A Cheap Alternative To Satellites Is Starting To Take Off

www.businessinsider.com The Economist  31 Aug 2014

IT TAKES chutzpah to tweet “rockets are tricky” shortly after one you have just launched has deliberately blown itself up.

A Zephyr 7
A Zephyr 7

But Elon Musk, founder and boss of SpaceX, is not a man who lacks self-confidence, and he did just that on August 22nd after the terminal malfunction of one of his company’s Falcon 9 vehicles.

That Arianespace, a French rival of SpaceX, announced on the same day that two satellites it had tried to launch to join the European Space Agency’s Galileo constellation (intended to rival America’s Global Positioning System), had entered a “non-nominal injection orbit”–in other words, gone wrong–shows just how difficult the commercialisation of space can be.

If spacecraft are so precarious, then perhaps investors should lower their sights. But not in terms of innovation; rather in altitude. Airbus, a European aerospace company, thinks that developing satellite-like capabilities without satellites is the answer. Hence the firm’s recent trial, at an undisclosed location (but one subject to Brazilian airspace regulations) of Zephyr 7, a high-altitude “pseudo-satellite”, or HAPS for short.

Its solar cells, which are mounted on its wings, produce 1kW for every 1kg of panel. That power is fed into lithium-sulphur rechargeable batteries which can store 350 watt-hours per kilogram. (For comparison, the lithium-polymer batteries in iPhones store around 200 watt-hours per kilogram.) The result is a plane that can, potentially, stay aloft for months–though its longest test-run so far is a fortnight.

The Zephyr team achieved all this by following the principle of “adding lightness”–jettisoning anything that did not help make the aircraft fly higher and longer. That included the undercarriage. But Zephyr weighs so little and travels so slowly (about 12 knots, or 22kph, as it approaches the runway) that its landing is little more than a scrape.

Airbus plans to restrict the marketing of Zephyr’s commercial successors to places within 40° north or south of the equator. That will keep the plane away from latitudes where the winter day is too short for a full recharge, but this should not be too much of a handicap to the company’s marketing department, because almost 90% of the world’s population lives in these sunnier climes.

Screen Shot 2014 08 31 at 7.38.43 AM



The main uses for satellites are observation and communication. Both are appealing markets for HAPS. Hovering drones could act as relays for telephone calls and internet traffic in places that do not have good enough infrastructure on the ground. And there is never a shortage of customers who would like to snoop on various parts of the Earth’s surface, whether for commercial or military reasons.

By satellite, such snooping is done from an altitude of about 800km. Zephyr flies at one-fortieth of that, so the optics its needs to take pictures are far less demanding. (Just as well, of course, for it is unlikely to be able to carry a huge payload.)

Airbus is not alone in the HAPS game. Google and Facebook are involved as well–and with similar customers in mind–though Google will also be its own customer, since keeping its Google Earth imagery up to date is a demanding task. Paul Brooks, spokesman for Airbus’s HAPS programme, says he does not see these firms as competitors, but rather as collaborators in proving the idea of endurance flight and promoting the changes in regulations needed to permit its safe use. Once this has happened, and the world’s aviation authorities have agreed common operating standards, HAPS should prove a cheap and reliable alternative to blasting things into orbit.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/a-cheap-alternative-to-satellites-is-starting-to-take-off-2014-8#ixzz3BzF13t3m

The True Size of Africa


Graphic detail

Charts, maps and infographics


The true true size of Africa

LAST month Kai Krause, a computer-graphics guru, caused a stir with a map entitled “The True Size of Africa”, which showed the outlines of other countries crammed into the outline of the African continent. His aim was to make “a small contribution in the fight against rampant Immappancy”—in particular, the fact that most people do not realise how much the ubiquitous Mercator projection distorts the relative sizes of countries.

