Archive for July, 2009

DIY Friday: Vortex Cannon

Friday, July 31st, 2009

This is pretty awesome: a vortex cannon demonstration, seen on BBC One:


Can I make one myself? You bet: Instructables has it for you.

This one is so easy to make and gives great results. You will need a fog machine to generate the rings for both of these projects.

What You Need…

1. 32 Gallon Plastic Trash Can
2. Heavy Duty Trash Bag
3. Golf Ball
4. 2 Bunjee Cords
5. Tape
6. Box cutter


Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?


Bankrupt in Bermuda, Desperate in Delaware

Thursday, July 30th, 2009


Remember ProtoStar? We do. They’re the company that launched a satellite into orbit about a year ago, and stationed it over East Asia. Bold move by the Bermuda-headquartered, San Francisco-based company (but incorporated in Delaware). They filed for the orbital slot through Singapore, hoping to get the satellite coordinated quickly. Launched another satellite only a couple of months ago. Looks like a good business to back with some venture capital.

Well, it was a good business (and might be again sometime in the future). They filed for bankruptcy yesterday:

Protostar filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Wednesday after lenders agreed to finance the company’s operations until it sells its satellites.

ProtoStar is suffering from a liquidity crunch after two customers decided to stop using one of its satellites – moves that forced the company to shut the operations of that satellite down and stop collecting revenue from it.

Investors including New Enterprise Associates, Redshift Ventures and VantagePoint Venture Partners have provided the company with more than $182 million in equity since 2004.

Chief Financial Officer Cynthia M. Pelini said in court documents that lenders demanded ProtoStar pay off its debt. However, the company was able to negotiate an arrangement under which the lenders would provide enough financing to keep the company’s operations going until it sells one or both of the satellites.

ProtoStar is now seeking permission from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del., to borrow up to $16 million under a bankruptcy loan from a group of lenders led by Wells Fargo and use cash collateral securing claims from secured noteholders.

Protostar also is seeking permission to enter into a multiple draw term loan agreement with lenders led by Credit Suisse, Cayman Islands Branch.

Without the financing, ProtoStar said it wouldn’t have enough cash to fund its operations while it tries to sell its assets or cover expenses related to its bankruptcy case.

Separately, ProtoStar urged the bankruptcy court to issue an order spelling out the protections it’s entitled to now that it’s in Chapter 11.

ProtoStar, which has companies that operate in foreign jurisdictions such as Bermuda, Indonesia, Korea and Singapore, said creditors and counterparties to leases and other contracts “may not be well-versed” with the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. As a result, they may not be aware that they can’t seize ProtoStar assets located outside the U.S. or terminate agreements while the company is in bankruptcy.

ProtoStar has $528 million (book value) in assets and $463 million in debt, according to court papers.

Interesting. After trying to bulldog it’s way through frequency coordinations (generally a very civil discussion among engineers and regulators), using local offices for convenience and favorable tax jurisdictions to minimize what they owe to the U.S. government, the company is arguing for protection from the courts in Delaware. How you do business permeates your organization — and affects customer relationships.

Probably scared away some customers, too. Without paying customers, what good is your rocket science business?

If the satellites are for sale, we’ve got an opportunity for another operator to buy them.


Solar Filter

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009


Great shot by Thierry Legault, using special solar filters, of the ISS and shuttle, silhouetted against the Sun. Via OnOrbit



Cirque du Espace

Monday, July 27th, 2009


Guy Laliberté may not be happy about his biography by Ian Halperin, but he must be ecstatic about going into space in September:

He is scheduled for launch September 30 aboard the Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. His crewmates will be rookie spacecraft commander Maxim Suraev, a colonel in the Russian air force, and NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams, a shuttle veteran making his second long-duration voyage on the station.

Laliberté will spend nine days aboard the lab complex before returning to Earth aboard the Soyuz TMA-14 capsule October 11 with outgoing station commander Gennady Padalka and NASA flight engineer Michael Barratt. Williams and Suraev will remain aboard the space station as part of the Expedition 21 crew.

