Saturday, December 01, 2007

ARISS Antennas Set To Launch On NASA Mission

Article below courtesy of ARRL Letter Vol. 26 No. 47:

Columbus , the laboratory built by the European Space Agency (ESA), is now packed inside space shuttle Atlantis' payload bay. It is the culmination of years of design and engineering work aimed at creating Europe's primary component for the International Space Station (ISS). At 23 feet long and 15 feet in diameter, the cylindrical segment is designed to host specialized experiments examining how humans react to microgravity and the effect of space on various fluids and objects such as crystals. Two Amateur-Radio-on-the-International-Space-Station (ARISS) antennas have been installed on the nadir side of Columbus. NASA is currently planning on a launch date of Thursday, December 6 for Atlantis.

According to ARRL ARISS Program Manager Rosalie White, K1STO, "The ARISS-Europe Team is holding weekly meetings to determine what the ARISS International Team should have for a station in the Columbus module. The Europeans will need to begin fundraising for the multiple sets of equipment, such as the on-orbit equipment, the required back-up on-orbit equipment and the test equipment. Some portions of the equipment system can be purchased, but much of it would need to be built. Once the team purchases or builds the equipment, next comes the special testing (individual equipment tests plus an end-to-end test) for space (probably by ESA), getting the equipment certified (also probably by ESA) and finally manifesting the system for launch. All of that will take many months and help from ARISS volunteers from many countries."

The mission, STS-122, will bring seven astronauts to the ISS: Commander Stephen N. Frick, KD5DZC; Pilot Alan G. Poindexter; Mission Specialist Rex J. Walheim; Mission Specialist Stanley G. Love; Mission Specialist Leland D. Melvin; Mission Specialist Hans Schlegel of Germany, and Mission Specialist/Expedition 16 Flight Engineer Leopold Eyharts, KE5FNO, of France.

Earlier this week, ISS Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Dan Tani, KD5DXE, installed the Centerline Berthing Camera System that will be used for visual cues in the installation of the Columbus module to the Harmony connecting node. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, RK3DUP, is also on board. Tani is due to depart the ISS when Atlantis returns to Earth; Eyharts will take his place.

Earlier this year, the ARISS antennas successfully passed electrical and SWR tests, with one of the two antennas, Antenna 42, going through a final test -- a thermal test under vacuum. Based on modeling, engineers have no fear the antenna will pass with flying colors. Columbus will house an additional Amateur Radio station, including the first digital Amateur Radio TV (DATV) station in space, as well as a ham radio transponder. The yet-to-be-built Columbus amateur gear will facilitate operation on new frequencies that will make it possible for ARISS to establish wideband and video operations for the first time and allow continuous transponder operation.

At the ARISS International conference last year in San Francisco, Graham Shirville, G3VZV, speaking on behalf of ARISS-Europe, outlined plans for a mode L/S ham radio transponder as well as a DATV downlink on S1 band (2.4 GHz). "So, future ARISS contacts could have pictures as well as sound," Shirville told the delegates. ARISS-Europe is looking at a 10 W transmitter and a signal bandwidth of from 4 to 8 MHz. Since the Columbus module will be some distance from the other two ARISS stations, parallel operation will be possible.

Atlantis' mission to the ISS is scheduled to last 11 days. On flight day 4, Walheim and Schlegel's main task will be to prepare the Columbus module for installation on Harmony. They will install the Power Data Grapple Fixture on Columbus, which will allow the space station's robotic arm to grab the module and move it from the shuttle's payload bay to Harmony. On flight day 8, Walheim and Love will install two
payloads on Columbus' exterior: SOLAR, an observatory to monitor the sun, and the European Technology Exposure Facility (EuTEF) which will carry eight different experiments requiring exposure to the space environment.

Funding to finish and install ham radio antennas on Columbus has been uncertain; however. ARISS Vice Chairman Gaston Bertels, ON4WF, says donations from various sources covered a payment of 9000 Euros (approximately $12,000) in March. Donations already have come in from the ARRL Foundation, AMSAT-NA and AMSAT-UK, among other organizations, as well as from many individual donors. According to Bertels, there is
still a funding shortfall of 14,000 Euros (approximately $20,000 USD). To help out, PayPal donations are being accepted.