Winter 2008 Issue


The New World of AMSAT

By Keith Pugh, W5IU

In the last issue of CQ VHF we reviewed satellite basics. This time we will discuss the new world of AMSAT as introduced at the 2007 AMSAT Space Symposium in October 2007. Along with this comes the need for reinforcement of a “can do” attitude for amateur radio satellites and space programs.

Return to High Earth Orbit Satellites

Since the demise of AO-40, amateur radio operators have not had access to a HEO (High Earth Orbit) satellite and much discussion has taken place bemoaning this fact. Satellite builders in the various AMSATs have been trying to fill this gap as quickly as possible, but this has not been very fast. Most of the delay can be traced to one item—money (or the lack thereof). In this day and age there is “no free launch,” and the costs of designing, building, and testing continue to mount.
The Phase 3E program of AMSAT-DL is nearly ready to launch after a long design effort, but no affordable launch is currently available and funding for the AMSAT-DL laboratory has been curtailed. German funds may be available soon, but they are contingent upon the status of the Phase 5 (Mars Orbiter) program. Meanwhile, AMSAT-NA and AMSAT-UK have provided funds to keep the laboratory and design team together until the satellite can be declared “ready to launch” and be placed on the shelf until a launch can be initiated.

The AMSAT-NA Eagle Project is proceeding along in spite of some required re-design, but this is at a fairly slow pace largely due to weak funding. AMSAT-NA plans to continue this project to completion, but greatly enhanced funding is required for completion and launch. No firm, affordable launch opportunity for Eagle is available at this time. Meanwhile, design, prototyping, and testing continue in the new AMSAT-NA laboratory and other locations. Clearly, help is needed for this project to continue.

The timetables for Phase 3E and Eagle are uncertain until funding and launch opportunities can be firmed up. Hopefully, something will be found by the end of 2008.

Enter “Phase 4 Lite”! At a small satellite conference last summer, Lee McLamb, KU4OS, learned of an opportunity to partner with a major commercial satellite contractor for integration and launch of satellite payloads utilizing surplus capacity that now exists in commercial programs. AMSAT-NA officials jumped on this opportunity, prepared proposals, conducted talks, and have received the “go ahead” to announce potential teaming with Intelsat for this effort. This could lead to a ride(s) to geosynchronous orbit as well as other launch opportunities for Phase 3 satellites such as Phase 3E and Eagle. This opportunity is not for a “free launch,” but it carries with it the potential to interest larger funding sources for the effort than AMSAT has been able to attract in the past. More details will be provided about this later.

Phase 4 Lite

Phase 4 Lite would be a payload on board a geosynchronous satellite that would provide 24/7 coverage to approximately one-third of the Earth. It would utilize the Eagle communications design to the greatest extent possible, but would not require the overhead design of items such as power systems, space frame, propulsion system, stabilization system, environmental control, etc., that would be provided by the parent satellite. Whole Earth coverage would eventually be possible, but would require at least three satellites and connecting ground links.

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