Friday, December 13, 2019

European Space Agency Issues Challenge to Hams

OPS-SAT satellite (European Space Agency photo)
The European Space Agency (ESA) is asking hams to help it track a new satellite right after launch and is offering an incentive for taking part. The satellite is called OPS-SAT and it's scheduled for launch on December 17. According to ESA, "OPS-SAT is a first-of-its-kind CubeSat dedicated purely to experimentation. It carries a wide variety of advanced payloads allowing ‘Experimenters’ to deploy and test their software and apps in space." You must apply to become an experimenter, but there's a form on the OPS-SAT website.
ESA is offering hams an incentive: "The first three radio amateurs to receive at least five correctly decoded frames and submit them to ESA get an exclusive invite to the OPS-SAT Experimenter day in March 2020, as well as a tour of the control facilities and ground stations at ESA in Darmstadt, and of course a certificate."
Details on launch time, frequencies, etc., as well as a link to the experimenter application form, are at <>. (Tnx Billy Bloom)

ARRL Committee Drafting New Antenna Bill

Members of the ARRL board of directors' Legislative Advocacy Committee are working on the wording of a new bill to give amateurs greater antenna rights in communities subject to private land-use restrictions. This would be the successor to the Amateur Radio Parity Act, which did not see final action in Congress amid complaints from many hams that it offered too little protection and might actually make some antenna installations more difficult than the already are. The ARRL Letter reports that committee members have met several times with members of Congress and their staffs as they work on drafting the new bill.

Hams Lose Special Exemptions on RF Exposure Rules

The first major revision of the FCC's RF exposure rules in more than 20 years will result in changes in the way that hams must apply the rules. The ARRL Letter reports that the basic limits remain unchanged, but that amateurs will now be subject to the same standards for evaluating RF exposure as other FCC licensees. The current rules provide a framework specific to amateurs that exempts certain transmitters from the need to conduct evaluations based on their power and operating frequencies [see Section 97.13(c)(1) of the rules]. 

The new rules will replace that framework with a general statement that "amateur licensees may evaluate their operation with respect to members of his or her immediate family using the occupational/controlled exposure limits" already in the rules while potential RF exposure to other people "must be evaluated with respect to the general population/uncontrolled exposure limits." 

The practical impact on most amateurs, according to the FCC, will be negligible, noting that a transmitter that had been categorically excluded from evalution in the past most likely will remain exempt. The ARRL is asking the FCC to provide an online calculator with which to make determinations about RF exposure measurements.

ARRL Executive Committee Meets With FCC

ARRL President Rick Roderick, K5UR; Washington Counsel Dave Siddall, K3ZJ, and several members of the League's Executive Committee met with various FCC officials in Washington in early November. According to the ARRL Letter, topics discussed included the RF exposure rule changes described above, the digital date symbol rate proceeding, expansion of the 60-meter band in accordance with international provisions adopted at the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference, and the ongoing problem of insufficient enforcement in the amateur bands and the startup of the ARRL's new Volunteer Monitor program.

ARRL and AMSAT to Oppose 3.3 GHz Proposal

The FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking at its December 12
 meeting to provide more spectrum for wireless broadband by removing non-federal users from the 3.1 to 3.55 GHz band. This includes the 9-centimeter amateur band at 3.3-3.5 GHz (allocated to hams on a secondary basis).

In a separate proceeding, the ARRL Letter reports, the Commission also decided to "take a fresh and comprehensive look" at current allocations in the 5.9-GHz band, including a secondary amateur allocation at 5650-5925 MHz. Both the ARRL and AMSAT say they will file comments in opposition to removing any amateur allocations in these bands.

Updated Forecast for Solar Cycle 25 Predicts Solar Minimum This Spring, Maximum in 2025

Updated forecast for Solar Cycle 25 (far right)
in comparison with Cycles 23 and 24.
(NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center image)

An international panel of solar experts has released an updated prediction for Cycle 25. The group is chaired by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA.

The December 9 forecast update continues the previous prediction that Cycle 25 will be of average intensity and similar to currently-ending Cycle 24. A more specific timing prediction forecasts that official solar minimum between Cycles 24 and 25 will come this April (+/- 6 months) and that Cycle 25 will peak in July, 2025 (+/- 8 months) with a maximum smoothed sunspot number of 115.

The update notes that, if the April 2020 forecast minimum is correct, Cycle 24 will have lasted 11.4 years and will be the 7th-longest on record.

