Tuesday, October 28, 2014

AMSAT 2014 Symoisium

As I sit here at my daughter's home in Maryland ruminating over the past weekend's events while attending the 2014 AMSAT Symposium and annual meeting, I am exceedingly glad I had the opportunity to attend. The last symposium I was able to attend was in 2008, the year we moved from PA to GA. The 2008 event was held in Atlanta so there was virtually no travel involved. Sweet!!

Over the years I have been an on-again off-again member of AMSAT, depending upon my interest in space communications at that time. I have always been interested in the space program and satellite communications, but more often than not I did not have all the gear I needed to do SatComm justice.

Finally, in the early 1990s I obtained a nice, fully loaded Yaesu FT-726 and I went after the "birds". Over the next few years I did a lot of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite contacts (QSOs) and enjoyed the experience very much. With the launch of AMSAT/OSCAR thirteen (AO-13) in a highly eccentric orbit to continue with meaningful SatComm work I'd have had to invest close to an additional $1500 in my station to equip it with the necessary bits and pieces (not to mention steerable, as in AZ-EL, antennas) that I felt the time had come to go another direction in my ham radio career.

With the launching of several of the "FM repeater satellites" in LEO which you could work with a handheld V/UHF radio and a simple antenna, I decided to jump back into the fray. While the FM sats were fun, on the horizon, thanks to AMSAT, was the "cube-sats" which were almost the ultimate in miniaturization. Being only 100 mm on a side (approximately a 4 inch cube) these cube-sats could be cluster launched from the International Space Station (ISS) providing a variety of satellites and modes at a reasonable cost.

In my interview with Keith Baker, KB1SF, AMSAT treasurer, Kieth gave me a great line from the movie "The Right Stuff" concerning the cost of operating in space: "No bucks, no Buck Rogers". How true that statement is. Space exploration and, in our case amateur satellite launches, are extremely expensive. The bigger the satellite the bigger the price tag to loft it into orbit. The days of getting the USAF or NASA to piggy back one of our birds on an upcoming launch vehicle for free were OVER! One figure I heard quoted this weekend concerning cost of launching a ham satellite was $100,000 per kilogram of satellite weight! That is outrageous but none the less true. You wanna play, you gotta pay.....plain and simple.

 Recently I have had other hams question my reasoning as to my support for AMSAT. After all, AMSAT is our "ride" to the future. They keep ham radio in space. Period. If we don't have AMSAT, we don't have an amateur space program. To which they replied (paraphrasing now) "there aren't any satellites available to work, so why should we join?" To this I say wander on over the the AMSAT website (www.amsat.org) and take a look at the number of active satellites currently on line..You will be amazed.

More amazing than that is the saga one of the older birds, AO-7, first launched in November of 1974. It functioned until the batteries succumbed to the hostilities of space in late 1981. Everyone on the AO-7 command team thought that this satellite was gone...dead.....stone cold dead. THEN, in June of 2002, Pat Gowen, G3IOR, in England heard the downlink beacon of AO-7 and alerted AMSAT! AO-7 was back!!!!! Totally inoperative for almost 20 years, the old girl decided to come back on line as long as the solar panels were in direct sunlight. In eclipse (the satellite is in darkness) the birds shuts down and then reawakens when sunlight once again strikes her solar panels. AO-7 is not fully functional as it first was but it is usable and it is currently the only LEO mode A satellite in orbit. Mode A referrers to the uplink/downlink pairing, in this cases 2m up and 10m down, making it a great teaching tool for schools. The gear to operate through AO-7 is very simple: a 2m transceiver capable of CW or SSB emissions and a 10m receiver capable of receiving CW and SSB. Simple antennas are the order of the day.

AMSAT membership costs $44/year. Compered to ARRL dues at $39/year it is more expensive and where as you get QST each month you only get the AMSAT Newsletter once every 3 months (quarterly). The thing is, the money you give to AMSAT in dues goes directly to support research, development, fabrication and launching of the ham satellites. Of course $44/year per member doesn't really make up the costs of all this. For that AMSAT relies on fund raising and grants. The cost of procuring certified-for-space-flight sub assemblies and parts  for a satellite are unbelievably costly. Many times commercial satellite companies and developers would toss AMSAT a bone by giving them needed space certified gear. This drastically cuts fabrication costs. Even then it takes a lot of cash to orbit one of our birds.

So, my hope is that you who read this posting decide to support AMSAT. Drift on over to www.amsat.org and look around. If it tickles your fancy send in your yearly dues and get busy on setting up a simple SATCOM station. 

Vy 73

Rich K7SZ

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