March 25, 2001

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Phase 3D/AO-40 Update

Last week, ANS offered a statement from Robin Haighton, VE3FRH, President of AMSAT-NA, with input and review from other AMSAT-NA members. Following the ANS release, both the ARRL Letter and AMSAT-DL also featured AO-40 news.

(from the ARRL Letter)

AMSAT-NA President Robin Haighton, VE3FRH, has issued a likely explanation of why AO-40 suddenly went silent in mid-December. Haighton's March 16 statement outlines a three-part failure scenario theorizing that AO-40's problems began with a fault in a helium valve.

"Initial thoughts were that the spacecraft was completely dead and that chances of recovery were remote, with the possibility that AO-40 was in multiple pieces," Haighton said. The satellite's 2-meter beacon quit while ground controllers were testing the onboard 400 Newton motor system after anomalies with an orbit-shifting burn that lasted several minutes too long. It was almost two weeks before ground controllers were able to reset the onboard computers and restart a beacon on 2.4 GHz.

Ground controllers have been somewhat successful in regaining control of the next-generation amateur satellite since telemetry transmissions resumed Christmas Day, but Haighton concedes some onboard systems may not be recoverable.

Haighton said that while the Phase 3D team may never know exactly what happened, the likely scenario includes what Haighton told ARRL was "a minor explosion" aboard AO-40, as out-of-place fuel mixed and then ignited as a result of a blocked exhaust port on a helium valve. "We think it was a human error thing," Haighton conceded in an interview with the ARRL. He did not elaborate.

Ground controllers have used AO-40's magnetorquing system to reduce the satellite's spin rate to around 5 RPM and are optimistic that they'll be able to re-orient the satellite for communication with Earth. The satellite's omnidirectional antennas appear to be lost, but ground controllers hope the high-gain directional antennas still work and that reorienting the spacecraft will bring about a resumption of signals from other transmitters.

AO-40's heat pipe system -- which could not work at the higher spin rates -- has begun operating again too, considerably reducing internal temperatures. But ground controllers are pessimistic about being able to restore AO-40's 2-meter and 70cm transmitters. Yet to be tested is the onboard arcjet motor, which ground controllers hope to use to reorient the satellite so that the high-gain antennas will face the Earth [sic].

"Following the reorientation it will be possible to test the remaining systems on board the spacecraft and to determine which systems and bands will be available for future operations and under what conditions," Haighton said.


AO-40 was also a topic of discussion at the recently completed AMSAT-DL Symposium:

The afternoon began with a review of the P3D launch campaign by Peter Guelzow, DB2OS, and a video presentation of the launch itself. Dr. Karl Meinzer, DJ4ZC, subsequently explained, what had since happened with AO-40. He expounded that the incident which occurred on December 13, 2000 has been technically clarified and the human component, which led to the incident, has been understood. The catastrophe was triggered by a vent opening of a valve associated with the 400N motor. As a consequence remnants of fuel was left in the cooling shell of the motor which subsequently forcibly escaped through a leak.

DJ4ZC then explained the current situation of AO-40. The goal is now to rule out likely problems for the future and concentrate on the commissioning of AO-40. After successful magnetorquing, the satellite should be maneuvered to an attitude which permits testing of the arcjet engine. The results of this test will then determine further orbit changes involving the arcjet and the commissioning of AO-40.

Presently, AO-40 is in a 440-day-long cycle in regards to the solar angle (with alternating phases), with 110 days providing suitable alignment of the antennas and solar cells for firing of the arcjet. Provided the ATOS tests proceed satisfactorily, the first transponder operation could begin earlier than originally planned, possibly still in the first half of 2001.


The 8th AMSAT-DL Symposium was also reported to have been very successful with more than 120 visitors. In addition, the annual meeting of AMSAT-DL elected a new Board of Directors (following the sad death of former Vice President Werner Haas, DJ5QK, and Dr. Karl Meinzer's wish to retire as president).

The new officers of AMSAT-DL are:

President: Peter Guelzow, DB2OS
Vice President: Frank Sperber, DL6DBN
Treasurer: Hans Dorr, DF4FE

The new AMSAT-DL Board of Directors thanked Karl Meinzer for all of his hard work during the first 28 years of AMSAT-DL, bestowing the title of Honorary President on DJ4ZC.

AMSAT-NA President VE3FRH offered his congratulations to the new officers:

Hello Peter, Frank and Hans,

I was delighted to see that your recent AMSAT-DL annual meeting went well, and that you were elected to your new positions. I look forward to working with you on future projects. May I also offer congratulations to you both on behalf of the Board of Directors of AMSAT-NA.

