GPS error caused ’12 hours of problems’ for companies

Source:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-35491962

Several companies were hit by hours of system warnings after GPS satellites broadcast the wrong time, according to time-monitoring company Chronos.

The company observed problems last week, after noticing some GPS time signals were 13 microseconds out.

Such a discrepancy is considered sever, and several Chronos telecoms clients faced “12 hours” of system errors.

Previously, the GPS errors had also been blamed for disturbances with BBC radio broadcasts.

According to the US Air Force, which manages the GPS satellite network, problems began when a satellite named SVN 23 was decommissioned.

‘Escalating alarms’

“Our support manager was rung at [02:00],” said Chronos chief executive Prof Charles Curry.

“He was called from his bed by a network operations centre.”

“What we saw was about 12 hours of problems,” he told the BBC.

Prof Curry said telecoms companies relied on the accuracy of time measurements to control the flow of data through their networks.

The bits and bytes of a telephone call, for example, might be synchronised based on the time as reported by GPS satellite signals.

That signal was constantly monitored for accuracy.

And when the 13 microsecond error had been detected, it resulted in thousands of system warnings being activated at some companies.

“The alarms were escalating,” said Prof Curry.

“One particular network we have, which is a global network, [was] seeing alarms from all over the place, all over the world.”

An error with GPS satellite time signals caused '12 hours of problems' for some telecoms firmsAn error with GPS satellite time signals caused “12 hours of problems” for some telecoms companies

Prof Curry said he was not aware of any consequences of these problems that would have been apparent to the public – probably thanks to back-up time systems.

And this kind of issue was extremely rare.

“Last week was an example of something going wrong in a fairly major way,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s gone quite that badly wrong since 1 January 2004, when the same satellite vehicle number [SVN], 23, decided to become unhappy.”

The Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation (RNTFnd) – which advocates the development of dependable timing systems – also had “minor reports” from the telecoms and energy sectors as a result of the GPS issue.

Dana Goward, the foundation’s president, said, “It [had] a very broad and – very fortunately – minor impact on many infrastructure sectors.”

Details unclear

During the decommissioning of SVN 23, an issue in the “Global Positioning System ground software” had been detected, the USAF said.

But full details of what went wrong, and why more than one satellite became affected, remain unclear.

 

 

Nearsys develops HAB compatible flight computers with Servo control

nearsys

NearSys, an American company servicing the high altitude balloon hobby community is currently developing flight computers to control mechanical servos. The small and light weight flight computers, called , will offer users the ability to trigger a mechanical servo during flight which gives operators the scope to open apertures, release portions of the payload, or open collection devices like petri dishes.

Dropper

BalloonSat Mini Servo

 

 

 

Paul Verhage from NearSys gave us a brief overview of what they offer. Paul said, “For those not familiar with them, BalloonSats, or balloon satellites are functional models of satellites that operate in near space. They are engineered structures that collect science data in a space like environment. This makes BalloonSats a powerful STEM activity that unites all four elements of STEM. Near space is that region of Earth’s atmosphere above 60,000 feet (the top of controlled air space) and below 328,000 feet (the lower boundary of outer space). In near space, conditions are such that it looks and feels like outer space. However, reaching near space is roughly 1,000 times less costly. Because BalloonSats involve a model of the space program, ,they become an activity that many children (and adults) will enjoy. My PhD dissertation studied the effects that a BalloonSat program had on science attitudes. I discovered that students developed a 3% increase in their interest in science as a hobby activity. This is important because students with science hobby interests are more likely to take science in school and work harder at it. Working harder results in greater success in science (or any subject for that matter) and that success breeds greater interest in taking more science and trying harder still. If we can increase the number of students taking science and being successful at it, we can raise of culture of science-literate adults who are more capable of working in STEM fields and solving STEM-related problems vexing our would. You can read my dissertation at, http://nearsys.com/pubs/publications.htm

The products I sell are kits that students or student teams can assemble to collect science data in near space. The kits are designed to create high levels of success in student teams building them while giving them more than just a cookbook lab activity. The flight computers are programmable and will collect data from a variety of sensors I sell and am designing. Students building BalloonSats can focus on engineering a model satellite that will collect data without worrying about the launch, tracking, or recovering issues entailed in a near space mission. If a local near space group is not available to launch the students BalloonSats, they can be mailed back to me where I can launch them in Idaho.”

