Saturday, February 18, 2017

First amateur radio geosynchronous satellite to launch in 2017

From the KB6NU Ham Radio Blog

It was recently announced that researchers at the Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology, part of Virginia Tech University are preparing to send an amateur radio transponder into a geosynchronous orbit in 2017.

Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, a new ham band will be available for the Americas,” said Robert McGwier, N4HY, a research professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Hume Center’s director of research. This would be the first amateur radio payload in a geosynchronous orbit, and would significantly enhance communications capabilities for amateur radio operators, in particular following natural disasters or other emergency situations.

Amateurs have, of course, been communicating via satellite for decades. The first Orbiting Satellites Carrying Amateur Radio, or OSCAR, satellites were launched in the 1960s. Until now, however, these satellites have been in low Earth orbit (LEO), and were only available for short times when they happened to be overhead.

A geosynchronous satellite, however, would be accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A geosynchronous orbit has the same period as the Earth’s rotation — just under 24 hours. That makes them easy to locate and access, as they are almost always in the same spot in the sky. In this case, the satellite will always be within a band of longitudes over the Americas, continually accessible to any amateur radio operator there, including the students and researchers at the Virginia Tech Ground Station.

One expected application is emergency communications. This satellite will allow amateur radio operators to help emergency personnel reliably access supplies, logistical support, and medical assistance. They key is to ensure that the satellite would always be accessible to the radio operators — which is why the geosynchronous orbit is critical.

The satellite itself will be operated by Millennium Space Systems on behalf of the United States Air Force; the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, also known as AMSAT, will operate the radio, which will be designed and built by Virginia Tech students — making this project a unique collaboration among the university, nonprofit organizations, private companies, and the federal government.

The Hume Center team is also engineering a ground terminal that emergency personnel could use to relay their own existing communications channels through the satellite. This setup could be deployed through the American Radio Relay League and the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation as a key part of a robust national emergency response system, allowing trained operators to reliably mobilize to disaster areas in the first critical hours after a devastating event.

Questions. I have questions.

I’ve taken most of this information from a press release on the Virginia Tech website. The press release raises nearly as many questions as it answers. For example:
  • What can I and other amateur radio operators do to support this effort?
  • What frequencies will this satellite use?
  • Will amateurs like you and me be able to build their own equipment to access this satellite?
  • If so, what kind of equipment will amateur radio operators need to communicate via this satellite?
I’ve e-mailed N4HY with these questions. I’ll follow up on this story when I have the answers. This will be an amazing addition to amateur radio, and I’m looking forward to it.
UPDATE: There is more information in the QRZ.Com at, if you want to wade through some the usual baloney that these threads contain. I’ll do that myself and update this post later.

Gary Pearce KN4AQ says:
Here’s the presentation on the satellite from the 2016 ARRL/TAPR DCC. It’ll be a “Five & Dime” satellite (5 GHz up, 10 GHz down), with 1000 10 kHz wide all-digital channels.