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Columbus Antennas to Take to the Skies


Something’s always new with ARISS, the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ISS) program. ARISS volunteers, typical of many hams, thrive on working with challenging projects, which result in new opportunities for all hams. Right now, two projects are on the front burner.

In February 2008, the new Columbus module built by the European Space Agency (ESA) was attached to the International Space Station (ISS). When ESA first announced intentions for the module a number of years ago, the ARISS International team began planning how to get ham radio integrated. While ESA’s blueprints were being drawn, hams made serious inquiries and gave presentations, and eventually won approval to have antenna feed-through connectors added to the module.

Now fast-forward to 2009.

Last month wide-area detection receivers destined for Columbus arrived in at the station aboard Japan's new H-II Transfer Vehicle. The experimental receivers will be used to track vessels on the world's oceans. The ships must carry Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders that transmit navigation and ship identification data.

The receivers only need antennas to make them fully operational, and those will be traveling to the ISS via the space shuttle – along with Amateur Radio antennas for the Columbus module.

Antennas Clear Customs

In early September, the ham antennas were packaged up for shipment from Europe to the US after having passed their space certification tests. Lou McFadin, W5DID, a member of the AMSAT Board of Directors and a key volunteer for ARISS, kept tabs on the antennas as they cleared US Customs. The shipment of antennas moved on to Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Lou, who lives in Florida, drove to the Cape on September 10 to supervise the unpacking of the antennas.

The hardware will head to the ISS on the currently scheduled mid-November launch of space shuttle mission STS-129. Lou showed the astronauts the best ways for them to safely unpack and assemble the antennas and associated cables once they and the hardware reach the ISS. They reviewed how to maneuver and install the antennas during the spacewalk. Lou also oversaw the re-packing of the antennas and the onboard flight kit that accompanies shipments going to the ISS. The Europeans who designed and built the AIS antennas created a special decal for their team, and printed a supply that may be included in the flight kit. (Documents await approval for the decals’ trip to space.) Because AMSAT tested the antennas, the AMSAT logo is part of the decal’s design; it honors the many volunteers who contributed work in various capacities.

Astronauts Do Antenna Work!

Astronauts will install and deploy our ARISS antennas during the second spacewalk of STS-129. The ham team will monitor the spacewalk activity via a NASA real-time teleconference call.

The new antennas will increase opportunities for the many hams who covet making contacts with astronauts and cosmonauts. Frequencies available for transmission to and from Columbus will be 2 meters, 70 centimeters, L-band and S-band. To start, the two Ericcson radios (2 meters and 70 centimeters) that are already on the ISS (but seldom used) will be moved and installed in Columbus.

There’s More…

If you think this ambitious project is the only thing ARISS toils over, in addition to its very busy educational activities, think again. Another big project is ARISSat-1. (It deserves a whole story of its own.) Lou was assigned by AMSAT as project manager, and Gould Smith, WA4SXM, another of AMSAT’s Board of Directors, was named project engineer after AMSAT proposed to the ARISS International Team that it could take on leadership of the final stages (funding, completion, and delivery) of ARISSat-1. You can see a preview of the satellite on the AMSAT-NA Web site. Click on: New drawings of ARISSat-1 View.

For ARISS educational projects, it takes more than a village. It takes tens of hundreds of volunteers with varied skills representing a large number of organizations. The volunteers spend a great deal of time working on thousands of details. A heart-felt thank you from the ham community goes to everyone on the various ARISS-related teams! – Rosalie White, K1STO

Rosalie White, K1STO



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