We have just received word from our ARISS Mentor, Dave Jordan, AA4KN – Our ISS Crew Contact will take place on Friday, December 7th at approximately 1:45 pm EST. Activities on-site will begin with some videos and station tours before the contact.
We will be using the Nashua Area Radio Society callsign, N1FD, for our contact with NA1SS. We believe that our contact will be with Serena Aunon-Chancellor, KG5TMT. We are all very, very excited to hear the news!
This date/time was our second choice and the ISS will be on a good pass reaching a maximum elevation of 48 degrees at Time of Closest Approach (TCA). Our contact with the ISS will last about 10 minutes.
We are just awaiting notification of the final date and time for our contact and we’ll begin final setup and testing at HMS.
We’ve been sharing our progress as we’ve on the Nashua Area Radio Society’s Youth Forum as we have worked through our final preparations. I also would like to share a summary here along with some insights on what we’ve learned along the way.
An ISS Crew Contact is No Small Undertaking …
We have been working for almost a year now to get ready for our contact. We’ve built and tested two space ground stations and we’ve discovered and addressed several performance and reliability issues with these stations during trial deployments at Field Day, Ham Fests, License Classes, and during testing here at our QTH.
Dave, K1DLM who is a member of NARS had extensive professional sound experience and was able to help us with this part of our project.
Dave put together a professional-level A-V system design to support our contact and provided much of the gear to realize the design. His uses a pair of communications microphones, a pro-mixer, and audio interface gear to provide student and radio audio to the sound system in the auditorium at HMS as well as to an array of video cameras. The system makes extensive use of XLR cabling and pro-level devices to ensure clean audio.
Video Presence on the Internet is an Important Element to Draw Interest in a Project Such as Ours…
We Live Streamed some of our Station Testing activities to Facebook and we were amazed at the interest and response that we received. Many folks worldwide followed our progress on Facebook in real-time as we set up and completed our full station test.
We are planning to have two IP Video Cameras Live Streaming to Facebook during our contact. One in the room to provide video of the students as they talk with the astronaut on the ISS and a second on our antennas as they track the ISS.
Its Critically Important to Test the Complete Station Ahead Of Time – New Challenges Emerged when we Mixed Audio and Radio Gear…
We set up the full station (Primary and Backup) along with all of the Audio and Video Gear about 3 weeks prior to our contact for a complete system test. We learned a great deal in doing this and we encountered several problems which we have since corrected.
The most important issues did not show themselves until we made some contacts with all of the A-V gear in place. We had problems with RF aggravated ground loops in the radio microphone circuits during the initial test. These problems did not show themselves until we added the audio mixer and sound system into the station.
These problems were easily corrected by adding Audio Isolation Transformers into the radio microphone circuits.
We also solved some potential issues related to level differences between line and microphone audio circuits using Audio Attenuators.
These problems were not difficult to solve but they would have seriously degraded our contact if we had not discovered them early while there was still plenty of time to secure parts and retest.
Data Networks in Schools and Public Places Require Configuration Adjustments to Support Contact Elements…
Schools and other public places typically do a good job of protecting their data networks and users from threats from both the Internet and within the venue. Tracking Programs, IP Cameras for Live Streaming, and other contact support gear are not typical devices that would be in operation on such networks. Also, many public venues rely almost exclusively on WiFi for access to the Internet and typically prohibit or severely limit client devices from communicating with each other.
WiFi can often suffer from RF interference issues when many devices like Smart Phones are located together in a small area. This situation is common in large gatherings.
Data System for ISS Contact
We had quite a bit of experience with these problems as part of other school projects we’ve done. We worked closely with the IT staff at HMS to plan for and create a network design to support our contact. We opted to use a wired network approach with a local Ethernet switch to implement the IP communications between the elements in our stations and the associated IP Cameras.
The IT team at HMS configured their network to ensure that the IP addresses of our devices were fixed in DHCP and that devices that needed access to the Internet had the access that they required. The IP cameras where the most challenging elements here.
Packed and Ready to Go…
Well, all of our gear is packed and ready to go for setup on-site at HMS. The next article in this series will cover the on-site set up for our contact.
We are counting down to our ISS crew contact which will take place during the first week in December. Steps in our final preparations are taking place on almost a daily basis now. Several of us visited Hudson Memorial School yesterday to work out final plans for setting up our ground stations and the supporting Audio Visual and Data Systems.
We are also working closely with the ARISS team to finalize our contact details including prioritizing candidate ISS passes, finalizing student questions, etc.
We are posting frequent updates in the Youth Forum on the Nashua Area Radio Society website and I thought that some of our readers here might be interested in seeing these posts too. You can follow the link above to check for what will likely be new updates on our progress every few days.
Our planned ISS Crew Contact is almost here! It will take place sometime during the first week of December (December 3rd – 8th) at the Hudson Memorial School (HMS) here in Hudson, NH. I am planning a series of articles here on our blog to explain the process for preparing our ground station(s) and making our contact.
Dan Pooler, AC1EN who is a teacher at HMS began this process almost a year ago by reaching out to the Nashua Area Radio Society. Dan wanted to do an ISS Crew Contact at his school and asked if we would help him with the Amateur Radio elements.
We decided early on that we wanted a Direct contact (one which uses an on-site Amateur Radio Ground Station).
Transceiver with 50–100 W output, 1 kHz tuning steps, and 21 memories capable of storing split frequencies
Low-loss coax (such as 9913 or LMR-400)
Mast mounted receive pre-amplifier
14 element yagi antenna with switchable circular polarity
Antenna rotators for azimuth (0–360°) and elevation (0–180°), with an interface for computer control
Computer running tracking software for antenna control (including flip mode operation)
The ARISS approach is to used a series of “secret” uplink frequencies which are determined and provided only to the contact operators before each contact. Doppler correction is not required on the 2m band where the crew contacts take place.
