vessels. [Businesswire – 03/11/2009]

Thales Alenia Space gets contract with JSC "Iss – Reshetnev Company" to build payload for Telkom-3 communications satellite for Indonesian operator PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia TdK. [SatNews – 03/11/2009]

International Launch Services gets contract to launch the ViaSat-1 satellite, to be highest capacity North American satellite with 10 times capacity of other Ka band satellites, under construction by Space Systems Loral, on an ILS Proton in the first half of 2011.  [SatNews – 03/11/2009]

SWE-DISH and Saab announce new on-the-move satellite solution designed for both land and marine applications with close to world-wide coverage using Ku band for up to 10 Mbps broadband communications. [Satellite TMCnet – 03/10/2009]

The European Defence Agency announces plan to set up procurement cell to coordinate EU member states’ orders of commercial satellite communications services to improve access at competitive prices. [DefenseNews – 03/09/2009]

NASA’s planet-hunting telescope, Kepler, was launched into space Friday night, March 6, on a mission to search for planets similar to Earth in the far reaches of the Milky Way. [R&D – 03/09/2009]

Satellite and cable TV providers seek to increase profit margins by promoting pay-per-view pornography. [AdvertisingAge – 03/09/2009]

Connecticut satellite and cable TV providers pursue customers who may lose signal as switch from analog to digital TV broadcasting takes place there. [Harford Courant – 03/08/2009]


Get The Shovel Ready

Monday, March 16th, 2009


I don’t know whether this new service announced by CTC and AlphaStar is a project that’s as "shovel ready" as the economic stimulus package requires — or whether we should get the shovel out to bury it.

Here’s the pitch:

AlphaStar International, Inc. and Computers & Tele-Comm, Inc., (CTC) announced today a unique joint venture to provide very high speed WiMAX 4G services for any area anywhere across the entire USA. According to CTC President, Graeme Gibson, "The Digital Divide just got smaller. Today with this announcement, rural areas with no access to broadband fiber finally have a solution to getting connected at 4G speeds. Our mutually developed hybrid model takes advantage of the AlphaStar Teleport, a facility originally built by the U.S. government as part of President Reagan’s Star Wars initiative. AlphaStar (tour) can track any area of the USA including Hawaii and US territories to deliver true 4G speeds. Costs are contained by using the satellite primarily for the backhaul of Internet bandwidth." Bandwidth is then relayed by ground based WiMAX transmitters although the system can also serve to supply Metro WiFi systems or be used for mobile and maritime applications as well as Disaster Recovery and homeland security purposes. Low cost radios can be used rather than a two-way satellite receiver at customer locations. The Teleport can also deliver video and audio streaming. By caching the AV streams and large portions of the internet locally at the WiMAX transmitter performance is dramatically improved at affordable cost.

Great idea and I hope the pricing is right, but I’ve got my doubts. AlphaStar uses AMC-6 (according to their less-than-ideal Web site), which does not cover Alaska and Hawaii. Perhaps my old friends at Americom can persuade them to use AMC-21, which does cover all 50 states (and the Caribbean, which is a bonus).

Excellent combination of technologies for rural broadband and I hope it works out for them.


STS-119 Launch

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

DIY Friday: iToad

Friday, March 13th, 2009


Very cool: the iToad:

 i-Toad: Domestic toad, eats dust and bits of this and that. Works independently, requiring no supervision or instructions.

So appealing, it’s tempting to put a collar and leash on him and head for the outdoors….

Materials: felted Romney and Jacob wool, glass eyes, a ‘Roomba’ base.
i-Toad’s sensors are fully functional with windows for vision designed in the wool body.

 Does it really work? Check it out in this video:






Great Advertising

Thursday, March 5th, 2009


Is that what the Iridium CEO said after one of his spacecraft collided with a Russian one? Oh, you bet he did:

The dramatic collision of one of Iridium Satellite LLC’s telecommunications satellites with an old Russian military satellite had one main business impact, according to Iridium’s CEO: "Great advertising."

At the same time, Matt Desch called for improved international efforts to monitor the positions of satellites and potentially dangerous space debris.

The collision "didn’t really have any financial impact" on privately held Iridium because it had a spare satellite ready to take over and there was little service disruption, he said.

But the highly reported incident did bring Iridium’s relatively low-profile service into the public orbit.

"I’d say that was some of the best advertising I could have gotten, though I wouldn’t do that again if I could help it," Desch said in an interview.

Desch said the event could generate business for Iridium, which has 66 satellites in orbit providing telecom services to governments and businesses like shipping companies that need communications in remote parts of the world.

One possible opportunity would be to lease out capacity in its next generation of satellites to hold cameras for organizations and governments to help keep better track of other satellites and ever-increasing amounts of space junk.

The Russian satellite involved in the collision with Iridium’s was no longer active.

"We clearly would like to see some better information about satellite positions," he said.

"(We hope) this incident will provide impetus for the international space community to find better ways to do that."

Desch said he expected talks to take place between scientists, governments and satellite companies in coming months about ways to improve and share information.

While the U.S. government does some monitoring, Desch said that tracking every satellite and every piece of debris in space would be a "very very complex, expensive task."

No single entity has that responsibility today, he noted.

"Our satellites are in an interesting orbit to be able to monitor the area around them," he said.

"Perhaps there’s opportunities for secondary payloads in future … to provide a better view of space," he said. "There have been discussions around that."

Desch said he expected Iridium to become part of a publicly traded company through its planned purchase of GHL Acquisition Corp, an affiliate of Greenhill & Co, in the second quarter.

Iridium LLC was initially backed by Motorola Inc but changed hands early 2001 after a group of investors, bought its assets after it filed for bankruptcy in December 2000.