[amsat-bb] Re: Geostationary Satellites

Daniel Schultz n8fgv at usa.net
Mon Oct 10 23:02:43 PDT 2011

It is true that a Geo bird would only cover 1/3 of the Earth, but it would
ALWAYS be there, with no need for antenna rotors or keps or a computer for
tracking. It would be like picking up a telephone. It would be wonderful for
emergency service in a disaster area. It could provide high speed digital
communications on the amateur microwave bands in places where the internet is
not available.

Geosynchronous orbit slots are allocated by transponder frequency. On the
amateur radio bands we are free to locate a satellite anywhere we can get to
because we don't share our frequencies with commercial transponders.

The reason we don't have any high altitude satellites is all about the money.
We amateurs created the small satellite business. Back in the old days the big
boys laughed at our cute little toy satellites, but they did allow us to bolt
them to a launch vehicle for free or for very low cost. The experts were
certain that our homebrew satellites wouldn't last a week without expensive
mil-spec electronic components. We amateurs proved that small satellites were
useful and thus created a market that we are now priced out of. The launches
that used to be free can now be sold to paying customers for millions of
dollars. Many of the companies in the small satellite business were founded by
Amsat alumni.

We amateurs are a non-commercial service, by law, with no product or service
that we can sell to raise the $10 million that we would need to buy the sort
of launch that we once got for very cheap. We cannot participate in the market
economy because the law prohibits us from making money from our activity,
which puts us at a huge disadvantage in competing for launches against those
satellite owners who can make money. If future access to space is going to be
limited to those with a good business plan then we might as well pack it in as
satellite builders. The educational-industrial complex has no place for
"amateurs" working alone in their basements and garages without any sort of
formal academic plan and no supervision by management.

Nobody in the commercial or government world cares if we can talk to Japan or
Europe on amateur satellites or collect rare grid squares. It is all about
education, which I am all in favor of except that I question if there really
is such a crying shortage of engineers in the world. The students building
their little Cubesats are going to find out someday that working for Lockheed
Martin or Boeing or NASA is a far, far different world than their experience
in building Cubesats.

The Cubesats are a useless diversion but are popular with the powers that be
because they allow young college students to build a satellite and deliver it
to the launch pad. They are too small to carry the type of payload that we
need to do effective communications in a high altitude orbit. The students and
their sponsors don't care if the satellite actually works on orbit because
they will have graduated by the time it is launched. They recognize that the
world wide network of hams is a valuable resource for tracking and telemetry
collection, but they use amateur radio frequencies without giving back
anything to support the basis and purpose of amateur radio.

If we are ever again going to have high altitude satellites for world wide DX
and supporting high rate digital communications on our amateur microwave bands
we will need to find clever ways to get larger satellites such as Eagle into
higher orbits.

We also screwed up with the failure of AO-40. We could have had 10,000 or more
Amsat members right now if that satellite had worked as designed. Even if we
could raise the bucks to build another one, there is no chance of getting
another Ariane 5 launch. Amsat-DL has not been able to find any launch for the
smaller Phase 3E satellite for any amount of money that we can think about

The way we did things two decades ago is not how we are going to do things
now. Maybe we will never again have an Amsat-designed and built satellite but
perhaps we can place a transponder on someone else's satellite in return for
some sort of added value to them. There is money available for education
support, maybe we can get some of it if we appeal to the right people. Maybe
we can carry science experiments for NASA or some other agency if we provide
operations support with telemetry and command. Maybe we can tap the same
funding sources that the Google lunar competitors are getting. I don't have
the answers, except that we will need to be just as clever as our predecessors
were 50 years ago if we are ever going to have high altitude, high performance
amateur satellites in our future.

Dan Schultz, N8FGV

More information about the AMSAT-BB mailing list