ARISS International Partners Regroup at First In-Person Meeting since 2011
Representatives of the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) International partners met in person last month for the first time in 2-1/2 years to reassess the program’s direction and to consider new objectives. The European Space Agency (ESA) hosted the April 3-5 gathering at its European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in The Netherlands. ARISS International Secretary-Treasurer Rosalie White, K1STO, represented the ARRL at the sessions. ARISS International Chair and AMSAT-NA Vice President for Human Spaceflight Programs Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, presided.
Former ESA astronaut Gerhard Thiele, DG1KIL, welcomed the representatives. Thiele, who heads ESA's Human Spaceflight and Operations Strategic Planning and Outreach office, told the gathering that ESA recognizes the benefit to students of being able to communicate with the ISS crew directly via Amateur Radio, and that students learn a lot as a result of these ARISS contacts.
The meeting offered an opportunity to sort out where things stand for ARISS and to enhance collaboration among the ARISS partners. Bauer expressed his desire for a committee to review all charters that ARISS has with space agencies around the world and to develop a plan for establishing future agreements.
In a wide-ranging presentation, ARISS International Project Selection & Use Committee representative Lou McFadin, W5DID, addressed long-term equipment possibilities. Among other requirements, McFadin said, ARISS should have the ability to control its equipment from Earth, and he said that developing software-defined equipment would permit this. He also spoke of the need for an “override power switch,” as the astronauts need to shut down ARISS equipment during safety-critical events such as spacecraft dockings or spacewalks. Given the paucity of space aboard the ISS, ARISS also must minimize the amount of real estate its equipment occupies, McFadin said. He also noted that there is “little or no” ISS crew time to address ISS ham gear issues.
McFadin further discussed the advantages of installing a mobile VHF/UHF transceiver in the Columbus module that has higher power capabilities, similar to the Kenwood D-700 located in the Service Module. In recent months crew members have been using a 5 W Ericsson hand-held transceiver for school contacts, and signal levels have been lower than the team would prefer. McFadin suggested that a portable mobile system with a power output of 15 W or greater might improve this situation.
McFadin noted that it’s not easy to move ham radio equipment from one ISS module to another. The team discussed the need for new ham gear aboard the ISS to be interoperable, allowing its operation across multiple modules. This would enable ARISS to move equipment from one module to another, depending upon specific needs.
Kerry Banke, N6IZW, who is working with McFadin on hardware issues, presented additional ideas for enhancing the ARISS station aboard the ISS. He solicited input from the ARISS International team and suggested putting together a committee to address future equipment questions.
To encourage teachers to take part in ARISS, representatives agreed that the program needs to develop a document outlining the educational outcomes ARISS could offer to schools.
ARISS-Europe Chair Gaston Bertels, ON4WF, addressed considerations for using the “Ham Video” Amateur Radio digital TV system in conjunction with school contacts. He suggested a presentation that shows what Ham Video can do, to stimulate thinking about ways to make the best use of the system — such as, for example, uploading a school’s science project that could be viewed by many students.
Delegates attended from all five ARISS regions: Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia, and the US. NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) Teaching from Space Office representative Trinesha Dixon took part in the meeting via teleconference.