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Friday, June 20, 2014

SpaceX Falcon 9 Set For Orbcomm OG2 Mission

As reported by NASA Spaceflight: SpaceX will conduct the second mission of its multi-launch contract with Orbcomm Friday, with a Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket orbiting six OG2 satellites for the company’s next-generation constellation. The launch is scheduled to occur from Cape Canaveral during a fifty-seven minute window opening at 18:08 local time (22:08 UTC).
Falcon 9 v1.1 Mission:
SpaceX’s first Orbcomm launch consisted of a single satellite deployed as a secondary payload to the CRS-1 Dragon mission to the ISS in October 2012.

This ended in failure after a first stage engine malfunction left the rocket unable to reach the Orbcomm’s designated deployment orbit, despite unloading its Dragon payload successfully.

As a result the satellite was left in an unusable orbit from which it quickly decayed, unable to fulfil its mission. This anomaly, overall a partial failure, remains the only blemish on the Falcon 9′s launch record.

Eighteen Orbcomm Generation 2 (OG2) satellites have been produced; of these one was lost in the 2012 failure, six are aboard Friday’s launch, with the remaining eleven expected to fly together aboard a single Falcon 9 later this year.

Orbcomm has options for up to thirty more satellites which can be produced for replenishment or to increase the size of the constellation should it be necessary.

The prime contractor for the program is the Sierra Nevada Corporation, with Argon ST of Virginia producing their communications subsystems.

Each spacecraft is based on Sierra Nevada’s SN-100A bus, with a mass of 172 kilograms (380 lb) and is designed for an operational lifespan of at least five years. The spacecraft are each powered by a gallium-arsenide solar panel producing 400 watts of electrical power.

Each OG2 spacecraft is three-axis stabilised with hydrazine thrusters used for attitude control.

Z9The satellites’ communications systems offer transfer rates up to four megabits per second at VHF frequencies between 137 and 153 megahertz, with each vehicle also carrying an Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver to pick up identification and tracking signals broadcast by ships at sea – Orbcomm intends to sell this data to coastguard services.

The second-generation constellation is expected to increase the capacity of the Orbcomm network six to twelve times over.

Not including Friday’s launch, forty seven Orbcomm spacecraft have been launched to date, with the first being the Orbcomm-X spacecraft which was deployed by an Ariane 4 in July 1991.

A technology demonstrator for the remainder of the constellation, no signals from the spacecraft were ever received. Two further demonstration launches occurred in 1993, followed by the first two operational satellites in April 1995.

The majority of the first-generation satellites were deployed in cluster launches which made use of Orbital Sciences’ Pegasus-XL rocket.

Three groups of eight satellites and one group of seven were launched between 1997 and 1999, with two more spacecraft flying atop a Taurus in 1998.

The original satellites were designed to operate for four years, however it was not until 2008 that a replenishment launch took place, with a Russian Kosmos-3M carrying five Orbcomm Quick Launch satellites and the CDS-3 technology demonstrator.

Most of these satellites failed within a year of the launch due to problems with their attitude control systems, while those that were not rendered completely unusable could not be used to their full capacity, and within two years all six spacecraft were unserviceable.

Orbcomm was forced to lease two VesselSat satellites from LuxSpace to provide interim capacity; these spacecraft were launched in October 2011 and January 2012.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Friday’s launch will be conducted by the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, better known as SpaceX.

The company was initially awarded a contract to launch the eighteen OG2 satellites in 2009, using its smaller Falcon 1 rocket. Expected to use the enhanced Falcon 1e configuration, which ultimately never flew, the satellites were transferred to Falcon 9 launches after SpaceX opted to withdraw the Falcon 1 from service.

The Falcon 1 had been SpaceX’s first rocket. The vehicle’s first three launches, in 2006, 2007 and 2008 all failed, however after a successful demonstration launch in September 2008, Malaysia’s RazakSat satellite was deployed in 2009 by what would turn out to be the final Falcon 1 launch.

While SpaceX initially attempted to develop the stretched and re-engined Falcon 1e, this was quickly abandoned in favour of launching more satellites as secondary payloads aboard the Falcon 9.

