Thursday, December 22, 2011

RAST HQ Station Destroyed by Flooding

Some of the damaged equipment at the Radio Amateur Society
of Thailand (RAST) headquarters station, HS0AC.
(Photo courtesy Swen, HS0ZFZ)
Last fall's massive flooding in Thailand, the country's worst in 60 years, counted among its victims HS0AC, the headquarters station of the Radio Amateur Society of Thailand (RAST). The station was underwater for nearly two months, according to well-known Thai contester Champ Muangamphun, E21EIC/KY1A. Additional photos of the devastation have been posted on the web at <>. 

RAST is seeking help from hams around the world in rebuilding its headquarters station. If you have spare equipment available, contact Finn/OZ1HET at <> or <>. Monetary donations are also being accepted via PayPal. For details, contact <>.

February: Five Years of Code-Free Licensing

February, 2012, will mark the fifth anniversary of the end of Morse code testing for all levels of FCC amateur radio licenses. The final code tests were administered on February 22, 2007 after being a part of U.S. license exams since the inception of amateur radio licensing nearly a century ago. Over the decades, code test speeds rose and fell with changing times. Code testing for the entry-level Technician Class was eliminated in 1991.

Since the end of code testing, the ranks of radio amateurs in the U.S. have increased by nearly 50,000 and many newer hams are learning CW even though it is no longer required. Detailed looks and commentary on the fate of Morse code in the five years since the end of code testing will be published in the February issues of CQ and WorldRadio Online magazines.

(Editor's note: If you don't know what the Morse code message above says, this is your opportunity to start learning!)

APRS Weather Balloon Smashes Distance Record

Payload (including APRS transmitter)
of the record-setting weather balloon CNSP-11.
(Courtesy California Near Space Project)
An amateur radio weather balloon launched by a group of hams in California on December 11 flew across the United States and the Atlantic Ocean before landing in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Algeria three days later. The balloon was carrying a ham radio APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System) transmitter and was tracked by amateurs in North America and Europe as it made its record-smashing 6,236-mile journey. The flight nearly doubled the previous distance record of 3,361 miles. For complete details on the flight and the story behind it, see the "VHF-Plus" column in the February 2012 issue of CQ.

"End of Mission" for AO-51

Launch of AMSAT-Echo
(later AO-51) in 2004.
(AMSAT Photo)

As the 50th anniversary of the December 12, 1961 launch of OSCAR-1 approached in late November, controllers of AMSAT-OSCAR 51 announced that amateur satellite's "end of mission." AMSAT-NA Vice President of Operations Drew Glasbrenner, KO4MA, said, "It is with a heavy heart I report that AO-51 has ceased transmissions and is not responding to commands." AO-51 provided low-earth orbit satellite contacts for seven years before its batteries finally failed. The AMSAT News Service reports that the AO-51 command team will regularly attempt to communicate with the satellite over the coming months and years, in hopes that at least one of its batteries will come back to life.

AMSAT Seeks NASA Funding for Fox-1

The amateur satellite planned to replace AO-51 is called Fox-1, and in mid-November, AMSAT submitted the project for consideration in NASA's CubeSat Launch initiative, part of the space agency's educational programs. Educational components of the Fox-1 mission include incorporation in the ARRL's Teacher Institute seminars, according to the AMSAT News Service. 

Projects selected for the program will have their integration and launch costs paid by NASA, significantly easing the financial needs of the satellite builders.

AMSAT-DL Receives Signals From Mars Satellite

Artist's conception of Mars Science Laboratory in
operation on the red planet. (NASA/JPL CalTech photo)

Amateurs at the AMSAT-DL facility in Bochum, Germany, received telemetry signals from the NASA Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) satellite about seven hours after its recent launch. According to the AMSAT News Service, the satellite was more than 67,000 miles from Earth at the time of reception. This is believed to be the first reception of MSL signals outside of NASA's Deep Space Network. AMSAT-DL's Bochum facility is part of its work on the planned P5A amateur satellite to Mars mission.

Congress Considers Easing ITAR Restrictions

(Photo Courtesy Architect of the Capitol)
International cooperation on amateur satellite missions has become nearly impossible since the U.S. government's enactment of its International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR. The rules limit exchanges of technology between countries - even friendly countries - if that technology could possibly have military applications. Violators face stiff fines and possible jail terms. According to the AMSAT News Service, this rule has technically made AMSAT-NA a "munitions supplier," even though its satellite technology has always been strictly for civilian use.

Now, ANS reports that Congress is considering a bill -- H.R. 3288 -- which is aimed at easing ITAR restrictions on commercial satellite development and which, if passed, may once again permit amateur satellite groups around the world to collaborate on multinational ham radio satellite projects. More information, including bill tracking, is available at <>.

FCC Allows Implantable Medical Devices at 413-457 MHz

The FCC commissioners voted unanimously on November 30 to permit the use of implantable wireless medical devices that operate in spectrum between 413 and 457 MHz. This includes the entire 70-centimeter amateur band (420-450 MHz). These low-power devices, like amateur radio, will have a secondary allocation on the band (federal government radar is primary).
According to the ARRL Letter, Medical Micropower Networks will use multiple transmitters implanted in the body that will use electric currents to activate and monitor nerves and muscles in hopes of restoring mobility and function to people who have lost the use of limbs or organs. While there is little risk of interference to amateur radio from these ultra-low-power networks, there is concern that amateur transmitters may cause interference to these devices. The FCC is expected to issue a Report & Order specifying the new rules for these devices in the near future.

Ham Doctor Uses Radio Gear to Build New Cancer Surgery Tool

A surgeon at the University of Utah has used parts from a ham radio set to build a new tool for performing neurosurgical procedures. According to Southgate Amateur Radio News, Dr. Kim Manwaring, N7DFU, built the prototype in his basement, using parts from a ham rig and a tip made from a special alloy developed by a NASA engineer. The "FMwand" produces heat with no electricity and the special alloy heats and cools instantly, allowing the tool to be used for removing brain tumors or doing other neurosurgery that requires simultaneous cutting and cauterizing. Dr. Manwaring used the FMwand in three operations in December, including two spinal operations and one on a patient's brain. For more information, see <>.

Hams Asked to Help Run Down Satellite Batteries

Separation of the co-launched FASTRAC-1
and -2 satellites (Artist's conception).
Photo Courtesy University of Texas
It was kind of an unusual request -- we need your help to run down our batteries! The controllers of FASTRAC-1, a research satellite that is intended eventually to be opened for use by hams, noticed that one of its experiments was not booting up correctly. The only way to restart it is by rebooting everything, which can only happen if the battery voltages on board fall below a certain level. But the batteries have consistently held more charge than was needed for operations during the year-plus that the satellite has been in orbit.

So controllers decided to open the satellite for digipeating by hams, hoping that increased use -- especially over the weekend of December 10-11 -- would drain the batteries enough to prompt a reset. At press time in mid-December, there had been no word from controllers as to whether the maneuver worked. For updates, visit <>.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

WRO-Pop'Comm Live Internet Chat, Sunday, December 4

JOIN THE CHAT: Live combined WRO-Pop'Comm chat Sunday, December 4 with Editor Richard Fisher, KI6SN beginning @ 8 p.m. Eastern time (0100 UTC). To join in, at chat time, click here, or  visit: <>. Hope to see you there!