Archive for September, 2009

Bundeswehr & Hispasat

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009


Big launch out of the jungle in French Guiana tonight, as an Ariane 5 is scheduled to launch two spacecraft:

The 2,500-kg. COMSATBw-1 plays an important role in the German Bundeswehr’s (German Armed Forces) concept for network-centric operations.  This spacecraft is designed to handle secure information for use by units on deployed missions – including voice, fax, data, video and multimedia applications, with a coverage area that stretches from America to eastern Asia.

COMSATBw-1 will serve as the backbone of a strategic command infrastructure and interface for the Bundeswehr’s tactical arms.  Overall industrial responsibility for the secure communication program is with Milsat Services (a 75% Astrium/25% subsidiary of ND SatCom Defence).

The program’s space segment prime contractor is EADS Astrium, which has booked its two spacecraft for Arianespace launches beginning with COMSATBw-1.  Thales Alenia Space is responsible for integrating the Spacebus satellite bus, while Astrium’s German subsidiary TESAT delivers the payloads.

Accompanying COMSATBw-1 on the upcoming Ariane 5 missions is Amazonas 2, which was built by EADS Astrium using the Eurostar E3000 spacecraft bus, and is to weigh approximately 5,500 kg. at liftoff.  When operational with the Spanish-based HISPASAT telecommunications operator, Amazonas 2 will provide relay capacity over the Americas with a coverage area extending from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.  It carries 54 Ku-band transponders and 10 C-band transponders for the relay of a wide range of communications services, including direct-to-home television.

Watch it live here.

Laser Tag in Space

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009


Goddard’s Laser Ranging Facility aiming laser toward LROGoddard’s Laser Ranging Facility directing a laser (green beam) toward the LRO spacecraft in orbit around the moon (white disk). The moon has been deliberately over-exposed to show the laser. Credit: Tom Zagwodzki/Goddard Space Flight Center

This is pretty cool, via NASA GSFC:

 On certain nights, an arresting green line pierces the sky above NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. It’s a laser directed at the moon, visible when the air is humid. No, we’re not repelling an invasion. Instead, we’re tracking our own spacecraft.

28 times per second, engineers at NASA Goddard fire a laser that travels about 250,000 miles to hit the minivan-sized Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft moving at nearly 3,600 miles per hour as it orbits the moon.

The first laser ranging effort to track a spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit on a daily basis produces distance measurements accurate to about four inches (10 centimeters). For comparison, the microwave stations tracking LRO measure its range to a precision of about 65 feet (20 meters).


Read more about Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Laser Ranging Support, and check out this time-lapse photo video…


Hurl Weapon

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

No, not hurling things into space. We’re talking about hurling, losing your cookies, barfing, blowing chunks — you get the idea.

Here’s an open-source non-lethal weapon designed to make the enemy puke — all for less than $250:

Our first open source Homeland Security non-lethal weapon project – The "THE BEDAZZLER: A Do-it-yourself Handheld LED-Incapacitator".

After attending a conference where the $1 million "sea-sick flashlight" (named "THE DAZZLER") was demonstrated by the US Dept. of Homeland Security, we decided to create our own version. For under $250, you can build your own dazzler and we’ve released the source code, schematics and PCB files to make it easy. A great Arduino project for people who really like blinking LEDs. We also added in a mode selection so you can put it into some pretty color-swirl modes, great for raves and parties!

Just watch…


Another Dimension

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

Former Nixon speechwriter William Safire passed away. He wrote this speech for President Nixon, just in case the Apollo 11 astronauts did not return:

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.


 We’ll miss his writing.


WBMSAT News Bits for September 25, 2009

Friday, September 25th, 2009


Delta II launch of two STSS-Demo satellites proceeds successfully at Cape Canaveral following several rain delays.

[SatNews – 09/25/2009]

Worldview-2 launch date affected by rain delays of launch of the STSS satellites; subject to day-to-day rescheduling.
[SatNews – 09/24/2009]

Next generation secret satellite built and launched by Lockheed Martin for the U.S. government is performing as required following its September 9th launch from Cape Canaveral aboard an Atlas 5 rocket.
[SatNews – 09/24/2009]

SpaceX schedules maiden launch of Falcon-9 rocket for November 29 from Cape Canaveral.
[Satellite Today – 09/24/2009]

The Thor 6 satellite, owned by Telenor Satellite Broadcasting, is ready to be shipped by sea to Kourou in French Guiana for launch scheduled on October 29.
[SatNews – 09/24/2009]

Ukraine plans to export launch vehicles to Latin America, with Cyclone-4 rocket scheduled to launch from Brazil’s Alcantara space center in 2010.
[Satellite Today – 09/24/2009]

Seascape wins U.S. FAA contract for two 3.7m geostationary TeraScan ground stations, for GOES-East and GOES-West, to be installed in Atlantic City.
[SatNews – 09/24/2009]

