Sunday, December 1, 2013

China’s space industry is alive and zooming

(Published in 2006)

CHINA'S COMMERCIAL satellite industry is moving into the Big Time—big time.

The sale of a communications satellite (NIGCOMSAT-1) to Nigeria and the more recent sale of another satellite (VENE-SAT-1) to Venezuela are historic firsts for China’s commercial satellite industry and a space program that will celebrate its 50th anniversary on October 8.

The date marks the founding of China's first rocket research institution, the 5th Academy of the Ministry of National Defense, and is recognized as the beginning of China’s space program.

There is little doubt Beijing will pull out all the stops to honor a program that has made China a respected player in the world satellite industry, and only the third country to send humans into space.

The Year of the Fire Dog also marks the 30th anniversary of formal relations between China and the European Union (EU). The close business and scientific ties between China and the EU are underscored by their cooperation in the “Galileo Project,” EU’s equivalent of the US global positioning system (GPS).

China is the first country outside Europe to join the Galileo satellite-navigation system. Its investment of 200 million Euros in Galileo and its constellation of 30 satellites counts among the over 400 cooperation programs in science and technology between China and the EU over the past three decades.

These business coups illustrate China’s renewed focus on the commercial satellite industry after deliberately concentrating first on the development of new generation carrier rockets.

Its successful bid for Nigeria’s first satellite signals a China that has learned the ropes and is using its knowledge to outmuscle the Big Boys. The Nigerian deal is China’s first ever sale of a made-in-China satellite to any country.

China closed the deal in December 2005 and beat 21 companies from the United States, France, Britain, Italy and Israel, among others. Before the satellite sale to Nigeria, China only manufactured satellite components for other countries, but never an entire satellite.

Chinese quality was a major reason for Nigeria’s selection of China as the provider of its first satellite. Nigeria said China had submitted a "superlative proposal" and its technical capability and expertise had met stringent performance requirements. NIGCOMSAT-1 will be launched in 2007.

China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) described the Nigerian sale as a breakthrough in China's international commercial space program since China asserted its capability as a manufacturer and launcher of satellites for foreign customers.

CGWIC is the sole commercial organization authorized by the Chinese government to provide international commercial launch services, in-orbit satellite delivery and international space technology cooperation.

On the other hand, the Venezuelan satellite is China’s first sale to Venezuela and to any South American country. China and Venezuela signed the deal last November in Caracas with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the signing ceremony.

VENE-SAT-1 will be launched from China in 2008. The satellite will make Venezuela self-sufficient in telecommunications and will cover sparsely populated areas not yet reached by commercial telecommunications.

China will also turn over satellite technologies to Venezuela in a effort to help the latter build its own satellites. VENE-SAT-1 is also called the “Simon Bolivar Satellite” after the South American independence fighter.

NIGCOMSAT-1 and VENE-SAT-1 are based on the DFH-4 (Dongfanghong or “The East is Red”), China's latest satellite platform. DFH-4s provide telephony, broadcasting, DTH TV, Internet and other services. Both the Nigerian and Venezuelan packages include launch services using Long March rockets.

China’s position as the smart new kid on the Big Boy block isn’t only because it products and services are cheaper than those from the US, the EU or Russia. Chinese quality has come a long way from the humiliation of 1996 when China's Long March 3B failed in its first launch and destroyed the Intelsat 708 satellite.

China began to offer the Long March launch vehicles for international commercial satellite launch services in 1985. In November 1988, CGWIC signed its first contract to launch a foreign communications satellite, AsiaSat-1, on a Long March rocket. The launch was successfully carried out in April 1990.

Long March launch vehicles

From 1990 to 2004, CGWIC conducted 24 international commercial launch missions for 30 satellites and six piggyback payloads. CGWIC has grown from a single rocket supplier to a package service provider that offers satellite, carrier rockets and ground system facilities.

DTH: rocket fuel for growth
China’s continuing forays into space are fueling the growth of its satellite industry that has also profited from the recovery of the world commercial satellite industry thanks to massive US military spending.

Through wholly owned subsidiary China Telecommunications Broadcast Satellite (ChinaSat), China operates two in-orbit ChinaSat telecommunication satellites and is majority shareholder in Hong Kong-based APT Satellite Holdings Limited, which has four Apstar satellites in space including the new Apstar-6. There is also the SinoSat-1 satellite operated by state-owned Sino Satellite Communications.

SinoSat-2, China's first direct broadcast satellite and its largest to date, is scheduled for launch this year on a Long March 3B, China’s most powerful launch vehicle.

Such a small telecom fleet for the most populous country on earth underlines China's insistence of doing things in-house and outsourcing whenever appropriate. China says it currently has 16 in-orbit satellites including telecommunications, remote sensing and meteorological units. Even the Chinese admit this number is way short of the urgent needs created by China's rapid economic growth and national defense needs.

But China will soon need more satellites with the explosive growth of its economy (averaging 9% annually for the past 10 years) and the recovery of the world satellite industry.

The Satellite Industry Association (SIA) is confident enough to predict that consumer focused satellite services (the key growth driver in 2003 and 2004) will continue until the recovery solidifies in a few more years. US government satellite spending is expected to remain at a high clip until 2020.

SIA noted that while the satellite industry is still fighting its way out of the telecom downturn, companies from every major region and across each sector (such as operators, manufacturers, value-added resellers and carriers) are reporting improved business.

SIA is in no doubt as to the main driver of this recovery. It said 53% of all global launches in 2004 were U.S. government related while 47% were commercial.

It said other key engines of this growth were strong consumer demand for video services, and the deployment of new user applications and equipment in both markets.

While falling prices and profit margins exist in most sectors, current trends indicate growth over the next few years. The increase in satellite services should lead to a revival of the manufacturing and launch sectors, which then will lead to more satellites being ordered and launched.

DTH satellite dish
SIA noted that satellite services were leading the industry’s ongoing recovery from the telecom crash of 2000-2003, accounting for 63% of industry revenues totaling $97 billion in 2004. It said direct-to-home (DTH) satellite television services made up 81% of satellite service revenues.

China’s announced intent to begin DTH satellite broadcasting in 2006 opens the door to further strengthening the satellite industry’s recovery while opening China’s huge DTH market to major satellite industry giants such as Intelsat and SES Global and to regional players such as AsiaSat and Apstar.

Research firm IMS Research said China had over 25 million digital satellite TV households in 2004, almost similar in number to the US.

IMS projects the number of digital satellite TV households in China to grow over the next five years and could reach 60 million by 2010 if China launches DTH this year as expected.

China’s huge DTH numbers dwarf those in the rest of Asia. In 2004, the leading DTH markets were Japan (3.3 million subscribers), South Korea (1.6 million). Malaysia (1.5 million), Australia (890,000) and New Zealand (490,000).

On the other hand, the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA) estimates that Asia has 190 million multi-channel households (or those that receive satellite or cable services).

China’s telecommunications industry is estimated to have posted revenues of $72 billion in 2005, up 10% from 2004. China’s economy is expected to have grown from 9.5 to 10.3% in 2005 to hit $2 trillion. It is growing five times faster than Europe’s leading economies.

The launch of ChinaSat-9, a direct broadcasting satellite, in late 2007 is intended to exploit the coming boom in China DTH. ChinaSat-9, an Alcatel Alenia Space Spacebus 4000 C1 platform, will be fitted with 22 active Ku-band transponders for broadcast satellite services (BSS), including 18 36-MHz and four 54- MHz channels. A Chinese Long March rocket will be the launch vehicle.

