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Doomsayers disappointed by 2012′s non-apocalypse will get a sop in 2013 in the form of a rare supercomet. Once widely seen as a portent of doom, comets are seldom as spectacular as the new arrival, known as C/2012 S1 (ISON), may be. At its peak it may outshine the moon, even by day.
First spotted in September, ISON is rushing towards the sun from the outer solar system. Its closest approach to the sun will be in November, when Timothy Spahr of the Minor Planet Center at Harvard University expects it to put on as good a show as Hale-Bopp did in 1997.
This will be its first trip to the inner solar system, so ISON could contain volatile gases that other comets, making their umpteenth lap around the sun, have lost. That will give us a pristine glimpse of the material in the outer solar system 4.6 billion years ago, when ISON formed.
The year will also herald celestial fireworks of a different flavour, thanks to a gas cloud with three times Earth’s mass heading towards the usually placid supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy. The collision won’t be visible to the naked eye, but X-ray telescopes will pick up radiation from the shock wave created as the cloud slams into the halo of hot gas around the hole.
As the black hole, called Sagittarius A*, sits a mere 25,000 light years away – on our cosmic doorstep – the crash should provide an unprecedented view of material ploughing into a black hole. It could even yield important clues about what happened 300 years ago, when the black hole was much brighter than now.
Scotland’s first satellite will be launched from a Russian Soyuz-2 rocket in March 2013. UKube-1, built by Clyde Space in Glasgow, is now completing final testing at the company’s headquarters before making the journey to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the launch.
Confirming that agreement had been reached for the Russian rocket to carry UKube- 1, Clyde Space CEO Craig Clark, said: “UKube-1 aims to be the first of many nanosatellites produced at Clyde Space, and is a fantastic mission for us to demonstrate our capabilities as a spacecraft mission lead.
“I’m proud of the team here at Clyde Space in achieving such a critical milestone in the mission.”
The UKube-1 nanosatellite has been designed and manufactured by Clyde Space at their high-tech facility at the West of Scotland Science Park.
Read more at Spacedaily.com
A huge asteroid that will creep near Earth in 28 years will pass harmlessly by, a new study confirms.
New observations of the asteroid 2011 AG5 now give astronomers complete confidence that the 460–foot-wide (140 meters) space rock won’t hit Earth in the year 2040. When it was discovered last year, scientists said that 2011 AG5 had a 1-in-500 chance of impact with our planet.
Read more at Space.com
Call him the space guitar hero: An astronaut living in orbit has penned a musical ode to Earth in what he’s billing as the first original song recorded on the International Space Station.
Read more here: Via Space.com
The Russians are coming…to provide more television capacity to the Americas.
WIth the need for broadband and television networking coverage increasing exponentially in the high-growth Latin America region especially, a raft of providers like SES and Eutelesat have lately targeted the area with more planned satellite deployments and/or capacity. The Russian Satellite Communications Company (RSCC), the Russian state satellite operator, has decided to get into the action.
RSCC is partnering with its EMEA distributor, VSAT provider Romantis Group, to bring a joint solution to North/South America and the transatlantic area. Romantis will market RSCC’s Express-AM8 capacity. That satellite is scheduled to be launched to 14 degrees West in the third quarter of 2013.
“We are expanding our current commercial relationship with Romantis to also include the prospective Express-AM8 satellite capacity,” said RSCC Director General Yuri Prokhorov. “We always look for innovative channels to make our capacity offerings stand out from the competition.”
Romantis offers satellite bandwidth management services, network planning, link budgeting, optimization of capacity utilisation, online monitoring and troubleshooting systems as well as Web-based booking tools for planning occasional-use transmissions.
“In 2011, Romantis expanded its operations in the Americas and Asia, establishing its offices in Canada,” said Vagan Shakhgildian, president and CEO of Romantis. “We have had an overwhelming response from the leading telecom carriers, TV broadcasters and enterprise customers across [the region] for our bundled capacity and VSAT hardware packages and expect to increase our presence in the region with the help of Express-AM8 and the other RSCC satellites.”
The Express-AM8 satellite will be equipped with six high-power Ku-band and two C-band spot beams providing superior coverage of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and North and South America.
Federal telecommunications regulators began deliberations Wednesday on new regulations to open up satellite airwaves for more wireless phone usage and to set standards for how companies should use the airwaves in their next-generation wireless networks.
The Federal Communications Commission announced plans to develop the rules at a meeting Wednesday, saying they were necessary as part of the agency’s longer-term goal of ensuring consumers have more access to wireless data services.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the agency’s proposals Wednesday represented “a significant step in the commission’s spectrum agenda.”
The agency’s three commissioners unanimously agreed to prepare new rules on ways of allowing more flexible use of some satellite airwaves. Dish Network Corp. DISH -0.30%asked the agency to give it a waiver to use some of its satellite airwaves for a terrestrial wireless Internet service, but the agency declined earlier this month, saying that it wanted to set new rules for the entire chunk of satellite airwaves.
FCC officials are still under fire for giving wireless start-up LightSquared a conditional waiver that would have allowed it to build a terrestrial wireless broadband service using its satellite airwaves. The agency said it would revoke that waiver earlier this year after government tests suggested LightSquared’s network would knock out global positioning system devices.
The agency also said it planned to develop rules on possible new interoperability standards for wireless phone companies using the 700 MHz band of airwaves. AT&T Corp. T -0.60%and Verizon Communications Inc.’s VZ -0.61%Verizon Wireless unit operate their new LTE wireless networks in the 700 MHz band. Smaller phone companies complain that AT&T and Verizon have worked with handset makers to ensure their devices work only on small portions of the airwaves, not the entire band. AT&T and Verizon counter that new interoperability requirements could cause interference problems.
