Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Las Vegas police dump problem radio system

It was a multimillion-dollar mistake. And the timing couldn't be worse.

After two years of battling dropped calls and dead zones in the department's new radio system, Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie has opted to drop Desert Sky.
On Oct. 11, Gillespie informed the CEO of the Harris Corp. that his company's Desert Sky radio system cannot meet his department's needs. That's a sharp change from past statements and advice to officers to remain patient while system bugs are fixed.
"I believe we've given Harris every opportunity to make the system work," Gillespie said. "It's just not a reliable system."
Unveiled in the summer of 2010, the $42 million Desert Sky digital system - based on Harris' OpenSky system marketed to emergency service agencies nationwide - was touted as having expanded channel capacities, enabling advanced data communications for computers in patrol cars and other features unavailable with the agency's aging analog system.
Desert Sky's data capabilities have seen mixed results, but the voice communication between officers is the bigger problem. While improved in the past two years, the system still is not up to snuff for an agency whose officers talk on the radio 50,000 times every day, the sheriff said.
"OpenSky cannot meet that demand," Gillespie said.
Complaints are common among patrol cops, who say the faulty system endangers their lives.
"It's honestly going to get an officer hurt," said one patrol officer who asked not to be identified. "It's just a matter of time. We're worried about getting into a situation where we need help and no one can hear us."
The decision to dump Desert Sky comes in the midst of the Metropolitan Police Department's worst budget crisis ever. The county wide agency's projected budget of $502 million for fiscal year 2013-14 is $46 million more than projected revenues.
Police officials say hiring a vendor to build a replacement voice transmission system could cost $15 million to $20 million, and take 16 to 24 months.
Assistant Sheriff Joseph Lombardo, who oversees the Las Vegas police Radio Systems Bureau, acknowledged the project could "require additional funds" at a time when the department is counting every penny.
"We're in discussions with Harris for a solution," Lombardo said. "It depends if they can meet our terms or not. If we come to impasse, we could explore other vendors."
The relationship between Harris and the department is not dead, however. The department will retain Desert Sky for data transmission, but needs a new system to handle day-to-day voice communication.
Harris might even be the company entrusted with that job. While it struck out with Desert Sky, Harris could build the infrastructure for the state-of-the art Project 25 - or P25 - radio system that has become the new federal standard for public safety agencies. P25 has proven to be effective in major urban settings, whereas OpenSky has not.
Gillespie wouldn't comment on companies that might build the new system, but said a decision would be made within 30 days. The potential cost is "under discussion," he said, as is the source of the money.
If Harris won't build a new voice system at no additional cost, the department would likely hire another vendor - Motorola is a primary competitor of Harris - and cover that bill by suing Harris for failing to build Desert Sky to contract specifications.
A Harris spokesperson did not return a call seeking comment Friday. The status of discussions between the department and Harris was unclear.
"Our desire is to not spend another dime on (Desert Sky). We're still pursuing that direction," Lombardo said. "There's still a lot of negotiation questions that have not been answered yet."
The department began looking at updating its radio system around 2003, as its analog system was nearing maximum capacity and the agency was expanding along with Southern Nevada's population.
The department contracted with M/A-COM Technology Solutions Inc. to design and build its new system, OpenSky. Harris Corp., a Florida-based corporation billed as the leading supplier of radios to the U.S. military, acquired M/A-COM in 2009.
Many other public safety agencies around the country bought OpenSky, and many have been left disappointed with systems dogged by performance and reliability problems.
In early 2009, the state of New York cited technology problems when it terminated a $2 billion contract with M/A-COM to build a statewide communications system.
Lancaster County, Pa., dumped its OpenSky contract in 2008 after spending about 11 years and $14 million on the project.
"It was the cutting edge of a technology," Lombardo said. "It hasn't been a resounding success."
Patrol officers don't mince their words when it comes to the technology.
"It's been a failure. A joke," said the patrol officer who asked for anonymity.
The officer told of a police shooting last year where the officers were caught in a dead zone and unable to radio for help.
"(The officers) tried like hell," he said.
In addition to dead zones and dropped calls, officers are also struggling to adapt to the new emergency button.
The radios have an emergency button that will override other radio traffic, but it hasn't always worked right and requires cops to learn when and how to use it.
"When you're in a situation and your adrenaline's flowing and you've got tunnel vision, everything you do is muscle memory. And officers weren't trained to use the emergency button," he said. "Some of us have gotten better, but it's not perfect."
Lombardo said officer safety is the department's top priority.
"That's why we're pursuing all our options, because that's as big a concern to us as it is to the police officers," he said. "The technology just hasn't gotten us to where we need to be, Harris has been assuring us they can get us there. But a lot of time has gone by."
From Dave Zantow, N9EWO:
This is the same radio system that Milwaukee WI has been struggling with for years. So the plan for Las Vegas is to now switch to P25 (from Open Sky) and MANY more taxpayer $$’s.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

A "Dream Comet" Heading Our Way?

Although just spotted a few days ago, Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) has the potential to become a very bright object that will be well placed for viewing in late 2013. Minor Planet Center Circular M.P.E.C. 2012-S63

The discovery image of Comet ISON (C/2012 S1), as recorded by Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok on September 24th. At the time the comet was 19th magnitude — roughly 100,000 times fainter than the limit of unaided vision.
V. Nevski / A. Novichonok / ISON
You can read about this exciting new find on the Sky and Telescope website by clicking here.