Robin Haighton VE3FRH
President AMSAT-NA

[ANS thanks AMSAT-NA, AMSAT-DL and the ARRL for this information]

President's Letter

The following is the March President's Letter from AMSAT-NA President, Robin Haighton VE3FRH.

To all AMSAT-NA members,

Spring is finally here and for those who live in the northern part of the Americas, it is very good to be able to enjoy the Sun again and to prepare the garden for spring flowers. Spring seems to bring a sense of hope and renewal, and so it is in the AMSAT world.

First, we hope for the recovery of AO-40 and for the promise of good things to come and bands to work. I hope that we will soon be hearing more good news from the Project Leader Karl Meinzer and the command stations -- these people have worked very hard on our behalf.

Secondly, after many years as AMSAT-DL President, Karl has relinquished that job, and Peter Guelzow, DB2OS has been elected to the President's office (with Karl as Honorary President). In addition, Frank Sperber, DL6DBN, has been elected as Vice President and Hans Dorr, DF4FE, as Treasurer. AMSAT-NA looks forward to working with all of the above, just as we have for many years. Congratulations to all!

Thirdly, new AMSAT-NA projects are being discussed at the project committee level, and a very good discussion is continuing. Perhaps the most interesting part of the proceedings is a discussion which is trying to determine just how to provide the best coverage for smaller amateur radio satellite ground stations -- which bands and under what conditions. For example, if a satellite is at apogee, then high-gain antennas pointing to Earth would be the preferred solution, but since the satellite is not always at apogee, what is the best compromise for all the other positions?

The questions are complicated by many factors (such as spin axis shape). The Project Committee will attempt to find an answer to these problems prior to our first formal meeting (to be held soon).

Apart from the design and building of the satellite, we also must think of the means available for financing this new bird, as even amateur radio satellites cost money to build and to launch. Initial estimates indicate that $2 million may be close, however a more accurate figure will be made later in the year after the preliminary design stage.

I hope that all AMSAT members will be prepared to contribute to this project, possibly even asking your local amateur radio club to contribute as well! Other ideas include spending time at a local hamfest as the AMSAT representative and helping bring in new members.

If every AMSAT member were to raise only $400, the initial estimated figure would be met!

Can you meet this challenge?

Please send your contributions to our head office, attention Martha, at 850Sligo Avenue Unit #600, Silver Spring, MD 20910-4703. Martha is also available by telephone at (301)589-6062 during normal business hours.

Each year AMSAT has a booth at Dayton, and we welcome friends, both old and new, as it is an ideal time to renew memberships. Often there is a special incentive for those who join or renew. This year AMSAT-NA will offer a very special price on the newly released AMSAT-NA Journal on CD.

In addition, please don't forget the Friday night AMSAT dinner at Dayton, it's a great get together where you can meet many of the AMSAT officers, builders and others who make the organization run. I look forward to meeting you there. The Dayton AMSAT forum will take place on Saturday, May 19th from 8-10 a.m. More details will be included in future ANS bulletins.

Finally, AMSAT is always looking for new people to assist in the operation of the organization, and spring is a great time to become even more involved in your hobby along with giving something back to AMSAT with your participation. I know how much I have learned about satellites once I became involved in AMSAT, so don't be shy, volunteer! AMSAT needs all sorts of people to assist in many activities. If interested, just send me an e-mail ( and let me know what you would like to do. Some areas requiring additional people include our area coordinators, fund raisers, technical designers and builders, legal, and Canadian liaison with RAC.

That's enough for now, have a great time experimenting, working the birds and enjoying our wonderful hobby.

Robin Haighton, VE3FRH 
President AMSAT-NA

[ANS thanks AMSAT-NA for this information]

Mir 1986 - 2001

The Mir space station broke up in the atmosphere and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean (as planned) on March 23, 2001, ending its reign as the heaviest artificial object to orbit Earth. Russian Mission Control ordered Mir to begin the de-orbit sequence using rocket thrusters from an attached cargo ship as ground controllers directed the plunge. Most of the unmanned modular complex disintegrated in the atmosphere. Mir, the world's first international space station, exploded into thousands of pieces after the successful maneuver at 05:59 UTC as it flew over the western central Pacific. Eye witnesses on islands from southern Japan and across the Pacific reported the fireworks display.

