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Ailing ARISS “HamTV” Transmitter Back on Earth for Inspection, Possible Repair


The malfunctioning Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) “HamTV” transmitter now is back on Earth for repair or replacement, and it likely won’t be until sometime in 2020 at the earliest that Amateur Radio TV (DATV) capability will be restored to the orbiting laboratory. Onboard repair was not possible.

Also known as “Ham Video,” the DATV system transmissions were not seen by ARISS ground stations as of last April, and a subsequent test using a second L/S band patch antenna on the ISS Columbus module failed. The DATV transmitter since February 2016 has served to provide a visual dimension to ARISS school and group ham radio events.

Late last year, the ISS crew packed the HamTV unit and stowed it on the SpaceX-16 Dragon vehicle, which undocked and departed from the ISS on January 13. The HamTV unit returned to Earth when Dragon successfully splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, the first nighttime splashdown and recovery of a Dragon vehicle.

ARISS Ham Project Coordinator Kenneth Ransom, N5VHO, told those attending the January ARISS meeting that the HamTV unit would be processed and sent to NASA’s Johnson Space Center. In time, ARISS will coordinate shipment of the unit to Kayser-Italia, which built the transmitter, where it will undergo a full failure investigation by ARISS, AMSAT-Italia, and the Kayser-Italia team. Depending on the outcome of the inspection, ARISS will decide the best way to move forward.

ARISS expressed gratitude to NASA, CASIS, and the team working with NASA Ham Payload Integration Manager Mitch Polt for organizing the return of the unit.

Given various handling protocols, the unit is not expected to be received by NASA until this spring, and tests in Europe not completed until this fall.

If the HamTV unit is able to be repaired or refurbished, another wait would ensue. Documentation is required 50 days before a safety certification meeting, and all must be approved 2 months prior to launch, which could take place in a little more than a year. ARISS said it also will prepare for the possibility that repairs are not feasible and be ready to move forward with a new, improved HamTV unit.