Greenbelt - September 5, 2000 - When astronauts, cosmonauts and payload specialists from many nations fly on the International Space Station, they will have Amateur Radio as a constant companion.
The first amateur radio station for the International Space Station (ISS) will be carried into orbit on-board the Space Shuttle Atlantis on mission STS-106 this week.
The flight will prepare the ISS for its first resident crew and begin the outfitting of the newly arrived Zvezda Service Module (the space station unit that provides living quarters for the astronauts and cosmonauts).
The seven-member crew will perform support tasks on orbit, transfer supplies and prepare the Zvezda living quarters for the Expedition One crew, due to arrive later this year.
Among the items to be on board ISS will be the ham radio gear for future use by the Expedition 1 crew, the first crew that will live and work aboard the ISS. The ham radio gear will not be set up by the STS-106 crew, but stored in the FGB (Zarya) module until the Expedition 1 crew arrives.
The Expedition 1 crew -- Astronaut William M. Shepherd (Capt., USN), Expedition commander; Cosmonaut Yuri Gidzenko (Col., Russian Air Force), Soyuz vehicle commander; and Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, Flight engineer -- will be launched to the ISS in October and will spend four months on the station, ushering in a new era of permanent human presence in space.
Planning for the deployment and use of the ham system aboard ISS has been an international effort coordinated by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. It began in 1996 with the formation of an organization called ARISS (Amateur Radio International Space Station) to design, build and operate the equipment.
ARISS is made up of delegates from major national amateur radio organizations and from AMSAT (The Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation) in eight nations involved in ISS. Frank Bauer, chief of the Guidance, Navigation and Control Center at Goddard, and AMSAT's vice president for human spaceflight spearheaded the initial ISS development effort.
"In the United States, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and AMSAT provide leadership and consultation," said Bauer. "They donate and build hardware and make sure safety and qualification tests are successfully completed so the equipment can fly." Bauer said about a dozen Goddard employees and hundreds of amateur radio enthusiasts around the world volunteered their time and expertise to the project.
The United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Russian space organization Energia have signed agreements outlining how amateur radio will be used on the station, while a Technical Team, called ISS Ham, has been established to serve as the interface to support hardware development, crew training and on-orbit operations.
Bauer said the Russians provided ports so that antennas can be mounted on the Zvezda Service Module. The Italian team designed and built antennas, and the German team built sophisticated repeater stations that will allow crews to make recorded reports on their daily activity and permit hams on earth better contacts with the men and women aboard the station. U.S. and Russian teams have trained the astronauts and cosmonauts to operate the equipment.
Since its first flight, in 1983, Ham Radio has flown on more than two-dozen Space Shuttle missions. Dozens of astronauts have used SAREX (The Space Amateur Radio Experiment) to talk to thousands of kids in school and to their families on Earth while they were in orbit. They have pioneered space radio experimentation, including television and text messaging as well as voice communication.
The Russians have had a similar program for the cosmonauts aboard the Russian space station "Mir." When US astronauts were aboard Mir in preparation for the long duration missions of the International Space Station, they used amateur radio for communication, including emergency messaging.
Hams, as amateur radio operators are often called, use radio transmitters and receivers to talk to other hams all over the globe, as well as to those in space. There are more than 1.5 million licensed hams worldwide, including more than 660,000 Americans.
Every radio amateur must be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In order to obtain a license, a ham must pass an examination, which includes questions about radio theory, rules and regulations, and International Morse Code.
There are three grades of licenses, each at progressively higher levels of proficiency: Technician, General and Amateur Extra. Any licensed ham can chat with the Shuttle when SAREX is onboard. Soon, they will be able to talk to members of the Expedition 1 crew.
The ham station to be flown on the upcoming Shuttle mission for installation aboard the ISS is just the beginning. ARISS is working on even more sophisticated stations, and hopes to have some Slow Scan Television capability in place by 2001.
Space Shuttle Mission STS-106 is scheduled to launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 8 during a five minute "window" that opens at 8:45 a.m. Eastern Time. The STS-106 astronauts and cosmonauts will spend 11 days in orbit and will open the doors to the International Space Station's newest component, the Zvezda Service Module. Atlantis is scheduled to land Sept. 19 at 3:54am EDT.
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