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Amateur Community Needed to Assist Japanese Amateur Interplanetary Satellite


An informal network of ham radio experimenters, scientists and CW enthusiasts called FlyVenusCom -- a nonprofit, cross-cultural effort -- has been created to support communication efforts by Japanese scientists with its CubeSat Venus probe, UNITEC-1.

UNITEC-1 was developed by 20 universities of the University Space Engineering Consortium (UNISEC), the Japanese community developing nano-satellites. Specifically, the Japanese UNITEC-1 team has called for ham radio assistance worldwide in improving and testing two areas of the CubeSat’s mission:

  • Technologies to receive and decode very weak and low bit rate signal coming from deep space.
  • Technologies to estimate orbit and signal Doppler shift of the satellite based on the received RF signal, essential for tracking and receiving signals from a satellite in deep space.

Bill Vartorella, KJ4ORX, is spearheading the informal FlyVenusCom effort: “The wave of the future is increasingly small, inexpensive, private and non-profit enterprise satellites. The trade-off is many of these satellites will not have sufficient power for robust communications. Weak signal challenges and research publications have been the hallmark of ham radio since at least the 1920s. What should spur ham interest is that UNITEC-1 will transmit an Amateur Radio telemetry beacon at 5.840 GHz. ‘Big dish’ participation is already beginning to gel, but monitoring and reporting the signal is just part of the equation.”

Vartorella said that the signal from UNITEC-1 is mainly a CW beacon of about 1 bps speed. “It would also be possible to duplicate the received signals from several antennae to make the signal-to-noise ratio higher, so that we can decode the signal from UNITEC-1 while flying further away from the Earth. This experiment can also be performed in a competition style. We would greatly appreciate it if radio amateurs would propose interesting experiments or competitions, making the most of the UNITEC-1 launch and operation opportunity.”

At the core is the Japanese consortium’s emphasis is that this is the first university-developed interplanetary satellite -- as well as the first amateur interplanetary satellite -- that will provide what Vartorella called “a unique and exciting opportunity for the radio amateurs all over the world to enjoy reception of signals from deep space. Not many of us have either a big dish in the back yard or access to one. With FlyVenusCom, we’re trying to engage the broader Amateur Radio community for ideas, experiments, and weak signal ‘home-brew’ experience to help not only the Japanese students’ efforts, but the potential creation of disruptive technologies that will evolve into shareware for all of us.”

Vartorella said that FlyVenusCom is intended to serve as an informal portal or clearinghouse for dissemination of information for the Japanese team at Tokyo University, as well as a discussion list of challenges, innovations and next steps: “There is already shareware available for weak signal, and the Japanese are proffering support information. This is also a great opportunity for the CW community worldwide to show off their talents and innovative ideas. Vartorella said he is especially interested in one-page research suggestions that can be forwarded to the UNITEC-1 team at Tokyo University. Those interested in UNITEC-1 and suggesting research ideas, competitions or other approaches on a listserv, may contact Vartorella via e-mail at or at William F. Vartorella, PO Box 1376, Camden, SC 29021 USA.




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