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The University <-> AMSAT relation, was: _ube sat pay load


Here is the analysis of the University / AMSAT relation:

Universities are split into two distinct groups. The first is the
scientists. These universities are interested in performing space science.
The spacecraft for them is just a hurdle to get over to fulfill their
objective - science. These universities AVOID building spacecraft, but do
choose to be involved in observatory integration and operation out of
necessity. These universities target (and win) medium to large scale
missions - SMEX and/or MIDEX. Most of the SMEX and MIDEX missions are of
$80 - $200 million range. These groups follow the yellow brick road of
spacecraft building and know how to play the game to keep on getting funded
by good old uncle Sam . The are not into high risk busses, and not into
providing services aside for their own mission objectives. Most of these
mission get the bus contracted out to established aerospace firms such as
Spectrum Astro or Ball Aerospace.
The second group consists of the universities that want to build spacecraft
for sake of building spacecraft. These universities put technology and
education as their goal and therefore want to build their own spacecraft.
They don't want a kit spacecraft, and don't want standard capabilities -
they want to develop their own - that's why they do it. The
departments/professors running them need to be able to raise money to do so.
They can't do it with kits, they need it to be proper research and the more
thesisses they can generate - the better! In an unnamed event with a
government sponsor several years ago, there was an attempt to suggest the
universities use a "standard bus" with standard core components. The
universities all objected to it for the simple reason that it voids their
space-research efforts (can't blame them). An interesting note, is that for
these universities, the "science mission objective" is just the excuse to
build a spacecraft (bells and whistles to help achieve funding.) Another
important note is that most departments sponsoring spacecraft projects are
not EE or Communications departments, but Mechanical and Aerospace!
Therefore, their prime interest is in aerospace technologies - i.e. attitude
control, bus structures and mechanisms - not communications protocols. To
date, I don't know of a single EE department sponsoring a spacecraft in
order to perform radio communications experiments. Surrey is the only
historic case that I know of, of an EE department sponsoring a spacecraft in

If you understand the above situation, you may deduce that we can't align
ourselves with the first group because we are order of magnitude smaller and
we cannot provide a bus to the quality and scope that they are asking for.
That's why Spectrum Astro and Ball are in business. We can't align ourselves
with the second group as well because the don't want a design shoved down
their throat, and they are not interested in communications experiments!

An excellent example of this is the attached correspondence. A student
asking for ideas, hams responding with "sure, just provide us with xyz
SERVICE" and the student coming back to say "come on, give me REAL research,
not just an FM repeater".... Last, hams coming back with how important this
SERVICE is for hams. Do you folks get the idea? Universities want thesis
opportunities, not to become service providers for the ham community. A bent
pipe FM repeater, linear transponder, APRS, PSK31 hardly falls into research
category. The funniest thing about this going back and forth is that the
students initial email proves my thesis here. Note that in his initial email
he asked us for a "reason" to build a spacecraft. Easy to tell which
university group he falls into - isn't it?

Now, why do universities end up working on ham bands? very simple reason!
All subsystems of a spacecraft can be designed by any dedicated undergrad
student - except RF hardware! 99.999% of undergrads don't have the
experience to build reliable RF hardware. Being financially constrained they
converge on ham radio solutions. In addition to that, the AX25 protocol and
availability of several hundred operational ground-stations world-wide is
the icing on the cake for them.

It's about time we stop considering universities as service providers to the
satellite amateur radio community - they are not. As individuals working on
those spacecraft, they are entitled to build one - and don't need our
permission to do so. All they need to do is comply with the law. The law
does not require providing AMSAT members with repeater/transponder/PSK31

Please note that I am not trying to denounce the universities, they play an
important role in science and space research - it's just that it is about
time that we accept that neither group is really aligned with AMSAT's goals.
further more, the spacecraft building universities are actually more likely
to do the kind of research we hams were chartered to do than we are
currently doing - but we beat them into submission. The focus of national
AMSAT groups in the past years was/is/will be to provide a service for well
established modes - not communications research! (see ham's responses in the
correspondence below)

All the best! :-)


-----Original Message-----
From: owner-AMSAT-BB@AMSAT.Org [mailto:owner-AMSAT-BB@AMSAT.Org]On
Behalf Of Andrew Glasbrenner
Sent: Saturday, March 27, 2004 5:18 PM
To: Robert Bruninga; amsat-bb@AMSAT.Org; quadpugh@bellsouth.net
Subject: Re: [amsat-bb] ube sat pay load

> Sorry to say, but basic communications, though not original
> is still an absolutly critical requirement in the AMSAT community.
> Cute gizmos  are only cute.  What the AMSAT community
> needs is reliable satellite communications...  We have wasted
> too many launch opportunities with cute payloads.
> What we need is communications transponders...
> de WB4APR, Bob

Absolutely! LEOs, HEOs, Mode A, B, J, U/S, L/U, L/S, L/X, etc.......

I'm not an RF engineer, or even a particularly good tinkerer, but it seems
to me a lot of these schools are more interested in the process than the end
product or experiment. I get this notion from seeing how plans include using
what ever off the shelf radios, tncs, etc they can fit in their spacecraft.
This is fine and all, but how wonderful would it be if AMSAT could provide
them with a simple, compact design for a receiver or transmitter, or a
complete transponder? Something as off the shelf and easy as using an HT for
the radio system like so many cubesats seem to do. These guys have the
launches, the money, and the manpower to build sats that we can all
use...and it's time for AMSAT members to step up to the plate I think. If
these things are happening already, let's hear about that to

Before the next BOD election cycle I'd like to hear specific thoughts on how
candidates (and other AMSAT leadership) plan to overcome this challenge. And
I hope we can have a useful discussion without getting personal.....If these
things are happening already, let's hear about that too!!!

73, Drew KO4MA

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