Australian pico balloon heard in South Africa and stateside

Source: http://www.southgatearc.org/news/2016/january/australian_pico_balloon_heard_in_south_africa_and_stateside.htm#.Vqdc6Y_XLIU

The balloon PS-58 launched in Melbourne four weeks ago is floating slowly just south of the equator near South America, as it edges easterly.

Jim Linton VK3PC says keeping track of the flight are Ken ZS6KN in Pretoria South Africa, Jim W8AC in Ohio and John AT4AT of Virginia USA.

At last report to Andy VK3YT his solar powered balloon was 9,000 metres in altitude, temperature was minus 25 degrees and all seemed to be going well. This balloon that was launched on December 29 is expected to reach mainland South America.

Its tiny 30 metre band signal on WSPR and JT9 allows further trackers to watch its progress.

• In VK5 the Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program (SHSSP) is jointly organised by the International Space University (ISU) and the University of South Australia. It is a unique, five week live-in experience focusing on an international, inter-cultural and interdisciplinary (3 “I”s) educational philosophy for which the ISU is renowned.

The Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program have asked the Amateur Radio Experimenters Group, (AREG) who have considerable experience with high altitude balloon launches and recoveries through Project Horus, to provide a balloon launch this coming Australia Day, the 26th of January 2016.

The balloon launch will take place, weather conditions favourable, from the Mt. Barker High School in the Adelaide Hills, just east of Adelaide.

The launch is expected to be released between 09:30 to 09:45 am local CDST January 26th, or 23:00 to 23:15 UTC January 25th .

The balloon is expected to carry two payloads, one supplied by the SHSSP participants as part of their course project and the usual AREG/ Horus telemetry payloads. Telemetry will the normal RTTY mode on 434.450 MHz USB.

Check the details closer to the launch date.

Further details may be found on AREG’s website at www.areg.org.au

Ben Broadbent VK5BB

NWS Bismarck helps track East Coast storm

Source:http://bismarcktribune.com/news/nws-bismarck-helps-track-east-coast-storm/article_bb8db771-67cd-502b-9160-5c312b4dc487.html

The National Weather Service in Bismarck is helping to track a severe winter storm expected to hit the East Coast as early as today.

The weather station has launched two extra weather balloons each day since Wednesday to help track the nor’easter, which is expected to dump heavy snow on parts of the mid-Atlantic this afternoon and into early Saturday.

The National Weather Service predicts snowfall may reach 2 feet for some locations, including Washington, D.C., where more than 130 Catholic college and high school students from North Dakota are preparing for a March for Life gathering to protest legalized abortion. The event is scheduled to take place this afternoon.

“It’s definitely shaping up to be potentially one of the larger snowstorms,” said Zach Hargrove, a meteorologist at NWS Bismarck. “If it ends up being a little stronger than expected, it could be a historic storm.”

Zach Hargrove checks the radiosonde atmospheric data transmitter before its launch via balloon on Thursday morning in the National Weather Service offices in Bismarck. Hargrove, a meteorologist with the NWS, said the radiosonde can be recycled. For more photographs and a video of the balloon launch, go to http://www.bismarcktribune.com.

 

Normally, the weather station launches hydrogen balloons daily at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m., Hargrove said.

“But since we can’t get any direct observations into the upper atmosphere, these balloon launches are very important.”

“3 … 2 … 1!”

Hargrove releases a long piece of string attached to a 3- to 4-foot-wide white balloon on Thursday. Within seconds, the balloon is enveloped by a snowy background.

Once it rises to an extremely high altitude, the balloon expands to nearly the size of a room at NWS Bismarck’s office, Hargrove said.

The balloon is equipped with an atmospheric instrument, or a small white box called a radiosonde, that is used to sample the atmosphere. The radiosonde uses a radio frequency signal to track data on temperature, humidity, pressure and wind, which is transmitted to the Bismarck headquarters.

“We can get all of that data every second as it’s going up into the atmosphere,” Hargrove said.