A sphere cannot be represented on a flat plane without distortion, which means all map projections distort in one way or another. Some projections show areas accurately but distort distances or scales, for example; others preserve the shapes of countries but misrepresent their areas. You can read all the gory details on Wikipedia.

Google reveals home delivery drone program Project Wing

Tech company explores the potential for self-flying aircraft but FAA regulations remain an obstacle to commercialisation

  • theguardian.com, Friday 29 August 2014 10.18 EDT
  • A Google X drone undergoing testing in Australia. Source: Google

Google has become the latest tech giant to get into the drone business.

The company announced late on Thursday that its advanced-research arm, Google X, is developing a system of drones to deliver goods. Amazon announced a similar scheme to great fanfare but little actual progress late last year.

The search giant said it had been exploring self-flying vehicles for the past couple of years, and had now hired a new team leader, Dave Vos, a longtime expert in automating systems for aviation, to take Project Wing from research to product.

In a recent research trip in Australia, the company delivered packages including chocolate bars, dog treats and cattle vaccines to two farmers in Queensland.

The deliveries were made by a 1.5m-wide (5ft) single-wing drone prototype that has four propellers that move into different positions for different stages of flight. Packages fit into a gap in the middle of the wing.

Google considered several methods of actually delivering the package including by parachute (like in The Hunger Games) and landing the drone. The latter proved problematic with Google fearing that people might risk injury by getting too close to the drone’s rotors while fetching their delivery.

In the Australian experiment Google settled on using a kind of fishing line to lower the payload to customers from about 150 feet above the ground.

“Self-flying vehicles could open up entirely new approaches to moving goods – including options that are cheaper, faster, less wasteful and more environmentally sensitive than what’s possible today,” Google said in a release accompanying the announcement.

“Throughout history, major shifts in how we move goods from place to place have led to new opportunities for economic growth and generally made consumers’ lives easier. From steam ships to the railroads, from the postal service to delivery services like FedEx and DHL, speed has reshaped society not only with greater convenience but also by making more goods accessible to more people,” it said.

Commercial drone use remains all but banned in the US. Amazon and others are lobbying the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to relax the rules, and in June the FAA approved the first commercial drone flight over land, for the energy giant BP.

In its release, Google highlighted examples of where drones were already in use, including in Bhutan, where drones are being used to make deliveries of medical supplies to remote clinics and in Namibia, where the World Wildlife Fund is trying to spot wildlife poachers.

But concerns remain in the US and elsewhere over safety and privacy. Amateur drone operators were accused of interfering with firefighters in forest fires last year. Chris Anderson, the former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine and now chief executive and co-founder of drone-maker 3D Robotics, said he expected heavy restrictions on drone use due to safety and privacy concerns.

URISA Announces GIS-Pro 2014 Virtual Conference Agenda

Des Plaines, IL (August 28, 2014) GIS-Pro 2014: URISA’s 52nd Annual Conference is taking place September 8-11 in New Orleans, Louisiana. For those unable to travel to the conference due to budget or time constraints, there is a unique opportunity to participate remotely.

The virtual conference begins afew days before the in-person event, on Thursday, September 4, with a two-hour virtual workshop on NG911 and the GIS Workflow, followed by conference keynote addresses, general sessions and select breakout sessions, September 9-11.  Note that full virtual conference participation equals 14 hours of education that can be used towards your GISP certification or renewal and that all times are shown for the Central Time Zone.

Thursday, September 4th

  • 12:00 Noon-2:00 PM
    NG911 and the GIS Workflow: This virtual workshop is aimed at the GIS professional who is in one of many stages of NextGen 911 implementation with their emergency communications division. We recognize there is a sincere lack of education available aimed at the GIS professional who may not be as versed with the 911 terminology or needs.  This workshop is intended to give an overview of the changes that may occur in the GIS data maintenance related to NextGen 911 implementation.

