For the ham radio guys (and gals)
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SuitSat Status 4 February
Paraphrasing Mark Twain....the demise of SuitSat-1 is highly exaggerated!!
It is now nearly 24 hours since the successful deployment of the SuitSat-1 experiment. These past 24 hours have been a wild ride of emotions...tremendous highs...deep lows when people reported no signals and said SuitSat-1 was dead and now....some optimism.
It is absolutely clear that SuitSat-1 is alive. It was successfully turned on by the ISS crew prior to deploy and the timing, micro-controller functions and audio appear to be operating nominally. The prime issue appears to be an extremely weak signal.
I have heard several recordings and have monitored two passes today. When the signal is above the noise level, you can clearly hear partials of the student voices, the station ID and the SSTV signal. One of the complicating factors in reception is the very deep fades that occur due to the spin of SuitSat.
Based on the information we know thus far, one can narrow down the issue to the antenna, the feedline, the transmitter output power and/or any of the connections in between. Through your help, we would like to narrow down the issue further and also gather some internal telemetry from the Suit.
If the transmitter is running at full power, we would expect the Suit to end operations in the next few days to a week. If it is not, then it will operate much longer. Since we do not know how long this experiment will last, 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. 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!
Based on what we have learned, we would like to provide the following guidelines to save you time and facilitate gathering information:
1) You need as high a gain antenna as possible with mast mounted pre-amps. An arrow is the minimal set...it provides very brief snipets of the communications. HTs and scanners won't cut it.
2) I would not waste your time on passes below 40 degrees elevation. SuitSat is too far from your station to receive a reliable signal. We have found that closest approach provides several seconds of SuitSat communication with 22 element yagis.
3) 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.
We are also working to get the voice repeater set up on ISS to downlink SuitSat audio on 437.80 in the event that the ISS Kenwood radio can receive the SuitSat transmissions. The repeater may be operational as early as mid-day Sunday. Please do NOT transmit on 145.99, voice or packet, until we have confirmed that SuitSat is no longer transmitting. These transmissions interfere with our ability to hear SuitSat.
While the transmission part of the SuitSat experiment has not been stellar, SuitSat-1 has been tremendously successful in several areas. Some of these successes include:
- We have captured the imagination of students and the general public worldwide through this unique experiment.
- The media attention to the SuitSat project represents one of the biggest ever for amateur radio.
- We have had well over 2 million internet hits on http://www.suitsat.org today.
- Our student's creative artwork, signatures and voices have been carried in space and are on-board the spacesuit---the students are now space travelers as the Suit rotates and orbits the Earth.
- Carried in the spacesuit CD are pictures of Roy Neal, K6DUE, and Thomas Kieselbach, DL2MDE, two of our colleagues who have contributed to the ARISS program and have since passed away.
- We successfully deployed an amateur radio satellite in a Spacesuit from the ISS, demonstrating to the space agencies that this can be safely done.
- This ARISS international team was able to fabricate, test and deliver a safe ham radio system to the ISS team 3 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. 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.
Keep your spirits up and let's continue to be optimistic. And please keep monitoring!!
73, Frank H. Bauer, KA3HDO
ARISS International Chairman
AMSAT-NA VP for Human Spaceflight Programs
NASA site on SuitSat
Using a simple police scanner or ham radio, you can listen to a disembodied spacesuit circling Earth.
January 26, 2006: One of the strangest satellites in the history of the space age is about to go into orbit. Launch date: Feb. 3rd. That's when astronauts onboard the International Space Station (ISS) will hurl an empty spacesuit overboard.
The spacesuit is the satellite -- "SuitSat" for short.
"SuitSat is a Russian brainstorm," explains Frank Bauer of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "Some of our Russian partners in the ISS program, mainly a group led by Sergey Samburov, had an idea: Maybe we can turn old spacesuits into useful satellites." SuitSat is a first test of that idea.
Right: ISS astronaut Mike Finke spacewalks in a Russian Orlan spacesuit in 2004. SuitSat will have no one inside. [More]
"We've equipped a Russian Orlan spacesuit with three batteries, a radio transmitter, and internal sensors to measure temperature and battery power," says Bauer. "As SuitSat circles Earth, it will transmit its condition to the ground."
Unlike a normal spacewalk, with a human inside the suit, SuitSat's temperature controls will be turned off to conserve power. The suit, arms and legs akimbo, possibly spinning, will be exposed to the fierce rays of the sun with no way to regulate its internal temperature.
"Will the suit overheat? How long will the batteries last? Can we get a clear transmission if the suit tumbles?" wonders Bauer. These are some of the questions SuitSat will answer, laying the groundwork for SuitSats of the future.
SuitSat can be heard by anyone on the ground. "All you need is an antenna (the bigger the better) and a radio receiver that you can tune to 145.990 MHz FM," says Bauer. "A police band scanner or a hand-talkie ham radio would work just fine." He encourages students, scouts, teachers and ham radio operators to tune in.
For years, Bauer and colleagues at Goddard have been connecting kids on Earth with astronauts on the ISS through the ARISS program (Amateur Radio on International Space Station). "There's a ham rig on the ISS, and the astronauts love talking to students when they pass over schools," Bauer explains. ARISS is co-sponsoring SuitSat along with the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT), the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the Russian Space Agency and NASA.
Right: Tune your FM radio to 145.990 MHz.
When will SuitSat orbit over your home town?
Use Science@NASA's J-Pass utility to find out. The online program will ask for your zip code—that's all. Then it will tell you when the ISS is going to orbit over your area. (Be sure to click the "options" button and select "all passes.") Because the ISS and SuitSat share similar orbits, predictions for one will serve for the other. Observers in the United States will find that SuitSat passes overhead once or twice a day—usually between midnight and 4 o'clock in the morning. At that time of day, SuitSat and the ISS will be in Earth's shadow and, thus, too dark to see with the naked eye. You'll need a radio to detect them.
"Point your antenna to the sky during the 5-to-10 minute flyby," advises Bauer, and this is what you'll hear:
SuitSat transmits for 30 seconds, pauses for 30 seconds, and then repeats. "This is SuitSat-1, RS0RS," the transmission begins, followed by a prerecorded greeting in five languages. The greeting contains "special words" in English, French, Japanese, Russian, German and Spanish for students to record and decipher. (Awards will be given to students who do this. Scroll to the "more information" area at the end of this story for details.)
Next comes telemetry: temperature, battery power, mission elapsed time. "The telemetry is stated in plain language—in English," says Bauer. Everyone will be privy to SuitSat's condition. Bauer adds, "Suitsat 'talks' using a voice synthesizer. It's pretty amazing."
The transmission ends with a Slow Scan TV picture. Of what? "We're not telling," laughs Bauer. "It's a mystery picture." (More awards will be given to students who figure out what it is.)
Right: In a laboratory at Goddard, SuitSat bends over to display its antenna and control box. [More]
Students and teachers who want to try this, but have no clue how to begin, should contact their local ham radio club. There are thousands of them around the country. Click here to find a club near you. "Hams are notoriously outgoing; most would be delighted to help students tune in to SuitSat," believes Bauer.
Bauer expects SuitSat's batteries to last 2 to 4 days. "Although longer is possible," he allows. After that, SuitSat will begin a slow silent spiral into Earth's atmosphere. Weeks or months later, no one knows exactly when, it will become a brilliant fireball over some part of Earth—a fitting end for a trailblazer.