Saturday, November 7, 2009

MARS Cuts Ribbon on New Pentagon Station

A military institution designed to provide emergency communications has moved to new quarters in the Pentagon. On October 21, John G. Grimes, the former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration, cut the ribbon on the new Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) station, now located on the fifth floor of the Pentagon. The facility -- manned by the Pentagon Amateur Radio Club (PARC) -- is packed with amateur radios, radio-telephone patches, computers and data links. "This is a great facility, manned totally by volunteers," Grimes told the crowd who came to see the new station. "It's a crucial capability for our country."

MARS, which began in the early 1950s, started as a worldwide network of shortwave radio enthusiasts who would spring into action in the event of a nuclear war or natural disaster. Thousands of civilian and military ham radio volunteers manned the system. With service members deployed far from home, or even overseas, MARS provided health and welfare messages called MARSgrams, allowing soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to keep in touch with their families back home. Today, those shortwave broadcasts have been superseded by the Internet; many service members use cell phones and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to speak with loved ones.

In the event of an emergency, high-frequency communication is generally the first to recover, and even the most modern technology can get overloaded. At the ribbon cutting ceremony, PARC member Allan Hubbert, KH6ILR, noted that there were communication problems during President Barack Obama's inauguration earlier this year: "During the inauguration, there were so many people on cell phones that it system was overloaded. We [hams] could still operate, and we helped back up the system down on the [National] Mall." More than 60 volunteers help to man the Pentagon MARS station.

With more than 6000 volunteers worldwide serving Army MARS, Air Force MARS and Navy-Marine Corps MARS, the system now backs up the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). "There have been many crises or disasters that have struck where the first word out of an area is via [Amateur Radio], and someone has their little gas generator going," Grimes said. "That's not likely to change any time soon." -- Thanks to the Department of Defense for some information

Saturday, September 26, 2009

South African Amateur Radio Payload Reaches Orbit

After several delays, South Africa's second Amateur Radio satellite, SumbandilaSat, finally blasted to orbit aboard a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on September 17 at 17:55:09 Central African Time (15:55 GMT)..

The launch of SumbandilaSat had to be postponed twice, once due to heavy winds and the second attempt due to the fuel pressure in the feed line which was four times too low and thus caused the fueling process to take too long to be completed in time for launch. The 81kg (about 200 pound) micro-satellite is about 1m x 0.5m in size. The name SumbandilaSat originates from the Venda language and means "lead the way".

The satellite was released from the rocket while over the Antarctic and accessed by the ground station at the Stellenbosch University ten minutes later when the first command was sent to 'wake up' the satellites. Despite the low elevation orbit of less than 10 degrees SumbandilaSat responded well with its first telemetry.

The main payload is a multi-spectral imager, but the satellite also carries an Amateur Radio component consisting of a 2 meter/70 cm FM repeater, parrot repeater (voice digipeater) and a voice beacon. This payload will find not only use by the amateur radio fraternity but also has a large educational outreach aspect of bringing space sciences into the class room.

Earlier in September a team of SunSpace Engineers unpacked the satellite at the Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan and carried out a full systems test. All systems performed to specification. The amateur radio payload was tested from a little distance to check radio signal levels. All three systems performed flawlessly.

An intensive period of payload qualification will now follow during which each system will be tested. This is expected to take up to 3 months after which the command will shift to the CSIR's Satellite Application Centre at Hartebeeshoek, north of Pretoria.

After SumbandilaSat is fully commissioned, the repeater will be activated with an uplink at 145.880 MHz and a downlink at 435.350 MHz; there will also be a voice beacon at 435.300 MHz. The transponder mode will be controlled by a CTCSS tone on the uplink frequency. The CTCSS tone frequencies have yet to be announced.

SumbandilaSat is sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology and built at SunSpace in cooperation with the Stellenbosch University. In addition to the SA-AMSAT amateur module, the satellite carries Stellenbosch University's radiation experiment and software defined radio (SDR) project, an experiment from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and a VLF radio module from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

South Africa’s initial entry into the space age was in early 1999 with the launch of SunSat-1 (OSCAR-35), a modest satellite built by postgraduate engineering students at the University of Stellenbosch. The satellite carried various experiments and an amateur radio transponder that delighted ham radio enthusiasts world-wide. SunSat was operational for almost two years, until February 2001. (Source: AMSAT-S.Africa, ARRL.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Monkey Man Fined!

Daniel K. Roberts, (San Francisco, California) - also known as "Monkey Man" - has been fined $10,000 by the FCC’s San Francisco District Office, for willfully and repeatedly operating Pirate Cat Radio, (PCR) an unlicensed broadcast radio station on 87.9 MHz.