Tuesday, September 9th

Opening Comments & Keynote Address 8:30-10:00 AM

  • Code for America Brigade: Citizens and Government Making Our Cities Better Together
    Hear from Jill Bjers, Code for Charlotte Brigade Co-Captain and Catherine Bracey, Director of Community Organizing for Code for America and the Brigade Program.  The Code for America Brigade is a fast growing, dynamic program that engages citizens and governments in collaborative projects.  Hear how The City of Charlotte, North Carolina, one of only 10 governments selected for the 2014 Code for America Fellowship program initiated activities and see what they have already accomplished.

Breakout Sessions:

  • 10:30 AM-12:00 Noon – Community Health and GIS Initiatives
  • 2:00-3:30 PM – The State of GIS Certification
  • 4:00-5:00 PM – Mapping your Way Into a GIS Career
  • Wednesday, September 10th

    Breakout Sessions:

    • 10:30 AM-12:00 Noon – ROI of High Resolution Data
    • 3:30-5:00 PM – Utilizing GIS to Protect the Environment and Respond to It When It Gets Mad

    GIS Management Institute Update and Wednesday Keynote Address 1:00-2:30 PM

    • Hear about URISA’s GIS Management Institute which promotes professional adoption and awareness of best practices and standards in the GIS profession.
      Then learn how The Data Center uses GIS to Disseminate Data in New Orleans. Allison Plyer will discuss how The Data Center supports informed decision-making, including: providing an interactive map of repopulation post-Katrina; improving upon the spatial displays of small area data from the American Community Survey; exploring the growth of jobs outside of population centers; and, documenting the vulnerability of coastal populations.

    Thursday, September 11th

    Breakout Session:

    • 9:00-10:30 AM – GIS Drives Organizational Change

    Closing Comments & Keynote Address 10:30 AM – 12:00 Noon

    • Hear from Steve Ressler, Founder and President of GovLoop.com, the “Knowledge Network for Government” as he discusses their latest report “20 Government Innovations That Matter” based on survey and interviews with thousands of government employees across the globe.  He will discuss key top technology trends in government from Internet of Things to Mobile Service Delivery and how you can apply these innovations at your agency.

    For full conference details, including breakout session descriptions, please visit our  online program application.  Virtual content is marked accordingly. The easiest way to see review the sessions that will be delivered virtually is to click on “Virtual Sessions” on the right side of the Sched app.  This will sort the sessions by just those sessions that will be included in the virtual conference.

    Wendy Nelson
    Executive Director
    Email Contact


GEOINT Community Week will take place November 17-21, 2014.

USGIF’s GEOINT Community Week brings together the defense, intelligence, homeland security, and geospatial communities at-large for a week of briefings, educational sessions, workshops, technology exhibits and networking opportunities.

Held at the Reston Hyatt Regency.

Free or nearly free admission.

In the past, a job fair has been part of Community Week.  Warm up that resume!

Click here for the latest.

(Association of American Geographers) AAG Community College Travel Grants

AAG Community College Travel Grants

Deadline: November 1, yearly

Support from this grant program is awarded to outstanding students from community colleges, junior colleges, city colleges, or similar two-year educational institutions to attend the next AAG Annual MeetingThese travel funds are generously provided by Darrel Hess and Robert and Bobbé Christopherson.  The award consists of meeting registration, one year membership in the AAG, and a travel expense subsidy of $500 to be used to defray the costs of attending the AAG Annual Meeting.

Eligibility: You are eligible to apply if you are a student currently enrolled at a US community college, junior college, city college, or similar two-year educational institution at the time you submit your application. Students from minority and underrepresented groups are encouraged to apply. You do NOTneed to formally participate in the meeting (e.g. paper presentation, poster, panel, etc.) to be eligible. However, if you do, please acknowledge support from the program in any presentations or publications.

