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FD from the ISS



As an amateur satellite operator, amateur radio contester and former
AMSAT official with an interest in operational matters, I wish to
comment on Dan Henderson's ad hoc interpretation of the operating event
rules concerning the NA1SS ISS operation during Field Day.  From the
press release, it appears that the ARRL was caught flat-footed by this
unprecedented opportunity.

First, it is unreasonable to assume that astronauts who were not
licensed amateurs before becoming astronauts will have significant Field
Day or contesting experience or that a copy of QST containing the rules
will be aboard ISS or any other orbiting vehicle when the need arises.
The head of the ARRL Contest Branch, on the other hand, should not be so
poorly prepared.  The League should provide unambiguous guidance about
the exchange and operating parameters that are appropriate for such a
case.  Henderson's guidance for 2001 is:

"As for the correct Field Day operating class for NA1SS, Henderson said
he sees three possible categories: 1 B (a non-club operation by one or
two people), 1C (mobile, including aeronautical and maritime) or 1E
(home station on emergency power). But as far as he's concerned, the
question is largely academic. "

While the question is indeed largely academic and up to the Field Day
operator's discretion within the context of the published rules, this
interpretation from the ARRL Contest Branch is anything but succinct or
helpful.  The obvious choice is 1C which is implied in Astronaut Helm's
own initial report of "Maritime Mobile-Russia."  A station that was in
fact maritime mobile would be 1C.  Further, the "mobile" category is
intended for those stations that may change location (i.e., reporting
section, prefix, or ITU Zone) during the contest, exactly as a ship,
airplane, automobile, or space station would.

Here is what I recommend:

- Operations from satellites in space should be 1C (or 2C or 3C as
appropriate, as more transmitters, antennas and operators would be great
to help cover the short opportunities if they were available).

- "Section" should be "Low Earth Orbit" or "LEO"  In the future, there
may well be HEO (high earth orbit), GEO (geosynchronus earth orbit),
Luna (moon) and so forth as civilization expands and space-operation
experience develops.

Of course the question was bound to come up as to whether contacts with
ISS count for the Satellite Bonus.  I feel that the ARRL's quick stance
on this, while it may be appropriate for FD 2001 when no advance notice
was available to participants, is wrong on every point and should be
recast for future Field Days.

"Henderson said that ISS contacts will not count for [satellite] bonus
points because the ISS is not an 'Amateur Radio satellite,' as rules
7.3.7 specifies. 'Because of their nature, bonus points need to be
readily available to everybody,' he said. 'This is not the case with the
ISS, with its limited window of opportunity.' Henderson said Field Day
has included no specific rules relating to ISS operation because 'we
cannot guarantee anyone will be on and operating from the ISS.'"

First, Rule 7.3.7 does not address the issue of what is and what is not
an Amateur Satellite.  The only problem in Rule 7.3.7 is the word "via"
[an amateur satellite].  Changing this to "with or through" [an amateur
satellite] would clarify that working with or through a space-based
operation was the intent of the rule, which should include QSO
destinations in space in addition to space based relays.

Second, any argument that an amateur station aboard ISS is not an
amateur satellite is incorrect.  The amateur radio station on ISS is in
the same configuration as the amateur radio equipment on all of the
Russian radio amateur satellites.  That equipment consists of a duly
licensed amateur station hosted by a commercial or government satellite
and subject to it's priorities and resources.  Further, it's operation
is governed by the Radio Amateur Satellite Service rules of its
licensing administration and international regulations.  NA1SS is a
"Space Station" since it is more than 50 km above earth's surface.  The
Russian amateur transponders have always counted for Field Day Satellite
Bonus credit when available and so should the station aboard ISS.

Third, and most importantly, whether or not anybody is available to
operate on ISS during FD is irrelevant to the question of whether the
Satlellite Bonus is available to all FD operators or not.  All amateur
satellites have limited windows of opportunity.  All amateur satellites
may or may not be available for contacts during FD.  Since AMSAT-OSCAR
8, which ceased operation in the early 1980s, the ARRL has had no
ability to guarantee access to any amateur satellite at any particular
time.  An attempt to work ISS during FD is no different from an attempt
to work or work through any of the other amateur satellites.  The bonus
points are equally available (or unavailable as the case may be) to
everyone who has equipped themselves suitably.  Whether or not they are
"readily" available in a particular year depends on the circumstances of
the many satellites and their controllers.  There is no reason to make
an exception for ISS and declare it off limits for the Satellite Bonus.
Such a declaration only leads to confusion and the need for more special
cases.

No specific change to the Field Day (or other contest) rules are needed
to address ISS issues except for the wording change in Rule 7.3.7
suggested above (from "via" to "with or through") and the suggested
establishment of an "LEO" location analogous to "Maritime Mobile Region
2."  Certainly the ISS itself need not be mentioned, as Henderson
maintains.

The Satellite Bonus point rules have been out of date for at least 20
years.  They do not encourage Field Day participants to provide a
reliable satellite-based capability which would support disaster
communications as they would if, for example, ten satellite contacts
were required.  They encourage a big "one-shot" effort to make that
single contact after which the satellite station becomes unimportant and
its resources might be devoted to packet, terrestrial VHF/UHF, or some
other bonus.  Further, by lumping all satellites into a single "band"
category regardless of frequency band or operation mode, they discourage
serious, diverse satellite operations even further.  The Satellite
Bonus, if retained at all, is overdue for significant re-thinking.

During my active tenure as AMSAT-NA Vice President for Operations
(1988-1991), I attempted to work with the ARRL Contest Branch on this
issue but it was considered unimportant since there aren't that many
Field Day entrants (only a few percent of the total) who avail
themselves of the Satellite Bonus opportunity.  Surely the appeal and
visibility of the International Space Station with Amateur Radio aboard
will be important enough for the League to carefully consider and craft
appropriate policies for relevant operating events such as Field Day.

I do heartily agree with Henderson's conclusion:

"'Whatever exchange she sent out, count it as a valid contact for Field
Day and enjoy the experience,' he said. Field Day entries require a list
of call signs worked by band and mode. "

Field Day is just an amateur radio operating activity after all and it
is great exposure for NASA and Amateur Radio that Susan Helms was able
to take the time out of her busy schedule to make some contacts.  What a
thrilling moment!  For future opportunities, let's not be so haphazard
about the intent of the operating event or the intent of informal,
amateur communications with the occupants of ISS and other spacefarers.

Courtney Duncan
n5bf@amsat.org

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