The agency said it will consider technical rules designed to ensure future handsets to work across the band of airwaves, which would make it easier for smaller companies to offer the hottest new handsets to their customers.
Mr. Genachowski said he hoped that the wireless industry could reach voluntary interoperability standards that would make new rules unnecessary. “An industry-wide solution would be a preferable solution,” he said. “We’re launching this proceeding because no solution has yet been reached.”
Late Tuesday, the agency also said it was considering whether the FCC’s longstanding rules requiring cable operators to offer their affiliated channels to competitors is still necessary. The agency’s current program access rules are set to expire in October unless the agency renews them. Large cable companies that partially own several channels have argued the requirement is no long necessary but smaller cable providers have pushed for an extension of the current rules.
It’s not dead yet! A Russian satellite on the brink of being de-orbited could still have a second life—as communications support for scientists in Antarctica. That’s the idea of William Readdy and Dennis Wingo, co-founders of Polar Broadband Systems Ltd., a company created last December exclusively to repurpose the satellite for Antarctic broadband communications. With only a few days to go before Russian officials plan to begin guiding the satellite into a controlled descent into the Pacific Ocean, Readdy and Wingo are stepping up a campaign to get the word out about their plan and keep the satellite aloft. But it’s not clear that the Russian State Commission, which will decide the satellite’s fate this week, is listening.
The Express-AM4 satellite launched 18 August, but mechanical failures left it in a too-low and useless orbit. The satellite was still functional, but the Russian Satellite Communications Company’s (RSCC) chief financial officer, Dennis Pivnyuk, said last week at the Satellite 2012 conference in Washington, D.C., that the Russian government was planning to bring it down this week after considering—and rejecting—numerous salvage plans.
But Polar Broadband Systems, which is funded by private investors, still holds out hope that they can obtain Express-AM4 and retool its orbit, Wingo says. “We have crafted an orbit that it can easily get to … where it can provide up to almost 16 hours a day of broadband coverage over the Antarctic.” The satellite has enough fuel for another 10 years of operation, he adds. “It will open up a plethora of new possibilities for activities in the Antarctic—a sensor network, telemedicine; there are a tremendous number of applications enabled by this spacecraft. It increases the velocity of science in Antarctica if they are able to send data from all kinds of different experiments in real time, versus the episodic nature they have now.” If they can obtain the satellite, Polar Broadband Systems hopes to have it in place by the next Antarctic summer—in time for Russian scientists’ return to Lake Vostok to collect the first sample of water from an Antarctic subglacial lake. “It could be on Russian television, live,” Wingo says.
Sixteen hours of continuous broadband coverage would certainly be a big boost, particularly for scientists working at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, which currently gets just a few hours a day of coverage. And while the South Pole Station’s communications problems are the most acute, communications for the entire continent have been a problem for many years. Wingo describes it as a cyclical problem: The small Antarctic community “doesn’t have sufficient market potential to justify the construction of a $150 to $200 million dedicated satellite to cover the area,” he says—but once such a satellite is in place, there will be “an explosion of demand that would prove the market.” Bringing in Express-AM4, he suggests, would be the necessary band-aid.
It wouldn’t be the first time that a satellite was repurposed to serve as an Antarctic band-aid. “There’s a long history of using old, semi-retired satellites” to support Antarctic communications, says Robin Bell, a geophysicist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. In 1998, Readdy, then deputy associate NASA administrator for space operations, helped arrange for the National Science Foundation (NSF) to repurpose satellites in the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) for communications support in Antarctica. TDRS-1, originally launched in 1983, was used by scientists at NSF’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica until it was decommissioned in 2010. The job of relaying communications for Antarctic scientists is now shared by several other aging TDRS satellites and NOAA’s GOES 3 satellite, launched in 1978.
Bell, one of the authors of a 2011 National Research Council (NRC) report that identified future areas for scientific research in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, notes that the communications issue came up frequently in the report, and has been an issue for over a decade. But the problem has become even more acute in recent years, “particularly as the scientific community develops more instrumentation, with higher data rates and more real-time data,” she says.
Real-time data transmission from remotely operated instruments is key in polar regions, where continuous climate data is particularly important and maintaining personnel in the Antarctic through the winter is expensive and hazardous, says Rita Colwell, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Maryland, College Park, and another co-author of the NRC report. “For the last 10 years, this has been a recurring issue.”
NSF, which funds and manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, has been looking for new ways to address that issue. In April 2011, NSF issued a request for information (RFI), looking for long-term solutions to its broadband needs through 2030 and focusing particularly on the lack of coverage for the South Pole Station. Wingo says that the salvaged satellite would provide 10 times more than the minimum requirements outlined in the RFI—enough to service other national programs in Antarctica as well.
NSF has also convened a Blue Ribbon Panel, headed by former Lockheed Martin chair and CEO Norman Augustine, to investigate infrastructure requirements, including communications, for the continent’s research activities. Polar Broadband Systems Ltd. has participated in the public discussions of the panel; Wingo says that NSF has expressed strong interest in their project, but is unable to cut any deals until the satellite is acquired. “Their hands are kind of tied.”
As for the fate of Express-AM4, Wingo says, “everyone is just waiting to hear. We won’t know for sure until we see whether it gets splashed this weekend.” There’s a narrow window of opportunity to bring the satellite down safely in the Pacific Ocean, he adds, so if it doesn’t happen now, there may be another opportunity to convince the Russian State Commission to reconsider.