Our 2.0 Station has an 8 element yagi with fixed polarity. This requirement turned out to have a much more significant impact on the design of the Primary Ground Station than just changing the antenna and ultimately led to the construction of our Portable Satellite Station 3.0. More on this in a minute…
The Backup Station
The backup station requirements are as follows:
Transceiver with 50–100 W output, 1 kHz tuning steps, and 21 memories capable of storing split frequencies
Power amplifier with 100–200W output (optional)
Mast mounted receive pre-amplifier
Omnidirectional antenna, either vertical (preferred) or eggbeater style
Uninterruptible power source (UPS or battery)
After consulting with the ARISS folks and some thought, we decided to use the then current Satellite Station 2.0 as the Backup Station and build a new Satellite Station 3.0 for use as the Primary Station. This approach also involved installing a larger rotator to accommodate the larger antenna and a heavier fiberglass cross-boom. The 3.0 station would also receive a more capable antenna for the 70 cm band and add a 23 cm antenna for a third band.
The plan included upgrading the 2.0 Station Antennas to include switchable polarity and the addition of a 200W power amplifier for 2 m to compensate for the reduced gain of the smaller 8 element yagi in the 2.0 station.
Building The Primary Station
The construction and testing of the 3.0 Station are well covered in articles on our Blog so I’ll just share a little information about the final result. The new antenna system used the same ground-based roof tower arrangement that worked so well for the 2.0 station. The larger 3.0 antennas are center mounted on a fiberglass cross boom to prevent the boom from affecting the antenna patterns. We’ve also added a 23 cm loop yagi for a third band. The 3.0 antenna system also uses a more powerful Azimuth-Elevation Rotator from Alfa-Spid.
The new 2 m and 70 cm antennas use relays at their feed point to enable remote switching of the antenna’s polarity between Left-Hand and Right-Hand circular polarity.
The upgraded 3.0 ground station adds a control console for switch the polarity of the antennas and a custom built PPT Router Device to manage PTT sequencing of the radio and the pre-amplifiers at the antennas.
We continue to use the excellent MacDoppler software to control tracking and Doppler correction in the 3.0 Station.
Building The Backup Station
The upgrades to the 2.0 Antenna System involved the installation of Polarity Switching relays in the feedpoints of the 2.0 antennas. This upgrade was a fairly straightford one.
The ground station side was more involved as we needed to build a complete, second station. I was able to purchase an Icom IC-910H radio used in good condition for this purpose. The rest of the station components were similar to the Primary Station.
We tested the Backup Station at our Fall Technician License Class and it worked great! several of our class students used the station to make their first satellite contacts.
I am currently working on adding the 2 m amplifier and improving the PTT sequencing system on the Backup Station and I plan to post more about these upgrades in here in the near future.
Audio System for Our Contact
Our contact will take place in the auditorium at HMS. The room has a high-quality sound system and mixing board for audio.
Dave, K1DLM is part of our ISS Crew Contact Team, and he has quite a bit of pro-level audio experience. He has put together the following plan for our Audio System. His design allows us to smoothly transfer audio to and from either the Primary or the Back Stations. We are also planning to record video and Livestream video to the N1FD Facebook page during our contact, and his design supports these elements as well.
The final element in our plan is the Data System. The network at HMS is very tightly controlled from a security point of view and this makes it difficult to use for contact critical functions like access to up to date Keplerian Elements for our straightforward. Dave has an LTE-based Internet Access System that we have used in the past and we’ve elected to use this to support our stations. We are planning to use the HMS network to transport the Livestream video from our contact. We’ll be using a Mevo Internet Camera for this purpose.
A Million Details…
As you can probably imagine, there a many details that go into making a project like this possible. Here’s a rough timeline of some of the major remaining steps from a Ground Station point of view:
Assemble both stations at our QTH with the 2m amplifier and the final 215′ control cables and feed lines – In progress, should be complete in a few days.
Full Station Test – add the Audio and Data System components and test the full station at our QTH – Within a week.
Configure and Test Data Network Access – for Live Streaming Video and computers and HMS.
Setup Ground Station at HMS and perform Dry Run Test – Complete by December 1st.
Dan and the HMS faculty team are also very busy finalizing the student’s questions and handle press related activities.
We hope our readers will join us via the Livestream video for our contact. We’ll post more on this as we get closer to our contact!
The video above is a capture of the school’s contact. It was very easy to receive the ISS downlink on our portable backup ground station. I heard the downlink a few seconds before the ISS came up on the horizon and the audio was solid for the duration of the contact. We can only hear the astronaut’s side of the contact as we cannot receive the school’s uplink from Raleigh, NC. The ISS pass began here in New Hampshire part way through the school’s session so we did not hear the first few questions.
Update on Portable ISS/Sat Station 3.0
Portable ISS/Sat Station 3.0 Antenna System
Work on our upgraded primary Portable 3.0 Station which includes a larger antenna system using switchable circular polarity is progressing well. The portable tower, upgraded rotator system, and the new, larger 2m and 70cm circularly polarized antennas are complete. We are just waiting for a few additional components to arrive here and the upgraded portable ground station should be ready for its first test at our Technician License Class later this month.
More on Today’s ISS Crew Contact
You can see a live stream of the ISS Contact from the school above. There is a great deal of planning which goes into an ISS Crew Contact such as this. We are working closely with Hudson Memorial School on their project and their school is also beginning a High-Altitude Balloon Project with us in a few weeks.
The ISS Crew Contact today was exciting to listen too and we are looking forward to being able to share this experience with Hudson Memorial School in the near future.