SinoSat-2, ChinaSat-9 and Apstar-6 will lead China’s push into DTH. Apstar-6 will provide advanced broadband multimedia, new digital TV services and traditional telecommunications services to telecom and TV operators in Asia Pacific.

It will cover China with a dedicated high power Ku-band beam for broadband multimedia services. It will be the first civilian Chinese satellite equipped with an anti-jamming system to thwart attacks by Chinese government foes such as Falungong.

AsiaSat is forging ahead with it’s own DTH pay-TV service in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. By moving into DTH, AsiaSat aims to increase its transponder utilization rate that in 2004 stood at 41% for AsiaSat-2; 74% for AsiaSat-3S satellite and 18% for its new AsiaSat-4.

The Ku-band payload in AsiaSat-4 offers spot beams for selected areas in either the BSS or the Fixed Satellite Service frequency band.

Peter Jackson, chief executive officer of AsiaSat, hopes that Chinese customers eventually will take up a large portion of the capacity aboard AsiaSat-4.

Enter the Big Boys
China began using foreign satellites for TV broadcasting in 1985. Since then, however, China’s promise of spectacular satellite service growth has been held in check by the government’s reluctance to open China to full-fledged foreign competition.

The conventional wisdom says China will remain more of a long-term player than a source of short-term growth. In recent years, however, China has loosened its tight regulatory grip, but remains less liberal than neighboring India.

Rupert Murdoch's Star TV has been a conspicuous beneficiary of whatever liberalization Chinese telecoms has had. Despite this seeming advantage,  Star remains on the look out for small online properties in China and aims to develop these assets into successful businesses in the long term, a strategy in line with the conventional wisdom about how to do business in Chinese telecoms.

Star said its consolidated operations in China during 2005 were close to breakeven. Its major growth driver was advertising revenues at Xing Kong, Star’s general entertainment channel. Star owns the world's largest library of Chinese films.

Star said China’s present regulatory framework for broadcasting casts a cloud of uncertainty. It felt pay TV lags behind the development of most other media while DTH and IPTV may be the means to boost development.

Because China continues to drag its feet on deregulation, non-Chinese satellite operators will have to partner with Chinese companies such as ChinaSat if they want to do business in China. AsiaSat has also complained about China’s restrictive policies.

This situation notwithstanding, formidable satellite operators such as Intelsat/PanAmSat and SES Global/Astra/Americom/New Skies Satellites stand poised to serve China’s needs for DTH and other digital services. Between them, both giants have 20 satellites serving Asia Pacific, including China. Intelsat operates 16 of these satellites.

These satellite operators still take the lion’s share of China and Asia’s satellite business. And they’re in Asia because of the region’s explosive growth in consumer satellite services. They’re also partnering with regional players to maximize their competitive strengths.

In December 2005, Intelsat and APT Satellite—the world’s leading and Asia’s leading satellite companies—signed a strategic cooperation agreement in which they agreed to market each other’s satellite capacity and ground resources, and to provide broadcast and telecommunications services to China and the Asia Pacific.

This strategic move allows Intelsat and its media and corporate data customers to access the Asia Pacific market through APT’s Apstar-5 and Apstar-6 satellites. On the other hand, APT will have access to Intelsat’s capacity in other regions of the world via Intelsat’s fleet of 28 satellites. This will expand APT’s reach and enable it to seamlessly carry traffic to wherever its customers need it.

Ni Yifeng, Executive Director and President of APT, said the agreement will significantly strengthen APT’s sales and marketing functions and allow it to provide more comprehensive services to its customers.

Intelsat said the agreement positions it to take advantage of any new business initiatives or opportunities that arise in the Asia Pacific region, including China, over the near and longer term.

Intelsat CEO David McGlade believes that entering into this agreement creates value at the company and customer levels. It also enables Intelsat to expand its service offerings in the region while creating a new avenue for customers of both companies to seamlessly take their traffic into or out of the region.

Intelsat has close ties with China, which historically is one of its top 10 customers. Twice in 2001, Intelsat came to China’s rescue when accidents knocked out China’s undersea cables, depriving up to 20 million users of Internet access. Intelsat used its satellites to restore Internet service to the affected users.

The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing will present Intelsat and other satcos with the opportunity to dramatically grow their business. Intelsat, however, took 70% of the TV broadcasting business during the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

The Net in China
Today, however, commercial satellite services such as DMB (Digital Multimedia Broadcasting) services via satellite and broadband via satellite hold the brightest promise for China’s satellite companies.

Satellite broadband looks especially promising and Northern Sky estimates $4 billion in revenues for this service by 2009. Driving satellite broadband growth will be broadband Internet access via satellite. Satellite Internet access might well become the satellite industry’s first truly mass-market service capable of competing against DSL on price.

Although China still limits Internet use and occasionally censors what it calls dangerous content, there is no stopping the growth of the Internet in China. The need for speed will be vital as China’s Internet users continue to rise, from an estimated 94 million in 2004 to 103 million in 2005. China had 22.5 million Internet users in 2000. The number of Internet users in China increases by 800,000 every week.

Private industry groups reported 43 million broadband subscribers in 2004 from 31 million in 2003.

PCs sold in China reached 22 million in 2003 (second after the US). There were 150 million cell phones sold in 2003 (1st in the world) while 1.7 billion text messages were sent from these mobiles.

These huge numbers make China the place to be for satellite service companies despite the tough regulatory environment.

The Chinese in Space
Two successful manned spaceflights in two years are enough to make any nation proud. China achieved this feat with its first manned spaceflight in 2003 and a second similarly successful mission by a two-man crew in 2005.

The success of the Shenzhou 5 and 6 missions is also a huge success for China’s launch industry. China’s participation in the Galileo Project is also being hailed as a triumph for its space program.

Next in line for China’s space program is a lunar fly-by mission. China has announced that the program’s monitoring system; launching field and ground application system have entered system integration and joint test. The first lunar satellite, called “Chang'e-I,” will be launched in 2007.

A space station is to follow suit but the crowning glory of China's space program will be a moon landing, probably by the next decade. And that's no starry eyed pipe dream.

Chinese "yuhangyuans"

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Who let the dogs out?

(Published in Enrich, healthy lifestyle magazine of Mercury Drug Corporation, 2010)

A DOG OWNER is walking his huge, solid black German Shepherd along a dirt road on a quiet evening. A strange man, his right hand in his pocket, suddenly appears behind them.

The stranger quickly and silently approaches the man and his German Shepherd. He closes the gap. The German Shepherd turns its head, stares at the oncoming stranger, but doesn’t bark.

It then walks behind its owner as if to shield him from the looming danger. Undeterred by the dog’s change in position, the stranger whips out a gun and grabs the victim’s shoulder.

In a flash, the German Shepherd lunges at the stranger, its powerful teeth ripping into the stranger’s right thigh. The dog owner lets go of the leash and steps aside.

The German Shepherd continues to tear ferociously at the stranger’s leg. Still on his feet, the man fires at the dog. He misses as the wildly flailing German Shepherd ruins his aim. The dog’s massive jaws crush the man’s leg. The man fires and misses again. The dog owner shouts a command in German. The German Shepherd immediately goes to heel and sits down. The robber sighs with relief.

The attack, which is really a protection dog training exercise, is over.

Protection dogs
“That’s what a trained protection dog can do,” Eugene Reyes says as he beams proudly at the show put on by the German Shepherd his handlers have trained for the past six months.

A well-trained “personal protection dog,” he notes, is unafraid of the sound of gunfire. It won’t attack unless physical contact is made with its master, or unless told to do so, and won’t stop its attack unless commanded by its master and no one else.