Criteria: Selection will be based on the overall quality of the application, scholastic excellence and academic promise. Preference will be given to geography majors, or from institutions which do not have geography programs, to applicants who have taken geography courses and/or plan to continue to study geography in four-year institutions. Financial need will also be considered. The selection committee will observe the purposes and preferences noted above when evaluating proposals. Two to four awards will be made annually. Awards may not be made in years when funds are insufficient or proposals are not suitable.


Applications consist of a form, unofficial transcripts, and a letter of reference.

  • Please completely enter all information requested on our online application form. You will upload your unofficial transcripts to this form.
  • Applicants should also arrange for the submission of ONE Letter of Recommendation from a college instructor sent as in the body of an email or as an attachment from the instructor’s own email address tograntsawards@aag.org .

Acknowledgement of receipt of application materials will be returned within a maximum of 2-3 business days. All applicants will be notified of the status of their submission within 2 months after the deadline.

Conditions of Receiving Travel Grants:

Awardees must agree in writing to attend the AAG Annual Meeting and should keep all travel related receipts as expense documentation, to be provided upon request. After the meeting, awardees will also write a 2-3 page paper describing the sessions and events they attended, reporting on networking activities, and reflecting upon the experience for their learning goals and career aspirations.

Eligible applicants are also encouraged to consider application to the AAG Hess Community College Geography Scholarship Program.

Scientists Scramble to Map Previously Unknown Fault That Caused Napa Quake

Sunday’s 6.0 magnitude earthquake in Napa, California, was a jolt from the blue, involving previously unknown active fault lines as well as faults that were thought to be inactive. The quake caused widespread damage that may total several billion dollars, and scientists say it revealed new movement in 1.6 million-year-old faults.

Ruptures on the surface, including sections of pavement that buckled, to thedelight of area skateboarders, are now helping scientists map these fault lines, shedding insight into the area’s earthquake risk exposure.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), ruptures occurred along known faults, old faults, and areas where no faults had been mapped before. It’s not yet clear which fault caused the earthquake, though geologists suspect the Browns Valley branch of the West Napa Fault.

USGS geophysicist David Schwartz’s team of geologists are taking tape measures and GPS units to the ruptures and cracks in Napa’s roads to map the previously unknown fault. They’ve determined it runs to the north and northwest, and that the quake caused a lateral slippage of 2.5 inches. The east side of the fault moved to the south and the west side went north by that amount, Schwartz says. (Image below is not a member of Scwartz’s USGS team.)

Agency scientists have been mapping what they’ve observed, with the blue pins indicating surface ruptures, and the orange lines show the active West Napa Fault. The yellow lines show 130,000-year-old faults, and the blue show 1.6 million-year-old faults.



Schwartz says the active faults of the Napa valley are “not very well known, they haven’t been very well mapped,” partly because they are the “weak sibling” of California’s larger and better known faults.

Geologists identify active faults by their unusual surface morphology, like the distinctive gullies of the San Andreas Fault, which become obvious when viewed from the air. When geologists suspect a fault exists, they look for evidence of movement. But the Napa Valley’s faults are subtle and move more slowly, Schwartz said, so many geologists never knew they were there.

What’s more, floods in the past 2 million years deposited sediment in the Napa Valley and obscured the surface evidence, says Chris Wills, supervising engineering geologist at the California Geological Survey, which maps the state’s geology, seismology and mineral resources. Suburban development in Napa also hid surface evidence.

The flood sediments, as well as other unique geological features of Napa Valley, make the area perfect for growing grapes. The local wine industry was hard hit by the quake, which scared tourists away during a peak weekend and smashedcountless bottles.

Not only did Napa residents get hit with a quake from an unfamiliar fault line, but they also experienced more shaking because the area’s land tends to amplify land motion.

“The local geology really made the damage worse,” Schwartz says. Napa Valley has a high water table with saturated sand and silt deposits, he said, and this amplified the tremors and heightened the damage.

Wills says a survey of the area’s bedrock had suggested the presence of an active fault, and his agency had intended to evaluate it as a possible surface rupture hazard zone. “It was on the list of things we knew we needed to look at,” he says.