The station founder, Daniel Roberts (who later legally changed his name to his on air persona, Monkey), started broadcasting Pirate Cat Radio out of his bedroom in Los Gatos, California (a suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area) at the age of 15.

In 2008, Roberts began operating PCR from a radio studio located at the Pirate Cat Cafe and Studio in San Francisco. According to its website, PCR describes itself as "unlicensed low powered community radio station." The Bay Area is the capital of pirate radio stations.

The FCC said there is no record that Roberts and PCR have ever received authority to operate this broadcast station. "Additionally, the 87.9 MHz frequency used by Roberts and PCR is not allocated to the FM broadcast band." The FCC noted that it has issued numerous warnings and Notices of Unlicensed Operation to Roberts and PCR detailing the potential penalties for operating an unlicensed radio station.

As Roberts tells it, the FCC would send him a warning and he would send back a quote from the agency's Web page, which says that radio stations can operate without a license in times of national emergency or war. He argues that the current war on terrorism, and before that drugs, falls under that definition.

On April 28, 2009, FCC agents, using radio direction-finding methods, traced a radio signal on 87.9 MHz to an antenna on the roof of a residence. Section 15.239 of the Rules provides that non-licensed broadcasting in the 88 to 108 MHz band is permitted only if the field strength of the transmission does not exceed 250 mV/m at three meters.

The measurements indicated that the signal was more than 4,000 times greater than the maximum permissible level for a non-licensed Part 15 transmitter in the 88 to 108 MHz band and more than 10,000 times greater than the maximum permissible level in the 76 to 88 MHz band.

The following day, the agents observed Roberts operating PCR on 87.9 MHz from the Pirate Cat Cafe and Studio in San Francisco. The agents located the signal again radiating from same residence as the previous day.

The FCC said its "Forfeiture Policy Statement"), and Section 1.80 of the Rules provide for a $10,000 forfeiture (fine) for operation of a radio transmitter without an instrument of authorization. Roberts was ordered to pay the fine within 30 days. The Commission will not consider reducing or canceling the fine unless he submits tax records going back three years or other financial records.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Teen serves community in multiple roles

"I'm 15," said Boy Scout, Explorer Post 1 Commander, baritone player, Student Council President, Rowlett Fire Corps member and recipient of the Do Something Disaster grant Jonathan Dutsch.

Rowlett Explorer Post 1 will install an Amateur Radio Station in their meeting room in the upcoming months thanks to the $500 grant Jonathan received from The new equipment will give the team a broader communication range to provide a quicker response in emergency situations.

"I think getting the grant is awesome for the Explorers. It will challenge more of us to get radio operator licenses," Dutsch said.

Dutsch joined Cub Scouts in fifth grade, where he met Erik Ernst, a Rowlett Citizen Corps Council and CERT volunteer. Although he was too young to become a member, Ernst described Dutsch as eager to help out with RCCC programs .

"He ... would assist us, even then, by being a volunteer victim in our drills and arranging for other Cub Scouts to ... volunteer," Ernst said.

As a result, Jonathan helped create the Rowlett Explorer Post 1 program in January 2008. Before this, there wasn't an opportunity for children under 14 to be involved with RCCC if their parents weren't also volunteers. With Explorer Post 1, he was able to become a member right after his 14th birthday.

"Explorers provides rehab and helps out with [community] events. They help out with CERT," Dutsch said. He explained how explorers are some of the first responders with tornadoes and other disasters.

"We are very proud of Jonathan and are grateful for the time and contributions he makes to the post and Rowlett in his capacity as post commander," Ernst wrote in his recommendation letter for the Do Something Disaster grant.

Today Jonathan is the Explorer Post 1 Post Commander and the youth advisor on the Board of the RCCC. He has created an Explorers Post 1 promotional video that includes pictures of events the post helps organize.

When asked about receiving the 2008 Rising Star award, Dutsch explained that he tries to be involved in everything and likes to offer his ideas in problem-solving.

Dutsch is CPR certified and is working on getting his Amateur Radio license. He was chosen for the Order of the Arrow Boy Scouts of America Honor Society, and he served as president of his middle school student council. Jonathan is a member of the Rowlett Fire Corps and plays baritone for the Rowlett High School Band.

"Jonathan conducts himself with a maturity well beyond his years when the matter is serious, yet he is a teenager when it’s time to play," said Dr. Michael D. Lucas, director of the City of Rowlett CERT. "He participates in pretty much everything and takes the lead in taking CERT or RCCC operations back to the Explorer group and motivating teens to take up the challenge."