Commands are normally in a foreign language such as French or German as an added protection for the dog owner. A protection dog is ready to die for its master.

Out on the training field, the dog “owner” and would be “robber,” actually two of Reyes’ experienced dog handlers, stow their gear. The “gun” is a starter’s pistol and the “robber” is dressed in a bulky, dark green, full body protective suit that resists dog bites. The imported suit’s right leg shows some damage from the German Shepherd’s attack.

This training ground is located in Quezon City, and is one of three such facilities owned by the “Eugene Reyes K-9 Protection Dog Training Club” founded by Reyes in 1994, the first in the country. ER K-9 is now the Philippines’ largest protection dog training school. Its clients are mostly Filipino businessmen and foreigners, and it once trained protection dogs for the Sultan of Brunei.

Reyes, a youngish looking businessman who has been around animals most of his life, explains there are two kinds of dogs: working line dogs such as personal protections dogs and show dogs that compete in dog shows. His interest lies in working line dogs.

Malinois and Shepherds
His favorites among working line dogs are the Belgian Shepherd Dog, more popularly known as the Belgian Malinois and the German Shepherd Dog, also called the Alsatian (Deutscher Schaeferhund in German). To the untrained eye, both breeds look almost similar in build. For Reyes, however, the Malinois is superior as a protection dog because of its agility and speed since it lighter, leaner and meaner than the Shepherd. Unknown to many, the Belgian Malinois and not the German Shepherd is the preferred protection and guard dog in the Philippines.

Belgian Malinois
The Malinois is bred primarily as a working dog for personal protection, detection, police work, search and rescue, and sport work in Belgium, Germany and other European countries, and in the United States, Canada and Australia. It resembles a smaller German Shepherd and can be recognized by its short brownish yellow coat and its black ears that stick straight up.

The more popular and larger German Shepherd is a very active and obedient dog. It is also highly intelligent and is considered the third most intelligent dog breed (the Border Collie and Poodle are number one and two). Shepherds are prized for their willingness to learn and an eagerness to have a purpose. They’re famous for their loyalty to their owners and bond well with people they know, traits often emphasized in Hollywood films that feature this breed. Remember Rin Tin Tin? Probably not.

German Shepherd

“All dogs can be trained”
Choosing the protection dog for your particular need starts with choosing the right dog. While Reyes believes “. . . all dogs can be trained, even ‘askals’ (street dogs),” there are certain breeds eminently suited by temperament to the tough job of protecting humans.

“It’s easier to train a Belgian Malinois or a German Shepherd than a Doberman Pinscher as good protection dogs,” Reyes points out. He notes Dobermans in the Philippines aren’t as protective as either the Belgian Malinois or German Shepherd, and are mostly seen in local dog shows.

Malinois and Shepherds are more intelligent than Dobermans and show superior temperament, meaning these two breeds adapt better to different situations, locations and people than Dobermans which tend to be territorial, hence its fame as a perimeter or guard dog. Besides, Dobermans are specifically bred for guard duty.


Training Malinois and Shepherds to become protection dogs takes time, patience and money. Reyes prefers the motivational approach when training dogs, that is, rewarding dogs for doing a task. The quality of training is vital and dogs are patiently trained from 15-20 minutes twice a day over a period as long as a year by experienced dog handlers.

These two breeds are also favored as bomb-sniffing dogs by the Philippine National Police. These “sniffer dogs” can be trained to detect explosives when they’re as young as three months. The key is training the dogs to recognize the unique smell of the main ingredient in an explosive, which is often TNT.

“The club system”
Reyes also continues to emphasize a unique training system he introduced in the 1990s that involves training the dog with its owner. Reyes believes training the dog together with his master—which he calls “the club system”—is the most efficient way of training a dog. He suggests owners train with their dogs twice a week. Many obedience dog schools in the 1990s, however, required owners leave their dogs with them for up to six months.

An interesting aspect in training protection dogs is conditioning them not to be afraid of gunfire, blows from sticks, fists, feet and other hard objects. In training, dogs are often struck with bamboo sticks to remove their fear of strikes. The animals are also often exposed to the sound of gunfire. As Reyes points out, a dog that turns tail and runs away at the sound of gunfire is obviously not a protection dog.

“We gun test the dog to see its reaction. If it’s scared of gunfire, it’s always a no-no. We do this so the dog’s owner doesn’t waste his time and money trying to train a dog unsuitable for protection.”

How a dog is treated at home is every bit as important as the protection training it receives. “You should treat your dog like a dog but love it like a human,” is Reyes’ advice to dog owners. You should also treat your dog like another person in the family.

Dogs are man’s best friend—and can be man’s best protector if well trained. Eugene Reyes let the dogs out of an old training system into a new one that made dogs both man’s best friend and protector. I’ll howl to that.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sleep well and prosper

(Published in ENRICH, magazine of Mercury Drug Corporation)

SLEEP IS A HEALTHY HABIT that should be habit forming. Oddly, however, people in developed countries seem to be sleeping less (either by choice of force of circumstance) the older they get. A major study showed a third of the population of the United Kingdom and over 40 percent in the U.S. regularly sleep less than five hours a night. That’s not healthy.

A growing body of scientific research about sleep points to several agreements:

  • A healthy night’s sleep for an adult means sleeping for six hours to about eight hours. People who sleep within this range tend to lead longer lives, according to some studies. Other findings show sleeping seven hours per night is optimal for health. Surprisingly, sleeping for nine hours or more doesn’t seem good for adults.
  • Children, on the other hand, need more daily sleep to develop and function properly. Pre-teens and teenagers need from nine to 11 hours of sleep while newborn babies require up to 18 hours of sleep. Children who don’t sleep well should see a doctor.Lack of sleep (or short sleep or sleep deprivation) could kill you, either through natural or accidental causes. 
  • Short sleep has been shown as a risk factor for weight gain, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes (sometimes leading to death). Falling asleep while driving is a deadly cause of motor vehicle accidents. Short sleep occurs when you don’t sleep the right amount for your individual needs. You can take an amusing “Sleep Dash Test” at to find out how sleep deprived you are.
  • Short sleep could be more dangerous for women than men.
The findings about short sleep refer to ordinary adults who tend to sleep less than the optimum six to eight hours a night. And we’re not referring to insomniacs here. Medical evidence confirming the negative physical effects of short sleep continues to mount, however. Although Caucasians were mostly the subjects in these studies, it’s prudent to assume Filipinos are as prone to benefiting from a good night’s sleep as they are to suffering from the consequences of short sleep.

Healthy Sleep 
Sleep is a natural state where one is totally or partially unconscious. It’s marked by the suspension of sensory or motor activity and insensitivity to external stimuli (which explains why you can’t tickle a sleeping person).

Proper sleep rejuvenates your body and allows it to heal after a day’s exertions because nearly all your voluntary muscles become inactive. It gives your body a chance to rest and prepare for the next day’s physical and mental challenges. Proper sleep helps organize memories and improve concentration (which is especially important for students) and is an argument against cramming. Therefore, the brain suffers the most from the effects of a lack of sleep (memory lapses and decreased concentration, for example) as anyone who has gone without sleep for a day will attest to.

Sleep also helps in the growth and rejuvenation of your immune, muscular, skeletal and nervous systems. For example, without adequate sleep, the immune system weakens and the body becomes more vulnerable to infection and disease, and less able to fight off potentially cancerous cells. Growth hormones vital to children are released during sleep. When your body doesn’t get enough sleep, the damage done to it by your daily activities can’t be repaired and could worsen with each passing day.

