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Low Audio for ISS SSTV Transmissions Raises Issue of Crew’s Ability to Intervene

04/25/2019

Reception problems owing to low audio levels plagued a recent round of Amateur Radio on the International Space Station-sponsored (ARISS) slow-scan TV transmissions. Some clever operators on the receiving end were able to use software to bump up the deficient audio so the images would decode properly. But the matter raised questions concerning the ISS crew’s ability to troubleshoot problems and to make adjustments to the Amateur Radio gear on the fly. ARISS-International Chair and AMSAT Vice President for Human Spaceflight Programs Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, subsequently posted an explanation of how Amateur Radio fits into the operation of the ISS and the astronauts’ ability to service and operate it.

“Please remember that ARISS is not the prime activity on ISS,” Bauer said. “There are over 300 international experiments currently operational on ISS on this expedition. I just heard in a teleconference last week that that number will go to about 500 experiments in the next 1 – 2 years.”

Bauer said the vast array of ongoing experiments means it’s only possible to “occasionally get suggestions to the crew” to make changes relative to the Amateur Radio payload. “Any workarounds on any experiment/payload will compete with the crew's already fully booked schedule,” Bauer explained. “Several ARISS team members, particularly our teammate in Russia, were out of pocket this past weekend. Our Russian colleague was informed of the [low audio] issue early on and acknowledged the issue. But he also needs to get tied into Mission Control. That is difficult from afar. And even if we ask for a change, it is challenging to get the crew time to make this happen, especially if it is outside the flight planning stage.”

Bauer said that once ARISS has its Interoperable Radio System on board, it plans to augment the system with ground-command capability. “We have already developed a concept for this capability,” Bauer explained. “Once in place, we will be able to do many things with our radio without crew intervention, including mode changes to support SSTV, APRS, voice repeater, etc. This capability will also be important if we fly ham radio on the Lunar Gateway, which will not have crew on it 24/7.”

Bauer pointed out that keeping ARISS afloat and able to implement new Amateur Radio capabilities requires “a great deal of funding.”

“As an example, ARISS currently has two individuals on travel to NASA Johnson running tests for the Interoperable Radio System,” he said. “This is one of three trips required to get the radio system ready for flight. Each will cost ARISS about $3,000 in travel — nearly $10,000 for these three testing events. Also, this past week, we spent $1,100 to transport the HamTV that was returned from ISS back to Italy to undergo troubleshooting to potentially repair the anomaly we experienced on ISS.”

Bauer used the opportunity to note that ARISS has a fundraising activity under way to get the Interoperable Radio System ready for launch. “We need $150,000 by the end of this year and are well short of our goal right now,” he pointed out. “If you really want to see improvements in the ISS radio system from where it is today, please strongly consider donating to ARISS. At some donation levels, your call sign and name will be included on the interoperable radio system that will fly to ISS!” — Thanks to AMSAT News Service 



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