Lucas described a number of occasions where Dutsch has helped to maintain control and provide safety in a potentially dangerous situation. Recently, after a fallen tree interrupted power in a neighborhood for a long period of time, Dutsch helped direct traffic to keep residents away from the area. Dutsch also served on bike patrol serving water to volunteers at Fireworks on Main.

In his recommendation letter for the Do Something Disaster grant, RCCC President Whitney Laning highlighted Jonathan's time commitment, leadership skills and ability to take initiative as some of his key qualities.

So what's next for this busy teenager?

Jonathan plans to continue volunteering with the RCCC programs.

"I plan on being a volunteer for the rest of my life, as long as I can," he said.

He is already making plans for college, and eventually hopes to help out his community as a firefighter paramedic.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

On the air ... Ham radio operators

Sitting in a small trailer in Roosevelt Park on Saturday morning, Bill Cunnane’s first contact of the day ended up being an individual in Mongolia – an Asian nation that borders Russia and China.

It was the start of the Lincoln County Amateur Radio Group’s demonstration during Fourth of July activities in Troy. Folks could step up to the equipment and try to make their own contact while learning about the art of amateur radio.

Cunnane could share plenty of stories about his experiences over the years. King Hussein of Jordan, the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center are just a few examples of the fascinating subjects and events that he has taken on.

Heck, on one occasion, he chatted with astronauts.

“I’ve always been tinkering around with radios since I was a kid,” said Cunnane, who went and got a license more than 30 years ago and served as a radio operator in the military. “I’ve talked to King Hussein … I talked to the International Space Station from my car, the Calgary Stampede, the aircraft carrier Midway in San Diego.”

Although those types of contacts are fun and interesting, one of the primary purposes of amateur radio operators is to help in times of an emergency. On 9/11 when terrorism changed America, Cunnane lived in Dover, N.J. From his home station, he communicated with emergency management officials, which included operations out of McGuire Air Force Base, located in south-central New Jersey.

After moving to Libby five years ago, Cunnane brought his expertise to the Lincoln County group, which has done test drills with local emergency management in the past. With his trailer and radio equipment, Cunnane can be set up in less than a half-hour after arriving on site.

“We’re trying to get a core group together to provide service if an emergency occurs,” Cunnane said. “We’d like to get a core group of around 20 … we really want to expand.”

Doug Griffiths, a veterinarian in Libby, is an example of someone who has really embraced the activity. Years ago, he had an interest in amateur radio and took a class on Morse Code.

“I took the class with many of the same members that are still here now,” Griffiths said. “Then in the springtime, I got a little too interested in flyfishing.”

Twenty-five years passed before Griffiths picked it up again. He has completed two of the three levels of licensing by passing the Technician Class and General Class exams. He is currently working on passing the Amateur Extra Class exam.

“It becomes more complex as you move up,” Griffiths said. “Your privileges increase as you move up the scale.”

Many ham radio operators could say they have hundreds of friends around the world without exaggeration. The activity is popular among many different types of groups from large corporations to churches attempting to communicate with missionaries overseas.

“It’s an interesting little aspect of the hobby because you really meet people,” Cunnane said.

One of the most memorable ham radio experiences of Cunnane’s life occurred in late April 1986 when a nuclear reactor exploded in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Highly radioactive fallout into the atmosphere was the result – something residents knew nothing about when Cunnane picked up his radio.

“I saw something about it on CNN and went on the radio to see if any of the guys from Kiev were on,” he said. “They said nothing was wrong.”

King Hussein became involved in trying to inform the Russians that a disaster had occurred. Cunnane spent the next several hours trying to warn people to “get out of Dodge.”

It’s that power of amateur radio that motivates enthusiasts like Cunnane.

“It’s what one person can do,” he said. “Think about what thousands can do.”

Sunday, June 7, 2009

NASA gives a 'go' for June 13 launch of space shuttle Endeavour

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, space shuttle Endeavour is in the final week of prelaunch preparations for its upcoming STS-127 mission. The payload is secured inside Endeavour and the payload bay doors will be closed over the weekend.

The seven STS-127 astronauts wrapped up their terminal countdown demonstration test training at Kennedy on Thursday and returned to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The astronauts will go into quarantine Saturday and then return to Kennedy at 12:15 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, June 9 for their final preps before Endeavour’s 7:17 a.m. launch time Saturday, June 13.

The crew’s arrival at Kennedy on Tuesday will be aired live on NASA TV.