NASA launched three smartphone satellites into orbit

Phonesattttt

On Sunday, NASA launched three PhoneSats into orbit. House in a standard "cubesat" structures, a Google-HTC Nexus One serves as the onboard computer and sensor system, taking photos of Earth. Aamateur radio operators are monitoring the transmissions and picking up data packets that will be recombined here on Earth. According to a NASA press release, the use of commercial-of-the-shelf parts, a minimalist design, and limited mission requirements kept the cost of each satellite as low as $3500. PhoneSat: NASA's Smartphone Nanosatellite

Another satellite will re-enter Earth's atmosphere in the coming months

In case you were curious, that atmospheric research satellite crashed to Earth without hitting a single person. It landed in the Pacific—scattering bits and pieces over an 800-mile-long stretch of ocean.

But, if your great dream was to be killed by a piece of falling satellite, never fear. Phil Plait points out that you'll have another chance in a couple of months, when the German X-Ray astronomy satellite ROSAT is expected to meet its firery end.

Smaller than UARS — a little over 2 tons, as opposed to over 6 — ROSAT will probably have more pieces survive the ride down because its mirrors had to be shielded from heat to operate. That means the odds of it hitting someone will be slightly higher than from UARS, about 1 in 2000. Bear in mind that’s still really small odds! The chance of a specific individual getting hit are still something like only 1 in 14 trillion.

Interview with Ted Molczan, citizen satellite tracker

Video: Chiefland Star Party Skyscape Time Lapse by William Castleman

The skies have stories to tell. Some of the stories make for interesting puzzles, particularly sightings of previously unseen objects in earth orbit. My friend Ted Molczan is part of a small but dedicated group of private citizens who track satellites, with a special focus on unannounced/secret satellite launches. 2011 has already been an interesting year for the group, who post their findings at the SeeSat-L website (satobs.org) and others. Ted presented compelling evidence that he had spotted a possible Prowler satellite that may have been secretly launched in 1990 on space shuttle launch STS 38. Today, Greg Roberts of their group found the USAF's X-37B OTV 2-1 spaceplane, launched into a secret orbit on Saturday. Ted was kind enough to share his philosophy, techniques, and consumer-grade equipment, all of which is easily available for interested citizens wishing to get involved.

Do you consider yourself a government transparency activist?

Ted: "I see myself as a hobbyist who enjoys solving technical puzzles that help to increase public knowledge of space flight, and improve the transparency of activities taking place in Earth orbit."

How do you respond to your critics within government intelligence agencies?

Ted:"The most common criticism is that by publishing the orbits of intelligence gathering satellites, we may enable adversaries of the U.S.A. and its allies to

Read the rest

Satellite photos catch Greek tax-evaders

As the nation of Greece teeters on the edge of bankruptcy, its tax authorities are taking aim at Greece's notorious tax-evading rich elite. Using satellite photos, the tax authority examined the claim of the residents of Athens's wealthy suburbs and discovered that, rather than the 324 swimming pools claimed by the locals, there were 16,974 of them.

The cheating is often quite bold. When tax authorities recently surveyed the returns of 150 doctors with offices in the trendy Athens neighborhood of Kolonaki, where Prada and Chanel stores can be found, more than half had claimed an income of less than $40,000. Thirty-four of them claimed less than $13,300, a figure that exempted them from paying any taxes at all.

Such incomes defy belief, said Ilias Plaskovitis, the general secretary of the Finance Ministry, who has been in charge of revamping the country's tax laws. "You need more than that to pay your rent in that neighborhood," he said.

He said there were only a few thousand citizens in this country of 11 million who last year declared an income of more than $132,000. Yet signs of wealth abound.

"There are many people with a house, with a cottage in the country, with two cars and maybe a small boat who claim they are earning 12,000 euros a year," Mr. Plaskovitis said, which is about $15,900. "You cannot heat this house or buy the gas for the car with that kind of income."

Greek Wealth Is Everywhere but Tax Forms (via Memex 1.1)

(Image: Google Earth/Memex 1.1)

Solar storm creates killer "zombie satellite"

A solar storm semi-nuked the Intelsat's Galaxy 15 satellite last month, enough so that it's not talking to Earth but it also isn't completely dead. So now it's wandering around the geostationary arc still broadcasting and about to mess up other satellites in its way: galaxy15.jpg
"In what industry officials called an unprecedented event, Intelsat's Galaxy 15 communications satellite has remained fully "on," with its C-band telecommunications payload still functioning even as it has left its assigned orbital slot of 133 degrees west longitude 36,000 kilometers over the equator. ... The first satellite likely to face signal interference problems from the adrift Galaxy 15 is the AMC-11 C-band satellite owned by SES of Luxembourg and stationed at 131 degrees west, just two degrees away from Galaxy 15's starting position."
If nothing can be done to stop it, Galaxy 15 will continue beyond AMC-11 and go on to torture other nearby satellites until it stops pointing at Earth...eventually. No one knows when that will happen, so Galaxy 15 could be causing havoc for quite awhile. When it does finally die it will join about 160 other so-called "zombiesats" that are dead but still shuffle around the planet aimlessly searching for brains. Galaxy 15 is near and dear to my heart because it was one of the satellites that carried Syfy's signal. So long old berserk, crazy friend... "Out-of-control satellite threatens spacecraft"