e: Launch Costs (was-re: AMSAT-BB Digest, Vol. 7,Issue 312)
Subject: [amsat-bb] Re: Launch Costs (was-re: AMSAT-BB Digest, Vol. 7,Issue 312)
From: Gus 8P6SM 8p6sm@xxxxxxxx
Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2012 19:36:44 -0400
Barry, I truly welcome the launch of 1.) ARISSat-1, 2.) FunCube and also
3.) FOX-1. Can you give me an idea when 4.) Mark Hammond, N8MH will be
launched, and what amateur capability he will host while in orbit? :-)
Jokes aside, I am happy to see ham satellites carry educational
packages. But I want to see amateur packages as well (as per 1, 2 and 3
above). Satellites that carry ONLY educational packages and NO ham
packages are of no particular interest to me, since I am a ham and not a
student. What concerns me is this: As more satellites carry
education-only packages, the harder it becomes to 'sell' the idea that
an amateur package should be included. How will you answer when someone
says "The last ten satellites carried no amateur package. Why should we?"
73, de Gus 8P6SM
The Easternmost Isle
Mark, N8MH is "launching" our education outreach initiatives; I must say the significant work that he has done to date has been both rewarding and refreshing... ;-) However, he will be the first to tell you that there is much work to be done and he needs help from those who are interested in developing our education outreach capabilities.
One of the reasons why AMSAT-NA is building Fox-1 is to create a reliable RF package capable of both amateur radio repeater capability as well as provide a telemetry downlink for spacecraft and payload data. The design provides both a sub-audible, low data rate telemetry package that can be used at the same time as the FM repeater is in operation as well as a 9600-baud telemetry dowmlink that could only be used when the FM repeater is not in service. The Fox-1 student payload will do fine with the low data rate telemetry, so we can operate both the FM repeater and the provide data at the same time. At some point, however, we will activate the 9600-baud telemetry package as a "proof of concept" to show what it can do.
Indeed, under the Fox-1 program, we're building four spacecraft (flight unit, flight backup and two spares that will not have solar panels). Under this approach, AMSAT will be able to respond to future flight opportunities by having "off the shelf" hardware readily available (e.g. just add the scientific payload and solar panels).
Our intention is that once the Fox-1 design successfully demonstrates its capabilities, to make the design "public domain." That is, we will publish in the AMSAT JOURNAL and/or the "AMSAT Symposium Proceedings" the specifics on the design so that anyone can use it. Under ITAR, AMSAT may publish such technical materials (e.g. physically print to qualify as "publication"; placement in an electronic format such as a website is NOT considered by the US Government to be placement in the public domain). What kills us with ITAR is that we cannot share technical information with foreign nationals until AFTER the material is placed in the public domain. Consequently, we cannot collaborate in the development of new technology with other AMSAT organizations, for example, but we can share the fruits of our labor once placed in the public domain.
Now, why would AMSAT-NA do this? We are well aware that university professors who are interested in flying their experiments/payloads are not "RF Engineers." The success rate of university cubesat satellite programs once in orbit has been disappointing, in part because their cubesats have not been well designed/built from an RF perspective. So, if AMSAT were to offer a space-proven RF design that will support their payloads, our presumption is that universities and others would hopefully adopt our design either by partnering with AMSAT or by adopting our design and building the satellite themselves. Now, given that the RF design already incorporates an amateur radio receiver/transmitter, our expectation is that once their payload/experiment is concluded and the university is no longer interested in their payload, that cubesat becomes an amateur radio satellite. Consequently, over time it is not just AMSAT that would construct an amateur radio satellite, but anyone using our design to fulfill their scientific mission.
Along with adopting a more reliable RF design, an additional advantage (at least from a US perspective) is that extending the life of a satellite also helps in dealing with an issue of "debris mitigation." A US-based satellite with a transmitter must be approved by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and one of the questions being asked these days in the application for operating from space is how the satellite developer will deal with debris mitigation for that particular payload once the "useful life" of that satellite is met. If the satellite's useful life can be significantly extended by converting it to a full time amateur radio satellite, then clearly that helps to mitigate the issue of "debris mitigation." This is a significant advantage to those who are scratching their heads trying to justify placement of a satellite in an orbit with a 25 year life (due to the need of the payload) and a one year science mission.
In essence we have the potential of fulfilling two significant achievements:
1. Enhancing the design of cubesats so that these satellite don't immediately become 'space junk' by providing a robust, space-proven RF package that will meet the legitimate needs of payload developers; and
2. Expanding the field of amateur radio satellite construction by incorporating into the basic RF design an amateur radio capability that would be placed in operation at some point after launch--either while the payload is in service (using the low data rate scheme) or after the payload is expended and the subsequent cubesat realignment as an amateur radio satellite (Perhaps one year after launch).
Time will tell as to how this approach may translate into future amateur radio satellites, though we believe this is a "win-win" approach. The key here is that AMSAT is actively pursuing ways to place amateur radio assets in orbit through a cooperative arrangement built on what we do best (building small satellites with good RF capabilities) and partnering with others who have a need to fly their "widget" (scientific payload). This could include a direct partnership or by having the "others" take advantage of the development work performed by AMSAT and incorporating our design into the 'their' spacecraft. This "out-of-the-box" thinking is one example of how we're trying to find ways to keep amateur radio in space.