Winter 2008 Issue

2007 AMSAT Symposium
A Report on the Revolution

Since the 2006 AMSAT Symposium, AMSAT’s leadership has been working on developing a well-defined mission and vision for the future of amateur radio in space. Here K9JKM reports on the results of the leadership’s efforts, which led to several exciting announcements at this year’s symposium.

By JoAnne Maenpaa, K9JKM

From left to right: Bob McGwier, N4HY, Lee McLamb, KU4OS, and Rick Hambly, W2GPS, discuss technical aspects of the planned geosynchronous satellite. (N6CL photo)

“The Conference that would Revolutionize the Amateur Radio Satellite Service.” Such was the theme that AMSAT President Dr. Rick Hambly, W2GPS, presented in his welcoming letter, which was published in the Proceedings of the 2007 AMSAT Symposium. Indeed, even the venue of the symposium carried the theme of change. Held over the weekend of October 26–28, 2007 at the Pittsburgh Airport Marriott Hotel, which is nestled in the hills of western Pennsylvania, its participants were treated to the vivid change of colors of the leaves of autumn.
As the changing colors of the autumn leaves signaled both a natural end and beginning, so did President Hambly signal both an end and a beginning for AMSAT with two revolutionary announcements: a proposed new geosynchronous satellite and the AMSAT Institute. Other important plans for 2008 and beyond were also announced. They include: the placing on line of AMSAT’s Satellite Integration Laboratory in Pocomoke City, Maryland; the expected completion of AMSAT-DL’s Phase 3 Express High Earth Orbit satellite; and the beginning of construction and testing of AMSAT’s Eagle, its latest High Earth Orbit satellite.

Proposed Geosynchronous Satellite

The most revolutionary and exciting news coming out of the symposium was President Hambly’s announcement of a proposed geosynchronous satellite. Hambly, along with Bob McGwier, N4HY, AMSAT’s Vice-President of Engineering, made public the results of their recent behind-the-scenes work that will change the playing field of amateur radio satellite communications.

As a result of conversations by AMSAT’s leadership with Intelsat (the world’s largest commercial satellite communications services provider) concerning their communications satellites carrying our amateur radio satellites into geosynchronous orbit, an agreement between the two entities has been proposed. McGwier indicated that this potential agreement came about as a result of changes in Department of Defense policies which will require DoD-subsidized launches to allow secondary payloads to fill in excess launch capacity of the primary mission.

As if to add to what Hambly and McGwier stated in their presentation, during his subsequent talk “Where’s the Launch?” Lee McLamb, KU4OS, explained factors such as the increased size and efficiency of launch vehicles now resulting in excess lift capacity. No longer is it the case that adding weight to the payload means removing fuel (weight) from the booster. Lee added that current missions have 1000–1500 pounds of excess capability of which AMSAT can easily take advantage.

Hambly pointed out that with this new commercial launch reality, AMSAT may actually be able to launch earlier to a high orbit if its satellite fits into the Intelsat ride-sharing model. He added, “We need to be ready for this event.”

This new project has been designated Phase IV Lite because of the planned incorporation of much of the Phase 3, P3E, and Eagle satellites’ technology in the proposed geosynchronous satellite. In discussing the engineering aspect of the proposed agreement, McGwier remarked that while the upside potential is great, many of the technical details still need to be worked out. “Even so,” he stated, “there is enough in place at this time that AMSAT needs to begin planning engineering work and possible construction of a geosynchronous payload so we are ready if Intelsat says they have a ride for us.”

With the incorporation of technology from satellites already under development, it will be natural for AMSAT to also proceed with the development of its planned easily accessible Earth station which will take advantage of the audio, digital messaging, and video services offered by the resulting advanced communications package (ACP). The details of the ACP appear below under the “AMSAT Eagle Update” heading.

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