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Comment on ASMO (American Student Moon Orbiter)

So that you will know "where I am coming from", let me say that I am not an active satellite user.  I am a semi-retired aerospace engineer, in that I work part time on a NASA project - the modification of a 747 to carry a sub-millimeter and infrared telescope into the stratosphere.  I had my hands into amateur radio, literally, before Sputnik, though I did not get my license until years later.  I cannot remember when I was not interested in space exploration.  My first engineering job was testing rocket motors and associated prototype hardware for the first and second stages of what evolved into the Peacekeeper missile.  And for a brief time I tried to be an educator.

My opinion is that ASMO is a result of the stark realization by NASA, whether from within or forced on it by national leadership, that the supply of skills to build and operate spacecraft is rapidly drying up at a time when national goals are to expand our reach into space by returning to the Moon and perhaps sending people to Mars.  Within the ASMO website is the statement that twenty-five persent of NASA employees are eligible to retire in less than five years.  The problem is similar for the companies that NASA depends on to develop and operate its various systems.  Indeed the entire aerospace industry, while facing major difficulties due to the current fuel prices, will have severe personnel shortages for decades.

Even when engineers and scientists can be hired, they still face the problem of learning what it is that they are hired to do.  A problem particularly acute for NASA since they tend to be doing things that have never been done before.  ASMO is an attempt to find solutions to both of these areas of concern.

You may ask how this relates to AMSAT.  First, for those of you that work with students, you might get the opportunity, assuming of course that ASMO gets off the ground, to encourage students to seek a university program that will allow them to build and operate satellites.  Presumably, you will have converted them to AMSAT members along their path.  At the very least they should recognize that the amateur radio community is a friendly ally.  And if you are an AMSAT member preparing to go to college, and have some interest in a program like ASMO, then by all means go for it.  ( And keep an open mind for projects that can attract more students to follow you. )

For those of you not already working with students, here is your chance to influence not only the future scientists and engineers that will be building future spacecraft, but it is an excellent opportunity to connect with, and begin to influence, the universities that will be training them.  Not so long ago, I read here some comments ( Dare I say grousing? ) about university satellite projects using amateur frequencies and assets, but then giving nothing back to the amateur radio community for their service.  Meet with them.  Propose activities to work together.  Demonstrate to them that working with you is in their own self interest.  Show your stuff.  Of course you won't get all of them interested in your hobby, but you might get a lot more than you have now.

Suppose you took the time to submit some ideas to NASA about the kind of things that a student project should include.  Remember, the intent is to allow students to learn about building and operating an entire space probe.  Point out that the students should include communications ( not just depend on the existing NASA communication system ) as part of the system.  There is room for thought about communications experiements - perhaps a radar sensor array could be pointed at the Earth when not being used to scan the Moon.  Students could learn a lot more about communications, if say the "radar" was commanded to listen first, then transmit back something that it "heard".  Think outside the box.  Don't limit yourself to the mindset that a radar sends an unmodulated burst and listens to the echo, which is processed for information.  The same "box" can listen, process, then transmit.  Do the math.  Suggest alternatives.  Point out that if the probe can be heard on the Earth with amateur radio equipment, then millions of people can listen.  It certainly worked for Sputnik.

Be realistic.  If you suggest a system that you can kerchunk with an HT in your back yard, I don't think it will get much favor.  But then again, the intent is to give student experience to a real probe that will gather significant data to be used for future lunar exploration.  This program is not about what you want, but about what is a good experience for the students.  If you think about it, you might find that "good for the students" might benefit you as well.

You are the people who have shown interest in building and operating spacecraft.  You are the kind of people that NASA wants to hear from.

James Whitfield

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