SLC-40Falcon 9 launches at Cape Canaveral take place from a former Titan launch pad, Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40). The pad was built in the 1960s for the Titan III, and served Titan IIIC, III(34)D and IV launches until the final Titan launch from the Cape in 2005.

Following the demolition of the Titan service towers in 2008, SpaceX began to convert SLC-40 to a clean pad for its rocket. The first Falcon 9 went vertical at the pad in January 2009, however it was not until June 2010 that the type made its maiden flight with the deployment of the Dragon Spacecraft Qualification Unit, a “boilerplate” mockup of the Dragon spacecraft which later flights were expected to carry.

Dragon at the ISS, via huge unreleased L2 photo collectionIn December 2010 the Falcon 9′s second launch carried the first functional Dragon spacecraft, which completed two orbits of the Earth before being deorbited and recovered successfully.

The next three launches carried Dragon missions which resupplied the International Space Station; the first a test, with the next two as operational flights.

The first five Falcon 9 launches used a configuration which has become known retrospectively as the v1.0. In September 2013 it was replaced with the more powerful v1.1 configuration, which stretched both stages, reorganised the first stage engines into an octagonal arrangement rather than the square used on earlier missions and upgraded those engines from the Merlin-1C to 1D specification.

California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base was the scene of the v1.1′s maiden flight – this remains the only Falcon 9 mission to date not to originate from Cape Canaveral.

After a successful launch that deployed the CASSIOPE satellite for Canada, the Falcon 9 was cleared for commercial geostationary launches; deploying Luxembourg’s SES-8 in December 2013 and Thailand’s Thaicom 6 in January 2014.

The rocket’s most recent launch deployed another Dragon mission to the ISS, marking the first launch for the Dragon atop a Falcon 9 v1.1.

The most recent Dragon launch marked the introduction of landing legs at the aft end of the rocket. Intended to eventually allow spent stages to be recovered and potentially reused, these legs will again feature on Friday’s launch.

2014-06-20 14_33_33-SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 CRS-3 Splashdown Video Repair Task ThreadOn the Dragon mission SpaceX were able to demonstrate controlled flight up until the stage reached the ocean, and it is hoped that Friday’s launch will bring SpaceX a step closer to being able to attempt a land recovery. For this mission, however, the stage is expected to land in the sea.

A two-stage rocket, the Falcon 1 burns RP-1 propellant, oxidised by liquid oxygen, in both of its stages. The first stage is powered by nine Merlin-1D engines, while a vacuum-optimised version of the Merlin-1D propels the second stage. The rocket is named after the Millennium Falcon spacecraft in the Star Wars films.

Z76In preparation for the launch, the Falcon 9 was rolled out overnight, with its powerup occurring at 08:38 UTC (04:38 local); thirteen and a half hours before the beginning of the launch window.

Controllers will come on station and begin the final preparations for the vehicle’s launch. Fuelling is expected to start around three hours and fifty minutes before liftoff with oxidiser tanking, while propellant loading will be started ten minutes later.

By the three hour, 15-minute mark this will be complete apart from continual replenishment of the oxygen throughout the count as it boils off.

Z587At T-10 minutes the automated sequence will take over control of the countdown. The rocket will transfer to internal power at the six minute mark in the countdown. Following this the ‘strongback’ structure used to transport it to the pad, erect it and support umbilicals will be retracted; this will likely occur between five and four minutes ahead of the liftoff.

At around T-3 minutes, thirty seconds the flight termination system – the self-destruct system used to ensure that the rocket cannot inadvertently hit a populated area if it goes out of control during ascent – will be transferred to internal power and subsequently armed.

The launch director will confirm the rocket is ‘go’ for launch at the two and a half minute mark, with the range control officer confirming that he is ready to proceed thirty seconds later.

2014-06-20 14_01_43-SpaceX Webcast - CRS3 Falcon 9 (landing legs) Launch Success! April 18, 2014 - YOne minute before launch the vehicle will begin its startup sequence and its fuel tanks will pressurize. Also around this time the pad’s water deluge system will be turned on to protect the complex from the Falcon’s engine exhausts.

