Monday, March 31, 2008

Lockheed Martin Wins Huge JTRS Contract

Washington Post:

Lockheed Secures Bid for Military Radio System

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 29, 2008; Page D02

Lockheed Martin of Bethesda yesterday landed two major contracts worth a total of $1.3 billion, including one to overhaul the military's radio system so that all the service branches can communicate with each other.

The world's largest defense company beat out Boeing to get the $766.2 million Pentagon contract to design and build a new radio system that will connect aircraft, ships, submarines and ground stations.

The Defense Department's program, called the Joint Tactical Radio System , is a major step toward replacing the older radio systems the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine troops now use, allowing them to have one system that can transmit video, conversations and other data.

...


JTRS accomplishes the above goals through highly flexible, mostly software based, radios. Obviously developing a single, interoperable, full-featured communications system for the entire US military is a rather ambitious undertaking, and this program has been around for quite some time. In 2005, there were serious doubts about its feasability. Obviously, many meetings took place, and in 2007 a Request for Proposals was made for an early phase called the Airborne and Maritime/Fixed Station Joint Tactical Radio System.

Today, the announcement was made that Lockheed won. This contract is worth $766.1 million. Depending on what happens, it could ultimately be a lot more. Presumably the usual defense radio vendors will supply equipment and expertise.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Shuttle Landing is GO

Just a few seconds ago, the decision was made to land at KSC tonight. The de-orbit burn is in 8 minutes. The landing is still scheduled for 8:39 Eastern time (0039 UTC). Ground track is over Mexico, out into the Gulf right over the Yucatan, and northeastward toward Florida.

Space Shuttle May Land Tonight

Just as I was posting this, the Endeavour landing opportunity at 7:05 PM (2305 UTC) was waved off due to poor weather.

This leaves a second opportunity at 8:39 PM Eastern (0039 Thursday UTC). The shuttle's backup sites for landing, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and White Sands Space Harbor, N.M., were not activated Wednesday.

Weather seems to be improving, but if this second one waves off, they'll try again Thursday.

Two hours after landing, NASA officials will hold a media briefing to discuss the mission.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Solar Activity Picks Up

Cycle 23 active regions #987 and 988 have appeared from behind the sun's east limb, already with very large sunspots and one M-class flare. A third region is currently appearing. As this complex rotates more toward the center of the sun (as seen from Earth), there's a possibility for more activity. At a minimum, solar flux should go above 80 for the first time in quite a while (it's 79 right now), and with a southward Bz at present one can't discount the possibility of aurora should the solar wind increase.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Ice Season Is Here!

North Atlantic icebergs are worst in the spring months. The Titanic hit an iceberg on April 15.

At present, the Boston ice chart is being updated once a week, but this will shift to daily before long. Note the distinctive callsign "NIK" used for the ice broadcasts. Here is the schedule for these (times UTC, frequencies kHz):

0438 FAX 4235, 6340.5, 9110
1218 SITOR 8416.5, 12579, 16806.5
1600 FAX 6340.5,9110
1810 FAX 6340.5, 9110.

And here's a typical chart copied a couple of days ago:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

STS-123 Count Continues

Launch is on schedule for 0628 UTC, one hour from now.

Booster Recovery Director (BRD) at Cape Canaveral, FL is on 6897.0 USB working Booster Recovery Vessels Freedom Star and Liberty Star. Good signals in California.

Weather, though cloudier than expected, is still only a 10% probability of preventing launch.

Monday, March 10, 2008

US Loran-C Will Stay On Air

Following an investigation and comment period, the US Coast Guard has decided to continue funding the LORAN (LOng RAnge Navigation) network on 100 kHz. It was decided (accurately, IMHO) that a modernized version of Loran-C provides a reliable backup to the GPS system in case of an outage or disruption.

The eLoran system mentioned in the release adds another pulse to the existing burst. This can provide additional user data. This has been tested in the field, and the extra pulse displays on triggered scopes tuned to the particular chain's Group Repetition Interval. Loran-C transmitter chains use very high pulsed power levels, and they are audible just about anywhere on this low frequency.

Also, more modern transmitters are being installed. These are completely solid state, and essentially high-powered strobes for RF instead of light waves. Controlled by atomic clocks, they dump a huge capacitor across a circuit, producing the precisely timed short pulses that make the system work.

Here's the release from the Department of Homeland Security:

February 7, 2008
Contact: (202) 282-8010

STATEMENT FROM DHS PRESS SECRETARY LAURA KEEHHNER ON THE ADOPTION OF NATIONAL BACKUP SYSTEM TO GPS

Today the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will begin implementing an independent national positioning, navigation and timing system that complements the Global Positioning System (GPS) in the event of an outage or disruption in service.

The enhanced Loran, or eLoran, system will be a land-based, independent system and will mitigate any safety, security, or economic effects of a GPS outage or disruption. GPS is a satellite-based system widely used for positioning, navigation, and timing. The eLoran system will be an enhanced and modernized version of Loran-C, long used by mariners and aviators and originally developed for civil marine use in coastal areas.

In addition to providing backup coverage, the signal strength and penetration capability of eLoran will provide support to first responders and other operators in environments that GPS cannot support, such as under heavy foliage, in some underground areas, and in dense high-rise structures. The system will use modernized transmitting stations and an upgraded network.

