First amateur radio in geosynchronous orbit will aid disaster communications

December 22, 2015 by Eleanor Nelsen
First amateur radio in geosynchronous orbit will aid disaster communications
Hume Center Director of Research Robert McGwier (right) and research associate Zachary Lefke are building radio antennas that will be used in the Virginia Tech Ground Station.

Researchers at the Ted and Karyn Hume Center 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, a research professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Hume Center's director of research. "It will allow rapid deployment to disaster areas and support long-haul communications for first responders."

This would be the first amateur or "ham" payload in a geosynchronous orbit, and would significantly enhance communications capabilities for amateur radio operators, in particular following natural disasters or other emergency situations. The Hume Center team met with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate in September to discuss the project.

There are more than 2 million amateur radio operators around the world, and the community has a long history of assisting with emergency communications when traditional communications networks collapse, because they typically rely on cell towers and the Internet. Ham radio signals require only compact, mobile equipment that can be easily transported to an emergency site.

"Hams show up at every disaster, no matter what," said McGwier, referring to amateur radio operators. After events like Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunami, "for days, the only way that people communicated out of those communities was amateur radio."

In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency signed an agreement in 2014 with the American Radio Relay League, also known as ARRL, that describes how the two organizations will work together to provide disaster relief, and the Federal Communications Commission has specific regulations authorizing the use of amateur radio in situations which threaten life or property.

But even amateur radio isn't always available.

Currently, most amateur radio operators communicate by bouncing their signals off the ionosphere. Solar flares, geomagnetic storms, and other events that change the condition of the ionosphere can affect the efficiency of radio signal propagation, making it unpredictable.

Sending radio signals to a satellite, instead, would be much more dependable, allowing radio operators to help emergency personnel reliably access supplies, logistical support, and medical assistance. They key is to ensure that the satellite would always be accessible to the radio operators—which is why the geosynchronous orbit is critical.

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 any amateur radio operator there, including the 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, also known as AMSAT, will operate the radio, which will be designed and built by Virginia Tech students—making this project a unique collaboration among the university, nonprofit organizations, private companies, and the federal government.

The Hume Center team is also engineering a ground terminal that emergency personnel could use to relay their own existing communications channels through the . This setup could be deployed through the American Radio Relay League and the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation as a key part of a robust national response system, allowing trained operators to reliably mobilize to disaster areas in the first critical hours after a devastating event.

Explore further: Ham video premiers on space station

Related Stories

Ham video premiers on space station

May 6, 2014

Astronauts on the International Space Station can now talk with people on Earth with video using simple transmitters. 'Ham TV' has been set up in ESA's Columbus laboratory and already used for talking with ground control.

EDRS-A and its laser are ready to fly

December 9, 2015

After a year-long wait in storage for a Proton rocket to become available, the EDRS-A laser communications payload and its Eutelsat host satellite are finally at the Baikonur cosmodrome and being prepared for launch in late ...

Looking at Jupiter's radio frequencies

September 10, 2014

In the visible spectrum, Jupiter is a bright, star-like point in the night sky. Viewing it with the naked eye, it would be easy to confuse it with a star except for the fact that it doesn't twinkle. At radio frequencies ...

Croatian pupils mark EU entry with astronaut chat

June 26, 2013

A group of pupils at a Zagreb high school on Wednesday marked their country's July 1 entry into the European Union by talking to an astronaut at the International Space Station (ISS).

Recommended for you

Hubble catches a transformation in the Virgo constellation

December 9, 2016

The constellation of Virgo (The Virgin) is especially rich in galaxies, due in part to the presence of a massive and gravitationally-bound collection of over 1300 galaxies called the Virgo Cluster. One particular member of ...

Scientists sweep stodgy stature from Saturn's C ring

December 9, 2016

As a cosmic dust magnet, Saturn's C ring gives away its youth. Once thought formed in an older, primordial era, the ring may be but a mere babe – less than 100 million years old, according to Cornell-led astronomers in ...

Khatyrka meteorite found to have third quasicrystal

December 9, 2016

(Phys.org)—A small team of researchers from the U.S. and Italy has found evidence of a naturally formed quasicrystal in a sample obtained from the Khatyrka meteorite. In their paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.