On the 03:25 UTC pass on January 26, 2018, AMSAT Vice President – Engineering Jerry Buxton, N0JY, announced that AO-92 had been commissioned and formally turned the satellite over to AMSAT Operations. AMSAT Vice President – Operations Drew Glasbrenner, KO4MA, then declared that AO-92 was now open for amateur use. Audio of the handover and first operational pass can be heard here:
Initially, the U/v FM transponder will be open continuously for a period of one week. After the first week, operations will be scheduled among the U/v FM transponder, L-Band Downshifter, Virginia Tech Camera, and the University of Iowa’s High Energy Radiation CubeSat Instrument (HERCI).
AO-92 was launched on the PSLV-C40 mission from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India on January 12, 2018. For the past two weeks, the AMSAT Engineering and Operations teams have been testing the various modes and experiments on board. Testing has shown that both the U/v FM transponder and L-Band Downshifter work very well. The Virginia Tech camera has returned stunning photos and data from HERCI has been successfully downlinked.
AMSAT thanks the 178 stations worldwide that have used FoxTelem to collect telemetry and experiment data from AO-92 during the commissioning process. The collection of this data is crucial to the missions of AMSAT’s Fox-1 satellites. Please continue to collect data from AO-85, AO-91, and AO-92.
The AMSAT Engineering and Operations teams have been hard at work testing the various modes and experiments aboard AO-92 since its launch on January 12th. Since the last update, testing has concentrated on the University of Iowa’s High Energy CubeSat Radiation Instrument (HERCI) experiment and the AMSAT L-Band Downshifter.
The HERCI experiment was activated for the first time on January 18, 2018. According to Don Kirchner, KDØL, Research Engineer at the University of Iowa, “HERCI is intended to provide a mapping of radiation in a low earth orbit. This is of scientific interest for planning CubeSat test flights for low energy X-Ray detectors.”
“The instrument consists of a digital processing unit (DPU) derived from processors currently in orbit around Saturn on Cassini and on the way to Jupiter on the Juno spacecraft,” said Kirchner during a 2015 interview. “The DPU was shrunk to a CubeSat form factor with funding from the Iowa Space Grant Consortium.”
While the HERCI experiment collects data continuously while the transponder is in operation, the data is only downlinked in the satellite’s high-speed data.
After testing operation of the HERCI experiment and the downlinking of the experiment data, focus turned to the AMSAT L-Band Downshifter. When enabled, the L-Band Downshifter converts signals received on 1267.350 MHz and injects them into the satellite’s 435 MHz receiver. Due to the increased path loss on 1267 MHz and the utilization of the satellite’s 435 MHz receive antenna on 1267 MHz, pre-launch estimates suggested that around 100 watts ERP may be required for horizon to horizon access in this mode. As always, pre-launch estimates are subject to change after real-world testing in-orbit.
At 02:19 UTC on January 20, 2018, the L-Band Downshifter was commanded on for the first time. Initial testing showed promising results. Your author was able to access the transponder with an Alinco DJ-G7T HT with 1 watt output into a Comet CYA-1216E yagi. Telemetry analysis showed that the Downshifter was functioning normally and AMSAT announced open testing.
Reports flowed in of QSOs occurring over Europe and Japan. Many reported QSOs made with 10 watts or less to modest yagi antennas. EB1AO reported success using 2-3 watts output to a small yagi. IW1DTU reported using 10 watts to a horizontally polarized 10 element loop yagi. IU2EFA reported two QSOs made using 10 watts to a vertical groundplane antenna. Reports from Japan were similar. JK2XXK reported two QSOs with 10 watts to a vertically polarized 17 element loop yagi and JA6PL reported a QSO with 10 watts to a horizontally polarized 23 element yagi.
The first open pass over North America occurred at around 02:00 UTC on January 21, 2018. Seven stations were heard, your author, KE4AL, WB8OTH, WB8RJY, NS3L, N8TLV, and VE4AMU. KE4AL and VE4AMU were using similar stations, KE4AL was using a Kenwood TM-942A (10 watts output) and a Comet CYA-1216E yagi modified with holes drilled in the boom to add 2 meter Arrow II elements. VE4AMU was using the same antenna with a Kenwood TM-941A mobile radio. Your author was also using that antenna, but with an Alinco DJ-G7T handheld and was able to open the transponder at around 10 degrees of elevation. Most impressively, N8TLV was heard using just a Yaesu FT-104 handheld transceiver and the stock rubber duck for the uplink. He was weak, but readable from around 35-38 degrees of elevation. AMSAT plans to publish articles in the future discussing equipment options for use on the L-Band uplink.
