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Hams in Space -- For the Young and Young at Heart

09/25/2008

Richard Garriott, W5KWQ, a well-known programmer and designer in the video game world, will soon be a household name those who follow space flights. He's the next private citizen to be flown to the International Space Station (ISS) by the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA), and is taking ham radio into space just as his dad Owen Garriott, W5LFL -- the very first ham to make QSOs from space -- did in 1983.

If you're younger than 35 and enjoy computer games, you probably know who Richard Garriott is: A legendary video game programmer and designer who has become even more well known from his Web site. If you're a bit older, you might remember when Owen Garriott, was heralded as the first Amateur Radio operator to make QSOs from space.

Richard's fiery ride to space will be on a Russian Soyuz TMA-13, due to be launched on Sunday, October 12; the Soyuz is set to dock with the ISS just two days later. According to ARRL Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) Program Manager and ARISS International Secretary-Treasurer Rosalie White, K1STO, Richard is the sixth private citizen to be accepted by the Russian Space Agency for a short-term mission on the ISS. HIs term as an official crew member of the Soyuz TMA-13/17S crew is scheduled to end with the undocking of the Soyuz on October 22 for its journey back to Earth.

You Can Be a Part of History

Owen thrilled Amateur Radio operators by making the first QSOs in space while he was a crew member of the NASA shuttle mission STS-9 on board the Space Shuttle Columbia. Thousands of hams listened to the news, learning about Owen's activities on Columbia, so they could estimate the best time to try for a QSO with him. They listened to the 2 meter frequencies, hoping they might garner a historic QSO during that mission. Check your 1983 issues of QST for stories about Owen and his historic on-the-air activities.

And now, 25 years later, Richard is bent on honoring his father by operating ham radio in space. Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, ARISS International Chairman, said, "The ARISS Team is very happy to be able to make Richard's time in space extra special, since his flight coincides almost exactly 25 years from when his father made history."

As Richard first began making plans to become a space flight participant, White said he also started to study for his ham radio license exams: "He had been around ham radio all of his life, but was always busy with other interests. Yet he had absorbed enough from his dad and his ham activities to make it a cinch to pass the exams. When Richard's interests turned into the chance to live on the space station, he knew what he wanted to give back to ham radio as much as he possibly could during his short stay."

White said that Richard wished to honor his grandfather, whose call sign was W5KWQ. Years earlier, his grandfather and father took ham radio classes. Together, the father-son team learned the material, passed the exams and set up a station. "The rest was ham radio history because of Owen's renowned STS-9 flight," White said. "Richard wanted to somehow have his grandfather remembered in space, since Owen and Richard have recently mirrored that earlier father-son ham team. Richard happened upon the idea of applying to the FCC for his granddad's call sign and asked his dad to contact me for information. I steered him to the ARRL VEC Department. Of course, the FCC granted the request, and Richard began using W5KWQ as soon as it was legal."

ARISS in the Picture Right Away

The first thing Richard did after passing his ham exams was to start talking to ARISS in earnest. "ARISS coordinates and sponsors everything to do with ham radio in space, and NASA Mission Control will be handling all of the ham radio schedules," White said. In mid-August, ARISS Team Member Kenneth Ransom, N5VHO, set up a training session at NASA Johnson Space Center session for Richard. Following that, Richard completed his Russian radio training. ARISS Team Member Sergej Samburov, RV3DR, trained Richard on SSTV, packet, the use of the ARISS equipment, and the onboard computers in Star City, Russia at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre. The next month, Samburov had Richard learn how to handle radio ops, especially pile-ups.

"Something old and something new is on Richard's mind for ham radio," White said. "He requested that ARISS assist him in taking part in a whole slate of varied ham radio activities. The ARISS Team will tag up on the air with Richard early on to check the radios and the schedule. He'll do his best to operate the radio a few times for random QSOs with hams around the world, just as his father did."

Because of his and his father's support to the Challenger Learning Centers at the national level, White said that they wished to set up two QSOs with Challenger Centers: "Each QSO will be coordinated so that hundreds of students will take part from seven Challenger Centers located across the United States, as well as one from the United Kingdom. The students' interview questions will be asked round-robin style. Charlie Sufana, AJ9N, and Wayne Harasimovitch, VE1WPH, will be mentoring these centers."

Richard picked a school in his hometown to have a QSO from space with -- the Austin Liberal Arts and Sciences Academy, in Austin, Texas. This school QSO will be led by one of ARRL's own Education & Technology Program (ETP) teachers Ronny Risinger, KC5EES. White said that Risinger will teach the students about technology, ham radio and space before, during and after the QSO. Risinger's students study mechanical engineering, computer processing and "Planet Earth," focusing on planet life, microbiology and space travel. "Ham radio is an elective to the curriculum, and covers radio waves, frequencies, antenna systems and designs, satellite tracking, and communications," White said. "Gene Chapline, K5YFL, will mentor this school."

