An amateur radio station on Columbus

1. Columbus : the main European contribution to the International Space Station (ISS)
Mankind's outpost in Space, the International Space Station, is a common scientific exploration effort of 16 nations: the United States , Canada , Japan , Russia , 11 nations of the European Space Agency ( Belgium , Denmark , France , Germany , Italy , the Netherlands , Norway , Spain , Sweden , Switzerland , United Kingdom ) and Brazil .
Several modules have already been installed: Zarya (the Russian functional cargo block), Swesda (the Russian service module), Destiny (the American laboratory). These modules constitute a pressurized ensemble.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is presently building Columbus , a Space laboratory, which will be attached to the ISS in the near future.
2. Amateur radio on the International Space Station (ARISS)
The first element of the ISS, Zarya the Functional Cargo Block, was launched from Baïkonour , Kazakhstan in 1998. Two years later, the ARISS initial station gear went into space and William Shepherd--who dubbed the ISS "Space Station Alpha"--made the first ARISS school group contact on December 21, 2000 .
As the Space Station grows, the amateur radio station on board also evolves. The initial ham station Phase 1 is located on Zarya and ham station Phase2 is located on Swesda, both on Russian territory.
During several EVA's (Extravehicular Activities), four antennas have been fixed on handrails outside Swesda. The primary function of these antennas is to provide microwave communications for the astronauts when they work outside the ISS. These antennas are multiplexed to antenna elements covering several amateur radio bands, HF, VHF, UHF and L-band.
Presently the amateur station is running as Packet Radio (VHF) or as FM crossband repeater (VHF downlink, UHF uplink).
Licensed astronauts and cosmonauts also use the VHF station for QSO's with amateur radio ground stations.
Most significant is the use of the VHF station for educational outreach. ARISS has developed a very efficient organisation for setting up School Contacts, allowing students and schoolchildren to ask questions to astronauts and get their answer direct from Space. Volunteering amateur radio operators provide the ground station for the selected school when a contact is scheduled. In principle, NASA allows one contact per week. ARISS-Europe has also an arrangement with ESA for European astronauts and a similar agreement is under discussion with Energia, the Russian Space agency. ARISS School Contacts energize youngsters' interest in science, technology, and learning. In Germany and in France , participating students have become licensed radioamateurs. Moreover these radio contacts are widely covered by the news media and contribute to show the general public a positive image of amateur radio.
3. An amateur radio station on Columbus
November 2002, ARISS Europe extended a request to ESA's Directorate for Manned Space Flight and Microgravity, asking for ham radio facilities on the European Space Laboratory. In 2003, ESA's Columbus division agreed on the principle. October 2007, the antennes have been installed on the module.
Columbus will be transported in the bay of an American Shuttle. Therefore, since little room is left between the module and the Shuttle bay, the ARISS antennas are patch antennas, flat planes ten millimeters thick.
The patch antennas are fixed on the Meteorite Debris Panels (MDP) protecting the hull of Columbus. On the port cone of the module, where it attaches to the ISS main structure, feedthroughs have been installed for the ARISS antennas and coax cables are run from the feedthroughs to the nadir.
The development of the antennas has been taken care of by the Institute of Telecommunications and Acoustics of the Wroclaw University of Technology. The Columbus antennas will work on L-band and S-band. UHF was initially considered also, but was abandoned by lack of funding.
4. The benefits of adding ARISS antennas to the Columbus module
The existing ARISS antennas on the Service Module are shared through diplexers and will not be especially effective on the microwave bands. Using the dedicated antennas on Columbus will, for the first time, permit viable ARISS operations on these useful bands.
With the Columbus module being located at some considerable distance from the other two ARISS stations, this will permit parallel operations on the new bands at the same time as the existing operations.
The availability of these new frequencies will enable us to establish wideband and video operations for the first time. This facility will provide ATV facilities for School contacts and, additionally, continuous transponder operation.
The Columbus module is designed to undertake experiments but may also be used as temporary sleeping accommodation for the European astronauts. It is anticipated that most, if not all of them, will be licensed amateurs.
To summarise, the addition of these new antennas will provide greatly enhanced opportunities for amateur radio operations on the ISS and an additional emergency communication facility for the astronauts.
5. Funding the ARISS antennas on Columbus
The construction of Columbus has reached its final stage. The ARISS antennas have been installed in October 2007. A most important aspect has still to be solved : funding.
The installation cost of the ARISS antennas on Columbus exceeds 100.000 euro (coaxial feedthroughs, coax cables on the hull of the module, etc.). ESA initially offered to support 50.000 euro of this amount. Presently ESA has decided to cover the installation cost completely .
The Wroclaw University of Technology has obtained a special funding for the ARISS antennas from the Polish Ministry of Research and Development. This helps cover the total cost and limits our effort to 86.000 euro.
69.000 euro has already be paid by ARISS.
We still have to pay 17.000 euro to finish the work.
Presently our goal has been set to 100.000 euro, but it will most probably be reconsidered. After Columbus is attached to the ISS, we will still need to build the onboard equipment.
6. Call for donations
ARISS-Europe renews the call for donations to the IARU and AMSAT societies as well as to their members individually.
8. Credits
On the ARISS-Europe website a special Columbus page has been added.
Donations are listed from societies as well as from individuals.
Taking into account the regulations on privacy protection, donations are listed as anonymous, unless the donator states his identity as reference for the transfer.
This list is permanently updated and distance from the target shown.
8. Thanks
On behalf of all the volunteering parties involved in the project, we extend thanks to all donators.
This is a great goal for amateur radio at its best.
October 20, 2007
Gaston Bertels, ON4WF
ARISS-Europe chairman