However, funding cuts meant the California Geological Survey simply didn’t have the manpower to investigate every possibility. Those same shortages caused the late discovery of the Hollywood Fault earlier this year.

As a result, some buildings were built directly on top of the fault that caused the Napa quake. California law prohibits construction on surface rupture hazard zones.

Schwartz says a subdivision was constructed on the fault and sustained significant damage, which likely wouldn’t have happened had geologists known that a fault was there and that it was active. The vast majority of homes and businesses in Napa did not have earthquake insurance and this research could also help spur new efforts to bolster building codes and insurance requirements.

GIS Health News Weekly


Using 3D to Track Flu

Speaking from her base in California, Ms [Lauren] Bennett [Spatial Analysis Product Engineer] said advancements in mapping technology could provide unprecedented insights into how influenza and other disease outbreaks spread in Australia and who is most at risk.

“For example, in the case of an influenza epidemic, we can now create 3D temporal maps of incidents to identify hot spots where the time of the outbreak provides the third dimension,” said Ms Bennett.

This is from a press release (though you’d not know it since it looks like a bylined article) from Esri Australia.

Where are the Blood Donors in Vancouver?

The Vancouver Sun has the answer (map at right):

 Map shows the share of the population in each Metro Vancouver neighbourhood who donated blood in the past year. Large blue icons indicate the location of permanent blood clinics. Blue dots are temporary clinics. Click on a neighbourhood for more details.

United Way Using Story Map for Campaign

United Way and the Ad Council, in collaboration with the National Football League, have announced an extension of their successful LIVE UNITED campaign, including a new series of public service ads (PSAs) featuring NFL players promoting health and wellness, and ads showcasing the true outcome of United Way’s work in local communities. The new campaign also

click here to continue reading

Census PoP Quiz

Click here for more!

How well do you know the states? Do you know the percentage of the population that walk or drive to work in New York? What percentage of people make between $50,000 and $75,000 in St. Petersburg, FL? How many women have doctoral degrees in Sacramento, CA?

Test your knowledge with Census PoP Quiz, a new population challenge about the 50 states and the District of Columbia from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Director’s Blog post | Press release



Screenshots of the Census PoP Quiz application

icon image of App Storeicon image of Google play


  • A fun, engaging experience.
  • Challenges that test your knowledge of population, housing, commuting, and more for all 50 states and the nation’s capital.
  • Social media connections – with each challenge you complete correctly, share your badge on social media.
  • Statistics powered by the American Community Survey, which provides information on more than 40 topics for every neighborhood in the nation.
  • Complete all the states to unlock the U.S. challenge.

The Census PoP Quiz app is just one example of how the Census Bureau is following the Digital Government Strategy by making its statistics more available anywhere, anytime and in any place. The Census Bureau does not collect or retain any information using this application. All information is stored only on your phone.

Mapping Disaster: A Global Community Helps from Space



The Landsat fleet of satellites can tell responders what damage disasters have done, providing timely insight into flood extents, fire boundaries, lava flow directions, road conditions, and oil slick movements. The images from these birds support response to earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, fires, landslides, oil spills, and hurricanes worldwide.

Year after year, somewhere on Earth, natural or manmade disasters cause loss of life and widespread destruction, frequently spawning refugee situations. Though the risk of a disaster is low in any one particular place, earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, fires, landslides, oil spills, and hurricanes — when considered together on a global scale — regularly menace people, property, and natural resources.

Major disasters can temporarily make existing maps obsolete, rewriting river boundaries, shorelines, and land features in an instant. When disasters strike and first responders need to understand new situations on the ground, the best source of information often comes from the sky. Satellites, like Landsat, can tell responders what damage disasters have done, providing timely insight into flood extents, fire boundaries, lava flow directions, road conditions, and oil slick movements.

