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Apparent ARISS Radio Failure Prompts Shift to Russian Service Module Ham Gear


[UPDATED 2016-10-26 @ 2027 UTC] The International Space Station (ARISS) program has announced that the Ericsson MP-A VHF handheld transceiver that astronauts had been using to speak via Amateur Radio with students and educational groups around the world for more than 16 years recently began displaying an error message, rendering it unusable at least for the time being. While the ARISS technical team is evaluating the best path to restore operation from the ISS Columbus module, it will support ARISS contacts from NA1SS using the Kenwood TM-D710 transceiver in the Russian Service Module. Cosmonauts have been using that radio to carry out their ARISS school contacts. During this period, the packet digipeater, which relied on the Ericsson transceiver, will be unavailable. Switching to the 70 centimeter capability on board the Columbus module for some operations is being coordinated.

“ARISS is actively working on a new Interoperable Hardware System for the ISS. The primary components are a modified JVC Kenwood D710GA radio and a custom ARISS-designed power supply,” ARISS Operations Committee Chair Dave Taylor, W8AAS, said in an AMSAT Bulletin Board post. “The radio is complete except for final programming and NASA testing and certification. The power supply design is in final stages, and a hardware prototype has been built. It will power existing and anticipated ARISS equipment.”

Taylor pointed out that radio alone is unusable without the power supply; it requires 13.8 V dc, while the ISS provides 120 V dc in the US segment and 28 V dc in the Russian segment. The new power supply will allow ham radio equipment to be used anywhere on ISS.

On October 21, the ARISS hardware team held a “Technical Interchange Meeting” (TIM) for the Interoperable Hardware System. In addition to domestic and international ARISS Technical Evaluation and Support (TES) Committee members, subject-matter experts from NASA attended to provide advice. A retired NASA Space Communication and Navigation engineer also was on hand.

“With this milestone completed, we will move forward with the design process and finalize the design with a TIM in the next few months,” ARISS International President Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, said in a news release over the weekend. “Our next hurdle will be the Phase 0 safety review, which we hope to complete before the end of this year.”

Bauer said ARISS has estimated that the cost of the 3-year development cycle of the new hardware system is in the $200,000 range. He encouraged donations to the ARISS Challenge Coin Donation Campaign, announced this year at Dayton Hamvention.

“The goal is to have this new system aboard ISS about 1 year from now,” Taylor added in his post. “This assumes that ARISS can raise the remaining funds needed and that no delays occur in NASA testing and certification of the entire system.”


There’s at least one up side to the shift, since the Kenwood transceiver is capable of higher power than the 5 W Ericsson unit, and it will use a differently oriented antenna. ARISS said to expect further updates as it works to resolve the problem. Astronaut Takuya Onishi, KG5FYJ, recently used the Kenwood radio to speak with students at the Howell L. Watkins Middle School in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

A reminder: The deadline is November 1 for formal and informal education institutions and organizations to submit proposals to host an Amateur Radio contact with an ISS crew member. ARISS anticipates that contacts will take place between July 1 and December 31, 2017. Crew scheduling and ISS orbits determine contact dates.

To maximize these radio contact opportunities, ARISS is looking for organizations that will draw large numbers of participants and integrate the ham radio contact into a well-developed education plan. — Thanks to ARISS, AMSAT, and John Brier, KG4AKV, via Southgate Amateur Radio News