The need for proper sleep varies by age and among individuals. It’s considered adequate, however, when you suffer from no daytime sleepiness or dysfunctions such as lack of concentration and poor diet. You should normally be able to fall asleep within 15 minutes of going to bed. If you don’t, get out of bed and perform light physical activities such housework, reading or some exercise. Drinking a glass of milk is a time tested “sleep potion.”

There are two broad types of sleep in people (as well as other mammals and birds): non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. NREM or lighter sleep is a sleep state during which rapid eye movements and dreaming do not occur. It accounts for about 75% of normal sleep time in most human adults. REM or deeper sleep, on the other hand, accounts for about 25% of total sleep time. Most memorable dreaming occurs in this stage. REM sleep also appears to be important in brain development, especially among children.

Lack of Sleep is a Health Risk
Perhaps one of the most telling pro-sleep advocacies was made in 2007 by the World Health Organization (WHO).

In a historic and controversial announcement, WHO’s cancer arm, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, listed “shiftwork that involves circadian disruption” as a probable carcinogen or cancer-causing agent.

This announcement put shiftwork in the same category as other cancer-causing agents like diesel engine exhaust and ultraviolet radiation. The study was published in the December 2007 issue of magazine, The Lancet Oncology.

The shiftwork referred to is the graveyard shift (late night to early morning) that in this country involves medical personnel, call center agents, employees at 24-hour service stores, policemen and night shift workers in factories, among others. One doctor claims one hour of work between 11:00 pm and 5:00 am puts more of a load on a person’s physiological health than any other time of the day.

Scientists believe shiftwork is dangerous mainly because it disrupts the “circadian rhythm” (the body's biological clock). The hormone melatonin that can suppress tumor development and that is responsible for sleep regulation is normally produced at night. It is not widely produced in the day hours because light shuts down its production. Research has found that people working in artificial light at night may have lower melatonin levels, which scientists think can raise their chances of developing cancer.

This announcement by WHO about the dangers caused by sleep disruption is by no means unique, but is by far one of the most widely publicized. Earlier or in September 2007, a British study said people double their risk of dying by not sleeping seven hours a night although the reason for this remains unclear. This study, funded by both the British and U.S. governments, involved 10,000 government workers tracked over a 17-year period. It was the first to link duration of sleep and mortality rates.

Another British study found that women who get less than the recommended eight hours sleep a night are at higher risk of heart disease and heart-related problems than men with the same sleeping patterns. Research by the University of Warwick and University College London provides some insight into a potential mechanism for the observation in previous studies that indicates an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease in individuals who have less than five hours sleep per night and increased risk of non-cardiovascular death in long sleepers.

The study’s findings add to growing evidence that supports the idea short sleep is associated with an increase in cardiovascular risk, and that the association between sleep duration and cardiovascular risk factors is different in men and women.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

without Joy

First a tear.

Then an eye.

Then your smile 

I cannot see.

Then your words,
Drowned by the breeze,

And then                                                               infinity.
Wondering. Waiting.

Your thought tearing through me like a spear . . .

With force undiminished,

         This cold, cold year.

Kind Lady of My Sorrow

Lovely Death. 
Beautiful Death.

Kind Lady of My Sorrow.

Dance with me in joyful steps
to the forgetful sky above,
where eternal happiness rises unextinguished.

Beyond all the misery and pain of her passing,
Twirl and sway, Tempting Gypsy.
while our hands and bodies kiss,

And understand why . . .

           I wish to die.

(Published in Focus magazine in the 1980s)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Challenge to greatness

(Published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Oct. 21, 2010)

THERE ARE MANY WORLDS for bright, young Filipinos to conquer; worlds their parents and grandparents left unconquered during the 20th century—the most brilliant yet in human history.

Consider these challenges to greatness facing young Filipinos:

A Filipino citizen has yet to win a Nobel Prize in any of its six categories (Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Economics and Peace) since the award was instituted in 1895. We have had a few near hits, however.

Among Filipinos nominated for the Award was the late Carlos Romulo who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945. Former President Corazon Aquino was also nominated for the Peace Prize, but in 1986. Both did not win but are in illustrious company as non-winners. Among other great peace advocates who should have won the Nobel Peace Prize but didn’t is the great Mahatma Ghandi of India.

Undoubtedly the most famous awards in the world, the Nobel Prize was first awarded 1901. A recipient of the Nobel Prize, also called a Nobel Laureate, receives a gold medal, a diploma and a monetary award that depends on the annual income of the Nobel Foundation. Each Nobel Laureate for 2009 received $1.4 million.

A Filipino has yet to win the Abel Prize, the Fields Medal or the Wolf Prize in Mathematics. These are regarded as the most prestigious international awards for mathematicians, and each has their champions as the “Nobel Prize of Mathematics.” The Fields Medal was first awarded in 1936, the Wolf Prize in Mathematics in 1978 and the Abel Prize in 2003.

The Fields Medal

The Fields Medal is awarded every four years by the International Mathematical Union (IMU), an international non-governmental organization devoted to international cooperation in the field of mathematics. It is only awarded to mathematicians below 40 years of age.

The Wolf Prize in Mathematic is one of five categories in the Wolf Prizes, which are considered Israel’s Nobel Prize. Each laureate receives $100,000. On the other hand, the Abel Prize is presented every year by the King of Norway to one or more outstanding mathematicians. An Abel Prize Laureate receives close to $1 million and a Fields Medal Laureate, $15,000.

One of the winners of the Fields Medal in 2006 was the reclusive and eccentric Russian genius, Dr. Grigoriy Perelman of St. Petersburg. Perelman in 2003 proved the century-old “Poincaré conjecture,” one of the seven Millennium Prize Problems. The standard form of the Poincaré conjecture (one of the most important open questions in topology) states that every simply connected, closed 3-manifold is homeomorphic to the 3-sphere.

Dr. Grigoriy Perelman

Put in simpler terms, the Poincaré conjecture argues that any three-dimensional space without holes in it is equivalent to a stretched sphere. Its solution by Perelman could help determine the shape of the universe.

Surprisingly, Perelman refused to receive the Medal and the $1 million prize money. “I'm not interested in money or fame. I don't want to be on display like an animal in a zoo,” Perelman was supposed to have said in turning down the medal and the money.

“I'm not a hero of mathematics. I'm not even that successful, that is why I don't want to have everybody looking at me.”

The other six Millennium Prize Problems have remained unsolved to this day, and represent challenges for future Filipino mathematicians. These are The Hodge conjecture; The Riemann hypothesis; P versus NP; The Yang-Mills Existence and Mass Gap; The Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture and The Navier-Stokes Existence and Smoothness.

Terence Chi-Shen Tao
The Millennium Prize Problems were determined by the Clay Mathematics Institute in 2000. A non-profit foundation based in the USA, the institute is dedicated to increasing and disseminating mathematical knowledge. It considers the problems important classic questions that have resisted solution over the years.

Another 2006 Fields Medal Laureate is the Australian-Chinese mathematics prodigy, Terence Chi-Shen Tao, who said he learned about numbers by watching Sesame Street.  Now 35, Tao is also one of only 20 persons to have won the Clay Research Award that recognizes major breakthroughs in mathematical research.

Only four persons of Asian or Asian descent have won the award. Tao is best known for the “Green-Tao Theorem” that proves the existence of arbitrarily long arithmetic progressions of prime numbers. His collaborator in this theorem is the brilliant English mathematician, Ben J. Green, who received the Clay Research Award in 2004.

