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What is HAM radio and AMSAT?



On Mon, 6 May 2002, Phil Karn wrote about a systems approach to satellite
design that reveals the following about current practices...

> 1. inefficient analog modulation methods (CW, SSB & FM)
> 2. The use of 2m implies larger antennas...
> 3. large antennas keeps away many prospective satellite operators.
>
> The conclusions are obvious. If AMSAT is ever to significantly improve
> the quality of its satellite systems, reduce its costs, and attract
> more users, it has *no choice* but to adopt more efficient digital
> modulation schemes and move up to the microwave bands....

First let me agree 100% with the need to do what Phil suggests with a move
toward digital and a modern ground station approach.  But then let me also
say that AMSAT must always have two approaches.  One to push the envelope,
and one firmly entrenched in ancient, backwards technology to match the
typical HAM user.

Next time one goes to a HAMfest, or a "local" HAM meeting, they would have
to be blind not to conclude that 95% of HAM radio is about old tube
radios, junk, Japanese appliance radios and operators over 50.  I cast no
judgment whatsoever, but its the truth.  I'm over 50, I love junk, but I
have spent the last 30 years of my HAM life trying to play on the leading
edge of ATV, Packet and Satellites..  But I still see 95% of members at
local clubs still entrenched in HF, DXing, FM repeaters and still most
admit that they might someday try packet. (even though packet came and
went before most of these guys quite got around to it...)..

So I conclude that AMSAT must always split its resources between the
leading edge and, unfortunately, the trailing edge of technology.  We have
many underused transponders flying right now. And I dont think it is the
type of mode (SSB versus digital) that is keeping the users away, I think
it is the general decline in interest in HAM radio since every consumer
has more wireless capability in his shirt pocket than ANY ham radio
will EVER have.

So I conclude we are DEAD as far as ever offering "interest" to new users
because of our technology.  Which brings me back to only a few conclusions
as to why we need to do what we do..

1)  We DO need to push our technnology to maintain our skills, and our
    internal interest and to satisify the thirst from within... and to
    attract the minority of modern technical savvy folks

2)  We do need to involve young people by offering them what CELL phones
    cannot...  (what is that?  HF?  DX?  FUN?  SATELLITE TRACKING?)

3)  We do need to provide some backward compatilibty for the 95% of our
    membership who will probably never try anything new...

Notice that I listed "satellite tracking" and not "satellites" as an item.
I conclude that the medium is the message and that what is actually
communicated via satellites in many cases is of little consequence to just
the "process".  People like to play with their toys.  Nothing involves
more toys than Satellite tracking... or more fun than waving around an
Arrow antenna in a parking lot...

So in conclusion, I always find myself back at square one:

1) If people want  SSB/mode A,  then why is RS13 vacant?
2) If people want  SSB/VHF/UHF, then why are FO20/29 vacant?
3) If no one wants FM, then why are UO14 and AO27 saturated?
4) If people want packet, why does PCsat only have a dozen players a day?
5) If people want Microwaves, then why does AO40 only have a handful?
6) If people want data transfer, why is UO-22 queue always empty?
7) If people want images, we have how many camers in orbit now? 5?

There are a variety of GOOD answers to all of the above, but one that
seems to always bubble up is "they aren't easy"... which is why
trying to attract growth by something "not easy" is a tough way to go...

Things we dont have but which are "easy"... (for the users)

1) SSTV from MIR was very popular (no user hardware required)
2) FSTV relay would bring in some QRO ATV'ers
3) PSK-31 transponder (this is my number 1 project for our next bird)
4) Satellite constellation (more digipeaters on 145.825)
5) etc

I think what HAM radio offers, that CELL phones and off the shelf
technology do not, are these:

1) You did it yourself
2) You are communicating with a group of like-minded fellows.

Satisfying these two are the key to keeping the interest in HAM radio.
And although I am not an HF operator (never have been), HF seems the only
thing we do that you cannot buy off-the-shelf from the latest DOT.COM.
That doesn't have anything to do with satellites, but is an interesting
observation.

Oh well, I ramble
de WB4APR, Bob


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