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