S.R  Srinivasa Varadhan
A noted Indian-American mathematician was the last Asian to win the Abel Prize. S. R. Srinivasa Varadhan received the award in 2007 for his fundamental contributions to probability theory and in particular for creating a unified theory of large deviation. He received the “Padma Bhushan,” India’s third highest civilian decoration in 2008 for his contributions to education and literature.

Outer Space Challenge
Another great challenge for young Filipinos is literally out of this world. A Filipino citizen has yet to travel into outer space as an astronaut. The Space Age began 53 years ago on Oct. 4, 1957 when the Soviet Union’s Sputnik-1 became the first man-made satellite to orbit the Earth. On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin (also of the Soviet Union) became the first person to orbit the Earth. From April 1961 to May 2010, 579 persons from 39 countries have traveled into space. Not one of them has been a Filipino.

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) defines spaceflight as any flight over 100 kilometers (62 miles) above mean sea level. FAI is the world body governing world records in aeronautics and astronautics.

The Philippines has the human material needed to produce astronauts who will bring it glory and honor. The task ahead for this government or the next is to make sending the first Filipino into space by the next decade the single-minded aim of a united national effort.

I am not proposing that we embark on a trillion-peso space program. What I do suggest is that we launch a search to identify, train and finance a core group of astronauts, one of whom will be selected to become the first Filipino in space. This search can be a joint project of the government, business and interested institutions.

Our partner in this Great Endeavor can either be the Americans, the Russians, the Europeans, the Chinese or even the Indians. Our astronaut will ride into orbit aboard the space vehicle of one of these countries. He or she will also have to be trained in space flight by one of these countries. A joint mission involving Asian countries and astronauts would be ideal.

This Great Endeavor might even unite this nation as never before. Who wouldn’t want to see and hear a countryman in space greeting us in Filipino? This will be a day of great pride.

All astronauts, cosmonauts or yuhangyuans (Chinese for astronaut) are heroes to be exalted and emulated. These men and women are, after all, a special breed of hero—intelligent and highly skilled—the intellectual pride of their countries.

We don’t even have a Filipino word for astronaut.

Olympics Challenge
In sports, obviously, the greatest challenge remains the Summer Olympic Games. A Filipino has yet to win a Gold Medal in the Olympic Games. The best we’ve achieved is Olympic Runner-Up and both our Silvers were in Boxing: Anthony Villanueva at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games and Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games.

Six other Filipinos have won the Bronze Medal in regular Olympic sports in the 86 years of Philippine participation. The Philippines first joined the Olympics (Paris) in 1924.

With the 2012 London Summer Olympics a scant two years away, and with no local preparations for these Games in sight, it appears quite doubtful if a Filipino will win Gold in London despite immense monetary incentives for them to do so.

So many worlds to conquer—and all the time in the world to do so. You should start right now.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Satellites that kill

(Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, December 30, 2001)

AMERICA'S MOST WANTED man, Osama bin Laden, avoids using wireless telephones. Some Western analysts say it's because he fears American spies could be listening to him with sophisticated eavesdropping devices.

Others believe it's because he remembers all too well the fate of another Muslim leader who paid with his life for talking too long on a wireless telephone.

Just five years ago, on the night of April 21, 1996, Dzhokhar Dudayev, president of the rebellious Muslim republic of Chechnya and the most wanted man in Russia, stepped out of a small house in a forest some 20 kilometers from the Chechen capital of Grozny to make a phone call.

He switched on his Inmarsat (International Maritime Satellite) telephone and called up Konstantin Borovoy, a liberal deputy in the Russian Parliament who served as his Moscow liaison.

According to Borovoy, he and Dudayev were discussing peace terms being offered by Russian President Boris Yeltsin to end the costly war. The two-year war for independence being waged by the predominantly Muslim republic of Chechnya began in December 1994 and was going badly for the Russian army.

Dudayev, a former general in the Soviet air force, had thwarted three previous attempts at detection by not talking too long on his satellite phone. Russian signals intelligence (Sigint) aircraft such as the electronics-packed Ilyushin IL-76 had tried in vain to lock onto Dudayev's phone signal since January.

This time, however, Dudayev and Borovoy had to talk at length because the peace offer was of vital importance. The Russians had no Sigint aircraft in the air that evening.

But one low flying Suhkoi Su-25 ground attack aircraft was in the vicinity. As the Su-25 circled, its pilot received the coordinates of Dudayev's location.

The Russian pilot quickly "painted" the target coordinates with his laser designator and fired his supersonic air-to-ground missiles. One missile hurtled toward Dudayev who was still talking on his satellite phone.

The missile's 110-kilogram warhead exploded a short distance from Dudayev, who died minutes later.

Dudayev's assassination, which the Chechens blame on Russia's secret service, would not have been possible without the crucial information pinpointing Dudayev's location. Evidence has since suggested that the source of that information may have been an American Sigint satellite.

The Americans strongly deny any role in Dudayev's death. Some Western military analysts, however, argue that the Russians didn't have the equipment to mount such a sophisticated attack.

They suggest that a Western satellite, most probably American, supplied the vital information that led to Dudayev's demise.

The "likely suspects" in the Dudayev episode are the "Chalet" and "Magnum" Sigint satellites operated by America's super-secret National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
Chalet/Vortex satellite

This agency, whose existence was only officially acknowledged in the 1990s, operates all the satellites used by different agencies for taking pictures and listening to transmissions. Twelve Chalet and Magnum satellites are believed to be operational, and may have been secretly reinforced by others since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

Resembling huge umbrellas with their stalks pointed earthward, the Chalet (now known as Vortex) and Magnum satellites are basically passive radio receivers that intercept signals from cellular phones, satellite phones, military "walkie-talkies" and other wireless communication devices.

From their orbital stations 22,000 miles in space, they "listen" to the electromagnetic signals of millions of low-powered radio and mobile phones every day and relay this data to supercomputers at the US National Security Agency (NSA) for analysis.

The four or six Magnum satellites, whose umbrella-shaped receiving antennas are 100 meters in diameter, are equipped with "feed horn" arrays that allow them to intercept signals from widely different locations.

During the 1991 Gulf War, one of the Magnums had a feed horn intercepting Iraqi communications in Kuwait, Baghdad and nearby locations at the same time. Under favorable conditions, these satellites can apparently keep track of individual mobile phone conversations, as well.

The Chalet satellites, of which four are said to be in operation, are older versions of the Magnums and are supported by a much older Sigint fleet of six satellites that goes by the name of Rhyolite.
Bin Laden

The alleged use of either a Chalet or Magnum satellite in the Dudayev episode illustrates the extreme vulnerability of electronic communications to clever spies such as the NSA.

The week after Sept. 11, an unknown number of America's Sigint satellites were reported to have been "re-tasked" to hunt down Bin Laden. Previously, many of these satellites kept watch over America's strategic competitors such as Russia and China and avowed enemies such as Iraq.

The re-tasking of some Sigint satellites probably involved adjusting the satellites' orbits so that the satellites' feed horns point at Afghanistan.

It is apparent that the US military hopes their Sigint satellites will intercept phone conversations of Bin Laden or his network, a task made easier by the small size and minimal communications in Afghanistan. Any electronic emitter not proven to be from a friendly source can be assumed to be hostile and thus a target for tracking and analysis.

Bin Laden and al-Qaida cannot maintain radio silence indefinitely. This was proven when Bin Laden called his mother on his satellite phone, a call that was probably intercepted by a Sigint satellite and later revealed to the media.

