Summer 2007 Issue

The Orbital Classroom

Following Suit

By Dr. H. Paul Shuch, N6TX

On September 8, 2005, SuitSat (AMSAT OSCAR 54) started its long, desolate journey. (NASA photo)

No amateur satellite has captured the public imagination quite like SuitSat, the discarded Russian space suit that was tossed overboard from the ISS (International Space Station) on September 8, 2005, stuffed full of ham radio equipment and dirty laundry. Proposed by Sergey Samburov, RV3DR, at the 2004 AMSAT Space Symposium near Washington, DC, this innovative project came together in a record 11 months and stands out as one of AMSATís greatest educational successes despite technical malfunctions that made the suitís 2-meter beacon almost impossible to copy, except by the best equipped high-end ham stations. Nevertheless, students around the world were galvanized by an image evocative of a stranded cosmonaut (see Photo 1), giving amateur radio in general, and the ham satellite community in particular, an unprecedented foot in the classroom door.

Not ones to sit on their laurels, Sergey, Lou McFaddin, W5DID, Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, and their ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station) team started right in planning a sequel. As this column is being written, SuitSat2 is rapidly taking shape in a handful of laboratories and classrooms scattered around the U.S. However, unlike his predecessor, when this cosmonaut gets the boot, he should not whisper, but roar.

No one knows exactly why the original SuitSatís signals on Earth were several S-units weaker than planned. Speculation centers on malfunctions in the transmitter itself, the antenna, and the coax that connected the two. Nevertheless, significant upgrades are planned this time around, involving more transmitter power, better coax, a new antenna design, a completely different power system (more about that later), and the use of SDR (Software Defined Radio) technology for the first time in an amateur radio satellite. In short, this ainít your fatherís spacesuit.

The first SuitSat carried into space messages from students around the world. Some of these were the spoken words of greeting, stored in digital memory and transmitted from orbit. Others were essays and pictures contributed by students to a CD-ROM attached to the suitís chest. Unlike the golden records carried into space aboard the NASA Voyager interplanetary spacecraft three decades earlier, this disk was never intended to be recovered and studied by intelligent extraterrestrials. Rather, it was our own terrestrial students who were given the opportunity to contemplate the kinds of messages they would most like to send off into space.

Looking beyond the first SuitSat, the successor spacecraft will carry into space not just student messages, but also student hardware and software. Much of the circuit fabrication and testing is being carried out in an Software Defined Radio course by a group of electronic engineering students at The College of New Jersey in Trenton (see Photo 2).

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