Taking Action

After devastating Hurricane Mitch swept through Central America in 1998 leaving 20,000 dead in its tracks, space agency leaders decided to take action and use their specialized resources to try to lessen the impact of future disasters.

Hurricane Mitch

Hurricane Mitch, a category 5 hurricane, ripped through Central America in 1998 leaving a devastating trail of destruction. This image shows the aftermath of Mitch’s flood damage along the Choluteca River in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The storm spurred the idea for the Charter. Image: NOAA National Weather Service, Debbie Larson. (click for larger image)

In 1999, at the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Use of Outer Space (UNISPACE III) in Vienna, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the French space agency (CNES) proposed a system to supply free satellite imagery to emergency responders anywhere in the world. The outcome was the creation of the International Charter Space and Major Disasters; “Charter” for short.

You can think of the Charter as a one-stop-shop for impact maps — an essential resource, since in many cases satellite data are the only practical method to assess current ground conditions after a disaster.

Today, 15 space agencies that manage more than 30 satellites are part of the Charter, pooling their combined resources to ensure that spacefaring nations can quickly share their data for a humanitarian undertaking. Since its inception, the Charter has been activated more than 400 times.

U.S. Participation

While the U.S. was not originally part of the Charter, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration — with its mighty fleet of meteorological satellites —soon became a member in 2001. The U.S. Earth-observing satellite fleet, including Landsat, was not officially part of the Charter until the U.S. Geological Survey joined in 2005.

However, Landsat was used during the very first charter activation, in November 2000. After weeks of torrential rainfall, a small landside dammed up the Mangart Stream near the Italian border. The resulting pooled waters worked in tandem with the saturated slopes of Slovenia’s Mount Mangart to cause the mountainside to give way overnight. An estimated 1 million cubic meters (35 million cubic feet) of debris flowed into the Soca River, devastating a small village and killing seven people en route.

The Charter was activated a few days later. Thirteen satellite images were used, including two Landsat images taken before the disaster. All of the satellite images were gathered into a geographic information system (GIS) where the damage was analyzed. Using Landsat and SPOT imagery, a land use map was quickly created. This helped data analysts show responders that, although the majority of damage occurred in areas covered by deciduous forest, there was also significant damage in agricultural and inhabited areas.

In late 2004, a magnitude 9 earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami that affected Sumatra, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and southern India, killing more than 200,000 people. The Charter was activated three times to cover the large expanse of damage. Both-medium resolution data (Landsat, SPOT, Disaster Monitoring Constellation) and very high-resolution data (IKONOS, Quickbird) were used to map impacted areas and to calculate damage extent. This gave first responders an overview of the situation on the ground and provided them with information needed to plan relief logistics.

Landsat image

Landsat images, like this Landsat 5 image acquired Sept. 7, 2005, were among the space-based image resources used to monitor receding floodwaters in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. USGS/NASA Landsat image. (click for larger image)

The U.S. Earth-Observation Fleet Joins the Charter

After the staggering devastation wrought by the Indian Ocean tsunami, Brenda Jones, a Disaster Response Coordinator with the U.S. Geological Survey, received an email from Charley Hickman, a USGS State liaison in Ohio. Hickman wanted to know why Landsat was not officially part of the Charter. Jones looked into the matter and quickly discovered that the Charter was keen to partner with USGS.

“The Charter was very interested in having USGS join because of Landsat,” Jones recounts.

Thus, in early 2005, USGS became an official participating agency of the Charter. While USGS had joined because of its Landsat resources, USGS membership brought a suite of other valuable satellite data to the Charter, including NASA’s MODIS, ASTER, EO-1, and even photos taken from the International Space Station. Additionally, commercial high-resolution vendors contribute their data through USGS.

Landsat’s combination of spatial and spectral resolution together with its 186-km (115-mile) image width makes its data particularly useful after hurricanes, fires, and volcanoes, and floods.  Click to read more.