The disclosure of this taped intercept apparently made him more cautious about making phone calls and caused him to rely more on human couriers to transmit orders to his widely dispersed terrorists.

Some satellite experts, however, contend that the incredible capabilities of America's Sigint satellites may not be as effective when used against small, dispersed bands of terrorists who make it a point to maintain radio silence. The satellites work best against large organized units such as an enemy army that cannot function effectively without electronic communications.

Keyhole satellite photo of a Taliban base in Afghanistan.

An enemy with sparse communications, or who practices good signals security, is less vulnerable to signals espionage from space. Locating an electronically silent Bin Laden via Sigint thus becomes dependent on lucky intercepts.

Complementing America's Sigint satellites in Afghanistan are airborne Sigint systems that include the U-2R and TR-1 spy planes and RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft that carry passive electronic sensors for monitoring electronic emitters such as satellite phones.

RC-135 Rivet Joint Sigint aircraft

The Sigint satellites are part of an overall intelligence gathering campaign that also embraces imaging intelligence (Imint) satellites whose cameras can identify surface objects less than three inches in size from 300 miles up while traveling at more than 20,000 miles per hour.

The newest "Keyhole" Imint satellites also have heat-sensing infrared capabilities that allow them to see targets on the ground at night.

A new generation of in-orbit radar imagery satellites, called "Lacrosse" or "Vega," also make it possible to obtain high-resolution images of the ground even through heavy cloud cover.
White Cloud satellite

Electronic intelligence (Elint) satellites are also included in this intelligence mix. A primary Elint program is "White Cloud," a satellite constellation that is the US Navy's principal means of over-the-horizon reconnaissance and target designation for its weapons systems that include surface-to-surface missiles.

It is estimated that the United States has over 200 military satellites in orbit with four to five being added to this number every year. These satellites cost the Americans over $100 billion, according to some estimates.

Sigint, Imint and Elint satellites provide the long-distance ears and eyes of a combined effort to ferret out Bin Laden and al-Qaida in Afghanistan's inhospitable terrain. They give the United States and its allies a significant technological edge, but will not produce victory in Afghanistan.

Art Villasanta is a major contributor to a weekly on-line magazine about Asian satellites. He has created a website for Filipino veterans of the Korean War.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Who will be the first real Filipino astronaut?

THE ACRONYM FOR the Axe Apollo Space Academy, which is AASA, pretty much spells out what the Filipino who “wins” this contest can expect from it.

“AASA,” which is Filipino for the verb “to expect,” is an apt acronym considering the questionable claims Unilever puts forward for this marketing gimmick. The Filipino who survives the voting and vetting process will do well to consider these realities:

  • “Aasa ka ba” (Do you expect) that you’re an astronaut in the accepted sense of that word? The answer is “No.”
  • “Aasa ka ba” that you’ll orbit the Earth? The answer is “No.”
  • “Aasa ka ba” that you’ll reach space? The answer is “Yes.” 
  • “Aasa ka ba” that history will remember you as the first Filipino astronaut? The answer is “No” because you were never one in the first place. 

Now before the geniuses at Unilever and fans of this gimmick go apoplectic at my apparently unpatriotic claims, I’d like to make one point perfectly clear.
Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space

I’m all for having a Filipino astronaut. One thousand percent in favor.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer published my story, “Who will be the first Filipino astronaut?” about the need for a Filipino astronaut over a decade ago. And this January, the Inquirer published my latest story about space, “Business at satellite speed.”

Between then and now, I’ve published a lot of stories about space, spaceflight and satellites in the Inquirer and in websites that deal with space.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: our first astronaut should be a Filipino citizen our race can be proud of. This national pride will stem from the exceptional achievements of this person.

In the traditional sense, an astronaut is almost superhuman.

Ed White, the first American
to walk in space.
From the start of human spaceflight in 1961 until the advent of private spaceflight in 2004, the word astronaut held godlike connotations. And with good reason.

These men and women were mature individuals with high intelligence, high physical capabilities, extensive experience or a combination of these qualities. They trained at becoming astronauts for months or years.

They were some of the best human material their nations had.

Astronauts made Americans proud to be Americans; Russians proud to be Russians; Malaysians proud to be Malaysians and Chinese proud to be Chinese.

Does anyone think a Filipino who simply pops into space for less than five minutes, and who receives about a week’s training before this “spaceflight” can be called an astronaut?
Yang Liwei, China's first yuhangyuan

Will this person make you proud to be a Filipino?

He will? Really?

And when someone asks you what space program launched the first Filipino astronaut into space, can you proudly reply, “He was sent into space by a men’s underarm deodorant!”

Will that make you proud to be Filipino?

The very thought of it makes me cringe.

Space is no place for “pa-pogian” winners of a text-voting contest who’ll be passengers aboard a “space plane” that hasn’t even made its first spaceflight as of this writing. The contest will make you a guinea pig, not an astronaut.

And the answers to the “aasa” questions at the beginning of my story:

  • You can’t be considered an astronaut in the accepted sense of that word because an astronaut is a professional space traveler trained by a human spaceflight program to command, pilot or serve as a crew member of a spacecraft. The winners of this underarm marketing gimmick should be more properly identified as “space tourists.”
  • You won’t orbit the Earth. The untested space plane you’ll ride in will pop briefly into space at the apogee or highest point of its flight, and then quickly fall back to Earth.
  • You’ll probably be in space for less than five minutes so you won’t even complete one Earth orbit. It takes a Space Shuttle in low Earth orbit some 90 minutes to complete one Earth orbit. Space or outer space lies at an altitude of 100 kilometers or 62 miles above sea level. The deodorant space plane had better exceed this altitude or else goodbye bragging rights.
  • Yes, you’ll be in space for the reason stated above. You’d better have your camcorder or cellphone camera at the ready because that brief intrusion into outer space could be over before you have time to take video. Oh, I forgot. You can’t operate the small buttons on your camcorder and cellphone because you’ll be wearing bulky spacesuit gloves. Goodbye, Facebook post.

Do you honestly want to be remembered as the first Filipino “astronaut” in these laughable circumstances? It’s up to you.

But, hey, you won and beat a million other guys worldwide for the chance to ride into space. That’s a great achievement--but it doesn't make you an astronaut.

The first real Filipino astronaut should make us proud to be Filipinos.

Now, who will be the first real Filipino astronaut?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Sword from the Heavens

(Published in 2007) 

THE MIDDLE EAST is definitely a more dangerous place these days and, depending upon your point of view, satellites have played key roles in either creating this dangerous instability, or in preventing a nuclear war from breaking out.

Consider the following:
Unconfirmed, but persistent, reports state eight Israeli fighter bombers launched a night attack on a nuclear facility inside Syria on September 5 to prevent the processing of weapons grade plutonium supplied to Syria by North Korea and destined for Iran.

Such a night attack could only have been possible with the aid of GPS (Global Positioning System) and GPS guided bombs. U.S. satellites probably confirmed the location of the Syrian nuclear facility that was producing the material for nuclear weapons.

Neither Israel or the United States confirms or denies the attack.

In a rare show of technological braggadocio, Iran claims to be using “highly advanced satellite technology” to monitor U.S. troop movements in neighboring Iraq.

Iran has only one in-orbit spy satellite (the 170kg Sina-1 launched by Russia in 2005 and ostensibly an earth resources satellite), but this carries two low-resolution cameras.

This means Iran must be using the satellite of a third party provider, perhaps Russia or commercially available satellite imagery, to spy on U.S. forces in Iraq, and probably provide intelligence to Iraqi insurgents.