"First of all, I would like to say how privileged and honored I am to be flying with these two men," Laliberté said in Houston, where he is training for his upcoming flight. "I feel totally confident. They have been generous sharing with me their knowledge and their advice."

And he’s only paying $35 million for the flight. That will pay quite a few rocket scientist salaries.

Think of the ideas he’ll have for his Cirque du Soleil shows after he return. Zero gravity, anyone?


DIY Friday: Head-Mounted Water Cannon

Friday, July 24th, 2009

So this may not be related to rocket science, but it is an awesome little project. Awesome. A head-mounted water cannon, courtesy of Make and John Young:

Let’s face it: At some point this summer, you’re going to be in a water fight. Whether it’s at a family barbecue or an office picnic, some 12-year-old is going to leer at you from behind 25 bucks worth of store-bought plastic, and that little punk is going to think that the orange and blue Mega Awesome Hydrolator 9000 they’re clutching is the last word, the ultima ration regnum, in neighborhood water warfare.

Think again, punk. With about two hours of effort and the parts listed on the next page, you can hack together a water weapon of such power, such style, such extraordinary and exuberant overkill, that you’ll be out of the store-bought leagues forever. Lock yourself in the garage, play the A-Team theme, and emerge at the end of your build montage with a pressurized, stainless steel, head-mounted water cannon that packs five gallons of icy-cold water at 100 psi.

 This video has it all:






Total Solar Eclipse

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009


Today’s news in Asia is about the total solar eclipse, the longest of the century:

The path of the Moon’s umbral shadow begins in India and crosses through Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and China. After leaving mainland Asia, the path crosses Japan’s Ryukyu Islands and curves southeast through the Pacific Ocean where the maximum duration of totality reaches 6 min 39 s. A partial eclipse is seen within the much broader path of the Moon’s penumbral shadow, which includes most of eastern Asia, Indonesia, and the Pacific Ocean.


Check out Xinhua’s photo gallery, and, if you can bear it, this TV news report…


Jupiter Collision

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Australian Anthony Wesley has discovered an impact on Jupiter, and confirmed by NASA’s JPL. The local story, via the Sydney Morning Herald:

 An amateur Australian astronomer has set the space-watching world on fire after discovering that a rare comet or asteroid had crashed into Jupiter, leaving an impact the size of Earth.

Anthony Wesley, 44, a computer programmer from Murrumbateman, a village north of Canberra, made the discovery about 1am yesterday using his backyard 14.5-inch reflecting telescope.

The impact would have occurred no more than two days earlier and will only be visible for another few days.



 Check out Sky and Telescope’s Red Spot Transit Table for reference.


Yeah, reminds me of the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite…



Welcome Back Horowitz

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

While I was away earlier this month, Andy Pasztor wrote a piece in the WSJ on former SES AMERICOM CEO Ed Horowitz teaming up with former International Launch Services CEO Mark Albrecht to form U.S. Space:

A clutch of former Pentagon brass is helping to start a company that offers a new service: satellites intended solely for military communications that would be built, launched and owned by private investors.

The new company, called U.S. Space LLC, attempts to meet a need that the U.S. military has struggled to fill. As U.S. forces deploy to out-of-the-way regions, the Pentagon frequently needs more satellite capacity for communications and distribution of video surveillance than it can get its hands on.

The military’s own satellites are expensive, and often take too long to deploy to satisfy fast-changing battlefield needs. Meanwhile, the military hasn’t always been able to lease sufficient bandwith on traditional commercial satellites, particularly in remote areas such as Afghanistan.

The new company intends to build and launch relatively small and inexpensive commercial satellites that would be optimized for military use and leased only to military customers, according to Mark Albrecht, the company’s chairman and co-founder.

Backers said the price of the satellites would be held down by keeping them small, modular and relatively basic, without tailoring them for special needs and piling on bells and whistles.

"This is absolutely responsive" to the Pentagon’s needs for quickly supplementing current capacity wherever it’s needed, said Mr. Albrecht, a former head of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s international rocket business.

