AMSAT’s Pre-Dayton Surprise

For more than a decade, amateur satellite enthusiasts have been hoping against hope for even the possibility of a shared ride to a high orbit. In the era before space became a business, AMSAT organizations were able to get rides to such transfer orbits for little or nothing. Fast-forward to the 21st century and that same ride can cost upwards of $20 million — a sum so large that eliminated ham radio beyond low-earth-orbit.

Now comes a sliver of hope. Maybe. Possibly. Could be. Knock wood.

There’s a plot afoot to place an amateur radio payload onboard a commercial satellite headed for geosynchronous orbit with plans for launch in 2017. Sharing is good since it means the ride and power are probably part of the deal. No solar panels, or batteries — no thermal considerations, stabilization or onboard navigation.

24/7 coverage of a large part of the Pacific, America’s and Africa. Sounds ideal, right?

Before you get your hopes too high, it should be noted that you won’t be standing in the backyard with a handheld radio aiming your Arrow antenna at this one. LEO sats buzz 500 miles over your head. A geostationary platform will hang 23,000 miles above your QTH. Considerably more effective radiated power will be required — larger, directional antennas.

And forget about FM — you will need multi-mode capability to use this one.

If they repurpose the AMSAT Eagle project, which seems likely given the compressed time schedule, it’s worth noting that it was designed to be a microwave platform. Ground station requirements are going to be so different from what is currently used by space hobbyists that we are bound for future shock.

Exciting? Hell yes! But I’ve had my hopes dashed time and again over the last thirty years by these exact same kinds of prospects and often failures. Sometime spectacular failures. Space is definitely not for the meek or timid. It takes the right stuff.

Anyone can toss a wire over a tree and make a contact — putting usable assets on orbit actually is rocket science. Fingers crossed!

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Author: Jeff Davis