Archive for March, 2012

WBMSAT Satellite Industry News Bits 03/02/2012

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

UK Scientists to help satellites dodge sun storms, by giving enough advance warning to allow operators to move, reconfigure, or shut down satellites in harm’s way.
[Reuters – 03/02/2012]

Military strives to increase bandwidth and link satellite and terminal design while turning to commercial suppliers for hosted payloads, as bandwidth demand is not reduced by two wars winding down.
[Defense Systems – 03/02/2012]

The launch of the first Mobile User Objective System satellite in February signals a new era of comms-on-the-move in the Defense Department.
[Defense Systems – 03/02/2012]

Pasta-shaped radio waves beamed across Venice, demonstrating an apparent solution to radio congestion using the twisted radio waves to transmit separate channels on each, at the same frequency.
[R&D Magazine – 03/02/2012]

Loral Space and Communications suspends preparations to spin off the company’s satellite manufacturing division to focus on strategic transaction with unnamed buyer or group of buyers.
[Space News – 03/02/2012]

Syria blocks Red Cross from Homs neighborhood, cutting off communications and jamming satellite signals as it is accused of overrunning district, performing execution style killings and a scorched-earth campaign.
[The Republic – 03/02/2011]

DigitalGlobe’s images of Baba Amr district of Homs, Syria show damage caused by recent fighting between the Syrian army and rebels.
[SatNews – 03/01/2012]

Avanti Communications chief executive says the launch of a third broadband satellite, HYLAS 3, will give the company the ability to “cherry-pick” customers in Africa.
[4-traders – 03/01/2012]

SES drops ASTRA name, renaming ASTRA Broadband Services as SES Broadband Services, and ASTRA2Connect as SES Broadband.
[SatNews – 03/01/2012]

Lockheed Martin announces success of in-orbit testing of the first Advance Extremely High Frequency satellite.
[UPI – 03/01/2012]

Datum Systems as new multi-function data interface for PSM-500 series modems that supports optional Advanced Ethernet IP or Dual G.703 interface.
[SatNews – 03/01/2012]

International Datacasting is awarded new contract to provide the Canadian Forces Radio and Television broadcast services for up to an additional five years. [SatNews – 03/01/2012]

Al Jazeera platform of 10 channels uses new footprint of Eutelsat’s EUTELSAT 7 West A to reach viewers from Morocco to Nigeria.
[Sacramento Bee – 03/01/2012]

Telemar to launch SeaMore, a new, joint full-service communications solution with Vizada for the maritime community.
[SatNews – 03/01/2012]

European Union’s TV information services move to the EUTELSAT 9A satellite.
[Sacramento Bee – 03/01/2012]

Canada’s MDA awaits decision on contract bid to U.S. DARPA before deciding whether to shelve its work on a space vehicle to service satellites and perform other chores in orbit.
[Space News – 03/01/2012]

Hughes Network Systems completes installation of its latest technology, HN NOCXT, for Pagaso Banda Ancha at its new teleport in Toluca, Mexico.
[SatNews – 03/01/2012]

BepiColombo, an ESA mission to the planet Mercury in collaboration with the Japanese space agency is now planned for launch in August 2015.
[SatNews – 03/01/2012]

YAHSAT launches new VSAT service on opening day of CABSAT show.
[Khaleej Times – 02/29/2012]

Laptop stolen a year ago from NASA contained formulas used to control the International Space Station.
[Nextgov – 02/29/2012]

LightSquared CEO Sanjiv Ahuja resigns after failing to get government clearance for the company’s planned LTE network; Philip Falcone takes seat on the board.
[Wireless Week – 02/28/2012]

New research program at Rensselaer Polytechnic seeks to define next generation of low-orbit satellites that are cheaper to launch, longer lived, more maneuverable, and easier to hide; research could also define means to guide dead satellites and debris to Earth.
[R&D Magazine – 02/28/2012]

Raytheon’s U.S. Air Force satellite terminal system achieves two critical milestones and is its first Advanced Extremely High Frequency terminal for the Air Force to enter production.
[Space Daily – 02/28/2012]

SES announces that Saudi-based communications service provider ICCES will use Ku capacity on SES-4 to help customers extend their VSAT-delivered services across Saudi Arabia, North Africa, Libya, Tunisia, and other key countries.
[SatNews – 02/28/2012]

C-COM completes successful testing of Ka-band mobile antenna with Avanti Communications.
[Market Watch – 02/28/2012]