White said Richard set up what she called "an unusual schedule. He asked to speak with the mayor of Austin who will be bringing a number of students into his office to help him take part in the QSO. Will Marchant, KC6ROL, mentors this group."

Richard also chose the Budbrooke Primary School in Warwick is England to make QSOs with. "The QSO will enhance their technology and ham radio studies. ARISS Vice Chairman Gaston Bertels, ON4WF, in Belgium is mentoring this school," White said.

Richard has also scheduled a QSO with two groups who are in the ARISS queue: Pinehurst Elementary School in Ashland, Oregon, and the National Planetarium in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The teacher at the Oregon school is leading the ham radio presentations and space-related lessons; John Spasojevich, AG9D, of Indiana is mentoring this school. The planetarium QSO will be coordinated by ARISS volunteer Sangat Singh, 9M2SS, using the planetarium's club call sign 9M2SS. Part of the planetarium's Space Challenge educational activities, the QSO is scheduled on the day Richard is required to pack his belongings for his return to Earth. If he becomes too occupied with packing and other required duties, Mike Fincke, KE5AIT, the commander of Expedition 18, could assist with the QSO.

Because Jamboree on the Air (JOTA) takes place on while Richard is on the ISS, he hopes to hook up on the air with Scouts. "Past experience shows that scouts love talking to hams in space," White said. "The ARISS Team feels the most important aspect of Richard's mission is to pique students' interest in science and technology through the ARISS QSOs."

To make it even more of a family affair, Owen Garriott will be operating from the ham station RK3DZB at the Russian Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center; he and his family will make ham radio contacts with Richard. ARISS Team member Sergej Samburov, RV3DR, will coordinate these QSOs.

SSTV and Other Cool Things

School QSOs are nothing new for ARISS, so what exciting new thing is Richard planning while he sends his time in space? White said he plans on transmitting a show of downlink video images. "Beforehand, SSTV testing will be conducted between him and the ARISS Team, uplinking high resolution images," she said. "The SSTV downlinks will take place during his official Earth observations duties, allowing students and hams to compare images to ones previously downloaded. He may have the SSTV equipment running at random times for the pleasure of ham radio operators. He will use his call sign -- W5KWQ -- on the downlinked video pictures while operating the RS0ISS and NA1SS equipment, with permission from station trustees Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, and Sergej Samburov, RV3DR. Because Richard passed his Russian Amateur Radio exam, he is allowed to use his American call sign for transmitting the SSTV images.

According to ARISS International Chairman Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, Richard plans to take a Kenwood VC-H1 SSTV communicator with him on board the Soyuz for his flight and leave this on the ISS for future ARISS use. “The VC-H1 has completed all hardware certification on the US and Russian sides,” Bauer said. “The final test, an EMI radiated emissions test, was performed last week and the test data was delivered to Sergey Samburov, RV3DR, in Russia this week. The VC-H1 provides a very simple interface for ISS crew members and does not require the use of a computer. Computer usage has been a real challenge for ARISS, so the VC-H1 represents a lesson learned to improve ARISS operations.”

Bauer reported that at the ARISS International Meeting earlier this week, Samburov confirmed that the recent Progress flight delivered the flight backup D-700, a David Clark Headset for the Ericsson system and an additional VOX box and cables to support the computer-operated SSTV system. “The D700 may be installed as early as late this week, depending on crew availability,” he said. “The flight backup will not provide a significant change in ARISS ops, but it will make it easier for the crew to change program modes.”

Early during Richard’s flight, Bauer said Richard expects to setup the VC-H1 and autonomously transmit a new Earth image every three minutes: “He hopes to have this system on a great deal of his flight. We encourage the ham community to bring SSTV equipment into schools and download these images in real-time. The ARISS team also plans to display images from hams around the world on a special on a Web/blog site. A beta site has been developed and will be rolled out to the ham community in the near future.”

Bauer said that to successfully implement the on-line SSTV picture site and support it 24/7 during Richard’s flight, “We will need some savvy individuals that can sort through the many SSTV photos that ARISS will receive and keep the SSTV site up to date in near real time. Some computer skills will be required. We are looking for global support from a few individuals in each international region to make this happen. That way we will not be asking individuals to volunteer all night to realize this project.” If you are interested in helping out with this, please e-mail Bauer directly.

Richard is the sixth private citizen to be flown by the Russian space agency to the ISS; all other private citizens who have ventured to the ISS before him have also made ARISS QSOs. NASA, the Russian Space Agency, RSC Energia, Space Adventures Ltd and ARISS have developed various agreements to allow space citizens to entice students to science and engineering through ARISS QSOs. For more information about Richard, his space activities and what he hopes to accomplish in space, visit his Web site. He mentioned his radio training in one of his recent blog entries.

ARISS is the first and longest continuous operating educational outreach program to fly on the ISS. In the United States, ARISS is sponsored by the ARRL, AMSAT-NA and NASA. NASA's education office provides support to ARISS, and guidance in the development of ARISS educational objectives.



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