The Phase 3D Spacecraft


P3D - What's In It For Me?

by Andrew A. Skattebo KA0SNL

A New Satellite

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Several articles have been published on the next generation amateur satellite. For those of you new to ham radio and amateur satellites in particular, Phase 3D is a ham satellite now under construction in Orlando,FL. Currently scheduled for launch in the fall of 1997, it will be the fourth in a series of high altitude, globe spanning amateur communications satellites. The first, Phase 3A, was lost in a launch failure. The second, AO-10 while providing useful communication, is uncontrollable and is usable only when its solar cells are providing power to its battery. The third, AO-13 due to an unforeseen problem with its orbit re-entered the atmosphere and burned up late last year. This leaves the amateur satellite community with the task of finishing and launching a replacement for the other "birds". P3D is that replacement.

The main design goal for this new satellite was to make satellite operation less complex and less expensive for the operator on the ground, thereby increasing the number of satellite enthusiasts in the amateur ranks. In this article we'll look at the implications of this design goal and what it means for hams in a practical sense.

This is not a technical article. The focus rather is on what to expect from operating through the new satellite, what equipment will be required and why you should get involved now.

What's In It For You?


Many hams have read the technical specs on the new satellite. This gives the nuts and bolts information but not a lot of insight for the newcomer into how that translates into real world operation. Why should you be interested in this high-tech satellite stuff? What's in it for you? Good question, lets see what's in store.

With the launch and commissioning of P3D, it will be possible to put together a satellite ground station for real time, worldwide communication with less effort and expense (and real estate!) than most high performance HF stations require. Imagine a compact station, that gives you reliable long-distance communications capability for many hours a day. Just think about antennas that are small enough to mount on an apartment balcony or maybe even on your car, and about transmitter power requirements under 40 watts. No huge antenna arrays, no kilowatt amplifiers and NO LICENSE ABOVE TECHNICIAN REQUIRED! The range of frequencies being launched on P3D are nearly equal to the space we have in all our HF spectrum allocations so there'll be room for everyone. For today's city dwelling, antenna restricted ham this is a dream come true and P3D should make it all possible!


For an idea of the potential of communicating with distant stations take a look at the accompanying screen shot of P3D's intended orbit. You can see that a large part of the earth will be in view of the satellite at any one time, leading to great DX possibilities. Also, even though the new satellite will NOT be geostationary and will still require tracking software and movable antennas, its orbit will repeat on a two-day cycle. This will make keeping 'skeds' with friends and loved ones much easier and allow for the holding of regular nets on the satellite.

In addition to the standard transponders for SSB and CW there will be a digital package called Rudak that will satisfy those interested in high-speed packet. This has the potential to expand the packet radio network and increase its usefulness by linking widely separated local networks together. Also, a Japanese camera experiment called SCOPE will send back high quality digitized photos from the satellite. We'll have an amateur "eye in the sky"!

Overall, this satellite should meet the operating requirements of today's ham and provide exciting communications capabilities well into the next century.



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Portions of this article originally appeared in CQ VHF Magazine, October 1996

Contents © 1997 Andrew A. Skattebo

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