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Amateur Radio Takes Center Stage at The Big E


by Bob Inderbitzen, NQ1R

The Big E, “New England’s Great State Fair,” kicks off on Friday, September 16, 2022, and includes Project Big E, a 17-day amateur radio exhibit that runs through October 2, 2022.
The fair, held in West Springfield, Massachusetts, is the largest agricultural event on the eastern seaboard and the sixth-largest fair in the nation.

Planning for Project Big E began in 2021 by Larry Krainson, W1AST, ARRL Western Massachusetts Section Affiliated Club Coordinator and President of the Hampden County Radio Association (HCRA), as well as its members and other interested individuals. They envisioned an exhibit that would demonstrate the many aspects of modern ham radio and provide an opportunity for future amateur radio operators to sign up for information and courses in their local area.

“If just one-tenth of one percent of attendees sign up for ham classes, that would be 1,600 names to distribute to all New England radio clubs,” said Krainson. “We would all benefit and grow ham radio,” he added.

HCRA will operate special event station N1E during the 17-day event. A donation from Remote Ham Radio (RHR) will allow N1E access to remote stations throughout the entire event.

Additional highlights at the event will include:

  • An Emergency Communications (EmComm) display
  • D-STAR and/or other digital mobile mode demo
  • Digital HF modes on a big screen
  • SSB, CW, and digital modes
  • Demonstrations of portable stations for field operation, such a Parks on the Air (POTA) and Summits on the Air (SOTA)
  • Youth in ham radio

A related effort includes The BIG E Space Chat involving a scheduled ham radio contact from the fair with an astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The contact is organized through Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS). At press time, the contact is scheduled to take place in The Big E Arena between September 27 - 29. The exact date and time will not be known until a decision is made by NASA approximately a week before the event.

Around a dozen youth associated with New England Sci-Tech (NEST), a STEM learning and makerspace center in Natick, Massachusetts, have been selected to participate in The BIG E Space Chat. They will each get to ask the astronaut questions that will be relayed via an ARISS telebridge ground station — an amateur radio station that will establish radio contact with the ISS, and then relay the signals to the student group at The Big E.

In addition to making a once-in-a-lifetime contact from The Big E with an astronaut in space, the students are participating in in-person and virtual educational activities over a 12-month period. These experiences include building and launching a beginner-level model rocket, earning an amateur radio license, participating in a basic electronics course, and learning about astronomy, satellite communications, and other space-related science.

ARISS Mentor and ARRL New England Division Director Fred Kemmerer, AB1OC, is providing overall coordination between ARISS and the science education program component provided by NEST. Ray Lajoie, AA1SE, is responsible for pre-contact programming as well as the stage audio-video setup at The Big E Arena, a performance venue that can accommodate up to 3,000 people with additional capacity for folks to stand.

A number of other organizations — both local as well as international — will play critical roles in ensuring a successful contact with the ISS from The Big E venue. A 45-minute pre-contact program will feature inspirational videos about the ISS, space, and previous contacts. Introductory remarks will be made by Kemmerer; Eastern States Exposition President and CEO Gene Cassidy; ARRL CEO David Minster, NA2AA, and NEST President Bob Phinney, K5TEC.

The Big E Project was awarded a grant by Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC), a private foundation that supports amateur radio and digital communication science and technology.

In 2021, The Big E had 1.5 million visitors, and over 1.6 million visitors in 2019. Visit The Big E website for additional information. More information about Project Big E can be found at the ARRL New England Division website.

-- Thanks to ARRL New England Division Vice Director Phil Temples, K9HI, for some of the information in this article.



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