The company’s board members count three former Air Force generals, including retired Lt. Gen. Michael Hamel, who until recently served as the military’s top uniformed space-acquisition official; retired Major General James Armor, a former space policy maker; retired Major General Craig Weston, who is also the president and chief executive of U.S. Space. The company’s backers include firms headed by former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former Defense Secretary William Cohen.

Each proposed high-altitude satellite is envisioned to cost less than half of the roughly $350 million price tag for building and launching a large, top-of-the-line commercial satellite. The Pentagon and various national-security customers already lease significant commercial capacity, often at expensive spot rates that by some estimates amount to more than $800 million annually.

In addition to being less costly, the venture aims to be more flexible because the in-orbit locations and transmission frequencies specifically will be intended for military uses.

The U.S. Space models are intended to be ready for service in roughly three years, versus a decade or more in development for most Pentagon satellites.

The project is risky, partly because no firm financing or contracts to supply capacity have been signed. The Pentagon is notorious for balking at long-term satellite leasing arrangements.

But military brass "have really endorsed" the commercial approach and "encouraged us to continue the discussions," said Edward Horowitz, a U.S. Space co-founder and former president of the U.S. unit of global satellite-services giant SES Global.

Industrial firms backing the venture include a group of second-tier aerospace contractors led by Orbital Sciences Corp., which is in line to build the satellites and launch them with a beefed-up version of its Minotaur rockets.

Ed was the inspiration and force behind this blog, and Mark was at helm of ILS when they began publishing their launch blogs. They will surely impact the commercial space business.



STS-127 Launch

Thursday, July 16th, 2009


At last, the STS-127 mission launches into space. Shuttle launches are still the best to watch:


Broadband Stimulus in Space

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009


Terrestar-1 was launched a couple of weeks ago. In-orbit testing is going well, and the antenna is up. Wish we could say the same about the Solaris Mobile bird.

As we’ve blogged before, the company behind it has an interesting propostion: a diverse path for communicating via smartphone.  No signal? No problem: connect via satellite.

More interesting is they’ll be one of many satcom-based communications companies going after some of the US$7.2 billion set aside for broadband, as reported by the Wall Street Journal:

 The launch is significant because it could make the case to policymakers, who may have government grants or business to offer, that satellite Internet service is a viable alternative to cable or cellular hookups.

The sheer size of TerreStar’s satellite, which has a 60-foot antenna, will ensure that military personnel, emergency responders, and rural customers are always connected, said TerreStar President Jeff Epstein.

TerreStar has developed a smart phone that operates both on its satellite network and a traditional cellular network. The company has secured a roaming agreement with AT&T Inc. (T), and it could pursue similar agreements with other wireless carriers.

"Off the network grid, you can make calls via the satellite," Epstein said. "It’s a redundant path."

TerreStar will be among the first satellite carriers to offer Internet speeds that are comparable to high-speed WiFi or cellular broadband. That could make the company eligible for some of the $7.2 billion in economic stimulus money for high-speed Internet connections in unserved and rural areas.

Right now, government officials and industry analysts say satellite Internet service is too spotty and slow to be a good candidate for the government money.

The advantage of satellite service, however, is that it can cover much wider swaths of the country than other types of connections.

With a robust network, satellite could become the ideal method to deliver high-speed Internet to sparsely populated areas, a top priority of President Barack Obama.

But TerreStar’s Internet service rollout might be too late for an economic stimulus subsidy. By law, the government Internet grant money must be distributed by the end of September 2010, which means grant makers will start allocating the last round of funds sometime next spring.

Before TerreStar can start selling voice and data service, it has to test its network in orbit. Epstein said he wants to complete that testing by the end of the year.

SkyTerra Communications Inc. (SKYT) has similar plans to offer mobile Internet services. It announced earlier this month that it will launch one of two next-generation satellites in the first half of 2010.

Both SkyTerra and TerreStar have agreements with Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) and Infineon Technologies AG (IFNNY) to develop more models of regular-size satellite-cellular devices.

More power to them!

Here’s the launch video, courtesy of Space Systems/Loral