SpaceX launches from KSC to make amateur radio enthusiasts’ ‘dream’ come true

Artist's rendering of the Qatar Es'hail-2 communications satellite in orbit after launching from the Kennedy Space Center on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

“November-Alpha-One-Sierra-Sierra is Kilo-Six-Whiskey-Alpha-Oscar.”

This call could be the start of a conversation between a licensed amateur radio operator on the ground and an astronaut aboard the International Space Station.

But contact would only be possible up to 10 minutes from the station’s orbit as it sped 250 miles overhead at 17,500 mph.

Amateur radio communication via the space station and other satellites has always been limited to low orbits providing short communication windows within the coverage area of ​​a spacecraft as it passes.

That is expected to change with SpaceX’s scheduled launch Thursday afternoon from the Kennedy Space Center of a Qatari communications satellite, Es’hail-2, to orbit high above the equator.

“We’ve never put a transponder into geostationary orbit,” said Joe Spier, president of the nonprofit Amateur Radio Satellite Corporation, or AMSAT, in North America. “It’s that repeater station in the sky that stays above our heads all the time, and it’s been a dream of radio amateurs for a long time.”

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The 230-foot Falcon 9 is targeting take-off from KSC pad 39A at 3:46 p.m., with a window of just under two hours opening.

Clouds are expected to decrease during the day, providing a 60% chance that the weather launch rules will be met.

The rocket’s first stage thruster, which helped launch a Canadian satellite from Cape Canaveral in July, will attempt its second sea launch and landing on the deck of SpaceX’s “Of course I still love you” drone .

The satellite built in Japan by Mitsubishi Electric Corp. is Qatar’s second, five years after Es’hail-1 launched on a European Ariane 5 rocket.

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The amateur radio component of the mission is a partnership between Es’hailSat, the state-owned satellite company of Qatar, and AMSAT-DL, Spier’s counterpart in Germany, which has built a ground station in Qatar to support the activity of amateur radio.

From its perch 22,300 miles above the equator, the satellite will be stationed over parts of Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Satellites in geostationary orbit correspond to the speed of rotation of the Earth and therefore appear to fly over a fixed point on the ground.

This means that unlike low-orbit spacecraft, Es’hail-2’s amateur frequencies using available satellite capacity will be accessible at all times within its coverage area covering about a third of the planet.

“As long as you’re in the satellite’s footprint, it’s there 24/7, all day and night,” said Spier, whose call sign, K6WAO, appears in the above example of communication with the International Space Station, or NA1SS.

This imprint could link fans from Brazil to Thailand, but unfortunately does not include the United States.

“We won’t be able to do much with this from North America, but hopefully it will put a foot in the door to get us a ham transponder on something North America can reach,” said Robert “Ozzie” Osband of Titusville, a licensed ham with the call sign N4SCY.

It has long been a goal of AMSAT North America, but the start-up costs have proven too high for the small organization founded in 1969, which now has around 3,300 members.

“The hobbyist community is always wondering when are you going to put a (geostationary satellite) up there? Speyer said. “My answer is: Do you have $ 6 million? Come talk to me.”

He applauded AMSAT for Germany’s achievement, the result of six years of work, noting that “to be the first to do something in space is indeed a rare, rare honor”.

Amateur radio operators say their radio frequencies can provide vital backups for emergency communications, for example in areas devastated by hurricanes, like Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria last year. They serve as a last resort for space station crews.

But radio amateurs are also having fun with satellites, testing how far beyond “theoretical limits” they can relay signals ranging from Morse code messages to voice calls to digital video known as amateur television. or ATV. Connections made with people in different states or countries, or satellite telemetry downloads, can earn certificates or online status as “king” or “queen” of a particular satellite.

Amateur operators shouldn’t be seen as unqualified or unprofessional, Spier said. Their ranks include engineers and technicians from the military, space programs and universities.

About 50 years ago, an amateur developed a spring-loaded system still used today to deploy small satellites into orbit, Spier noted.

“We’re rocket scientists, there’s no two ways about it,” he said. “Amateurs make contributions for the love of the art of radio and for the love of exploration.”

Contact the Dean at 321-917-4534


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Launch Thursday

  • Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9 (second flight)
  • Mission: Es’hail-2 communication satellite for Es’hailSat Qatar
  • Launch time: 3:46 p.m. EST
  • Launch window: until 5:29 p.m. EST
  • Launch Complex: 39A at Kennedy Space Center
  • Weather: 60% “go”
  • Join at 2:45 p.m. for countdown updates and chat, including the live broadcast of the SpaceX launch webcast starting approximately 15 minutes before takeoff.
Qatar's first communications satellite, Es'hail-1, was launched in 2013 aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket.

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