WRC-19: Hams Gain Worldwide Allocation at 6 Meters; New Threat to 10 GHz

The 2019 World Radiocom- munication Conference (WRC-19) in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt, has concluded with a win for hams who enjoy six meters. The band is now designated for amateur radio use in all three ITU regions, opening the door for future amateur allocations on 50 MHz in additional countries, especially in ITU Region 1 (Europe, the Middle East and Africa). [See previous story below for more details]

However, a new threat emerged at the conference as the delegates agreed on agenda items to work on for the next WRC, in 2023. Among those items is a proposal to study the possible use of several microwave bands for future cellphone use, including 10-10.5 GHz, the 3-centimeter amateur band. The "VHF-Plus" column in the February issue of CQ will discuss these issues affecting amateur microwave bands in more detail.

ARRL Calls on FCC to Dismiss NYU Petition on Encoded Messages

The ARRL says a petition for declaratory ruling about encoded messages on the ham bands should be dismissed. As we reported last month, New York University asked the FCC to issue a declaratory ruling clarifying that its rule prohibiting hams from transmitting "messages in codes or ciphers intended to obscure the meaning thereof" also applies to "effectively encrypted or encoded messages" that "cannot be readily decoded over the air for true meaning." The focus of the petition is Winlink, along with PACTOR and similar modes, in which transmissions can only be decoded by a single linked station. NYU says this makes it difficult for amateurs to self-police.
The ARRL response, according to the ARRL Letter, is that the requested ruling would make clear language vague and could actually weaken the current prohibition on "messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning." The League pointed out that Morse code transmissions are "effectively encoded" even though there is no intent to obscure the meaning of the message, and argues that adopting the proposed changes would hobble "vibrant experimentation with digital techniques."

More Countries Grant Hams Access to 5 MHz Band

A growing list of countries is permitting amateur use of the 5 MHz band, in accordance with a decision made at the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference. The ARRL Letter reports that Kuwait has opened 60 meters to ham use, Israel has extended a temporary authorization through the end of 2023, and access is under consideration in Australia. Nearly 80 countries now permit some level of amateur access to the 5-MHz band.
Here in the US, the ARRL reports that an FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is expected soon on adding the frequency range adopted at WRC-15 to the current five permitted channels. The League has asked that current US power levels (which are higher than the WRC-15 recommendations) be retained, while also keeping current US frequencies in addition to the allocation approved at WRC-15.

Melissa Pore, KM4CZN, Named 2020 Educator of the Year

Melissa Pore, KM4CZN
(Photo from KM4CZN's page)
Melissa Pore, KM4CZN, has been selected as the Orlando Hamcation's Carole Perry Educator of the Year for 2020. The award honors both professional and non-professional educators for outstanding contributions toward educating and advancing youth in amateur radio. Pore is a  high school teacher in Virginia who is also heavily involved in the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program.

Pore teaches engineering and technology at Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia, and is involved with the school's amateur radio and engineering clubs. She also led the effort that resulted in the launch of STMSat-1, the first satellite ever built by elementary school students. Pore has made presentations, often with her students, at various conferences of space educators and is a member of the ARISS U.S. Education Team that evaluates applications for school contacts via amateur radio with astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

The Carole Perry Educator of the Year Award is sponsored by the Orlando Amateur Radio Club, and is named in honor of legendary ham educator Carole Perry. WB2MGP. Pore will receive her award at the Orlando HamCation in February.

Hamvention® Looks to the (More Expensive) Future

The Dayton Hamvention® has adopted a theme of "Amateur Radio, The Future" for its 2020 show, along with what it describes as a "modest increase" in ticket and booth prices. Citing "the economic pressures to present a show like Hamvention," the Dayton Amateur Radio Association said 2020 ticket prices will increase by $4; flea market spaces will each cost $5 more and inside booths will see a price hike of $30 each. 
The "future" theme appears to embrace the past as well, with General Chairman Jack Gerbs, WB8SCT, noting that "as we move to the future, we still enjoy the technologies of the past, from tubes to transistors to chips and, now, microprocessors, ASICS and SOCs." Amateur radio, says DARA, has always played a role in communication developments and will continue to do so in the future.

India's Vice President Introduces News Ham Radio Book

S. Suri, VU2MY, founder and Chairman Emeritus of India's National Institute of Amateur Radio (NIAR), has received some high-powered help in promoting his new introductory book about amateur radio in India, All About Amateur Radio / Ham Radio. Suri presented a copy of the book to Indian Vice President Shri. M. Venkaiah Naidu, who promptly put out a tweet with a photo and commented that the book "highlights the importance of ham radio…" Suri added that the Vice President spent a considerable amount of time with the group of hams, said he had been aware for several years of NIAR and the good work that it has done. The book may be ordered online from Flipkart at <>.