Israel will soon launch its Polaris/TechSAR satellite soon. Israel's most advanced radar imaging spy satellite, Polaris/TechSAR will keep tabs on Iran and its nuclear facilities.

Israel orbited an advanced photoreconnaissance satellite, Ofeq-7, only last June to spy on Iran and Syria. India will launch the Polaris/TechSAR satellite on one of its PSLVs (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles).

Saudi Arabia has acquired satellite guided, U.S.-made JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) guidance kits that transform iron or “dumb” bombs into smart bombs, thanks to GPS guidance.

JDAM bombs can weigh from 500 lbs. to 2000 lbs. Saudi Arabia is the only Middle East country other than Israel that carries JDAM smart bombs in its arsenal.

Pakistan and Egypt have pending requests for JDAMs. Satellite guided JDAMs have an accuracy, as measured by circular error probability (CEP), of 13 meters or less.

The U.S.-made “Excalibur” 155mm GPS guided artillery round deployed to Iraq assassinated Abu Jurah, a top al-Qaeda leader, who was meeting other terrorists in a building south of Baghdad.

Two Excalibur rounds took out Jurah and 14 others last July. It was the first publicized success for Excalibur, the world’s first satellite guided artillery shell to be used in combat. Excalibur, fired from the new U.S. M777 howitzer, has a CEP of six meters and a range of 30 km.

More Israeli satellites
By offering a “god’s-eye view” of surface activity day or night, in good weather or bad, today’s military satellites provide real-time intelligence that tends to prolong peace in a region as explosive as the Middle East.

As the rumored raid by Israel into Syria has shown, satellites might just have helped snuff out the threat of a nuclear war by depriving Iran of weapons grade plutonium necessary in manufacturing nuclear weapons.

Israel today counts on two-photoreconnaissance satellite to stand watch over its neighbors, Iran and Syria, as well as “watch” other points of interest in the Middle East.

Partnering the recently launched Ofeq-7 is Ofeq-5. The Ofeq vehicles are high-resolution imaging satellites used solely for military intelligence.

The 300 kg Ofeq-7 went into orbit last June to fill the gap in the coverage of distant high-priority areas in the Middle East including Iran.

Israel then intends to loft Amos-3, its third military communications satellite, later this year. Following the launch of Polaris/TechSAR comes Ofeq-8, a new type of satellite. The Amos-4 communications satellite is also up for launch.

The next generation Israeli spy satellites (starting with Ofeq-8) will carry new high-resolution cameras that feature greatly improved imaging without significantly increasing the weight of the spacecraft. It will employ PAN (panchromatic) and MS imaging cameras and PAN-sharpening functions.

The use of Israel’s homegrown Shavit launch vehicle to launch Ofeq-7 also has greater significance: it was a signal to Iran that its entire territory was within the range of Shavit, which is a nuclear capable ballistic missile in its military configuration.

Preceding the Ofeq-7 launch were three successful launches in February and March, all kept under wraps by a news blackout. Russia is said to have reacted to these secret Israeli spy satellites by orbiting a new Cosmos spy satellite to keep closer watch on Israel.

Israel stepped-up its satellite spying following a Knesset report that confirmed the vital contribution of satellite imagery to reliable intelligence. The parliamentary report included a recommendation to expedite Israel’s espionage satellite development “as a long-term visual intelligence infrastructure in the regional strategic balance”.

Iran is a leading target for Israel’s enhanced satellite spying campaign. Israeli analysts said Israeli military intelligence places the highest priority on the detailed monitoring of Iranian efforts to obtain nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and the development of long-range weapons delivery systems such as the Iris launch vehicle.

High-resolution satellite imagery has become one of Israel’s major intelligence assets, hence the appearance of Ofeq-7, Ofeq-8, Polaris/TechSAR and Amos-3 and -4.

Some of the technologies used by Israeli spy satellites include multi-spectral (MS) imagery, which captures images in different wavelengths, including color. Analysis of images at different wavelengths can reveal the presence of hidden objects.

Dual use satellites
Described by some military analysts as spy satellites, the two in-orbit Israeli Eros satellites—Eros A and Eros B—are owned and operated by the Israeli company, ImageSat International. These “dual use” satellites complement Israeli military satellites in keeping watch on the Middle East.

Eros A carries a high-resolution camera capable of discerning objects 1.8 meters across while the newer Eros B can identify objects 70 centimeters across and is now used to monitor Iran’s nuclear program. Each of the satellites passes over Israel and neighboring states four times a day.

Eros A has a planned lifespan of 10 years in orbit and is scheduled to remain in service until 2010, when it will be replaced by the more advanced Eros C.

Smaller and better
Israel also intends to upgrade the quality of its future spy satellites by taking the lead in developing what are considered the next generation nanosatellites (10kg) and microsatellites (100kg).

These new satellites will be launched from specially configured Israeli jets in much the same way air-to-air missiles are launched. Scientists at Rafael and Israel’s Armament Development Authority are examining technology to upgrade existing missiles with more powerful engines and install microsatellites in their noses.

Israel expects to have these small satellites available by 2008, but first for civilian use. Israel’s defense industry will build these small satellites.

The increasing popularity of miniaturized satellites corresponds to a U.S. new strategic concept, the “Operationally Responsive Space” initiative.

This plan attempts to give the U.S. the ability to quickly launch appropriately configured satellites in a matter of months instead of years, as is the norm today, in response to an emergency situation. Hence the U.S. interest in Polaris/TechSAR, which is a small satellite weighing just 360kg.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), builder of TechSAR-1, last April was reported to have reached an agreement with Northrop Grumman Space Technology that gives the U.S. company rights to sell modified versions of the spacecraft to the Pentagon. IAI and Northrop Grumman hope a successful launch of Polaris/TechSAR will increase the Pentagon’s interest in miniaturized satellites.

Northrop is attempting to convince the White House to include funding for TechSAR clones in its 2009 budget request to Congress. If this program is approved, initial plans call for IAI to ship the basic platform to be modified at Northrop Grumman’s facilities in California.

The Pentagon plans to demonstrate the concept by launching a series of experimental Tactical Satellites, or TacSats, and conducting military simulations and field exercises. The first of those satellites, TacSat-2, was launched in December 2006.

Northrop Grumman said TechSAR fits the bill for Operationally Responsive Space. It said TechSAR-1 is an operational system that can be built, from the time receipt of order, in 28 months.

The Challenge from Iran
The launch of the Russian-made Sina-1 (or Mesbah, meaning lantern) marked the start of Iran’s accelerated space program, said Israeli analysts.

A second satellite, this one made by Iran, is expected in 2008. Iran is known to have developed a satellite launch vehicle of the Shahab family similar to North Korea’s Taepodong 2 missile, also named Iris.

Iran officially declared its space ambitions in 2003 with the announcement it would launch its first satellite with a home-produced booster rocket within 18 months. This was the Russian-built Sina-1, which carries two cameras and communication equipment.

Although Iran claims Sina-1 is designed to locate and monitor natural resources and perform similar missions, Israeli and U.S. intelligence sources believe the satellite is part of Iran’s future military space program.

Israel has often warned that the Iranian space program is being used as camouflage to allow Iran to develop its long-range ballistic missile program without nuclear non-proliferation treaty restrictions.

Analysts said Iran achieved its significant missile technology know-how through its cooperation with North Korea. An advanced Iranian version of the Shahab-3 ballistic missile appears capable of either carrying satellites or a nuclear warhead.

