Hubble’s Communications Fail

30 09 2008

NASA said Monday that it is delaying its mission to the Hubble Space Telescope until next year because of a serious breakdown of the observatory in orbit.

The Atlantis team was scheduled to blast off October 14 to make other repairs and upgrades on the Hubble.

Space shuttle Atlantis had been scheduled to blast off in just two weeks, but an unexpected problem with the Hubble appeared Saturday night, when the telescope stopped sending science data.

That potentially means a new repair issue for the astronauts to confront, one they haven’t trained for and never anticipated.

The failure of the command and data-handling system for Hubble’s science instruments means the telescope is unable to capture and beam down the data needed to produce its stunning deep space images.

Early Monday afternoon, NASA announced that the October 14 launch had been postponed until at least early next year, possibly February.

When Atlantis does fly, NASA may send up a replacement part for the failed component.

It would take time to test and qualify the old replacement part and train the astronauts to install it in the telescope, NASA spokesman Michael Curie said. NASA also would have to work out new mission details for the astronauts who have trained for two years to carry out five Hubble repair spacewalks.

“The teams are always looking at contingencies, and this is just something that has cropped up we have the ability to deal with. They’re just trying to decide what direction we want to go,” Curie said.

There is a backup channel for the science instruments’ command and data-handling system, and NASA may be able to activate it successfully so that data transmission resumes, Curie said. But if NASA relies solely on the backup channel, there would be no other options if it malfunctioned.

Work has begun to switch the telescope to the backup channel. It is a complicated process; the backup channels on the various modules that must be switched over have not been turned on since the late 1980s or early 1990, right before Hubble was launched. The Hubble team hopes to complete the job by the end of the week.

Curie stressed that the telescope is not in trouble; it just cannot send science information to ground controllers. That means NASA is unable to receive the dramatic pictures Hubble is known for.

The mission by Atlantis and a seven-person crew will be the fifth and final servicing mission to Hubble.

Now, Endeavour will be the next shuttle up, on a trip to the international space station in November. Endeavour is at the launch pad; it was supposed to serve as a rescue ship for Atlantis in case of trouble.





Hubble’s Communications Fail

30 09 2008

NASA said Monday that it is delaying its mission to the Hubble Space Telescope until next year because of a serious breakdown of the observatory in orbit.

The Atlantis team was scheduled to blast off October 14 to make other repairs and upgrades on the Hubble.

Space shuttle Atlantis had been scheduled to blast off in just two weeks, but an unexpected problem with the Hubble appeared Saturday night, when the telescope stopped sending science data.

That potentially means a new repair issue for the astronauts to confront, one they haven’t trained for and never anticipated.

The failure of the command and data-handling system for Hubble’s science instruments means the telescope is unable to capture and beam down the data needed to produce its stunning deep space images.

Early Monday afternoon, NASA announced that the October 14 launch had been postponed until at least early next year, possibly February.

When Atlantis does fly, NASA may send up a replacement part for the failed component.

It would take time to test and qualify the old replacement part and train the astronauts to install it in the telescope, NASA spokesman Michael Curie said. NASA also would have to work out new mission details for the astronauts who have trained for two years to carry out five Hubble repair spacewalks.

“The teams are always looking at contingencies, and this is just something that has cropped up we have the ability to deal with. They’re just trying to decide what direction we want to go,” Curie said.

There is a backup channel for the science instruments’ command and data-handling system, and NASA may be able to activate it successfully so that data transmission resumes, Curie said. But if NASA relies solely on the backup channel, there would be no other options if it malfunctioned.

Work has begun to switch the telescope to the backup channel. It is a complicated process; the backup channels on the various modules that must be switched over have not been turned on since the late 1980s or early 1990, right before Hubble was launched. The Hubble team hopes to complete the job by the end of the week.

Curie stressed that the telescope is not in trouble; it just cannot send science information to ground controllers. That means NASA is unable to receive the dramatic pictures Hubble is known for.

The mission by Atlantis and a seven-person crew will be the fifth and final servicing mission to Hubble.

