August 10, 2011
On Wednesday, August 3rd, Sergei Volkov and Alexander Samokutyaev went for a walk. Not just your average stroll to the park mind you, Volkov and Samokutyaev are Expedition 28 Flight Engineers aboard the International Space Station. The two wouldn’t venture too far from the hatch on the Russian segment of ISS but during the six hour plus jaunt they circled Earth about four times at an altitude of 240 miles. These cosmonaut/handymen had quite a list of chores to take care of during their excursion. It wasn’t all fun and games.
ISS Expedition crew members generally spend about six months aboard the orbiting complex for what must be an incredible adventure. I would go in a heartbeat but I expect that not being able to go “outside” for 180 days or more must be the only negative about such an assignment. So, I figure going out on an “EVA” (extra vehicular activity) must be a real highlight to be looked forward to with much anticipation.
Sergei and Alexander’s “to do” list included the installation of a laser communications system, re-location of a boom system which is used to move large objects around on the outside of the Russian segment, the deployment of a couple of material science experiments and the tossing overboard of a small ham radio satellite, ARISSat-1.
ARISSat-1 is an amateur radio educational outreach project which is part of NASA’s STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) program to foster interest in science and technology among the youth of the world. The satellite was built by AMSAT U.S. and launched aboard a Russian Progress cargo vehicle.
It is a box, about 2 feet square weighing about 50 pounds. Its carrying a ham radio transmitter/receiver, four cameras and a “vacuum of space” experiment which was developed by Kursk university in Russia. ARISSat broadcasts greetings in 15 languages, a “secret word”, digital images from its cameras and telemetry data on the satellite’s status and the Kursk experiment. The satellite’s amateur radio callsign is RS01S.
The coolest thing about ARISat-1 is that anyone with a scanner or simple ham radio “handie talkie” should be able to hear the voice greetings. Licensed amateurs can communicate through the satellite. With an “all mode” ham radio, a computer and some freeware images from the satellite’s cameras and telemetry data can be downloaded. Simply install the freeware, connect a cable from the radio’s headphone, line out or speaker jack to the computer sound card and run the software.
Late in their spacewalk Wednesday afternoon following some questions as to whether ARISSat’s UHF antenna was in place the EVA 29 crew tossed the satellite overboard and it is now orbiting about a kilometer below ISS. Ham radio operators across the world have been listening, trying to catch the “secret word” and downloading images and telemetry data, myself included. I’ve captured telemetry data several times. The telemetry gives voltages, current, temperatures, power on the satellite’s solar panels and status of the various parts of the bird. Capturing an image has been a bit more challenging, but I have received part of a frame.
Left: Screen capture of telemetry data I captured during an ARISSat pass. The bar at the top is the morse code readout, below it the tuning spectrum display. Raw data file captures are displayed in the white box at the lower left and systems readout on the right. The top of the systems readout displays voltage and temperature of the satellite’s modules, the midsection the status of the various components. The six blocks at the bottom are status of each solar panel. K9GX photo
ARISSat’s transmitters are tiny. The data beacon is running just 1/10 watt. The FM beacon 1/4 watt.
For ARISSat pass times at your location, click the Heavens-Above link at the right and go to the “Amateur Radio Satellites” section. If you have a scanner radio, tune it to 145.950 FM, turn the squelch off and listen.