The nine first stage engines will ignite about two seconds ahead of the rocket lifting off, giving time to ensure they have started correctly before the rocket is released.

About a minute after launch the rocket will be travelling at the speed of sound, Mach 1, with the rocket passing through the area of maximum dynamic pressure, max-Q, about fifteen seconds later.

Z15The first stage engines will burn for two minutes and 38 seconds, with the spent stage separating around three seconds after the burn is complete. Following a further eight second coast the second stage engine will be ignited.

The payload fairing, which protects the satellites from the atmosphere during ascent, will separate from the nose of the rocket in the first minute of second-stage flight; likely around forty-five seconds after ignition.

Second stage flight will last six minutes and 46 seconds, and its conclusion will mark the end of powered flight nine minutes and 39 seconds after liftoff. Deployment of the six OG2 satellites will begin approximately five minutes later.

The satellites are attached to the rocket by means of two EELV Secondary Payload Adaptors (ESPAs), devices which were developed by Moog Incorporated to allow Atlas V and Delta IV rockets to carry six additional payloads mounted below their primary passenger.

Z6675Instead for the Orbcomm launch the ESPA has been modified so as to only carry four satellites, with two fitted together to provide eight slots.

Mass simulators have been bolted to the two unused slots either side of the lower ESPA.

The Falcon 9′s target orbital parameters are a perigee of 615 kilometres (382 statute miles, 332 nautical miles), an apogee of 750 kilometres (466 miles, 405 nautical miles) and inclination of 52 degrees.

Friday’s launch is the thirty-fifth orbital attempt of 2014, with the only failure to date being May’s Proton launch with Ekspress-AM4R. It is the third Falcon 9 launch of the year, with the rocket’s next launch slated to take place in July with the AsiaSat-8 communications satellite.

For the United States, the Falcon launch is the country’s tenth of the year. The next American launches are planned for 1 July, with the Delta II making its first flight since 2011 when it orbits the OCO-2 satellite for NASA, and an Antares-120 sending the next Cygnus mission on its way to resupply the International Space Station.  

(Images: via L2′s SpaceX section, now containing thousands of unreleased photos of all Dragon missions to the ISS. Other images via Jacques van Oene/, SpaceX Orbital and NASA).

Thursday, June 19, 2014

FCC Issues Largest Fine in History to Chinese Company Selling Signal Jammers

As reported by The Verge: The Federal Communications Commission is laying down its largest fine ever against a Chinese retailer that's allegedly been selling hundreds of models of illegal signal jammers over at least the past two years. The online retailer, CTS Technology, is being given a fine of $34.9 million, the maximum that the FCC can issue in this instance. 

Operating a signal jammer is illegal in the United States, as is selling and advertising them. Unfortunately for CTS Technology — which allegedly was brazen enough to claim that its jammers were FCC approved — it actually sold 10 units to FCC personnel.

The FCC takes the sale of jammers seriously because they can prevent people from making 911 or other emergency calls, in addition to preventing communication by law enforcement. "Signal jammers present a direct danger to public safety, potentially blocking the communications of first responders," Travis LeBlanc, acting chief of the FCC's enforcement bureau, says in a statement. CTS Technology's jammers were able to do far more than that: various models it sold were allegedly able to block cell signals, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, satellite radio, and GPS, among others. Certain models were even effective up to half a mile away. CTS Technology is said to currently have 285 models on sale.

The FCC realizes that it's easy for Americans to buy signal jammers like these online, and it seems to be trying to set an example here of why international companies should be careful about where they market their products. The FCC is also ordering CTS Technology to stop selling and marketing the devices to US consumers and to hand over information about parties in the US that it sold them to. CTS Technology will still have a chance to appeal the fine or petition for a reduction, otherwise it'll have to pay within 30 days.

Harley-Davidson Unveils First Electric Motorcycle

As reported by Fox News: Like loud pipes? Better get them while you can.

Harley-Davidson today revealed its first electric motorcycle, called Project LiveWire.

It’s the most radical departure in the 111-year history of the brand, best known for building rolling thunder on two wheels. A vision for a possible future production bike, Project LiveWire features more of a sporty touring look than the company’s classic cruisers.