Audio from your author’s recording of the AO-92 Mode L/v pass over North America can be heard here:
The L-Band Downshifter operates on a 24 hour timer and shut off on schedule around 02:19 UTC on January 21, 2018. Tests of the various modes and experiments continue. AO-92 is on track to be commissioned and handed over to AMSAT Operations on Friday, January 26th.
The first thirty-six hours of AO-92’s life in orbit have seen a flurry of activity as the AMSAT Engineering and Operations teams walk through an extensive checklist of tests required to check the functionality of the satellite’s on-board systems.
The first crucial test came on the initial pass over AMSAT command stations hours after launch. Around 15:00 UTC on January 12, 2018, AMSAT command stations successfully issued the first command to the satellite, changing it from the initial Beacon Mode to Safe Mode. The switch to Safe Mode allowed the collection of min and max data for the various telemetry values.
As AMSAT Engineering continued to evaluate the data received, the decision was made to test the U/v FM transponder briefly on the evening passes over North America. At approximately 01:30 UTC on January 13, 2018, the satellite was commanded to Transponder Mode for the first time. Initial tests show the transponder functions very well. One testing station was able to access the satellite using 5 watts from an HT to a whip antenna from inside his house at approximately ten degrees of elevation. AMSAT Engineering reminds all amateur radio operators that, although the satellite may be found in Transponder Mode at times during the commissioning process, it is essential to not transmit to the satellite before it is opened for general use as you may interfere with various tests that need to be performed.
With the transponder successfully tested and telemetry values continuing to be nominal, attention turned to the Virginia Tech camera. At about 14:30 UTC, the camera was turned on and quickly returned it’s first image of Earth. On the next pass over North America, the camera was again turned on and several images flowed into AMSAT servers. Images captured and uploaded can be found at http://www.amsat.org/tlm/fox1d/images/
AMSAT plans further testing of the Virginia Tech camera during the early hours of January 14, 2018 (UTC). If not shut off by a command station, the camera remains active for a period of 40 minutes following activation, so the active period may vary depending on when the camera is activated.
January 14, 2018 Camera On Times (Approximate)
01:12 UTC – 01:52 UTC
02:42 UTC – 02:51 UTC
This should provide an opportunity for stations in areas including Russia, China, and Japan to receive pictures from the Virginia Tech camera. Please be sure that FoxTelem’s source is set to “Auto” so you will be able to receive either high-speed frames carrying camera payloads or data under voice (DUV) frames when the satellite is in Safe Mode or Transponder Mode. If using an external audio source for FoxTelem, be sure you are set for a minimum bandwidth of 20 kHz to receive the high-speed data.
Thank you to all stations who have uploaded telemetry data to AMSAT servers. As of 18:00 UTC on January 13, 2018, a total of 90 unique stations have contributed telemetry from AO-92. Continued collection of telemetry data is essential to the commissioning process. AMSAT greatly appreciates the participation of the amateur radio community in collecting telemetry for the Fox-1 satellites.
Right on schedule at 03:59 UTC on January 12, 2018, the solid-fueled first stage and ground-lit strap on boosters of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle in its XL configuration (PSLV-XL) ignited and hurtled AMSAT’s Fox-1D CubeSat along with 30 other satellites onboard the PSLV-C40 mission towards a sun-synchronous orbit. The events along the path to orbit happened rapidly. 30 seconds into the flight, the air lit strap on boosters were lit. One minute into the flight, the ground lit strap on boosters separated. Two minutes into flight, first stage separation and second stage ignition were confirmed. Now came a crucial moment. On August 31, 2017, the PSLV-C39 mission was doomed when its payload fairing failed to separate leaving the payload trapped inside the fairing and in a lower than planned orbit. Two minutes and thirty seconds into the flight, the call was heard on the ISRO webstream of the launch: “Payload fairing separation!” The cheers in mission control were audible as the liquid-fueled second stage continued to propel the payloads to orbit. Four minutes into the flight, the second stage separated and the solid-fueled third stage was lit to perform its duty. Seven minutes in, the third stage burned out. After a short coast period, the third stage was discarded and the liquid-fueled fourth stage ignited eight minutes and thirty seconds into the flight. Sixteen minutes and thirty seconds into the flight, the fourth stage shut down, having placed the vehicle into its initial orbit. A minute later, the primary payload, a Cartosat-2 series imaging satellite for the Indian government separated followed by other satellites on the mission. Twenty-seven minutes into the flight, confirmation came that all of the nanosatellites had been deployed. Fox-1D was in orbit!