Now, Endeavour will be the next shuttle up, on a trip to the international space station in November. Endeavour is at the launch pad; it was supposed to serve as a rescue ship for Atlantis in case of trouble.





Microsoft Updates Online Services

30 09 2008

On Monday, Microsoft updated two of its Live services: Windows Live Hotmail and Live Maps. Of the two, the changes to Hotmail are not yet available to everyone. The company began rolling it out to some of its users this weekend, with everyone else getting their hands on it in the next few weeks. It’s the newer, faster version of the service that brings in gains of up to 70 percent compared with older versions of Hotmail. (Read more about that here.)

Meanwhile, Live Search Maps, Microsoft’s online mapping tool has a really neat new way to get directions using local landmarks and local businesses. If the service picks up on one of these landmarks as part of your route, it will use it in addition to the street name. Oftentimes this comes in handy where a business has better signage than the city, which in the case of car dealerships and fast food restaurants is almost always true.

Chris Pendleton, Microsoft Virtual Earth’s Tech Evangelist, says these landmarks are currently limited to these six categories:

  • Gas Stations
  • Major National Chains of Hotels
  • Restaurants
  • Convenience Stores
  • Grocery Stores
  • Car Dealerships

To help get you there, there’s a new multistop trip planner–a feature Google Maps has had since late 2006. This means you can add other addresses between the point A and point B of your trip, then print it out to stick in your car.

The service is also now instantly indexing community maps. Maps that users have created will now be able to be searched by everyone immediately. The user-created items will also be mixed in with business results, which means you or someone else could enter in a business’ address and phone number before it’s been officially added and have it show up in regular searches. Neat.





Apple’s Stock Drops

30 09 2008

Apple’s shares fell 17.5 percent in early trading Monday, as two noted brokerage firms scaled back their recommendations to a “hold” from a “buy.”

Apple fell as low as $105.77 a share in intraday trading, down substantially from its close of $128.24 on Friday. Apple’s shares sold off sharply after Morgan Stanley and RBC Capital Markets downgraded the stock.

Morgan Stanley not only revised its recommendation for the stock, but also lowered its fiscal 2009 earnings estimate to $5.47 a share from $5.91 a share.

In listing its reasons for its revisions, Morgan Stanley said in a research note:

First, PC unit growth is decelerating and the remaining source of growth is increasingly in the sub-$1,000 market where Apple does not play. Second, even in the best of scenarios, Apple’s earnings per share growth will decelerate meaningfully from June quarter levels. A combination of tough compares (with the previous years figures) and investments in iPhone growth drive our December quarter earnings per share to a decline of 8 percent year over year, down from +29 percent growth June.

Morgan added that it expects Apple to offer a more conservative guide to Wall Street and investors for the three-month period ending in December.

RBC Capital, meanwhile, downgraded Apple’s stock based on “elevated risks” from a slowdown in consumer spending.

According to RBC’s research note:

In a worsening consumer spending environment we are downgrading from outperform to sector perform on: 1) reduced visibility growth, margins. 2) elevated risks to valuation.

RBC noted in its report that its September data showed the number of those intending to purchase a Mac laptop within the next 90 days has dropped to 29 percent, compared with 34 percent in August, and those expecting to purchase a Mac desktop fell to 26 percent from 30 percent in the same period.





Apple’s Stock Drops

30 09 2008

Apple’s shares fell 17.5 percent in early trading Monday, as two noted brokerage firms scaled back their recommendations to a “hold” from a “buy.”

Apple fell as low as $105.77 a share in intraday trading, down substantially from its close of $128.24 on Friday. Apple’s shares sold off sharply after Morgan Stanley and RBC Capital Markets downgraded the stock.

Morgan Stanley not only revised its recommendation for the stock, but also lowered its fiscal 2009 earnings estimate to $5.47 a share from $5.91 a share.