IARU Looks to Its Own Future

The president of the International Amateur Radio Union is challenging member societies to make changes needed to keep them, the IARU and amateur radio itself, relevant in the future. According to the ARRL Letter, IARU President Tim Ellam, VE6SH/G4HUA, told the group's administrative council last fall that amateur radio is changing but that the IARU and its member societies are not.

After a lengthy discussion, the participants agreed to work on four major challenges:

  • What is amateur radio?
  • The roles of the IARU and its members
  • Recruitment into amateur radio, and
  • IARU finances

The group also agreed to try to identify and involve younger people who "could take ownership of these topics" in addressing these challenges.

Hams in California Support Terrorist Response Drill

Ham radio played a significant role in a major terrorist response drill in southern California in early November. The ARRL Letter reports that some 70 ham volunteers were deployed to 30 hospitals, clinics and emergency operations centers during the drill, which simulated a coordinated attack at two locations 50 miles apart. The hams relayed hundreds of messages via voice nets and Winlink.

A New Model for Amateur Satellites

HuskySat-1 in University of Washington
lab prior to launch (University of
Washington photo)
AMSAT says the recently-launched HuskySat-1 satellite provides a new model for cooperation between the amateur satellite organization and educational institutions. According to the AMSAT News Service, this is the first instance of an AMSAT radio (a linear transponder in the ham bands) flying on a non-AMSAT satellite, the University of Washington's HuskySat-1. 

Under a split licensing arrangement with the FCC, HuskySat-1 will perform its scientific experiments under the supervision of the university and use a Part 5 experimental license to transmit its results back to Earth. When the experiments are completed later this year, UW will turn control of the satellite over to AMSAT, which will then activate the Part 97 amateur transponder. AMSAT says this opens the door for amateur radio payloads on future cubesat missions which (like this one) do not qualify for Part 97's so-called educational exemption. Details on HuskySat-1's mission are at <>.

AMSAT-South Africa Shifts Focus to Digital

South Africa's amateur satellite organization, AMSAT-SA, is shifting its cubesat development focus away from traditional analog transponders and toward digital SDR (software-defined radio) model. The group is currently working on two projects - the analog KLETSKous transponder which has already flown and performed well on a high-altitude balloon flight - and the SDR-based AfriCUBE. 

The South African Radio League reports that the AfriCUBE transponder development has reached a point at which it will soon be ready for field testing. The KLETSKous project is not being abandoned, says AMSAT-SA, but is being put on hold while a new lead developer is recruited, as the previous leader has had to step aside due to personal commitments.

Flocks of Woodpeckers?

Waterfall display of Russian over-the-horizon radar signal on 20 meters.
(From IARU Region 1 Monitoring System website)
The International Amateur Radio Union's Region 1 Monitoring System is reporting that Russian over-the-horizon radar signals have been picked up on the 40, 30, 20 and 17-meter ham bands, along with Russian military communica- tions on 40, 30, 20 and 15 meters. 

The ARRL Letter reports that the radar signals are 12 kHz wide, making 40 sweeps per second and using FM on pulse. An additional over-the-horizon radar was reported in northern Iran, operating between 6.078 and 7.022 MHz, with 81 sweeps per second and AM on pulse over a 44-kHz bandwidth. 

(For those of you too young to remember it, the woodpecker reference in the title refers to early Russian OTH radar, back in the 1970s, which sounded like a woodpecker as it swept through the HF bands.)


Good News/Bad News for Jamboree on the Air

Overall participation in the scouting movement's 2019 Jamboree on the Air (JOTA) was down slightly compared with 2018, according to Newsline, with reports received from 201 stations at which over 9100 Scouts and nearly 4700 visitors participated. However, it was noted that even though fewer stations took part in the October event, those stations that did participate hosted more people than in past years, with an average increase of 24% at each station. 

More information is available on the K2BSA website at <>.

Newsline Introduces "International Newsmaker of the Year" Award

Amateur Radio Newsline has announced the winner of its first "International Newsmaker of the Year" award - India's West Bengal Radio Club. 

The group has 285 active members and goes beyond ham radio in providing community service. In addition to providing critical communications during natural disasters, the West Bengal club transmits election results from rural polling stations and teaches farmers how to protect themselves from lightning while working in the fields. According to Newsline, nearly all of the group's communications are done via simplex, as it has no budget for a repeater and sometimes borrows equipment from the National Institute of Amateur Radio in Hyderabad.
The Newsline "International Newsmaker of the Year" award honors amateur radio groups that have consistently shown leadership and commitment to the ham radio community.