Just before 05:00 UTC, Fox-1D passed over western North America, but the onboard timer that ensures the satellite is clear of the launch vehicle and other satellites on the mission before deploying antennas and transmitting had not yet expired. The AMSAT Engineering team would have to wait a bit longer before confirming the health of the satellite. At about 05:17 UTC, the satellite came to life and its antennas deployed over the North Pole. The AMSAT Engineering team and amateur radio operators worldwide were watching various WebSDRs waiting for signs of life. Around 05:25 UTC, the characteristic “Fox tail” of the Fox-1 FM transmitter was seen on multiple WebSDRs. Fox-1D was alive! While the satellite was alive and transmitting, the reception of telemetry frames was crucial for AMSAT Engineering to determine whether or not the satellite was healthy. At 05:28 UTC, the first frame appeared on the AMSAT telemetry server, uploaded by Anatoly Alexsandrov, UA9UIZ, of Tyazhinskyi, Kemerovo Oblast, Russia. Initial telemetry values confirmed that the satellite was healthy.
Satellites that achieve orbit and are successfully activated are commonly given an on-orbit name. Ever since the launch of OSCAR I in 1961, it has been traditional for amateur radio satellites to carry the name OSCAR, for “Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio.” Amateur radio satellites meeting certain criteria are renamed “OSCAR” with a prefix of the satellite owner’s preference and issued a sequential number after they successfully achieve orbit and are activated. After confirmation of signal reception, OSCAR Number Administrator Bill Tynan, W3XO, sent an email to the AMSAT Board of Directors designating the satellite AMSAT-OSCAR 92. Tynan’s email read:
Fox-1D was launched successfully at 03:59 UTC today, January 12, 2018, from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India, and has been received by several amateur stations.
Fox-1D, a 1U CubeSat, is the third of AMSAT’s five Fox-1 CubeSats to reach orbit, being preceded by AO-85 (Fox-1A) and AO-91 (RadFxSat / Fox-1B). Fox-1D carries the Fox-1 U/v FM transponder, with an uplink of 435.350 MHz (67.0 Hz CTCSS) and a downlink of 145.880 MHz. In addition, Fox-1D carries several university experiments, including a MEMS gyro from Pennsylvania State University – Erie, a camera from Virginia Tech, and the University of Iowa’s HERCI (High Energy Radiation CubeSat Instrument) radiation mapping experiment. Fox-1D also carries the AMSAT L-Band Downshifter experiment which enables the FM transponder to be switched to utilize an uplink of 1267.350 MHz (67.0 Hz CTCSS).
Fox-1D was sent aloft as a secondary payload on the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s PSLV-XL rocket as part of the PSLV-C40 mission. Fox-1D was one of thirty-one satellites successfully deployed on this launch.
Since Fox-1D has met all of the qualifications necessary to receive an OSCAR number, I, by the authority vested in me by the AMSAT President, do hereby confer on this satellite the designation AMSAT-OSCAR 92 or AO-92. I join amateur radio operators in the U.S. and around the world in wishing AO-92 a long and successful life in both its amateur and scientific missions.
I, along with the rest of the amateur community, congratulate all of the volunteers who worked so diligently to construct, test and prepare for launch the newest amateur radio satellite.
William A. (Bill) Tynan, W3XO
AMSAT-NA OSCAR Number Administrator
AMSAT Engineering reminds stations that the satellite will not be available for general use until the on-orbit checkouts are complete. Please continue to submit telemetry to assist the Engineering team in completing the commissioning process. During commissioning, the transponder may be active at times, but please do not transmit as you may interfere with important tests that must be completed before the satellite is commissioned. The commissioning process is expected to take up to two weeks.