SkyTerra is to be acquired by Harbinger Capital Partners and taken private in a transaction worth around $280M.
[The Washington Post – 09/24/2009]

EchoStar partners with ViaSat and seeks $483M in federal stimulus money to build and launch a new satellite offering broadband with download speeds of up to 8 megabits per second in 20 states west of the Mississippi river.
[Denver Business Journal – 09/24/2009]

Clipper Tankers selects KVH TracPhone V7 and mini-VSAT Broadband for its fleet.
[PR Newswire – 09/23/2009]

Digital Rapids’ MediaMesh content distribution system receives 2009 STAR (Superior Technology Award Recipient) award from TV Technology Europe magazine at 2009 IBC convention.
[SatNews – 09/23/2009]

Spacecom is reconfiguring Amos 6 communications satellite to handle broadband internet rather than wait for Amos 7 and Amos 8.
[SatNews – 09/23/2009]

India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar mission finds evidence of large quantities of water on surface of Moon.
[SatNews – 09/23/2009]

India, having lost contact with Chandrayaan-1 on August 29, makes up for it on September 23 with launch of seven satellites from a single rocket.
[SatNews – 09/23/2009]

NASA’s MESSENGER to make third and final flyby of Mercury at distance of 142 miles above the surface for final gravity assist to enter Mercury’s orbit in 2011.
[SatNews – 09/23/2009]

Gilat deploys broadband satellite internet service for passengers of Kazakhstans’ national railway.
[MarketWatch – 09/22/2009]

Hughes announces it has shipped more than 1000 HX terminals to provide satellite backhaul for major GSM cellular operator in Southeast Asia.
[PRNewswire – 09/22/2009]

SES World Skies announces multi-year agreement with Netcom Africa to expand delivery of telecom and broadcast television services throughout Nigeria and West Africa.
[SatNews – 09/22/2009]

Global Satellite USA launches world’s first IP54/IK03 certified satellite phone, the Thuraya XT, combining satellite phone functionality with Thuraya’s satellite network.
[SatNews – 09/22/2009]

Asiasat-5 begins commercial service on September 17 at orbital location of 100.5 degrees East with enhance power and coverage over the Asia Pacific region.
[SatNews – 09/22/2009]

Nimiq 5 performing post-launch maneuvers according to plan.
[SatNews – 09/21/2009]

Arianespace Soyuz launches Russian weather satellite from Baikonur Cosmodrome September 17.
[Satellite Today – 09/21/2009]

Japan’s HTV-1 transfer vehicle successfully attaches to International Space Station port for supply mission.
[SatNews – 09/21/2009]

Revenue growth is increasing on steady gains in transponder demand, new report from NSR shows.
[NSR report – September 2009]

The Earth Observation industry has taken rapid strides in the last decade and expanded its application base to new industries outside the military and weather.
[NSR Report – October 2009]

Security of Global Navigation Satellite Systems can be improved by using GPS hidden attributes to cross-check receivers and authenticate the signal.
[insidegnss – September/October 2009]

WBMSAT PS – Satellite Communications Consulting Services

DIY Friday: Surveillance System

Friday, September 25th, 2009


Sure, you can put together your own home surveillance system using webcams and the Internet. Dedicated IP cameras help, but is there a cheaper way to put it all together? And why is it so complicated?

Enter Ugolog (featured on VentureBeat), a very simple service:

Without requiring you to buy or install any software or hardware other than simple web cameras, Ugolog lets you keep an eye on any place you want from the comfort of your own computer. The footage captured by the cameras (and any brand or make will work) is channeled directly to Ugolog’s servers, allowing you to watch the recordings from anywhere, anytime with any browser.

This type of easy, more casual surveillance clearly has many applications — many of them not as nefarious as one would think. You can check in on your pets while you’re on vacation, on your sleeping baby from another room. You can survey your home if you’re on vacation, or make sure your employees are hard at work when you’re out of the office.

 CNET did a piece on these solution, and Ugolog got good reviews there, too. If you get burglarized, you know you’re PC/Mac/laptop may vanish. So will your recorded video of the perpetrator, so having it stored on a remote server is probably a good idea.

 Or get creative, as these students at UT Austin did with a remote control tank…

Swiss Cube in Space

Thursday, September 24th, 2009


Yesterday’s PSLV launch carried the first Swiss satellite, built entirely by engineering students. No, its not a secret…

"Mission accomplished," said an emotional Muriel Noca, project coordinator at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). "I can’t believe how smoothly it went as so many things can go wrong."

The SwissCube blasted off at 08.22 Central European Time (CET) on Wednesday morning from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in southeastern India, atop the country’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

Twenty minutes later, after ditching the four stages of the rocket, the satellite was placed in orbit at an altitude of 720 kilometres.

