ARRL

AMSAT: Amateur Radio Payload Could Share Space on Geosynchronous Satellite

04/26/2015

[UPDATED 2015-04-27 1803 UTC] There is big news on the Amateur Radio satellite front. AMSAT-NA has announced that, if all goes according to plan, an Amateur Radio payload will go into space on a geosynchronous satellite that’s planned for launch in 2017. As opposed to the more typical low-Earth-orbit, a geosynchronous orbit would permit an earthbound ham at a given point within its footprint to access the satellite at approximately the same time each day. According to AMSAT Vice President-Operations Drew Glasbrenner, KO4MA, the satellite’s potential footprint would extend over the US from the Mid-Pacific to Africa. AMSAT said it’s accepted the opportunity to be a “hosted payload” on a spacecraft that Millennium Space Systems (MSS) of El Segundo, California, is under contract to design, launch, and operate for the US government. Past AMSAT Director and former Vice President-Engineering Bob McGwier, N4HY, said the Amateur Radio payload must be delivered for testing and integration by the spring of 2016.

“It is an ambitious schedule, and all involved will have to gain and maintain a serious level of commitment,” said McGwier, the Director of Research at Virginia Tech’s Hume Center for National Security and Technology. The AMSAT announcement April 25 followed an April 13 meeting at MSS to discuss the project. McGwier said the potential rideshare would be an opportunity to go forward with the AMSAT-Eagle payload, which had evolved nearly 10 years ago into a microwave payload to be flown in a geosynchronous orbit, although it never got a flight opportunity. Had it flown, it would have provided digital communications to small terminals on the ground and a linear bent-pipe transponder.

AMSAT President, Barry Baines, WD4ASW, said the payload would be a Phase IV geosynchronous Amateur Radio package. “This is an evolving development, as we collaborate with the VT Hume Center with a project that provides technical challenges to create a new Amateur Radio capability in space that will provide a variety of benefits not only for amateurs but also for emergency communications and STEM educational outreach."

According to AMSAT, the transponder is expected to support a wide range of voice, digital, and experimental advanced communications technologies. A decision is expected soon specifying the microwave uplink and downlink bands. The satellite would be an Aquila M8 Series spacecraft.

If the Qatari E’hailsat project designed to serve IARU Region 1 is successful, two geosynchronous satellites carrying Amateur Radio payloads could be in space at the same time.

In addition to McGwier, others attending the April 13 meeting included Qualcomm co-founder Franklin Antonio, N6NKF; AMSAT Vice President of Engineering and Board Member Jerry Buxton, N0JY; AMSAT Director and President Emeritus Tom Clark, K3IO; Phil Karn, KA9Q, and Michelle Thompson, W5NYV.

Hosting the meeting for MSS were MSS Founder and Chairman Stan Dubyn, MSS President Vince Deno; MSS Vice President for Product Development Jeff Ward, K8KA, and MSS Spacecraft Mission Project Manager Ryan Lawrence. Attending by telephone were Hume Center Associate Research Director Jonathan Black — an associate professor of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering, and RINCON Research Corp Founder Michael Parker, KT7D.

McGwier said the next steps in developing the mission would include initiating an effort at Virginia Tech to make a firm proposal to MSS and to its US government sponsor and to organize a fund-raising effort. The tentative plan calls for Black to lead the construction project at Virginia Tech in the Space@VT Center. Sonya Rowe, KK4NLO, of the Hume Center would be the project manager. McGwier said work to develop a low-cost microwave ground station for Amateur Radio remains to be determined. He said Parker would solicit the cooperation of the RINCON Research Corp for development of the software radio.

The AMSAT Board of Directors has signed on the project, and AMSAT expects to be involved in the development of the ground station and of the RF payload. It also will serve as the Amateur Radio payload operator, once the satellite has been launched. — Thanks to AMSAT News Service via Bob McGwier, N4HY, and others

 



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