[amsat-bb] Re: A rose is a rose... is a rose

Daniel Schultz n8fgv at usa.net
Sun Aug 7 19:07:47 PDT 2011

Let's consider what we got from the Russians: they gave us a FREE 26 kilogram
launch to low Earth orbit, with 20 times the mass and 75 times the volume of a
1U Cubesat, which is currently the only type of satellite that Amsat can hope
to pay full market price for launching. NASA donated the six solar arrays and
gave us a ton of help with export paperwork which would have been a bear if we
had to export the satellite to Russia by ourselves. For this fact alone, we
should be grateful to both agencies, because nobody else has offered us a 26
kilogram launch in the past decade.

In spite of this, we still need to conduct an Anomaly Review Board to examine
the reasons why the satellite was launched in a state of less than 100 percent
readiness. This is not to assign blame but to see how we and our launch
partners can improve the procedure for the next launch.

The fundamental difference between educational satellites and amateur
satellites is that educational satellites can be considered successful if they
deliver a working satellite to the launch pad, it does not need to work on
orbit and the students who built it have probably graduated by the time it
gets launched. Amateur satellites are supposed to perform a useful
communications function for some amount of years in a hostile environment. The
best thing that Amsat can contribute to the student built satellites is to
teach them to think about designing for reliability and long life, not to
consider the mission successful if they collect a few weeks of telemetry from
their beep-sat once it is in orbit.

I agree with Phil Karn on most of his points, but the hams who are out there
collecting countries and grid squares are also testing our communications
infrastructure under real life conditions, without them we would only be doing
a laboratory experiment. Hopefully some hams are bringing the kids along on
their grid square expeditions to show them how we communicate under adverse
conditions. I have often compared Amateur Radio to fishing: if you just want
to eat fish it is certainly more cost effective to buy your fish at the market
instead of wasting all that time trying to catch your own fish. Yet many
people still enjoy fishing just for the challenge of testing their abilities
under sometimes adverse conditions. In my case I still plant little tomato
seedlings in the ground in spring time, waste lots of time watering and
weeding them, waste lots of money on fertilizer and bug spray, and hope I can
get a few tomatoes before the deer and rabbits get them, it certainly would be
cheaper and easier to buy tomatoes at the supermarket. That is why we do
Amateur Radio, we want to communicate in the least cost-effective way possible
because we seek the challenge of doing it ourselves instead of using equipment
that any dummy with a credit card can buy at the mall.

As for why Amsat did not receive credit for building the satellite by either
NASA or the Russians, journalists are a lazy bunch who like to copy from press
releases and from each other. Universities and Government agencies have full
time public affairs offices with people who know how to get their stories into
print and on the air in a way that best serves the interests of their
organizations. We at Amsat don't know how to play this game and don't have the
connections to do so. Students building little satellites in school is a cute
story that practically writes itself, but journalists don't know how to
explain amateurs building satellites in their garages and using them to
collect QSL cards and grid squares.

In the aerospace industry, "Educational Satellites" are good, they are
training students who the industry can hire cheap (while getting rid of the
older engineers who earn too much money), but "Amateur Satellites" are bad,
because if a bunch of amateurs can build long lived, useful satellites in a
garage, then why is industry charging 100's of millions of bucks for a
satellite? Jan King gave a talk at a professional meeting years ago and
reported that certain business officials and military officers walked out of
the room because they did not want to hear any more of his talk about our
"garage satellites". It is too much of a threat to their established way of
doing business. 

Anyone who has tried to find an engineering job recently knows that there is
no shortage of engineers, but lazy journalists keep reporting about a crisis
in STEM education and how we need to inspire the next generation to study
science and engineering. The universities who need a steady stream of incoming
freshmen, the industry which needs a steady stream of fresh inexpensive young
blood, and government agencies who need to justify their existence love to
play the STEM education card, even though most of it is not true. It seems
that every university in the world is building satellites but I doubt that
even five percent of those students will find jobs in that field, and those
that do will find that they have much less design authority and freedom when
they are working for the big boys.

However I am willing to let Amsat play along with that game, if we can get our
satellites launched along the way. I will leave it for others to debate the
ethics of that action. We live in a hostile world where most organizations do
not have our interests at heart. As in any business deal, we need to use them
to get what we want in exchange for giving them some of what they want. Use
the educational aspects to get our payloads into space, but recognize that our
goals are sometimes different from theirs. 

So let's celebrate what has been accomplished, learn the lessons from the
mistakes that were made in final assembly, preflight inspection and
deployment, and start planning ARISSat-2. If the Russians want to claim credit
for building it all by themselves, so long as they put it into orbit first,
I'm OK with that.

Dan Schultz N8FGV

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