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ARISS Operations


I have had several inquiries as to "what's up" with Amateur Radio 
operations on the ISS.  I hope to provide you as much information as we 
have at this point in time.  Miles Mann recently defined some of the 
mechanics of communicating with ISS.  This represented a good run down for 
each of you to prepare for amateur radio operations.  The following, while 
long, will give each of you a good understanding of where we are and where 
we are going with ARISS ops.  I would suggest that you save this 
information for the future.

Before I get into what is happening today on ISS, I would like to cycle 
back a few years ago.  In 1996 an international group of radio amateurs got 
together with a common vision---to develop a single amateur radio station 
on ISS.  In September 2000, this international team, called Amateur Radio 
on the International Space Station (or ARISS), realized this dream with the 
launch of the first complement of amateur radio hardware on ISS.  I want 
everyone to know that this event represented the culmination of a very 
formidable task.  If you could have seen, day to day, how difficult it was 
to develop and qualify hardware for ISS (remember there were no precedents 
before us) you would understand that this international team did something 
that was near impossible.  Actually we blazed a trail for NASA, Energia and 
all the other ISS countries by being the FIRST to get our "payload" 
hardware qualified.  During this formidable process, some areas associated 
with ARISS were not completed as rigorously as others.  In particular, the 
on-board procedures for the hardware need to be improved and the U.S. team 
would like to better educate the U.S. crew on operations in the context of 
the three primary goals of ARISS ops--School Group Contacts, General QSOs 
and Family Contacts.

Let's walk through some of the operational concerns the ARISS team have 
received from you:


One thing we all need to keep in mind--the crew members really define 
whether they want to use the equipment or not.  Depending on their interest 
and the crew workload, various facets of the hobby will be engaged or 
not.  My past work in SAREX made me acutely aware of this fact.


There are some things we do know regarding general voice QSOs.  Those that 
have been involved in Amateur Radio on Human Spaceflight vehicles know that 
Sergei, U5MIR enjoys amateur radio operation.  He was extremely active on 
Mir and was the same on Shuttle Missions that carried amateur radio.  Many 
of you have notice the absence of Sergei from the radio.  It is our belief 
that he is quite busy over the US with the 143.625 communications.  You can 
hear him and Yuri on that frequency nearly every US pass. The ARISS team 
has gotten reports that the Russian crew have started general QSO ops in 
Russia.  Bill Shepherd (Shep) has done a couple of general QSO ops.  Based 
on what we have learned from operations over the past 2 months, the ARISS 
team would be surprised if this first crew will do a substantial number of 
general voice QSO's.  Shep did not get instruction on general QSO 
operations from the US team and discussions with him have recently led us 
to believe that he wants to concentrate on School Group contacts and 
autonomous packet radio operations.

In the future, the ISS crews will be switching from the 143.625 frequency 
to TDRSS.  When this happens, the crew will not be constrained to a few 
143.625 passes over the US and Russia.   I am sure that this will open up 
additional opportunities for the crew to do general voice QSOs.  In the 
meantime, listen to the school group contacts and hopefully we will hear 
one of the crew members on the air  doing general voice QSOs.


I made an announcement a couple of weeks ago that the packet system was 
going to be turned on.  Well, it was turned on and I am sure each of you 
along with my team listened intently for the packet beacon to no avail.

Over the past few weeks we have been working with Shep to understand what 
happened.  Let me explain to you what we know and the steps we are taking 
to get the packet operating.

First, we do know that the packet was operational after launch because we 
heard the beacon on one of the first engineering passes over the US.  Based 
on the discussions we have had with Shep and some of the characteristics of 
the ground system we think we have a handle on the problem.  We have 
generated some in-flight maintenance procedures to help resolve and 
potentially correct the problem.

We believe that one of two things have happened---either the ram backup 
battery died in the TNC or the TNC experienced a single event upset.  In 
either case, we believe that the RAM parameters were either corrupted or 
set to the default.  We believe that the most likely scenario is a dead 
battery since we recently saw one of the batteries in a training unit 
die.  If we are able to fully check out the system, this problem can be 
easily corrected and the packet system will again be fully operational.

I must remind everyone that these early stages of ISS introduce 
complications that we hope to not see in the later portions of the ISS 
operations.  We are pioneering the use of the ISS hand-in-hand with NASA, 
Energia and the other international space agencies.  As stated before, we 
don't have a good set of in-flight procedures on-board to recover from this 
problem.  The ARISS team has tapped a team to work on a full set of 
on-board procedures for the operations of the whole ARISS system--including 
failure recovery procedures.  This is a long term process, but will reap 
good dividends in the future.  Also, there are too few Station Support 
Computers (SSCs) on ISS and there are none in the FGB where the amateur 
radio station resides.  To do the full checkout and recovery will require 
the crew to disconnect one of the SSC computers from another area and use 
it to perform the checkout and recovery procedure.  We are not sure when 
this will happen--probably in the next 2-3 weeks.  We will keep you 
informed on this.   We expect to fix this problem and move into autonomous 
packet operations soon.


As you know, we have had 3 successful school group contacts.  We are 
rapidly converging on a program that will allow us to conduct 6 school 
group contacts per month.  The ARISS team will provide updates on these 
contact times.  Stay tuned.


The lack of TDRSS coverage has resulted in a stronger need for the 
increment 1 crew to rely on the ARISS equipment to talk with their 
family.  The ARISS team understands that this is impacting the general QSOs 
for now.  I must tell you all how proud I am that amateur radio is playing 
such a big part of the psychological well being of the ISS Crew.  I am 
certain that Shep will put in a very big plug for amateur radio when he 
does his post flight debriefings.


We are working with the team in Russia to train  the follow-on ISS 
crews.  The increment 2 & 3 crews have gotten sufficient training in 
Russia.  We are working with the JSC team in Houston to get a bit of time 
with these crews to complement the great training that our Russian 
colleagues have given the crew.

If the packet battery is dead, we will either develop an in-flight 
maintenance procedure to replace the battery or will swap the TNC with the 
flight spare.  Please remember that a dead battery does not kill the packet 
system--we either need to keep it powered up or have an SSC on-hand to 
upload parameters right after power-up.

We have additional equipment, such as the SSTV equipment and new antennas 
for the Service Module, that we hope to launch this year.  (Actually the 
Russian team have already conducted a series of EVA training sessions in 
the Hyrdolab watertank in preparation for our antenna installation).  We 
will continue to improve the hardware and operations.

Just like the pioneers of the 1800's, the amateur radio community is 
blazing a new trail for human spaceflight.  Trailblazing is not for the 
faint of heart.  We WILL have complications and problems along the 
way---just like the US team's forefathers did as they crossed the 
US.  Let's all be patient and persistent.  The ARISS team did just that 
with the hardware and we were ultimately successful.  We are well respected 
and admired by our (full paid) colleagues in the space agencies.  If we 
continue to be patient and persistent as a team, we will all guide this 
program into a  fantastic future with exciting opportunities for school 
students, the general ham community and the on-board crews.

Wishing you all 73 thanks for your interest in ARISS.

Frank H. Bauer, KA3HDO
Chairman, ARISS
AMSAT V.P for Human Spaceflight Programs 

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