[amsat-bb] Remembering a part of AMSAT's History

Tom Clark, K3IO tom.k3io at gmail.com
Thu Dec 4 20:15:48 PST 2008

Phil Karn, KA9Q (with help from W0RPK) has been posting a complete set
of AMSAT's history in posting AMSAT's Newsletters/Magazines in the
1975-1999 era at http://www.ka9q.net/newsletters.html. Many of these
really bring tears to my eyes! -- especially the ORBIT and ASRs from
1980-1985. This was the era when we built Phase-3A only to have it lost
as the 2nd test flight of the Arianne launcher self-destructed seconds
after the launch. We took that failure as a challenge to rebuild the
AMSAT organization and the replacement Phase-3B spacecraft. Anyone who
would like to learn more about our legacy should read the publications
from the early 80's.

There is another story in those newsletters. In the early 1980's, a few
amateurs were learning about computers. The pre-1980 LEO  satellites
could be tracked using only the time of equator crossing and a simple
plotting board. However the HEO Phase-3 satellites in elliptical orbits
made the job a lot harder. In Orbit #6 (see
http://www.ka9q.net/AMSAT-ORBIT-6.pdf) I started AMSAT on the "open
source" software track by publishing the source code (in BASIC) for a
the algorithms needed to do the job on a personally owned computer; at
the time, the detractors said
      "Why waste all this space in the magazine. Only a few amateurs
will ever own
       computers with enough horsepower to do these calculations!"

I held fast and we published the article anyway. In the next 5-10 years,
clones and graphical adaptations of "IWI Orbits" by others for many
computers were added. AMSAT's "sales" of copies of the many variants of
my open-source software put nearly $100,000 into the till to build AO-10
and -13.

My thanks to Phil & Ralph for giving me the chance to reminisce one more

73 de Tom, K3IO (ex W3IWI)

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