The prototype is powered by a longitudinally-mounted electric motor rated at 74 hp and 52 lb-ft of torque, on par with H-D’s 833 cc internal combustion engine. The battery-powered unit was developed with help from electric powertrain specialist Mission Motors.  Harley-Davidson says the belt-driven bike can accelerate from 0-60 mph in under four seconds, and has an electronically restricted top speed of 92 mph.

A teaser video of the bike in action reveals a sound that’s the sort of futuristic combination of whine and whoosh familiar to fans of electric motorcycle racing.

The current range of the development version of Project LiveWire is only 53 miles per charge, but Chief Engineer Jeff Richlen says H-D will be soliciting feedback from current and potential customers to find out the sort of performance they’d expect from this type of motorcycle if it makes it to production.

To that end, starting next week in New York, he’s sending the bikes on a tour of H-D dealerships across the country, where test rides will be available. As for when something like Project LiveWire may be on sale in those stores, H-D hasn't announced a timeline just yet.

Harley-Davidson sold over 260,000 motorcycles last year and is aggressively pursuing new markets around the world. It recently introduced a new lineup of small, low-priced motorcycles, the Street 500 and Street 750, that it builds in the U.S. and India and targets at new and urban riders. Richlen expects it's new rolling lightning to appeal to overseas customers, as well.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mobile 'Net Neutrality' Faces New Day of Reckoning at FCC

As reported by Reuters: A surge in mobile Internet usage has U.S. regulators considering whether to apply the same rules to fixed and wireless Internet traffic, and large technology firms are siding with consumer advocates to call for such a change.

The Federal Communications Commission is now rewriting the so-called "net neutrality" rules, aimed at ensuring that Internet providers do not unfairly block or slow down users' access to content on the web, after their 2010 version was rejected in January by an appeals court. As part of that process, the agency is seeking comments on whether it should take a fresh look at distinctions now drawn between wireless and wireline networks.

Consumer groups have long advocated stricter anti-blocking and anti-discrimination rules for mobile web traffic. This year, they have powerful allies in Internet companies like Google and Facebook, who see mobile as an increasingly popular platform.

"The distinction between wireless and wireline is certainly not the same as it was... The enforceable net neutrality rules should apply equally, whether you use the Internet on your mobile or home broadband," said Michael Beckerman, head of the Internet Association, which represents three dozen web companies including and Netflix.

"There will be differences in terms of network management, but at the end of the day, the same fundamental principles ... need to apply to the mobile world."

The new look at the rules comes as Americans routinely use smartphones to watch videos and browse websites. A growing number of U.S. consumers, many of them low income, non-white and young, rely on such devices as their primary means of Internet access.

The lines between fixed and broadband continue to blur as mobile carriers develop fixed broadband businesses of their own and use Wi-Fi to offload wireless data traffic, and cable broadband providers create Wi-Fi hotspots for their customers.

Under the 2010 rules, both fixed and wireless Internet providers were banned from blocking users' access to legal websites, with exclusions for reasonable network management.

But wireline carriers also couldn't block legal applications or "unreasonably discriminate" against any legal web traffic or apps, while wireless providers were only banned from blocking applications that competed with their own voice or video calling services.

Wireless carriers say it would be unwise to impede their customers' freedom to roam the web, and that stricter rules would hurt how they manage their dynamic shared networks, leading to slower Internet speeds for everyone.

"The FCC already acknowledged the unique nature of wireless, specifically the technical and operational challenges our industry faces, including the need to ... actively manage networks to provide high quality service to a customer base that is constantly on the go," said Meredith Attwell Baker, CEO of CTIA, the wireless trade group.

Both sides plan to lobby the FCC as the agency collects public comments on its proposed rules until Sept. 10. Scrutiny on the wireless space promises to be more intense than before.

"It'll be a topic that will have big resonance among the commissioners: why should wireless be treated differently than wireline in terms of net neutrality," said one senior FCC official, who spoke anonymously to discuss the ongoing review.