From an article written by John Thomas Didymus in Science and republished on the Digital Journal:

"According to National Geographic, astronomers say the comet is now approximately 615 million miles (990 million kilometers) from Earth, between the orbits of the two giant planets Saturn and Jupiter. Preliminary reports say the orbit will make its closest (perihelion) approach to the Sun on 28 November, 2013 at a distance of 0.012 AU (1,800,000 km; 1,100,000 mi) from the center-point of the Sun. Astronomers say the comet will pass approximately 1,100,000 kilometers (680,000 mi) above the Sun's surface.

"Astronomers at the Remanzacco Observatory, Italy have assured that the comet is not on collision course with Earth. They say C/2012 S1 "will get to within 0.012AU of the Sun at the end of November 2013 and then to ~0.4AU (about 37 million miles) from Earth at the beginning of January 2014."
"C/2012 S1 was observed close to Saturn and may still be observed with powerful telescopes as a faint glow in the constellation Cancer. It is expected to become visible to the naked eye beginning in 2013.
"According to National Geographic, predictions of its orbital trajectory indicate that if it survives its close approach to the Sun, the comet will be brightest in the sky in November 28, 2013 as it moves away from the Sun. It will be visible during December after sunset and in the morning sky before sunrise. New Scientist reports that scientists at the Remanzacco Observatory say that by December 9 it should be about as bright as Polaris, the North Star, and should remain visible to the naked eye until mid-January 2014. According to Astronomy Now, the comet could become brighter than the full moon around its closest approach to the Sun.
"Astronomers say that the orbit of C/2012 S1 is similar to that of the Great Comet of 1680, one of the brightest in history. Space.com reports that the Great Comet of 1680 was very bright in the sky and was visible even in daylight, throwing off a bright tail that spanned the western twilight sky. Some astronomers say that given the close orbital relationship between C/2012 S1 and the Great Comet of 1680, the objects may be the same.
"Gizmodo reports that Samra, says "if it lives up to expectations, this comet may be one of the brightest in history." According to The National Geographic, the brightness of C/2012 S1, will depend on how much gas and dust is blasted off the central core of ice and rocks at its close approach to the Sun.The bigger the cloud and tail, the more reflective the comet, astronomers say.
"However, Samra cautions: "While some predictions suggest it may become as bright as the full moon, and even visible during the day, one should be cautious when predicting how exciting a comet may get. Some comets have been notorious for creating a buzz but failing to put on a dazzling display. Only time will tell."
"Gizmodo leaves a note for Mayan "doom-mongers":
"... and one last note to the Mayan death and doom-mongers: the universe apologizes but, despite its name, 2012 S1 is actually arriving in 2013 holiday season."

Monday, October 01, 2012

NASA Spacecraft Records 'Earthsong'

Oct. 1, 2012: In space, they say, no one can hear you scream. Nobody ever said anything about singing, though. A NASA spacecraft has just beamed back a beautiful song sung by our own planet.
"It's called chorus," explains Craig Kletzing of the University of Iowa. "This is one of the clearest examples we've ever heard."

Chorus is an electromagnetic phenomenon caused by plasma waves in Earth's radiation belts. For years, ham radio operators on Earth have been listening to them from afar. Now, NASA's twin Radiation Belt Storm Probes are traveling through the region of space where chorus actually comes from--and the recordings are out of this world.

"This is what the radiation belts would sound like to a human being if we had radio antennas for ears," says Kletzing, whose team at the University of Iowa built the “EMFISIS” (Electric and Magnetic Field Instrument Suite and Integrated Science) receiver used to pick up the signals.

He's careful to point out that these are not acoustic waves of the kind that travel through the air of our planet. Chorus is made of radio waves that oscillate at acoustic frequencies, between 0 and 10 kHz. The magnetic search coil antennas of the Radiation Belt Storm Probes are designed to detect these kinds of waves.

"Chorus emissions are front and center for the Storm Probe mission," says Kletzing. "They are thought to be one of the most important waves for energizing the electrons that make up the outer radiation belt."

In particular, chorus might be responsible for so-called "killer electrons," high-energy particles that can endanger both satellites and astronauts. Many electrons in the radiation belts are harmless, with too little energy to do damage to human or electronic systems. But, sometimes, these electrons can catch a chorus wave, like a surfer riding a wave on Earth, and gain enough energy to become dangerous—or so researchers think.

The Radiation Belt Storm Probes are on a mission to find out for sure.

“The production of killer electrons is a matter of much debate, and chorus waves are only one possibility,” notes the Storm Probes’ mission scientist Dave Sibeck.

Launched in August 2012, the two probes are orbiting inside the radiation belts, sampling electromagnetic fields, counting the number of energetic particles, and listening to plasma waves of many frequencies.

“We hope to gather enough data to solve the mystery once and for all,” says Sibeck.

At the moment, the spacecraft are still undergoing their 60-day checkout phase before the main mission begins. So far, things are checking out very well.

“One of things we noticed right away is how clear the chorus sounds in the recording,” notes Kletzing. That's because our data is sampled at 16 bits, the same as a CD, which has not been done before in the radiation belts. This makes the data very high quality and shows that our instrument is very, very healthy.”

Eventually, Kletzing hopes to release unprecedented stereo recordings of Earth’s chorus.

“We have two spacecraft with two receivers,” he says, “so a stereo recording is possible.”

Such a recording would not only sound wonderful, but also have real scientific value. “One of the things we don't know is how broad the region is over which chorus occurs. The widely-separated ‘stereo capability’ of the Storm Probes will give us the ability to figure this out,” he explains.

With a two-year mission planned for the Storm Probes, the chorus is just getting started.

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips| Production editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA