Fall 2008 Issue

Radio Life Insurance
with “SPOT”

Your spouse tracks your 10-GHz rover operation

on the internet, and as you step back to admire your

massive mountaintop X-band system a diamondback rattler sinks its fangs into your left ankle. No cell phone

coverage, so you push the SPOT satellite transponder “911” button and the rescue begins.

By Gordon West, WB6NOA


An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), left, and the orange SPOT distress signaling device side by side on a marine chart.

(Photo by Julian Frost)

If you are into VHF/UHF and microwave roving, there is a new, inexpensive satellite transponder system that might save your life. It will also keep your XYL back at home taking part in your adventure. She can track your progress going up the hills with Google Maps® showing your precise location. I wish this was on ham radio APRS, but no such luck. Nor is this commercial system an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) or a (PLB) Personal Locator Beacon.

This small satellite transponder, called “SPOT,” is a product of Globalstar USA, a Vodaphone Airtouch Pic company best known for those classic-looking satellite phones that many ham radio emergency responders used during the Katrina crisis along with the reliable ham radio communications gear.

This small orange transponder has plenty going for your safety when you head out on your next VHF/UHF rover expedition. The SPOT device itself sells for under $150, plus there is a basic service charge for a one-year contract that is $99 per year. Add $7.95 to include $100,000 last-resort evacuation service, and add $50 if you regularly go hiking and you want your SPOT unit to automatically update your position every few minutes or miles, independent of cell-phone coverage.

The seven-ounce SPOT portable position sender contains a built-in GPS receiver tied into the L-band transmitter, tuned to commercial Globalstar LEO satellites, 1611 MHz to 1618 MHz, digital code division multiple access (CDMA), running about a quarter watt out. Two lithium-ion AA batteries could allow for 1900 uplinks, or when key-entered into the automatic tracking mode, 14 days of continuous operation.

The orange SPOT satellite transponder floats in water, is waterproof up to 1 meter down for 30 minutes, carries military standard 810 E method 507.3, withstanding 100% condensation, and is shock resistant.

To conserve battery life, the GPS receiver built into the SPOT unit only powers on to retrieve a current position fix needed for a manual or automatic uplink to the chain of 48 LEO (Low Earth Orbit) Globalstar satellites. As long as the satellites have a mutual view of their associated ground Earth stations and the SPOT unit, the position goes onto the internet, along with the status of the SPOT transponder’s operator, such as:

• I’m OK; all is well.

• I could use some help (non-emergency).

• Dispatch emergency responders to this location now.

OK, as a ham operator well versed in satellite communications, you can quickly see that the SPOT device is an L-band one-way transponder, sending latitude and longitude and one of three messages, and has the capability for all this information to stream into the internet.

You can buy a SPOT transponder at your local West Marine store or at a major camping store. Your registration, to activate the service, is at: <http://www.
findmespot.com>. You will need to provide the electronic serial numbers found in the battery compartment of your new “radio life insurance” package.
The secure site will take your credit card when you sign up for the $99 basic service. Be sure to add the $7.95 yearly fee for the $100,000 private rescue service in case there is no local public search-and-rescue service in the area of your emergency.

First, select a reliable phone number to verify any emergency alert. Next, provide up to 10 e-mail addresses for your friends and family members to receive your messages. You can even put down cellular, short messaging-service numbers, too. You may change any of these e-mail address at any time, at no additional cost.
If you get in a jam with your roving operation, you have up to 10 additional “HELP” e-mail options.

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