SES signs new long-term multiple transponder contract with GlobeCast.
[SatNews – 02/28/2012]

Comtech EF Data partners with O3b as provider of modems, advanced VSAT solutions, and RF products.
[SatNews – 02/28/2012]

U.S. Air Force undersecretary unveils familiar military space budget strategy.
[Satellite Today – 02/27/2012]

Second Ariane 5 launch in 2012, scheduled for May to orbit Japan’s JCSAT-13 and Vietnam’s VINASAT-2, completes its initial assembly at spaceport in French Guiana. [SatNews – 02/27/2012]

Comtech Telecommunications Corp receives $2.0 million order to support global maritime fleet upgrade.
[Market Watch – 02/27/2012]

Etisalat signs with Intelsat for multi-year capacity on Intelsat 22, scheduled to launch in late March 2012.
[SatNews – 02/27/2012]

SeaSpace becomes first commercial company to provide an NPP solution to customers, as it releases its first NPP image to be broadcast over California since Direct Broadcast was turned on earlier that day by NASA.
[SatNews- 02/27/2012]

Boeing Defence Australia pursues renewal of operations contract at Pine Gap satellite intelligence facility near Alice Springs that it lost to Raytheon in 2005 after holding the contract for 30 years.
[SatNews – 02/27/2012]

ITU considers application of Azerbaijan for new orbital position.
[TMCnet – 02/26/2012]

The MagLev Launcher

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Awesome idea: using a 20 km (12.7 mile) evacuated tunnel to launch payloads into space using magnetic-levitation technology. Where do you start with such a grand scheme? Try the inventor of mag-lev, James Powell.

The company leading the charge is Startram. Next Big Future published an interview with Mr. Powell the other day, which I found very interesting:

Question 1: How did the Startram concept originate?
Gordon Danby and I invented the superconducting Maglev transportation system in 1966 when we were working for Brookhaven National Laboratory. Based on our 1966 inventions, Japan has built and is operating a 300 mph Maglev passenger transport system. Subsequently, in the 1990s, I started working on how to use Maglev to launch large volumes of payloads into orbit at very low cost. I realized that traveling in evacuated tunnels with no air drag, maglev vehicles could reach orbital speeds with extremely low energy inputs. At 8 kilometers per second, it takes only 10 kilowatt hours of electrical energy per kilogram of payload. Using magnetic levitation and propulsion, spacecraft operating in a maglev can propel multi-ton payloads to orbit, albeit at high g forces. I have collaborated with a number of people on this project and we have all come to the conclusion that this concept is feasible.

Question 2: You have developed GEN 1, and GEN 2 concepts. What distinguishes each of these generations?
GEN 1 Startram is designed to accelerate unmanned cargo craft to orbital speed of 8 kilometers per second in an evacuated underground tunnel. The cargo craft leaves the tunnels exit into the atmosphere at an altitude of about 16,000 feet. It then coasts up through the atmosphere into space. Upon reaching the desired orbital altitude, a small on-board rocket is fired to establish the payload’s final orbit. With the aid of an onboard rocket, this GEN 1 system should be able to take cargo into LEO. Due to the 30g loads as it accelerates in the evacuated tunnel GEN 1 would not be able to take humans or live animals into orbit. The GEN 2 system would be considerably more difficult to develop and implement, and would require a magnetically levitated tube leading to an altitude of 60,000 feet, where the atmospheric density is very low. GEN 2, however, would have the capacity to take humans directly to orbit.

Question 3: You have also developed a GEN 1.5 concept.
Yes, the GEN 1.5 would effectively be a hybrid between GEN 1 and GEN 2. GEN 1.5 would use rockets after it entered the atmosphere to overcome atmospheric drag forces. instead of using the GEN 2 magnetically levitated evacuated launch tube that would ascend to an altitude of 60,000 feet, where the atmospheric density is very low. It would need a longer tunnel and an optimized hybrid rocket, but it could still be built within twenty years. It could bring about 100 passengers to orbit on each launch. It could be used for tourism, and would be considerably easier to implement than GEN 2.

Question 4 : You have claimed that a GEN 1 system could be developed for $20 billion. Given the tendency of large-scale projects to go overbudget, is this cost estimate realistic?
The cost would probably be more than $20 billion. I could see this project costing $40 billion, due to red tape and developmental difficulties. But even at $40 billion, the project would be a bargain. We have already sunk $150 billion into the international space station and have little to show for it.

