ARISSat–Successful Deployment (Sort of)

Like so many fellow hams I follow on Twitter, Facebook and Google+, yesterday I sat glued to a small 6 inch window which showed the events unfolding up at the ISS (International Space Station) during the launch attempt of the ARISSat-1, amateur radio satellite.  The 6 inch window was a browser window I had sized to fit in the upper corner of my screen so I could also still work. 

I had heard of the ARISSat-1 launch a few days before and to be honest at the time I wasn’t aware of just how the satellite would be launched.  The past few days have been busy for me at work and the assumption was it would blast into orbit on the back of  a Titan rocket along with other payload.  It really wasn’t until I began streaming the NASA channel (since Comcast doesn’t offer it) that I realized the event wasn’t going to be as “eventful” as I had first thought.


My morning started off busy like most and the spacewalk had already begun by the time I settled in to watch.  The two Russian spacewalkers were already outside of the ISS with ARISSat-1 in hand.  I heard mention ARISSat-1 weighs in at 70 pounds and appeared to be about the size of a toaster oven.  At one point the satellite was un-tethered and  perhaps moments from being launched when it became clear something was missing from the satellite.  The missing item was the 70cm UHF uplink antenna.

This immediately caused a flurry of conversation on Twitter and Google+ regarding what happened to the 70cm antenna.  Really unsure just how the ARISSat-1 arrived to the ISS, I tweeted “I wonder if anyone found an extra antenna in the glove box of Atlantis STS-135”.  Others imagined it sitting behind some books or boxes on someone’s desk back on Earth.  Of course, it could have easily been floating around in the ISS.  We later heard an update which ruled out the missing antenna was on Atlantis as the ARISSat-1 arrived some time ago on board a Russian supply mission. 

The launch of ARISSat-1 was the first of several projects to be completed during the EVA.  The Russian spacewalkers eventually returned the satellite to the holding bay and started work on project number 2 which was to install a laser based communication system.  The comedy of errors continued.  At one point one of the two Russian spacewalkers either unscrewed a wing nut or was trying to attach a wing nut.  It went missing and was then discovered floating off into the deepest, darkest depths of space.  More space junk?

This little boo-boo spurred more chuckles on social media and the entire event sort of reminded many of us of a typical field day weekend.  It also reminded me of the time I had left my house on a Saturday morning for a DAREC training meeting.  We were meeting just a few miles away from my house and I was extremely early.  So early that I realized I had my hand-held, but no antenna.  I quickly returned home to grab the antenna and still made it to the meeting with time to spare.  Of course…returning to Earth to pickup the 70cm antenna was out of the question and this was well outside of the scope of “What can brown (UPS) do for you”?

My morning soon turned into lunchtime and I had a 12:30 dentist appt.  By the time I arrived back home it was a little after 2 PM.  I checked in with friends on Twitter to learn they had launched ARISSat-1 successfully without the 70cm antenna.  This left many of us on earth scratching our heads.  I saw this posted on Google+ “It appears that ARISSat-1 was deployed…without the UHF antenna. My brain keeps saying WTF?”


While I (and many) found humor and poked fun at the events unfolding some 240nm above Earth, the brave men and women (regardless of nationality) are true modern day pioneers.  The duties performed are as important as those performed hundreds of years ago by names like Columbus, Magellan, Lewis & Clark and two brothers named Wright.  These duties are performed in an environment which very few could or would even want to journey.  Thank you to all these modern day pioneers for what you contribute to the rest of us on Earth.

As I said, once I returned around 2:15 PM MT, ARISSat-1 was tumbling away from the ISS.  I guess the decision to launch without the 70cm antenna was weighed against the next scheduled EVA wasn’t until February 2012.  It was confirmed the missing antenna will have no impact to the satellites ability to transmit to stations on earth, and receiving capabilities will only be marginally impacted.  ARISSat-1 was given a gentle push by one of the two Russian spacewalkers and it began its 1-3 month journey.

Hams all around the world began pointing their antennas to the sky in hopes of receiving the signals from ARISSat-1.  Images like the one below slowly began making their way into social media streams.  This one received by Peter Goodhall, 2E0SQL in the United Kingdom.  This was a low elevation pass, but clearly shows the onboard cameras are active and audio was also received.  Similar images and audio have been received by many other hams and will continue to do so for many weeks to follow.


If you would like to learn more about the ARISSat-1 Satellite and working satellites in general, please check out the AMSAT website.  You might also find this document a helpful read.  In the US, hams holding at least a technician class license can operate most amateur radio satellites with nothing more than a dual-band hand-held transceiver and an external antenna.  There are many plans available on the internet (Google is your friend) on how to construct your own.  Also, the Arrow II satellite antenna is used by many hams (including myself).  Check out this link for this antenna and watch videos by Randy Hall, K7AGE.  Randy also produces many other helpful “how to” videos and makes them available on his Youtube channel.  Please check them out.

Until next time…

73 de KD0BIK

Jerry Taylor, KD0BIK, is a regular contributor to and writes from Colorado, USA. He is the host of the Practical Amateur Radio Podcast. Contact him at [email protected].

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