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The 38k4 Cost Question

I believe I can shed some light, at least from my perspective, on the 
"Why do expensive things only a few folks can enjoy?" question.

Twelve years ago when I began this aspect of ham radio one could with a 
little effort and not much equipment work one of the Russian RS sats in 
Mode A.  This was the analog of the FM "easysats" today.  If that got 
you hooked there were a range of more challenging modes to pursue.  (For 
instance, I used to LOVE piecing together the pictures from WO-18 
captured bit by bit, pun intended, at 1200 baud.)

The end of the spectrum of things to do in the hobby, if you could not 
design and build equipment yourself, required making modifications to 
expensive radios and the purchase of expensive equipment.  In my case, I 
made the G3RUH 9k6 mod to a brand new FT 736 including drilling holes in 
the rear panel to mount new connectors. At the time I remember thinking 
how crazy that was ...  I think I paid more for that rig than for the 
FT-847 I bought last year.  To copy 9k6 you needed an expensive modem. 
I bought a DSP 2232 that cost nearly $1000 back then.  There were other 
options but they were all costly both in money and time to implement. 
Finally there was mode S on AO-13 which required yet another bunch of 
equipment and time.

My XYL would smile at me because once I had my system working in these 
modes I was communicating only with people concerning how to make my 
system work!  This is though, exactly the point.  You have to begin to 
explore new modes somehow and the limited number of folks using them in 
the beginning makes the equipment expensive and the setup time 
consuming.  I like to think that participating at this level makes it 
simpler and less expensive for those who use the technology later.  I 
don't think anyone would be very happy working only mode A and 1200 baud 
bbs systems on low earth orbiting satellites today.

A lot of time, effort, (and fun) goes into making both the satellites 
and the tools both hardware and software that make working them 
practical.  I can still remember the amazement of using WISP for the 
first time.  I spent WEEKS of time patching together programs using 
batch files under PC DOS to do the same job.  Then suddenly Chris 
Jackson's gift made it possible for anyone to do what I had done by 
simply downloading a program and installing it!  I sure did learn a lot 
about interfacing programs and equipment before WISP was available though.

I guess my point is that so long as there are a range of activities 
available on the sats then having expensive somewhat technical and at 
first not well utilized ones is as reasonable as having those that are 
none of these things.  Frankly, I have no interest in FM single channel 
satellites but I understand their role in capturing folks interest.

Finally, I think it is fair to say that the people who build the 
satellites, and those one or two tiers down technically such as I who 
can only use the new modes once equipment is made available, are 
basically "mad scientist" types.  The fun is do achieve something new 
and difficult that others then can use.

It is not just AMSAT that share this aspect of the ham hobby the TAPR 
guys (and gals) are also in this mode. They were designing and producing 
DSP modem kits over a decade ago.  Today they are into spread spectrum 
as well as other things.  I believe they were primarily responsible for 
popularizing packet radio which lead to the widely used APRS system 
today as well as many other developments.

In summary, I think innovation is simply by nature costly in time and 
money.  This is particularly so in a highly technical hobby.

Dean Shutt
Sent via amsat-bb@amsat.org. Opinions expressed are those of the author.
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