Question 5: You also claim that a GEN 1 system could deposit large payloads into orbit for only $50 per kilogram, or about 1% of current launch costs. How confident are you of those figures?
The costs would depend greatly on how much payload you put into orbit. The system is completely reusable, and the electricity needed isn’t very expensive, only about 1 dollar per kilogram of payload. The $50 per kilogram figure is based on putting 100,000 tons per year into orbit. The current launch rate is about 200 tons per year, so this assumes that a major push into space occurs.

Question 6: What activity could justify putting 100,000 tons into orbit?
We see space-based solar power satellites as being a main driver of startram. There have been extensive studies on solar power satellites, and the biggest hurdle is the cost of putting so much material into orbit. Startram effectively solves that problem. And if we can have enough solar power satellites beaming clean, low cost electric power closer to earth, that would greatly ameliorate the world’s long term energy situation.

Question 7: How high would the evacuated tunnels need to be? Could they be made from standard materials?
The higher the better, but we would like to get to an altitude of 4 kilometers or higher. There are places in Alaska, China, and Peru that could provide that altitude. They would be drilled using conventional boring machines and lined with concrete. The construction methods would be similar to the building of the chunnel between Britain and France, only simpler, and require a much smaller excavation volume.

Question 8: Wouldn’t maintaining an evacuated tunnel present difficulties?
Most of the time the tunnel would be mechanically sealed with a shutter, and would only open for the few seconds when the cargo craft is accelerating in the tunnel. The tricky part would be the transition from a near vacuum to the atmosphere. We propose to use a magneto-hydrodynamic (MHD) current to pump the air away. The combination of an MHD window and a steam ejection system would effectively solve the problem. The small amount of air that managed to get through the MHD would be frozen by cryopanels and then pumped out after the cargo craft had left the tunnel, and it had been reseated by the mechanical shutter.

Question 9: How would you power this system?
The best way would be through superconducting magnetic energy storage. Between launches, superconducting loops store the energy required for the launch in a sequence of superconductivity loops located along the acceleration tunnel. As the magnetically levitated cargo craft approaches a given superconducting energy storage loop, a pulsed heating coil inside the superconductor into its normal high resistance state. The stored magnetic energy created by the superconductor current then inductively transfers into a closely coupled copper loop (more than 99% of the stored energy is transferred). The copper loop then powers the aluminum propulsion windings in the acceleration tunnel, magnetically accelerating the cargo craft to higher speed . This concept has not been demonstrated but I don’t anticipate that being a major problem.

Question 10: What is the most common criticism that you receive from this concept?
The concept is sufficiently radical that many people have a hard time grasping it. The aerospace industry has been fixated on rockets for the past fifty years, and costs have only come down marginally. Failure rates are still high. I haven’t received any trenchant criticisms regarding any specific detail of the concept. There are no potential “showstoppers” to this idea, it is simply a matter of getting enough funding.

Question 11: Assuming adequate funding, how long would it take to get a system up and running?
With an aggressive program, it could be done within a decade. With a more pedestrian effort, it would probably take 20 years. But the technical issues associated with Startram are much less than the comparable issues associated with the Apollo program, and Apollo took less than a decade to meet its objectives.

Question 12: Have you been actively seeking funding for Startram?
Not actively. I have been more focused on getting funding for our new 2nd generation maglev system, which is much lower in cost than the present 1st generation Japanese Maglev system that was based on our original 1966 inventions. The new 2nd generation Maglev system can transport fully loaded highway trucks, personal autos, and freight containers at lower cost than by highway. The much higher revenue for the 2nd generation Maglev system will enable private investors to build maglev routes without needing Government subsidies. So far, given the costs of developing Startram, neither the Government nor venture capitalists are interested. But GEN 1 could be privately financed if sufficiently wealthy individuals or corporations realized that this system could bring in revenues of hundreds of billions of dollars per year.

Question 13: Do you see the development of Startram as inevitable?
I do. If humanity is going to have a large-scale presence in space, then Startram will be need to be developed. Conventional rockets can’t get much better, and are far too costly, unreliable, and dangerous. The space elevator would require a breakthrough in materials, and collisions with space debris would be a serious problem. Once the GEN 1 and GEN 1.5 systems are developed, the entire solar system will rapidly become within humanity’s reach.

This is proven technology and should be pursued by both NASA and the commercial space industry.