As the annual meeting fast approaches I am finally motivated to write up my
notes and random thoughts from the Rideshare Conference in Chantilly, Virginia
last summer. These are my thoughts only and no one else should be blamed for
them. Someone at the meeting said that the Rideshare Conference is the "Small
Satellite Conference for adults."
Amsat wants to launch high altitude satellites with sophisticated
communications payloads which require larger than a Cubesat sized spacecraft.
We cannot afford to pay market rates for a launch. We want to launch an
ongoing series of Eagle satellites, not just one time only, to build a
redundant constellation of satellites.
The main thing I got from the conference is that the Department of Defense
intends to fly an ESPA (EELV Secondary Payload Adapter) ring on every DOD
flight that has excess lift capacity. I was told by a representative of one of
the EELV contractors that if the Primary Customer says to do it, they will
absorb integration costs for secondary payloads. If the right official orders
it, it will happen.
The DOD Space Test Program has been limited to payloads of military
significance. The ESPA ring can carry six Eagle sized satellites, and there
was mention of plans to mount Cubesat P-Pod dispensers inside the ESPA launch
ring so that Cubesats can be ejected through the empty clamp bands after the
first six secondary satellites are deployed. A single ESPA could deploy six
large satellites followed by six 6U Cubesats or twelve 3U Cubesats.
If all of this actually happens, there will be dozens of launch opportunities
for small satellites on DOD missions. If we can ask them to open up the DOD
Space Test Program to non-defense payloads that serve an educational or public
service mission we could fly on some of these missions.
The NASA Get Away Special program provided shuttle launches at far below
market price in order to support access to space for small organizations. We
need to persuade DOD to use the ESPA capability to provide the same capability
for educational and non profit organizations.
In 1961, how did we get Oscar 1 onboard the Discoverer/Corona mission? Are
there any old timers from that era who can enlighten us? Some people in
Project Oscar worked for Lockheed Missiles and Space, the prime contractor for
the Agena/Corona satellite, in their day jobs. No universities were building
satellites in 1961 (except for the University of Iowa of course). Somewhere
some Air Force general approved the launch of Oscar 1. I wish we had more
information about how the Project Oscar guys got him to do that. We need to do
something similar today. Perhaps we can market the idea to Congressional staff
in Washington if nothing else works.
Emergency communications has not been a selling point to get funding. The
emergency authorities want to fund a system that is in-house and under their
administration. It is nice that the hams are available to help out in a crisis
but nobody is going to pay for that ahead of time. They can't tell their
superiors that the emergency plan involves dependence on amateur volunteers to
come forward in time of need.
Everyone in the space business is pushing Education and Public Outreach. Even
the super secret NRO has a (rather horrible) student outreach web site. NASA
has contributed significant resources to ham radio through the SAREX and ARISS
programs, motivated primarily by educational and public outreach. We are
excellent at doing public outreach and should market that capability more
heavily and to other agencies.
Amsat can and should involve universities and students but it must be
advertised as an Amsat-led mission and not as a university mission. AO-40 was
done in that manner. We must get credit for our work or else we do not exist.
Universities have full time public affairs offices to make sure that they get
credit for everything they do. Amsat must be equally aggressive in getting
credit for its missions.
We also have a history of cooperation with Goddard Space Flight Center, most
recently with the GPS experiment on AO-40. We need to explore other
opportunities for cooperation. Amsat can provide a world wide network of hams
for telemetry collection, command uplink stations on three continents, and
support their educational and public outreach requirements. We also gave the
world Jan King, Martin Sweeting and (add your own choice of names) who went on
to contribute greatly to the small satellite universe. We support education
from kindergarten through graduate school and also provide outside-the-box
hands-on experience for working professionals.
The Cubesats are being launched from a P-pod capsule, which contains the
entire Cubesat and decouples the satellite from the launch vehicle. Even if a
Cubesat vibrates to pieces during launch, the P-pod will contain the fragments
and protect the primary satellite. Individual Cubesats do not need the same
level of strict qualification testing and they are essentially interchangeable
even at the last minute. They follow standard processes, and provide standard
services. Someone at the conference called it the "world's most expensive
jack-in-the-box". The launch vehicle can manifest Cubesats without knowing
exactly which cubesats will fly on that mission.
If Amsat can develop a standard 50 kg spacecraft for the ESPA ring, do the
launch qualification, and offer it to others as a carrier for small science
experiments which need more volume and space than a Cubesat, providing
standard processes and standard services, we could end up with a continuous
series of satellite launches in the process. We developed and qualified the
SBS structure for AO-40 on the Ariane V vehicle which has been reused several
times since then.
Electric propulsion is a safe and practical way to reach a desirable orbit
from whatever initial launch we can get. We can also correct any AO-13 type
instabilities and provide for end of life disposal to satisfy FCC and launch
authority requirements on orbital debris disposal. Amsat needs to acquire the
use of this technology on an ongoing basis.
The Rideshare conference was all about government agencies, universities, and
large and small corporations. Where does Amsat fit into this world? They
expressed a goal of having regular, cost effective rideshares, and to this end
they want to form a working group to coordinate integration requirements and
avoid unnecessary duplication of effort. Can Amsat be a part of this working
Dan Schultz N8FGV