Winter 2007 Issue

Building the Eagle Satellite


WB4GCS, the Eagle project manager, describes AMSAT’s latest project, its innovations, and the efforts to “get it right.”


By James A. (Jim) Sanford, PE, WB4GCS

Welcome to AMSAT Eagle, the next major project of the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation. Eagle is one component that will help fulfill the AMSAT strategic vision: “Our Vision is to deploy high earth orbit satellite systems that offer daily coverage by 2009 and continuous coverage by 2012...” We hope that AMSAT-DL’s P3E will be the first, Eagle the second, and a descendant of Eagle the third, ultimately leading to 24/7 DX coverage by satellite.

This is not a technical article. Rather, it is a project management article describing the things we are doing to actually deliver this satellite. In this article, I will describe Eagle, how we got where we are today, and what we’re doing to build it—and to make sure it works. I appreciate the enthusiasm of Joe Lynch, N6CL, for what AMSAT is doing with Eagle and his support of this article.

Some History

First, some history. At the 2000 AMSAT Symposium in Portland, Maine, Dick Jansson, WD4FAB, proposed a successor to P3D/AO-40 in a paper entitled “So, you want to build a satellite.” The features and principles in this paper guided AMSAT for several years. Coincidentally, Matt Ettus, N2MJI, also proposed a digital transponder for the International Space Station (ISS), and more on this later. Alas, not a lot of progress was made for a while, despite a very good design meeting in Denver, Colorado. In July 2004, the AMSAT leadership convened a meeting in Orlando, Florida. This is where Eagle functionality was refined, and incidentally, where I joined the Eagle team. An AMSAT life member since 1995, I’d been interested in contributing to AMSAT, but it just was not practical. By the 2004 meeting, I had some time and was looking for a way to contribute. When the meeting was over, I was the Eagle Project Manager (gulp!). Working closely with brilliant legends whom I have admired for many years is an honor and a privilege.

The next year brought some progress with Eagle, but we were still more of a meandering mob than a productive team. In the fall of 2005, things started to come together, and we planned an Eagle design meeting in Lafayette, Louisiana, in conjunction with the annual symposium. We all know about hurricane Katrina; a less well-known consequence of the storm was the decision by AMSAT leadership, regretfully, to cancel the annual symposium. After a lot of scrambling, the AMSAT Board of Directors meeting and the Eagle design meeting were held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the Eagle meeting, the team started to focus, concrete information exchange began, the requirements defined in Orlando a year prior were refined and task assignments made, leading to some real progress. As we embraced electronic connectivity, our teamwork and productivity soared.

Over the years, Tom Clark, W3IWI (now K3IO), had proposed an in-band C-band (5.8 GHz) analog transponder, which then became a digital transponder. This transponder proposal was known as “CC-rider.” The objectives of this package were to do something innovative with digital communications and to put a stake in the ground for one of our microwave bands. Matt’s digital transponder proposal re-emerged and complemented Tom’s ideas.

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