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The Whole GEO Package

Quoting Edward Cole <kl7uw@acsalaska.net>:

> Radio = boring
> Launch your own satellite = wow!  Send your own voice/photos to the 
> Moon, Mars, ...
> How about radio controlled robots?  On the Moon?
> Track your own rocket?  Balloon
> Throw APRS into the dog's saddle bags = find out where he goes?
> Throw APRS on your boy/girl friend's car/bicycle = find out where they
> go?
> Talk with Astronauts = OK this is already done
> All things that can be done with ham radio!  Think outside the
> rice-box!
> 73 Ed - KL7UW

In this spirit, might I ask this list to imagine what needs to be done to
make the emcomm/geo package a reality? The following is my rather long
analysis of the situation.

I believe the proponents of the Intelsat agreement have done us a great
service by identifying a real and persisting need which AMSAT can uniquely
fulfill. By doing so, they not only greatly increase our chances of funding
otherwise prohibitively expensive launches, they give our branch of the
hobby a greater reason to do what we do. 

However, I also think the EMCOMM branch of our hobby has different needs
than the usual satellite station operator. If we are to really and honestly
make the world a safer place and save lives, I think we will need to
provide a GEO EMCOMM package that will require us as a organization to
branch into some new and exciting efforts. Let me explain what I mean.

Traditionally, a satellite station has been developed through one person's
expertise gradually growing regarding a number of interrelated aspects: low
signal VHF and UHF operation; the mechanics of an az-el antenna array;
computer control; and doppler correction. Certain satellites or operating
habits allow one to omit one or more of these, but in general it's, even by
ham standards, a challenging array of new skills and understanding. I'd say
the members of AMSAT are self-selected as those who enjoy this challenge
and seek to learn as many aspects of the field as possible.

However, for an EMCOMM system to be effective, it cannot rely on a broad
array of such specialized knowledge: it is unreasonable to expect that the
first ham on the scene of a disaster will be one of the AMSAT 'us', a
person who has acquired this specialized knowledge. It is only reasonable
to assume that it will be an amateur radio operator, familiar with the
general principles of radio theory and operation. In fact, in my region the
EMCOMM specialists and the technical specialists (if I might put it that
way) are often not the same people.

So our challenge is more extensive than the challenge that faced AMSAT with
any previous launch: we need to make communication through this bird
possible for any ham shmoe who is opening up a box of equipment after, say
an afternoon of instruction half a year ago.   Please note, this is not a
matter of dumbing-down the bird or making it uninteresting. In fact, for
the old-hands and the technically adept around here this will be very
interesting and a great outlet for our skills. In this application, if not
on all birds, we should take it as a sign of success when people
effortlessly get connected, because it would mean that, in a true emergency
there would be a greater likelihood of useful service.

If this analysis is accurate, we need to imagine, broadly, three things: a)
the services (or modes) this ham will offer to support EMCOMM; b) the box
of stuff that this ham opens up; c) the afternoon's training she undertook
to know how to use it. These are interrelated, of course. The training is
apropos the box of stuff, and the box of stuff allows the services. They
should also, I think, be *standardized* to an extent that has not been the
case before with satellite work. Recently I heard the argument on Amateur
Radio Newsline that ham EMCOMM services should be more interchangeable
across the continent; the same will surely be the case regarding this work.
Ideally the 'stuff' and the training is the same everywhere so that the
shmoe has a chance of recollecting her training and is required to factor
out/in as few local variables as possible.

The advantage we have is that it isn't unreasonable to expect the box of
stuff to be perhaps more pricey than individual hams would like such things
to be. 

A large part of a) and b) will be determined by the ACP team, whose goal
even with Eagle was to provide ground-station hardware alongside the bird's
hardware. (The wisdom of this new approach should be applauded; I'm sure it
has made re-purposing Eagle hardware for P4/EMCOMM much easier to imagine.)
As I've argued before, I think one of the most important mode we can offer
is simple Internet connectivity, allowing the emergency services folks to
use the communication tools like email with which they are most familiar. I
hope this will be part of the mix. As for the second half of b) and c), I
think it will focus around designing and teaching the use of software.
Perhaps the box of stuff will include a laptop that operates well with a
specialized linux distribution-on-a-disk, including all the software tools
needed to assess link quality, perform simple communication, etc.  If I'm
right, this is fortunate because we seem to have quite a number of adept
software developers in our midst. 

Finally, the course. Can we provide standard lesson-plans, ppt slides and
the like? I think this would significantly lower the bar on each of us
teaching a session on P4 to our local club or EMCOMM group.

I think we should spread the load on these tasks as early as possible,
making many of us participants in the final goal of increasing the safety
of our communities and nations. I'm excited to hear what others think about
the broader implications of the P4 initiative and how we can deliver on the
whole GEO package.

73, Bruce
Sent via AMSAT-BB@amsat.org. Opinions expressed are those of the author.
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