During its 15-year stint in space, Mir set endurance and space adventure records, along with providing hundreds of amateur radio contacts between ham radio satellite operators and onboard cosmonauts and astronauts. Mir was a beloved space fixture for many amateur radio satellite operators, who enjoyed communication with the crew, using the onboard digital and voice repeaters and watching video transmitted from the station. In addition, there were several Mir-to-shuttle contacts via ham radio. Many in the world-wide ham radio community were sad to see the station leave orbit.

Amateurs watching CNN's coverage of the Mir de-orbit were very familiar with the tracking images shown, as they were generated from the popular Nova for Windows satellite tracking program authored by Michael Owen, W9IP.

Mir racked up an impressive number of accomplishments during its lifetime, including the longest time in orbit for a space station (15 years), the longest time in space for a human crew member (438 days), and the heaviest man-made object ever to orbit Earth.

[ANS thanks NASA and several news agencies for this information]

KA3HDO Honored

ANS is pleased to announce that AMSAT's Vice President for Human Space Flight, Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, has been chosen to receive the Dayton Hamvention Special Achievement award for 2001. The Hamvention announcement reads:

Mr. Bauer's countless hours of behind-the-scenes work with the Space Amateur Radio Experiment (SAREX) and Amateur Radio International Space Station (ARISS) programs have made these very high profile activities a world-wide successes. Mr. Bauer organized and led the teams that provided the links to schools so that children could talk with astronauts as they orbited the earth. He developed band plans for spectrum utilization for Amateur Radio space operations and continues his leadership role as a technical liaison between the Amateur Radio service and NASA. Dayton Hamvention is proud to honor Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, as its Special Achievement Winner for 2001.

In accepting, KA3HDO told ANS that he is just one small part of a world-wide group of volunteers who are dedicated to keeping ham radio in space. "I am very humbled to get this award, and I would like to thank all of hundreds of volunteers around the world that have made the SAREX and ARISS programs possible. They put in thousands of hours because they believe in what we are doing in space. They believe in our youth and they believe in Amateur Radio," said KA3HDO.

AMSAT-NA President Robin Haighton, VE3FRH, offered his congratulations:

Frank, may I pass my personal congratulations to you, as well as those from the Board of Directors and Officers of AMSAT, on your being awarded the Dayton Hamvention Special Achievement Award for 2001. Your work on the SAREX Program and ISS has been a model for all volunteers, and a program in which AMSAT has been proud to work with you and provide support.

You have made this program a truly International effort, and one in which all the various participants feel that they have a significant share in the results.

Robin Haighton, VE3FRH
President AMSAT

Other 2001 Hamvention winners included CQ magazine Propagation Editor George Jacobs, W3ASK, named Amateur of the Year, and Peter Martinez, G3PLX, chosen to receive this year's Technical Excellence Award for his development of a new low bandwidth digital mode called PSK-31 that has taken ham radio by storm.

[ANS congratulates Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, and thanks NewsLine and AMSAT-NA for this information]

AMSAT-DC Seminar Final Announcement

Space enthusiasts and amateur satellite operators are invited to the Maryland-DC area AMSAT Meeting and Space Seminar. The gathering takes place on Sunday, April 1, 2001 in the Visitor Center Auditorium of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Special guests include Robin Haighton, VE3FRH, President of AMSAT-NA, Barry Baines, WD4ASW, AMSAT Vice President Field operations, and more!

The agenda, worker signup, and more information about the event can be found at the AMSAT-DC web site at

The event will start promptly at 1:00 p.m. EDT, visitors may come early to help, set up or take a stroll in the Visitor Center Hall of Satellites. Visitors can also enjoy a walking tour of the Hubble Space Telescope Operations Control Center and the NASA Communications Center, starting at 11 a.m. The Educator's Resource Center will also be available for gathering student and classroom materials.

For directions and additional information on the GSFC Visitor Center, see

[ANS thanks Pat Kilroy, N8PK, AMSAT Area Coordinator, for this information.]

ANS in Brief

ANS news in brief this week includes the following:

Weekly Satellite Report

Link to the weekly report on satellite ...

All Satellites
ISS . RS-12 . RS-13 . RS-15 . AO-10 . UO-11 . UO-14 . AO-16 . DO-17 . WO-18 . LO-19 . FO-20 . UO-22 . KO-23 . KO-25 . IO-26 . AO-27 . FO-29 . TO-31 . GO-32 . SO-33 . PO-34 . SO-35 . UO-36 . AO-40 . SO-41 . SO-42

Please send any amateur satellite news or reports to the ANS Editors at, or to ANS Editor Dan James, NN0DJ, at

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This week's AMSAT News Service bulletins were edited by AMSAT  News Service editor Dan James, NN0DJ.