[amsat-bb] Re: PhoneSat Request From NPR

Daniel Schultz n8fgv at usa.net
Thu Apr 25 21:20:40 PDT 2013

------------ Original Message ------------
>I'm a reporter with NPR who's working on a little story about some
>satellites that were recently launched into space 

(Curmudgeon  mode on!)

1. I tried to get NPR interested in doing a story about the launch of
AMSAT-Phase 3D back in 2000. They did not think that a 600 kilogram satellite
with a hypergolic propulsion system, built by volunteer labor from a dozen
different countries, financed by a multimillion dollar budget contributed in
$50 or $100 increments from hams around the world, was worth doing a story
about, but let someone put a cell phone in a cubesat and they think that is a
big deal.  

2. Cell phones are consumer devices, exquisitely engineered for mass
production with reasonably high reliability at minimum per unit cost. Consumer
electronics is a highly specialized area of engineering, but so is space
flight hardware. Using consumer electronic devices in a space flight
environment is a misapplication of engineering principles and is destined to
be a technological dead-end. The excuse that the satellite is only intended to
last for a short time is rather lame, as is the waste of valuable launch
vehicle capacity that could be better used by more serious missions. 
AMSAT has a dedicated team of highly competent engineers who can supply
inexpensive computers and radios that are specifically engineered for space
flight, yet we still have cubesat groups buying off the shelf HT's and
removing them from the plastic case for installation on their cubesat because
they just don't know any better. Apparently neither does NASA.

3. AMSAT-UK had two news items in the last bulletin: "PhoneSat CubeSats with
Ham Radio Payloads Launched" and "CubeSats with Ham Radio Payloads Deployed"
referring to the BeeSat and SOMP CubeSats. 

None of these satellites carry a ham radio transponder. None of them support
ham radio communications. The mere fact that a satellite transmits telemetry
on ham radio frequencies does not make it a "Ham Radio satellite". That term
should be reserved for satellites that support the purpose of amateur radio,
which is two-way communications between radio amateurs. 

NASA's own PhoneSat press release says that "These satellites were built by
NASA civil servants and contractor employees from USRA and SGT." They weren't
built by hams, and they don't serve ham radio. 

The 435 MHz band does belong to the government as the primary user, and we
hams will have access to the band only as long as the government remains as
the primary user. If Congress orders the band to be auctioned to commercial
interests we will lose the use of it for sure. If NASA needs to use it for
telemetry downlink because of the ease of licensing, availability of low cost
equipment from the ham radio market, and worldwide availability of hams who
may be interested in receiving and forwarding their telemetry, then go ahead
and use the amateur satellite band. Just don't call it a "Ham Radio

(/Curmudgeon  mode off)

Dan Schultz, N8FGV

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