A first signal and sign of life brought a huge sigh of relief from the packed EPFL auditorium who came to watch the historic launch.

SwissCube was developed by students from five Swiss engineering schools, three universities and private industry partners, each "bringing their part of the puzzle" under the supervision of the EPFL.

It follows the CubeSat standard, protocols developed by Stanford University and California Polytechnic State University in the United States in 2000, which allow universities and research centres to build their own satellites.

"Building a satellite is something enormous for students. Most of them didn’t know anything about rockets or satellites when they started so we had eight people teaching the 200 students," explained Maurice Borgeaud, director of the EPFL Space Centre.

More about the students in this video…



PSLV Works — Again!

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009


The rocket scientists at ISRO are indeed a happy bunch today:

In its sixteenth flight conducted from Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota today (September 23, 2009), ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, PSLV-C14 successfully launched the 960 kg Indian remote sensing satellite Oceansat-2 and six nano satellites for international customers into a polar Sun Synchronous Orbit (SSO). This was the fifteenth successful flight of PSLV. PSLV-C14

After a 51 hour count down, PSLV-C14 lifted off from the first launch pad at SDSC SHAR, at 11:51 am IST with the ignition of the core first stage. The important flight events included the separation of the first stage, ignition of the second stage, separation of the payload fairing at about 125 km altitude after the vehicle had cleared the dense atmosphere, second stage separation, third stage ignition, third stage separation, fourth stage ignition and fourth stage cut-off.

The 960 kg main payload, Oceansat-2, was the first satellite to be injected into orbit at 1081 seconds after lift-off at an altitude of 728 km. About 45 seconds later, four of the six nano satellites were separated in sequence. The initial signals indicate normal health of the satellites.

Oceansat-2 is the sixteenth remote sensing satellite of India. The state-of-the-art Oceansat-2 carries three payloads and has the shape of a cuboid with two solar panels projecting from its sides.

The eight band Ocean Colour Monitor (OCM) payload carried by Oceansat-2 images a swath (strip of land or ocean) of 1420 km width with a resolution of 360 metre and works in the Visible and Near Infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. The Ku-band Scatterometer with a 1 metre diameter antenna rotating at 20 rpm, works at a frequency of 13.515 GHz. The Scatterometer covers a swath of 1400 km and operates continuously. ROSA is a GPS Receiver for atmospheric sounding by radio occultation built by Italian Space Agency (ASI).

Soon after separation from PSLV fourth stage, the two solar panels of OCEANSAT-2 were automatically deployed. The satellite’s health is continuously monitored from the ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Networks (ISTRAC) Spacecraft Control Centre at Bangalore with the help of a network of ground stations at Bangalore, Lucknow, Mauritius, Biak in Indonesia and Svalbard and Tromso in Norway as well as a station in Troll, Antarctica.

Here’s the video report, via Star News:


Think Latency

Monday, September 21st, 2009


ND Satcom CEO Norbert Hölzle is excited. His company has developed a "zero latency" product, which, appropriately, has no name/brand. Don’t believe it? You’re probably not alone. Since when have we exceeded the speed of light?

He was interviewed by Satellite Today’s IBC E-Daily recently…

IBC E-Daily: What are your expectations for the latency product?

Hölzle: When I initially saw this, I was a little skeptical, but at our headquarters, the new system was faster than my laptop. It is impressive. Inside the industry, you can talk about buzz words such as encryption, bits and bytes, but this will not win a customer outside the satcom industry. But if you are able to show customers that an SAP log-on can work in the desert, for example, that will be of interest.

IBC E-Daily: Does this latency market open up new customer segments?

Hölzle: On the booth, we have had three customers that want to have a demonstration over the next few weeks, and they are definitely not using our modems right now. The combination of this solution with the newly launched SkyWan IDU 1070 modem is something that will definitely open up new markets.

IBC E-Daily: How do you sell the product to a new customer base?

Hölzle: We will target business customers that need equipment in the field for business critical applications. One option is through our own sales force, another option is through a partnership model. In South Africa, for example, we go through the service provider Q-Kon, so if someone wants to buy this, we will forward them to Q-Kon, and we will build our partners for this type of system. We also have an interested South American partner organization. You have to map this on the sales channel, because you don’t want to tread on their toes. The most important thing is not just to develop the product, but how you sell it and go to the market. You have the danger that a partner may see you as a competitor, so we have to convince them they are not. We are not the biggest player in the modem field, but I think the latency product will help change the ball game for us.

Aren’t you glad he cited SAP? Sure, there are plenty of businesses located in the middle of nowhere that run SAP. Right.


Satcom biggest drawbacks are cost and latency. When you have no choice, you bear down and take it. Well, now ISPs in Africa have another option: the Seacom fiber optic cable. Tata Communications, for one, is expected to reduce latency from 500 to 170 milliseconds:

 Tata Communications, which is one of the largest telecommunication companies in the world and handles 17 per cent of the world’s ISP traffic, says that soon it will be able to reduce latency time from 500 to 170 milliseconds.

