May 29, 2009 | 2
With counterfeit pay TV smart cards just a click away on the Internet, pay TV providers are constantly looking for new ways to protect their digital content from theft, particularly as the June 12 deadline to switch signals from analog to digital looms. A team of tech companies believes it's onto something with an approach to security they hope will improve the encryption and decryption of broadcast signals, ensuring that subscribers have access to only the programs they're paying for, and non-subscribers don't get any access at all.
There are several ways to hack into a set top box and steal pay TV, says Dennis Flaharty, chief executive of SypherMedia International, Inc., a Westminster, Calif. company that provides part of this new security technology. One popular approach is to remove a set-top box's smart card (which provides the intelligence needed to decrypt a broadcast signal) and re-program it so that the card decrypts more channels than the subscriber is paying for. Non-subscribers can likewise buy pre-programmed smart cards via black market Web sites and plug them into a generic set-top box to steal content.
May 14, 2009
The European Space Agency (ESA) successfully launched two spacecraft this morning that should shed light on some of the big questions in astronomy and cosmology, from the origins of the universe to the formation of stars and planets.
ESA's Planck and Herschel lifted off on board an Ariane 5 rocket at 9:12 Eastern Daylight Time from the European Spaceport in French Guiana.
Less than 40 minutes later the two spacecraft radioed back to an ESA antenna in Australia to confirm that they had separated from the launcher as planned. (The video below shows an animation of Planck's separation.) They are on separate trajectories to loop around a point 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth, well beyond the moon. To lend a sense of scale, ESA has a video showing Herschel's planned trajectory and orbit.
Apr 9, 2009
Some analysts see strong evidence that North Korea's controversial rocket launch this past weekend was a missile test and not a peaceful space launch as the secretive country claims. The launch has been condemned by the U.S. as a violation of United Nations sanctions intended to quash the development of nuclear or ballistic-missile programs in North Korea. The state media claims that the launch was a successful stab at putting a communications satellite in orbit, but U.S. and South Korean observers say the rocket's upper stages and payload fell into the Pacific Ocean well before anything reached orbit.
South Korean scientists told the Christian Science Monitor this week that it is unlikely North Korea could or would launch a real satellite, meaning that a missile test was the likely motive for the launch. (And a successful one at that, as the rocket doubled the range of its predecessor.) "They cannot have been shooting a real satellite," Noh-Hoon Myung, head of the Satellite Technology Research Center at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), told the newspaper. He added that he thinks "it was a dummy, not a real one," since there is no indication that North Korea has the capacity to build a satellite.
Feb 23, 2009 | 11
Nearly a decade ago, Leik Myrabo shared with Scientific American readers his vision for the future of space travel: a "LightCraft" pushed out to the stars by a pulsed infrared laser beam from the ground or pulled into space by a laser beamed down from a solar-powered station orbiting Earth. (Read the article here.) Myrabo, an associate professor of engineering physics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., described in his April 1999 article a grand plan for constructing these orbital stations and a beamed-energy craft that could transport passengers out to space.
Ten years—and reportedly 140 test flights using small prototypes—later, he foresees laser flight carrying people around the globe and into space by 2020, Wired.com reported from "Expanding the Vision of Sustainable Mobility," a conference hosted last week by the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. For this scenario, ground-based lasers called LightPorts would provide the energy needed to propel the crafts, although Myrabo acknowledges that this won't become viable until more powerful lasers are developed and jet fuel becomes expensive enough to force the aviation industry to search for an alternative.
Oct 29, 2008
In 2011 NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft will insert itself into Mercury’s orbit, ending a nearly seven-year journey spanning billions of miles. The real work begins, though, once MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) settles in as Mercury’s lone satellite and provides the first prolonged look at the dense little planet. Until that time, planetary scientists have to settle for tantalizing but fleeting glimpses of Mercury from MESSENGER’s three flybys, the second of which took place on October 6.
Some of the results of that up-close peek were announced at a NASA news conference today, providing a taste of what revelations will come once MESSENGER takes up residence in Mercury’s orbit. (The flybys are gravity-assist procedures to bring MESSENGER’s trajectory into line for the future orbit insertion; any scientific data collected during them are icing on the cake.) Relatively little is known about the planet, because its proximity to the sun largely precludes ground-based study; before MESSENGER’s first pass, less than half the planet had even been imaged.
Oct 15, 2008 | 1
The Hubble Space Telescope has had a long and illustrious run, helping to pin down the age of the universe and pointing the way to the existence of dark energy. But that run may be halted if engineers can’t switch some operations over to backup units.
A formatter on the satellite’s Science Instrument Command and Data Handling (SIC&DH) unit failed last month, and today NASA began the process of switching over operations to the components on a backup formatter, most of which have not been powered up since Hubble’s 1990 launch.
Since the September 27 failure, Hubble has been largely incapacitated, as the SIC&DH component that failed, the Science Data Formatter, handles many key activities, including routing data and commands on board the satellite and relaying science information back to Earth.
Aug 26, 2008 | 10
The use of microchips to track people (such as those embedded in hospital wristbands) and products (those uncomfortable tags on clothing that have to be cut off prior to wearing) has come under fire from civil rights groups who claim that big corporations are using this technology as a tool for spying. But what about when these tags are embedded in people themselves, rather than the things they wear?
That's what Mexican security firm Xega SA, which sells technology for tracking people, wants to do, particularly in cases when people are held for ransom. For about $3,700, the company will implant a chip the size of a grain of rice (it costs another $1,800 per year for monitoring), reports the Telegraph. Although it is unclear where the chip is likely to be implanted in a person's body its customers carry with them a panic button that can be pressed if a person feels he or she is in danger. A transmitter then sends signals via satellite to pinpoint the location of the person in distress, reports Reuters. (Xega did not respond to requests from ScientificAmerican.com for an interview).
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