The balloons can rise as high as 135,000 feet, Hargrove said. Once it meets the threshold, the balloon pops and a parachute attached to the radiosonde brings the device safely back to the ground. One it bursts, data stop collecting.

The balloons can travel 60 to 80 miles away from the station, Hargrove said. Because the weather station doesn’t typically retrieve the devices, the radiosonde has mailing instructions attached for anyone who finds the instrument.

Once, Hargrove said he tracked a device near Jamestown.

That National Weather Service operates more than 80 stations in the United States that send balloons out twice a day. Hargrove said most of the stations that make up the eastern half of the country, including in the central and southern regions, were doing special balloon launches this week.

NWS Bismarck is the only office in North Dakota that does the balloon launches, he said.

High Altitude Ballooning in Ukraine

 

Competitions like the Global Space Balloon Challenge remind HAB enthusiasts that it is not just a pursuit for Americans and western Europeans. It is an activity that happens all round the world. Still, I was surprised and intrigued to be contacted by a team from Ukraine recently and wanted to know more about the state of high altitude ballooning in Ukraine.  Serge Prakhov of Ukraine HAB (www.ukrhab.org and  www.fb.com/ukrhab) was kind enough to give us an insight.

Serge said, “ High Altitude Ballooning is relatively small in Ukraine. The government launches radio sondes regularly at airports. On top of that there are several HAB operators including me (Callsign : UR5FSV), another operator  (callsign UY0LL), and a school group calling themselves Nastixaerospace.

ukraine

Gas is easy to obtain in Ukraine, and for the first flight I used Hydrogen and for the second helium. Helium 40ltrs bottle cost approximately  100 $US with delivery, based on conditions that empty bottle to be returned within 2 weeks. Balloons have to be bought abroad as there is no much HAB activity yet in Ukraine.

 

hqdefault

For both flights we  used trackers broadcasting in APRS and  RTTY modes with UKHAS protocol. They worked really well and we were able to recover both flights.”

154675517

UKRHAB is planning to have 2  to 3 launches in 2016, with at least one during GSBC. For more information go to http://www.ukrhab.org or http://www.fb.com/ukrhab.

Global Space Balloon Challenge opens for 2016 competition

gsbc

The organisers of the Global Space Balloon Challenge have kicked off the new year by opening the doors to registration for the 2016 competition, and brought a new look to their web site.

A full listing of the 2016 competition can be found on their web site/forum at https://balloonchallenge.org/. In brief this year’s competition has the same format as the previous two years. The competition will run for registered competitors who launch a high altitude balloon between 11th April and 9th May. Balloon flights will be judged in the following categories :-

Best Education Outreach Initiative

Best Photograph

Best Science Experiment

Best Design

Best Video

Most Helpful Team

Most Charitable Team

Longest Ground Track

Return to Launch Site

Teams entering the  categories of ‘Longest ground track’ and ‘return to launch site’ may only use radio tracking which produce publically verifiable data. They are not open to teams using satellite messengers including SPOT trackers. This is disappointing as it closes the door to low tech teams who may not want to use more advanced and costly radio trackers.

The competition has also lost the categories of highest altitude and best demonstration of space technology which were present in 2015. These categories were an opportunity for well resourced and experienced HAB teams to really show off their skills and funding.

For the last two categories, the organisers of the GSBC stipulate that only trackers with traceable telemetry can be used. We assume that this is to eliminate cheating, especially in the ‘return to launch site’ category. The organisers do, however, say that they will look at alternatives on a case by case basis. So we imagine that teams using SPOT trackers will have to convince the GSBC organisers to accept  their results.

The competition rules, in full, can be found at https://community.balloonchallenge.org/t/gsbc-2016-challenges/648

Balloon News has been told that entrants from 2014 and 2015 will automatically be entered so there is no need to complete a 2016 entrance form. Please let us know if you have any problem entering the competition.

As for the ‘new look’ to the competition web site, we were underwhelmed. Much of the content has been moved onto a noisy forum. As a result a lot of the clarity for the current years rules has been lost. This is a shame as previously the web site was clear and simple. It also means that up to date content is mixed in with out of date content. Surely this is a  recipe for confusion.