###

STS-123 Launch Tonight

Countdown continues for the launch of space shuttle mission STS-123 at 2:28 AM Eastern time. (That's 0628 UTC.) Yes, that's the middle of the night, but that's when the window opens. Night owls in the southeast should get a rather spectacular light show. It's really amazing how bright it is.

NASA TV schedule (All times UTC):

NASA TV coverage begins ----------- 0130
Launch (middle of 10 min window) -- 0628
Launch video replay --------------- 0641
Additional camera replays --------- 0713
Post-launch news conference ------- 0730
Ascent team video replay ---------- 1200
Launch engineering replays -------- 1228


At present, weather has only a 10% chance of preventing launch.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

PEMEX Adds ALE Frequencies

PEMEX, Petroleos Mexicanos, the Mexican national oil company, has finally put up more Automatic Link Establishment (ALE) frequencies to go with the original three. Three freqs isn't much of an ALE net, but now it starts to look like the real thing.

These are the frequencies that various people have reported. The ones I can verify personally have a * :

2182.0 * (1)
3700.0 *
4078.8 *
4487.5
4900.0 * (2)
7450.0 *
8291.1
8242.9
9265.0
11095.0 *

Notes:
(1) This is an international maritime calling and distress frequency, and it is doubtful if Pemex is allowed to sound there for any length of time.

(2) 4900 has so far only had Mexican military here, but I'm keeping it in the scan because others have heard Pemex.

USCG NMN (Norfolk) to Drop On-Call Sitor-A

And it is probably only a matter of time before other CG stations do similar.

ZCZC GA82
USCG CAMSLANT HF ON CALL SITOR TERMINATION ADVISORY
1. USCG CAMSLANT CHESAPEAKE VA (NMN, SELCALL NR 1097)
WILL TERMINATE ALL HIGH FREQUENCY (HF) RADIOTELEX (ON CALL
SITOR) SERVICES EFF 2359Z MAR 31, 2008. SHORE
RECEIVE FREQUENCIES 6262.8, 8386.3, 12488.3, 16694.8,
AND 22298.8 WILL NO LONGER BE ACTIVE AFTER THIS DATE.
2. AMVER AND NOAA METEOROLOGICAL REPORTS WILL CONT TO
BE RECEIVED AT NO CHARGE THRU SHIPCOM HF RADIOTELEX
(NBDP) SERVICE VIA WLO NEAR MOBILE, AL OR NOAAS SEAS
(SHIPBOARD ENVIRONMENTAL (DATA) ACQUISITION SYSTEM)
PROGRAM OVER INMARSAT C. AMVER REPORTS MAY ALSO BE
SENT AT NO CHARGE THRU GLOBE WIRELESS.
3. BROADCASTS OF MARITIME SAFETY INFORMATION FROM
CAMSLANT CHESAPEAKE VA BY HF SITOR (HF NAVTEX) ON
FREQUENCIES 6312.3, 8414.8 12577.3 AND 16804.8 WILL
NOT BE AFFECTED BY THIS ACTION.
4. CANCEL AT TIME//040001Z APR 08//

NNNN

New PC-HFDL Data File

The new pchfdl.dat file for HFDL system table #33 has been installed to the config directory of PC-HFDL, and it works. The frequencies now show in kHz again, instead of just the numbers.

The file has been copied to the Utility World web site. As always, shut down PC-HFDL first. Go to the config directory, and rename the existing pchfdl.dat something like oldpchfdl.dat or pchfdl32.dat. Copy the new file to this directory, make sure it is still named pchfdl.dat, then restart PC-HFDL. If you're lucky, the system table will show as #33, and the frequencies will appear in kHz.

This doesn't always work for everybody, but this file as usual is the one on the Yahoo HFDL group, and works for most users there. As always, don't worry that a text listing of the file looks like gibberish, with binary data and fragments of ACARS messages. The system table is in there somewhere.

Once again, I thank this group for getting the data up in such a timely manner. I might get a system table live on the air here in The Land That Short Wave Forgot, and I might not.

New HFDL System Table

About 24 hours ago, ARINC put out a new system table for its HFDL system.

The new table is number 33, or 21 in hexadecimal.

The only changes are to the Molokai ground station (number 02). The old frequencies of 5538, 5529, 5508, 3001, and 2878 kHz have been deleted. They are replaced by 13324, 13312, 6565, 5514, and 4687 kHz.

The new pchfdl.dat file will be uploaded to the Utility World web site as soon as it is tested and verified working here.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Sunspots Hit Absolute Bottom

Recent pictures of the solar disk often show something we don't see often. This is a solar disk completely free of sunspots. In fact, the daily sunspot numbers have as often as not been zero in the past couple of weeks (a condition reported as SPOTNIL by people who are into these things). These numbers are not obtained by counting visible spots, but by counting visible active regions as 10, and individual spots as 1. Therefore there can't be any active regions either for 0 to be reached.

Today there's one active region, I think. It's a pretty weenie one. The recent fluctuations in the A and K index are due not to sunspots but to a coronal hole and southward interplanetary magnetic field (Bz).

Daily solar uncorrected solar radio fluxes from the observatory used by WWV have been running in the 68 range. Folks, it just doesn't get very much lower than this. It can't, with these laws of physics.

Today was the first time in a while that HF propagation was absolutely putrid. Let's face it. It sucked the big one.

All this is further evidence, as if we needed any, that Cycle 23 is ending. Yes, there's no where to go from here but up.