In listing its reasons for its revisions, Morgan Stanley said in a research note:

First, PC unit growth is decelerating and the remaining source of growth is increasingly in the sub-$1,000 market where Apple does not play. Second, even in the best of scenarios, Apple’s earnings per share growth will decelerate meaningfully from June quarter levels. A combination of tough compares (with the previous years figures) and investments in iPhone growth drive our December quarter earnings per share to a decline of 8 percent year over year, down from +29 percent growth June.

Morgan added that it expects Apple to offer a more conservative guide to Wall Street and investors for the three-month period ending in December.

RBC Capital, meanwhile, downgraded Apple’s stock based on “elevated risks” from a slowdown in consumer spending.

According to RBC’s research note:

In a worsening consumer spending environment we are downgrading from outperform to sector perform on: 1) reduced visibility growth, margins. 2) elevated risks to valuation.

RBC noted in its report that its September data showed the number of those intending to purchase a Mac laptop within the next 90 days has dropped to 29 percent, compared with 34 percent in August, and those expecting to purchase a Mac desktop fell to 26 percent from 30 percent in the same period.





New GTA to Have Drug Dealing

30 09 2008

I’ve written a lot about video games, but Rockstar is taking it to a whole new level, bringing drug-dealing into the new version of Grand Theft Auto for the Nintendo DS.

Rockstar Vice President Dan Houser explained to Edge magazine why the company included this feature in the game:

“We wanted to have a drug-dealing mini-game in lots of the GTA games,” Houser said. “We played with it a little in Vice City Stories, because it worked really well juxtaposed with the main story. It works well with what GTA is, with driving around the map, and it gives you another thing to think about–another layer or piece of the puzzle to keep you motivated…It does intersect with the main story and things you learn from it work with the story, but it mostly runs on its own.”

If nothing else, you have to admire the guys at Rockstar for their willingness to do pretty much anything to make GTA interesting and controversial.





Norway Pressures Apple to Remove iTunes Music DRM

30 09 2008

Norway’s top consumer advocate said Monday that he will ask a government court to force Apple to open the iTunes music store to users who own music players other than the iPod.

“It’s a consumer’s right to transfer and play digital content bought and downloaded from the Internet to the music device he himself chooses to use,” said Bjorn Erik Thon, Norway’s consumer ombudsman. “iTunes makes this impossible or at least difficult, and hence, they act in breach of Norwegian law.”

He has been pressing Apple for more than two years to drop its anti-copying digital rights management (DRM) technology from all iTunes tracks so that the music can be loaded onto rivals’ devices. “I’ve been quite happy with the progress [with Apple] on other issues, but not on the one regarding DRM, which is the most important to consumers,” Thon said.

He last met with Apple in February, when the company told him it shared his aim of interoperability. Since then, however, there has been no progress, said Thon.

“So we will ask for a prohibition of the practice that you’re only allowed to play music from iTunes on an iPod,” said.

By submitting the case to Norway’s Market Council—a governmental court that has the ability to issue binding rulings—Thon hopes to pressure Apple into opening iTunes. The Market Council would likely reach a decision by next summer after collecting written briefs from both parties in January and hearing oral arguments in March or April 2009.

The Market Council could fine Apple if it did not comply with its ruling.

Thon declined to specify the size of the fine he would request, but said it would probably set a Norwegian record. “Size matters when it comes to the amount of the fine, and Apple is by far the biggest company that has been involved in a case,” he said. “It should be a significant amount, but whether it’s 100,000, 200,000, 300,000, 400,000 Euros, I couldn’t say.”

The case could have an impact beyond Norway, Thon added, noting that consumer agencies in Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands and other European countries are behind him. He said he would reach out to others, including colleagues in Italy and Sweden, to get their support as well.

“I’m quite optimistic that if we win this case, the European Union will have a look at this and make this EU policy,” said Thon. In July, he met with Meglena Kuneva, the EU’s consumer commissioner, who expressed interest in the Norwegian effort to get Apple to open iTunes. “I will follow up with her, and keep in close contact in the months to come,” he promised.

Apple has made some moves to free iTunes-purchased tracks from its iPod line of players, including selling some DRM-free music starting in May 2007, however, people are pushing for ALL DRM free files.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.