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.
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 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 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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