[Ground-station] Amateur Radio in Space - presentations coming up at DEFCON, Goddard, ESA, etc.

Hugh Brown aardvark at saintaardvarkthecarpeted.com
Sun Jun 24 19:19:37 EDT 2018

Michelle Thompson via Ground-Station wrote:
> What I'd like to articulate is the role we really want cubesat developers
> to incorporate. I want any of us to be able to speak to that, and represent
> it, and be supported with quality materials.
> That is, we need to promote the development of relevant, cutting edge,
> reliable communications resources that amateurs can enjoy and use, that
> also contribute to advancing the state of the art.
> I would like some help with creation, comment, and critique of this message
> and a refinement of the points and examples.
> What are the most important talking points? What should we be fighting for?
> That's what I want to capture and present.

Hi Michelle -- I'm new to amateur radio...but this discussion reminds
me a lot of a previous job as sysadmin at a small university research
institute, and trying to ensure that I was present when grant
applications were being planned.  If a faculty member wasn't working
closely with me already, it wouldn't occur to them that the sysadmin
(with no degree and no direct role in their lab) might be able to help
with planning, or even need to know what purchases were being made.
("The servers are here...where do you want them, and when can we get
access to them?")

The best way I found was to emphasize that, as a sysadmin, I could
help them achieve their goals (faster research results, better
experience for lab members, etc) by being involved and aware early in
the process.  Sometimes that meant getting into the weeds about CPU
price/performance tradeoffs...sometimes that just meant pointing out
that their new microscope would need X TB of bulk storage, and they
should budget for that.  

There are a few benefits I can think of that amateur radio and open
source could offer both researchers and industry:

- the prospects of reliable, tested, constantly-improving data rates
through open source codecs and data formats (similar to the benefits
of using open-source tools like Python/Jupyter/R for data analysis, or
using TCP/IP for communication instead of having to come up with
something yourself)...there is a *lot* of similarity to the "don't
re-invent things, the Linux/SciPy/R programmers have done that
already" argument

- the ability to use freely-available, proven designs for comms
hardware, designed by a highly capable set of engineers, rather than
having to settle for low-speed COTS 

- the chance to engage with a highly capable community (that's us!)
who are able to not only help receive and forward telemetry, but
devote time to helping make their mission a success (thinking here of
all the folks who track down cubesat deploys and verify TLEs)

- for .edu folks, this might be a way to get other departments to join
the mission ("Hey, our communications engineering students can work on
this open source transceiver/ground station")

- for industry, the chance to shape (in the best possible way) what
can become *the* standards that will be used for communications, and
to benefit from the expertise of others

- publicity for your lab/project/company (being an author on papers
that come out of the project; being recognized as a Platinum Level
Sponsor, like membership in the Linux Foundation)

As for what to ask for...space in a satellite, and resources for
amateurs (no news there).  Some folks (thinking here about folks like
Planet, with their huge flocks of cubesats) may well have
room/power/etc to spare and an interest in testing something
cutting-edge.  Emphasizing the early access to better comms, and the
publicity they can get, may make this an easy sell.  

For .edu folks, this may take some tweaking; whether let by a PI or an
undergrad society, there is going to be a lot of time and money poured
into what will seem like one-and-only-one shot at launch.  Perhaps an
attractive offer would be a design that does reliable thing X -- and
if we can get 10% of transceiver time to test speculative thing Y,
we'll offer consulting/integration help/whatever.

I'm spitballing all this.  Some of those things may be at odds with
the usual satellite development imperatives (stick with something that
works).  How does this sound to you?


Hugh Brown

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