Powers in the Middle East
Israel and Iran are the Middle East’s leading space powers. They are also enemies, and that is to be regretted as advances in their space programs now have roots in their overarching need to gain military advantage.

But let’s not forget that Iraq—yes, Iraq—was the first Muslim country and the 10th nation on Earth to successfully orbit a satellite.
Iraq achieved this feat on December 5, 1989 with a satellite launched from the Al-Anbar Space Research Center 50 miles west of Baghdad. The rocket is said to have been a modified version of Argentina’s Condor ballistic missile.

Other Middle East countries might soon duplicate Iraq’s feat (Saudi Arabia is a prime candidate) thereby complicating the Middle East equation.

As it stands now, however, satellites guard the peace in the Middle East. That peace must continue.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Red Dragon is dying

CHINA IS BEGINNING to self-destruct, and there’s nothing it can do to prevent this.

A report commissioned by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates China’s economic decline will become irreversible beginning 2020.

The Black Hole that will put paid to China's goal of becoming the next global hegemon is a little known demographic twist called the "Lewis Turning Point."

Vanishing manpower pool 
China’s 9.9% average annual GDP growth from 1979 to 2010 was fueled by a vast surplus army of rural workers numbering in the millions. This army became the factory workers paid some P3,000 a month who made the cheap products that allowed China to become the “Factory of the World.”

Two years from now or by 2015, China’s working age population will reach its highest level and then tumble into an irreversible decline.

By the 2030s, China’s working age population will shrink by 0.7% per year causing a labor shortage of 140 million workers within the decade. In contrast, China's working age population since the 1980s grew at the average annual rate of 2%.

More ominously, the growth rate of the core working group or those with ages from 20 to 39, the most productive segment, shrank to zero in 2010 and is projected to decline faster than the overall working age population through 2035.

Crossing the Lewis Point of no return
China this January confirmed this contraction had already begun. It admitted its working age population had indeed fallen—but far sooner than expected.

The IMF report said that based on current trends, the Lewis Turning Point will emerge in China between 2020 and 2025. The disintegration of Communist China will then become inexorable.

The Lewis Turning Point is the point at which an economy like China moves from a vast supply of low-cost workers to one with an acute labor shortage. The cost to China of this transition will be severe.

The Lewis Turning Point means China can no longer rely on cheap labor, copycat technology and export-led growth to keep growth going. It is also forcing foreign manufacturers to transfer operations to cheaper countries such as India and Vietnam whose minimum wages are currently some 40% lower than China’s.

As China’s agriculture surplus labor evaporates, “. . . industrial wages rise faster, industrial profits are squeezed, and investment falls. At that point, the economy is said to have crossed the Lewis Turning Point,” said the IMF in its report, “Chronicle of a Decline Foretold: Has China Reached the Lewis Turning Point?”

All these will signal the end of the old economic model based on low-cost labor and massive exports that made China so successful.

The Lewis Turning Point is named after Nobel laureate Sir Arthur Lewis, an economist, who first broached the concept in “Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labor,” a paper written in 1954.

A report by a separate team of researchers said the concern “. . . raised by China's changing demographics is not the prospect of slower economic growth itself, but the potential for slower growth to trigger a social and political crisis.

“By the 2020s, demographic trends may weaken the two principal pillars of the PRC government's political legitimacy: rapidly rising living standards and social stability.”

And as it is run by an inert communist bureaucracy, China will be unable to transition to a private consumption economy from an investment-driven economy in time to blunt the effects of the Lewis Turning Point.

Adapt or die
The result of this failure will be intense economic pain the likes of which China has not experienced since the disastrous Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s when millions of Chinese died from starvation due to communist mismanagement.

For China, the Lewis Turning Point means that its extensive growth model will not be sustained. China is left with the options of accepting the consequences of this inevitable demographic danger, or denying it and curtailing individual freedoms to curb the social unrest that will most certainly follow.

There is little China can do to prevent the Lewis Turning Point. Ensuring this are the effects of China’s misguided “One-Child Policy” begun in 1979 that prevented some 400 million babies from being born, and China’s current low fertility rate of 1.8 lifetime births per woman (from 5.0 in the 1970s).

Besides losing its young work force, China’s population is also aging faster. The United Nations estimates the share of elderly Chinese (or those 65 and older) in the population will double from only 8% in 2010 to 16% by 2030 and will triple to 24% by 2050.

In the next 25 years, China will have an older population than the USA.

Still a developing nation
China’s rapid aging comes at an awkward moment in its history. Today's developed nations became affluent before they became aging societies. China, however, will achieve the opposite.

This means that China will not be able to fully implement the social protections such as social security, pensions and other safety nets for the elderly that are the norm in developed economies. Today, less than a third of China's workforce has formal retirement benefits.

For China’s elderly, the future is dire since the state and a smaller pool of younger workers will be unable to support them in their “Golden Years.”

The UN said China had 7.8 working age adults available to support each of its elderly in 2010. This ratio will fall to 3.8 by 2030 and to 2.4 by 2050.

This decline means the average burden borne by each worker will triple. As a consequence, many of China’s elderly will face death alone and without adequate social safety nets.

Too heavy a price
There is a price to pay for progress. In China’s case, that price has been obscured by its enviable economic growth over the past three decades.

Despite a per capita GDP double that of the Philippines, China remains a developing nation like the Philippines.

China’s goal of becoming a developed nation is in serious jeopardy—if not already an impossibility—because of the Lewis Turning Point and unfavorable demographics.

This turning point that will shatter its ambition of sustaining itself as the world’s largest economy, and could ignite a social upheaval that might destroy the communist state.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The last thing we remember on Earth . . .

(Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 27 January 2014)

“WHAT HAPPENS after we close our eyes for the last time?”

For an atheist, the answer’s easy. We won’t ever open our eyes again.

There’s no After Life: no joyous reward for the good, no perpetual damnation for the evil. Heaven and hell are what we make out of this life. So live each day as if it were the last.

For zealous Christians, the answer’s easy, too. They’ll awake in Heaven and to a life of eternal bliss in the presence of Jesus Christ. And zealous Christians know Hell is the only destination for the damned.

For indifferent Christians, however, there doesn't seem to be a definite answer. There’s only the frantic hope that Heaven will be there when they re-awaken.

For religious non-Christians, the answer to this question probably depends on the intensity of their love for God as they perceive Him.

Working towards heaven or an eternal reward is a goal that gives meaning to the lives of many. That’s a good thing.

It’s only logical that good people seek a reward for lives well lived in an After Life of eternal joy.

But those who want heaven to be there when they re-open their eyes fear that one sin might deprive them of this just reward.

This concern need not turn into needless panic. The habit of goodness sears itself into one’s soul and unconsciously prepares one for the Final Second.

Your Final Thoughts are vital when your life flashes before your eyes and the Light begins to call you. If you've built a life of goodness, your Final Thoughts will reflect the person you really are.

And when your terrified eyes no longer see this world, your Final Thoughts will lead you towards your Destination.

The Last Thing we remember on earth will be the First Thing we see in Heaven.

At the Final Second, the memories of goodness done will flood our consciousness and serve as the key that unlocks the door to an eternal reward.

The good we've done will steel us into accepting Death as the rightful extension of this life. And the Door to our Eternal Reward.

Goodness is the key.

God will certainly reward the Fervent Few who remain true to His Book. But this fervor is improbable for the wretched legions whose lives are consumed by the terrible struggle against poverty.

What is left to us is the innate Goodness that is God’s mirror in every person.  So that even if physically and mentally ruined, a person can hold up this mirror of Goodness to see himself as God sees him: a Creation to be saved—always.