The reduction has been made possible due to the switching from satellite-based transmission to fibre-based transmission through the 17,000 km Seacom cable system that went live a few weeks ago.

 CNN’s report was excellent…

SES is ready for a cat fight. Their African business is at stake, and "partnering" with Intersat Africa is their first move:

 The company plans to initially sell ASTRA2Connect to countries like East and Central Africa, including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition, Newtec, a manufacturer of state-of-the-art satellite equipment and a long-term partner for ASTRA2Connect, will supply Intersat Africa with the respective satellite broadband user terminals based on its award-winning Sat3Play technology.
 “East Africa has recently been connected to the Information Superhighway on submarine fibre, but unfortunately only the users in urban areas will benefit from this internet revolution,” Abdul Bakhrani, CEO of Intersat Africa said in a statement. “The last mile connectivity is still a challenge and this is whereSES’ ( News – Alert) broadband service and satellite capacity fit in. The ASTRA2Connect service also complements our Rural Internet Kiosk programm, which will empower thousands of Africans with high speed internet.”

 Astra2Connect. Brilliant. Now let’s see about helping organizations like DrumNet with satcom and showing you’re not all about making money on space segment. Quick: deploy!


Do we sense another case of social/marketing latency? Too little, too late?


DIY Friday: Sidewalk Telescope

Friday, September 18th, 2009


Hey, good telescopes aren’t cheap. But can you build one yourself? Popular Mechanics published a piece last fall on How to Build a Dobsonian  Telescope:

When I set out to build a portable telescope, known as a Dobsonian telescope, the first step had me stymied—where do you find 6 ft of 8-in.-dia cardboard tubing?

I’m a physicist by training, an amateur astronomer by inclination and an occasional visitor to the home center for DIY projects. A massive tube is not usually on my shopping list. I stood in the store with meticulous notes on the materials I needed, but no one could find them. "Um, I think it might be called Sonotube," I repeated, until someone pointed me toward the concrete form tubes in the garden area. And no, my local hardware store did not carry Teflon.

I had heard that building a Dobsonian was simple and inexpensive. This is in fact true—but collecting the materials takes some doing. This is a far cry from John Dobson’s experience when he first built the portable, sidewalk telescopes that now bear his name. "We were just scroungers," he tells PM. "The whole thing was made out of junk. The cardboard tubes were lying around. The shingles used to mount the mirror were blown off roofs in storms. We built the mount from window cutouts from schoolhouse doors that had been thrown away." At age 91, Dobson is as passionate about building inexpensive telescopes as he was when he built his first one in 1956. When I brag that the plastics supply store where I finally found Teflon gave me some scrap for free, he exclaims, "Good for you!"

I did not admit to him that I didn’t grind my own telescope mirrors—something he did with two porthole windows and sand paper—and that I didn’t build my own eyepiece out of binoculars. (Optics these days can be purchased in kits online.) Nonetheless, the instructions I used were very similar to Dobson’s original Plans for Building A Sidewalk Telescope. I based my design on the telescope plans provided by Ray Cash, a member of the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers, modifying the plans even further with a few ready-made parts.

Dobson claims he didn’t invent the sidewalk telescope, as he had lots of help with his early prototypes. However, Dobson did choose to promote his sidewalk telescopes at the cost of his longtime home. After 23 years living in a Vedanta (a branch of Hinduism) monastery, where he built telescopes surreptitiously in the basement and then snuck out at night to introduce the neighborhood kids to the stars, he was told he had to choose between life as a monk or as a telescope builder. That was in 1967. Today, Dobson still tours the world to teach telescope building. The collection process turned out to be an enjoyable treasure hunt—but don’t worry, the source list we put together below explains how to find everything. As I sawed and drilled, I murmured a fairly steady mantra to myself of "Why on earth do I have to do that? Oh. Wow. That’s brilliant." The design isn’t intuitive or obvious, but it is wonderfully elegant.

In essence, it’s a telescope built onto a gun mount, which balances through friction as it swivels on an LP record. My total cost was around $400. You may be able to buy a similarly sized commercial telescope at that price these days, but you wouldn’t have nearly as much fun. The actual construction took a weekend, and it would be a great project to tackle with kids.

Dobson may be nonchalant about how he used only junk to build his scopes, but it took an impressive mind to figure out how to use that junk in such ingenious ways. Building my telescope, watching it swivel so smoothly, seeing the stars, I basked in the reflected glory of that ingenuity. I am hooked. I want to build another one—and next time, I’m going to grind my own mirrors.


It started in San Francisco with the Sidewalk Astronomers. Find yourself an astronomy club where you are and get into it. This is the International Year of Astronomy. What have you done so far?