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"SuitSat-1" Alive, But Signal Weak; "Keep Listening!" ARISS Urges

Date : 07 / 02 / 2006
Author : Chris Jones - VK2ZDD

Earlier reports to the contrary, "SuitSat-1" is alive. Whether it's also well is the question that's still up in the air. The 145.99 MHz radio signal from the orbiting Russian Orlan spacesuit--deployed from the International Space Station at 2303 UTC on February 3--has been heard around the world, but reports by and large indicate it's far weaker than anticipated. The Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program fleshed out the SuitSat concept after ARISS-Russia's Sergei Samburov, RV3DR, came up with the idea in 2004. ARISS International Chairman Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, said this weekend the fact SuitSat-1's signal has been heard at all is reason for optimism, and he's not ready to write off the project as a failure.

"It is absolutely clear that SuitSat-1 is alive," Bauer said in an update posted on the AMSAT-NA Web site. "The prime issue appears to be an extremely weak signal." Bauer and others who have heard SuitSat-1's downlink signal report being able to copy only snippets of the "This is SuitSat-1 RS0RS" voice ID or the SSTV signal. "One of the complicating factors in reception is the very deep fades that occur due to the spin of SuitSat," he added. Efforts are under way to diagnose the cause of SuitSat-1's poor signal.

He said Saturday that evidence to that point in the mission was suggesting a problem with the antenna, the feed line, the transmitter output power "and/or any of the connections in between." Bauer called on stations around the world to help narrow down what's causing the weak signal by making an extra effort to listen for SuitSat on 145.99 MHz and especially to download telemetry data. SuitSat-1 is programmed to report mission time, suit temperature (the few reports posted recorded temperatures ranging from 13 to 65 degrees C) and battery voltage (28 V is nominal, but some telemetry reports recorded the voltage as 7 V) down to Earth. It also transmits a single Robot 36-format SSTV image.

Deployed During Space Walk

SuitSat-1's deployment over the south-central Pacific Ocean was the first task of the February 3 space walk by ISS Expedition 12 crew members Bill McArthur, KC5ACR, and Valery Tokarev.

"Dosvidanya! Good-bye, Mr Smith!" Tokarev said in Russian as SuitSat-1, unhooked from its tether and pushed away from the space station, tumbled slowly away into the void. SuitSat drifted off until it appeared as a mere speck silhouetted against brightly illuminated Earth below.

Orbit Similar to that of ISS

As SuitSat-1's orbit begins to decay, it may begin to differ from that of the ISS. A listing of ISS passes and a graph showing the position of the ISS are available on the AMSAT Web site. JH3XCU/1 in Japan posted the first reception reports, noting a weak signal. A few reports, such as that of VE6BLD, were upbeat. "Heard SuitSat for third time!!," he said in his posting. "Recorded audio and telemetry and SSTV!! Wow."

Audio Reports Solicited

A.J. Farmer, AJ3U, has put out a call for radio amateurs around the world to post any SuitSat-1 audio recordings to his Web site. "I have had an overwhelming response," he told ARRL today. "I am continuing to receive these audio files, and I'm posting them to my Web site as quickly as possible. Despite the continued media reports that SuitSat is dead, the truth is that it is still very much alive as proven by the recordings."

ARISS Asks Earth Stations to Put Best Receiving Gear to Work

Given multiple reports of "unintelligible," "very weak" and "barely discernible" signals, Bauer called on Earth stations to put the best receiving equipment they have into play.

"We ask for those with powerful receive stations to listen for SuitSat--especially during direct overhead passes when the suit is closest to your area," he urged. "If you can record these passes and send the audio to us, it would be most appreciated. We will continue to be optimistic that this issue will right itself before the batteries are depleted. So please KEEP LISTENING!"

Among other recommendations, Bauer said stations hoping to get a clean copy of the SuitSat-1 signal will need "as high a gain antenna as possible with mast mounted pre-amps." Earth stations shouldn't bother with passes below 40 degrees in elevation. "We have found that closest approach provides several seconds of SuitSat communication with 22-element Yagis," he said. "The 'gold' we are looking for right now is the telemetry information and how long the vehicle stays operational. So if you hear any of the telemetry, please let us know."

Efforts also are under way to set up the ARISS Phase 2 NA1SS station aboard the ISS as a crossband repeater to downlink SuitSat-1's signal on 437.80 MHz. The Phase 2 transceiver runs 10 W. The ISS packet system will remain shut down during the SuitSat-1 mission.

SuitSat Still a Success

Notwithstanding the unusual satellite's weak transmissions, SuitSat-1 has been "tremendously successful" in other ways, Bauer said.

"We have captured the imagination of students and the general public worldwide through this unique experiment," he said, adding that the media attention alone has been some of the best ever for Amateur Radio. The SuitSat Web site had logged more than two million hits as of Saturday. Farmer says he's had a similar response to his solicitation for SuitSat-1 audio clips. "The number of hits on my Web site has been tremendous, showing the popularity of this experiment," he told ARRL. "Very exciting stuff!"

Bauer further notes that SuitSat-1 has successfully carried student artwork, signatures and voices into space, and "the students are now space travelers as the suit rotates and orbits the earth." Among the photographs on the SuitSat-1 CD are those of ARISS pioneers and veterans Roy Neal, K6DUE (SK), and Thomas Kieselbach, DL2MDE (SK).

SuitSat-1 also has shown that a spacesuit could be deployed and orbited from the ISS, "demonstrating to the space agencies that this can be safely done," Bauer noted. "This ARISS international team was able to fabricate, test and deliver a safe ham radio system to the ISS team three weeks after the international space agencies agreed to allow SuitSat to happen. This was a tremendous feat in of itself."

"SuitSat-1/Radioskaf is a space pioneering effort. Pioneering efforts are challenging. Risk is high. But the future payoff is tremendous," Bauer concluded. "As you have seen, we have not had total success. But we have captured the imagination of the students and the general public. And we have already learned a lot from this activity. This will help us and others grow from this experience."

Another surplus Orlan spacesuit remains aboard the ISS, and it could one day serve as SuitSat-2.

QSL Information

Send signal reports accompanied by a large (9x12 inch) self-addressed, stamped envelope to the appropriate address:

 USA: ARRL, SuitSat QSL, 225 Main St, Newington, CT 06111-1494 USA

 Canada: Radio Amateurs of Canada, SuitSat QSL, 720 Belfast Rd--Suite 217, Ottawa, ON K1G 0Z5 Canada

 Europe: F1MOJ - Mr CANDEBAT Christophe, SuitSat Europe QSL Manager, 7 Rue Roger Bernard, 30470 AIMARGUES FRANCE

 Japan: SuitSat Japan QSL, JARL International Section, Tokyo 170-8073 JAPAN

 Russia: Alexander Davydov, RN3DK Novo-Mytishchinsky prospekt 52-111 Mytishchi 18, Moskovskaya obl. 141018, RUSSIA

 Other countries: Use the US or Canadian address above.

Students will receive a certificate commemorating their reception. Those who receive the SSTV picture or copy the "special words" will get a special endorsement on their certificate. The special words--in English, French, German, Spanish, Russian and Japanese--are embedded in the pre-recorded greetings in multiple languages from students around the globe.

More Information

There's additional information about SuitSat on the AMSAT Web site. See "This is SuitSat-1 RS0RS!" by Frank Bauer, KA3HDO. AMSAT Video News features Bauer's SuitSat presentation. ARISS is an international educational outreach with US participation from ARRL, AMSAT and NASA.

Courtesy ARRL



 

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