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ARISSat-1 “Suits Up” for February 2011 Launch


Earlier this year, astronauts living on the International Space Station (ISS) had to discard two surplus Orlan space suits. With the loss of the suits, those involved with AMSAT and Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) were at a loss. One of these suits was to be used to house the electronics for the upcoming SuitSat-2 mission: the batteries were to be mounted inside the suit, solar panels attached to the extremities with the electronics, with video cameras and an antenna mounted on the helmet. But even though the removal of the space suits took away the “Suit” component of the deployment, AMSAT and ARISS forged ahead, changing the configuration of the satellite and Amateur Radio experiment and giving it a new name: ARISSat-1/RadioSkaf-V.

According to ARRL ARISS Program Manager Rosalie White, K1STO, the AMSAT engineering team made the final decision for the satellite to become a cube with solar panels on all 6 sides. “The team is mounting a 70 cm quarter-wave whip on the bottom and a 2 meter quarter wave whip on the top, she explained. “All of the hardware and software goes inside the cube, with the cameras on the outside. ARISS sees this mission as another opportunity for education outreach, as it will provide an opportunity for students around the world to listen for recorded greetings from space, as well as learn about tracking spacecraft in orbit.”

Students at Russia’s Kursk State University are developing an experiment that will measure the vacuum of space; it is expected to be integrated into the electronics once the US-produced equipment is delivered to Russia this fall.

A band plan for ARISSat-1, including CW beacon, SSB/CW 16 kHz transponder (70 cm uplink/2 meter downlink), BPSK telemetry (satellite status and experiment telemetry) and FM (announcements, slow scan television [SSTV] transmissions and telemetry) is now available.

ARISSat-1 will boast:

  • 24 different student greetings -- transmitted in 15 languages -- on the FM downlink.
  • SSTV shots taken by the spacecraft and transmitted to the ground on FM.
  • Telemetry from Russia’s Kursk State University experiment that will measure of the vacuum of space. The experiment will be sampling the amount of vacuum each day for 90 minutes, then sending down the data to map the vacuum change as the satellite slowly spirals into the atmosphere. According to AMSAT ARISSat Project Manager Gould Smith, WA4SXM, this is a unique experiment, “as we understand that such measurements have not been taken previously at the altitudes at which ARISSat-1 will operate.”
  • Ground station software for both the PC and Mac platforms. This software will be useful to demodulate and display the new BPSK1000 downlink that will include data from the experiment and satellite telemetry, as well as demodulate the older BPSK-400 format used by the Phase III satellites, such as AO-40. Audio from a 2 meter SSB receiver/scanner can be fed into a computer soundcard and the software will demodulate the downlink. Separate programs for displaying SSTV images and decoding CW are currently available from other sources.

Smith said that compared to SuitSat-1, the ARISSat-1 satellite is significantly enhanced: “You will recall that SuitSat-1 was battery operated only (no solar panels), while ARISSat-1 has six solar panels to provide power, plus a storage battery provided by RSC-Energia (the same type of battery used in the Russian Orlan spacesuit). The addition of solar panels will significantly enhance mission duration versus SuitSat-1.”

Other ARISSat-1 upgrades include:

  • ARISSat-1 will transmit four different modulated signals across a 48 kHz band, including a 16 kHz wide SSB/CW transponder, extensive BPSK telemetry downlink, CW beacon and FM downlink capabilities. SuitSat-1 did not have a receiver, so it was transmit-only with canned voice messages and a pre-recorded SSTV image, plus CW telemetry downlink on a single FM channel.
  • ARISSat-1 will have a student experiment; the system can handle up to three experiments. SuitSat-1 did not carry student experiments.
  • ARISSat-1 has 4 SSTV cameras and software to select photos taken with illuminated pixels to be transmitted to the ground on the FM channel. SuitSat-1 did not have SSTV photo capability, only a prerecorded SSTV image to transmit.
  • ARISSat-1 has more pre-recorded student messages to transmit -- 24 messages in 15 languages. SuitSat-1 had prerecorded student messages in only 6 languages.
  • ARISSat-1 has several “challenges” that students and others will be encouraged to meet, including decoding CW transmission of call signs of those involved with the project, recognizing a “secret word” at the end of the greetings and hearing a recording of a two-way transmission from former Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human to orbit the Earth.
  • ARISSat-1 is a technology demonstrator, featuring the first use of a software defined transponder (SDX) in an Amateur Radio spacecraft. According to one of the team leaders, Gould Smith, WA4SXM, SDX uses software to modulate/demodulate radio signals, rather than analog hardware. SuitSat-1 used a modified Kenwood analog transmitter.

Plans to launch a second SuitSat-spacesuit-turned-satellite were the subject of discussions and presentations at the November 2006 AMSAT Space Symposium and ARISS International Delegates’ meeting. Despite a weaker-than-anticipated 2 meter signal, SuitSat-1 -- a surplus Russian Orlan spacesuit fitted with an Amateur Radio transmitter -- sparked the imagination of students and the general public and turned into a public relations bonanza for Amateur Radio. ARISS hoped to capitalize on the concept by building an even better SuitSat that will include ham radio transponders. The Web site attracted nearly 10 million hits during the mission. Designated by AMSAT as AO-54, SuitSat-1 remained in operation for more than two weeks, easily outlasting initial predictions that it would transmit for about a week. It re-entered the atmosphere and burned up in September 2006.

“Though ARISSat-1 won’t sport as charming an exterior as its predecessor, it embodies significant enhancement in capability and longevity,” said ARRL Education Services Manager Debra Johnson, K1DMJ. “The ham radio community and schools with access to Amateur Radio ground stations can begin planning their mode of conversation with this new space inhabitant that will be arriving on the scene in just a few months!”



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