New Airport Passenger Location Technology to be Rolled Out

As reported by GulfNews: SITA, air transport IT and communications specialists, is set to roll out mobile phone friendly beacons at 10 global airports, including airports in the Middle East, over the next 12 months that will streamline passenger airport experiences.

SITA is in talks with “major hubs in Europe, United States, Asia and the Middle East,” said Kevin O’Sullivan, Lead Engineer at SITA Lab, an innovation division.

O’Sullivan was speaking at a press conference on the sidelines of the SITA Air Transport IT Summit in Brussels on Wednesday. 

The beacons use Bluetooth low energy technology (BlE) that transmit signals that can be received by iPhone IOS 7 and later software and newer Android models.

Passengers will be able to download airline specific mobile applications that connect with the beacons. The application will provide passengers with directions, walk times to gates, lounge access and boarding alerts by using the beacon signals to locate where the passenger is in the airport.

The beacons can transmit signals to mobile devices that are up to a kilometer away.
SITA also announced on Wednesday it is launching the Common-use Beacon Registry that will set an industry standard by defining data sets and beacon types to be positioned at airports.

Six-month trial
American Airlines is spearheading the rollout of the technology with a 180-day trial in conjunction with SITA at Dallas Forth Worth International where beacons have been placed throughout Terminal D.

American and SITA have been testing beacons for the past nine months and is using a brand called StickNFind that is slightly larger than a Dh1 coin. SITA and American Airlines did not disclose the costs of the trial. However, Phil Easter, American Airlines Director of Mobile Apps, said that each device, with a battery lifespan of up to five years, costs about $10.

American is confident the beacons will improve passenger experiences and lower costs and will roll it out to the general public in the next quarter through an integrated application, Easter said.

He added, that 65% of American Airlines’ passengers arrive at the gate early because they are “scared” of missing their flight. He also said that many complaints from passengers are because they did not hear that the boarding gate had changed.

Airlines have to unload passenger baggage if the passenger misses the flight, which can cause roll on delays that disrupt the networking and ultimately increase costs.

The beacon passenger location technology raises concerns over passenger privacy. The beacons do not transmit data, just a signal to the passengers mobile device, however, airlines will be able to collect data through the application.

It is unlikely there will be an airline beacon app, rather the feature will be tied into a passengers existing airline application that they use to track membership points, flight details and to make bookings.

However, Easter dismissed concerns and said that American will not be tracking passenger movement. He added that it is “opt-in” technology that passengers elect to use. The feature will not work unless the passenger has downloaded the application.

Google's 'Auto Link' to Rival Apple's CarPlay

As reported by MotorAuthority: It was only a matter of time: Following the launch of Apple's CarPlay in-car operating system at this year's Geneva Motor Show, Google is set to reveal its own automotive operating system. Known internally as Google Auto Link, the company will reveal its system at a software developer conference this month.

As Automotive News reports, Auto Link is the first product developed in conjunction with the Open Automotive Alliance, a group of companies including Audi, General Motors Company [NYSE:GM], Honda, Hyundai, chipmaker NVIDIA Corp and Google itself. Just like CarPlay, it's not an "embedded" system but a "projected" one—an operating system that uses a driver's own smartphone operating system. In this case, that's Google's Android OS, available on a multitude of hand-held devices.

The interface hasn't yet been revealed, nor has any announcement been made as to which automaker will use the system first. When the Open Automotive Alliance was formed, the group said it would bring Android to cars "starting in 2014". By contrast, Apple's system was demonstrated at Geneva in conjunction with Volvo, whose new touchscreen infotainment system will feature CarPlay in the next-generation XC90 SUV

Other automakers set to use CarPlay include Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz.

Apple's CarPlay interface closely resembles that familiar to iPhone and iPad users, and handles several in-car functions—as well as letting users bring up certain smartphone apps in their vehicles. Google itself is familiar to many drivers from existing interfaces. Audi uses Google Earth satellite images for its GPS maps, while some Hyundai drivers can use a built-in Google search engine and voice commands to find nearby destinations.

In addition to Auto Link, Google is also making noise regarding new Android platform features which, in Google's own words, "enable the car itself to become a connected Android device". More details of this are expected soon.