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Radio amateurs have a long history in satellites: first it was medium sized satellites in low earth and Molniya orbits, but after the free launch opportunities as a secondary payload on a major launch dried up, the attention turned to CubeSats. As part of educational support programmes, NASA and other launch agencies provide free launches for CubeSats while Russia, India and China offer inexpensive launch opportunities.

Es’hailsat footprint cover South Africa well and will provide 24/7 communication with Europe.

The quest for a geostationary amateur radio satellites has always been there but free launches into a geostationary orbit have up to now not materialised. This will soon change. In the next few years radio amateurs will have access to two geostationary platforms, one that will service the Americas and another one, particular attractive to South Africans, that will be  positioned at 26° East giving 24 hour access to Africa, Europe and the Middle East. These two geostationary projects will be included in commercial platforms similar to Amateur Radio Satellite (AMSAT) South Africa seeking to have an amateur radio transponder included in South Africa’s next satellite currently designated as EOS-1 (Earth Observation Satellite).

Following a proposal from the Qatar Amateur Radio Society, Es’Hailsat, the Qatar Satellite Company, announced that their new geostationary satellite, the Es’HailSat-2 communications spacecraft, will carry two transponders for use by radio amateurs.

Es’HailSat-2 will provide the first amateur radio geostationary communication capability linking Brazil and India with all areas in between. It will carry two AMSAT-DL-designed Phase 4 amateur radio transponders, consisting of one 250 kHz linear analogue transponder and an experimental digital modulation transponder with an 8 MHz bandwidth which is intended for digital experiments and DVB amateur television. The contract to build the two transponders was awarded to Mitsubishi Electric (Melco).

Uplinks will be in the 2.400-2.450 GHz range, and downlinks in the 10.450-10.500 GHz Amateur-Satellite Service allocations. Both transponders will be equipped with antennas capable of providing full coverage over about one-third of Earth’s surface. The Qatar Amateur Radio Society and Qatar Satellite Company are cooperating on the Amateur Radio project with AMSAT-DL (German Amateur Radio Satellite organisation) which is providing technical support.

On 28 December 2014 Es’HailSat-2 signed for a launch on Falcon 9, a two-stage rocket designed and manufactured by SpaceX. As the first rocket completely developed in the 21st century, Falcon 9 was designed from the ground up for maximum reliability and made history in 2012 when it delivered Dragon into the correct orbit for rendezvous with the International Space Station. Since then SpaceX has made a total of three flights to the space station, both delivering and returning cargo for NASA. Falcon 9, along with the Dragon spacecraft, was designed from the outset to deliver humans into space and under an agreement with NASA, SpaceX is actively working toward that goal.

Peter Gülzow, president of AMSAT DL, providing technical support for the amateur radio payload on Es’Hailsat.

“We have built and launched several successful amateur radio satellites and have pioneered new technologies that are today employed in commercial satellite projects,” Peter Gülzow, president of AMSAT DL said. One of the AMSAT DL developments is LEILA-2, a system that analyses the passband of the narrow band transponder and sends a marker tone on all stations that use too much uplink power. There will be two control stations, one in Doha with a back-up at AMSAT DL in Bochum, Germany.

“The idea that using frequencies in the 2 and 10 GHz  bands will limit the number of amateurs who will use the transponders because of the perceived high cost of a ground station is ill-founded as many of the components required are readily available on the commercial markets at low cost,” Peter said. The launch is scheduled for December 2016

In the US another amateur radio geostationary project is also taking shape. Researchers at the Ted and Karyn Hume Centre for National Security and Technology are preparing to send an amateur radio transponder into a geosynchronous orbit in 2017. “Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, a new ham band will be available for the Americas,” said Robert McGwier, research professor in the Bradly Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Hume Centre’s director of research. “It will allow rapid deployment to disaster areas and support long-haul communications for first responders.”

A geosynchronous orbit has the same period as the Earth’s rotation — just under 24 hours. A satellite in such an orbit is easy to locate and access. In this case, the satellite will always be within a band of longitudes over the Americas, continually accessible to radio amateurs, and students and researchers at the Virginia Tech Ground Station.

The satellite itself will be operated by Millennium Space Systems on behalf of the United States Air Force. The Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT) will operate the radio, which will be designed and built by Virginia Tech students — making this project a unique collaboration among the university, non-profit organisations, private companies, and the USA Federal Government.

One of the additional benefits of these two geostationary satellite projects is that new equipment will be developed that is relatively easy to replicate and will not burn a hole in the pockets of radio amateurs. This is perhaps a challenge to the amateur radio fraternity to remain innovative and development focused.

SA AMSAT will present a paper  describing how to set up your own inexpensive ground station at the Space Symposium on 28 May 2016 to be held at the Innovation Hub in Pretoria