AMSAT Fox-1A satellite is ready for launch!

We finished!

Ok … we finished THIS flight unit lol. This past week we performed a ‘shake and bake’ on our completed satellite, Fox-1A.

The ‘shake’ is vibration testing based on the launching rocket’s expected frequency responses over the course of it’s flight into orbit.

The satellite is securely attached to the baseplate of the test platform. Then that frequency response profile is input to the testing system which then literally shakes the satellite.


Then comes the ‘bake’. This thermal heating occurs in a vacuum chamber. There is just one intent, to ‘boil’ away any liquid related products; uncured glue, fingerprints, water, all kinds of stuff.

This way nothing remains that might off-gas in a vacuum environment and deposit itself in a different location, like the primary payload on the rocket.

Passed 😀

The unit is now wrapped in an anti-static bag and secured for launch. Integration to the payload will happen in 2Q and then launch.

Got an email from my Copyeditor at QST Magazine

Naturally there’s a bunch of backstory to this but we’ll start here. 😀

My Copyeditor, we’ll call her Jennifer (because that’s her name 🙂 ), sent me an email:

Good morning Dan,

I just wanted to let you know that your article (“Single Operator Portable in the Dry Tortugas”) will be printed in the March 2015 issue of QST. Over the next month, you will be receiving e-mails from QST staff that will need timely attention.

Dan Passaro at Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas

There’s more to the email; some detail questions, some questions about the photos I took, etc.

My second experience with an editor lol.

(The first? My Letter to the Editor at WatchTime. He published my email in that section and included his reply. My first published work haha!)

I had submitted three articles to QST concerning my Dry Tortugas ham radio expedition:

–An overview story; “It was a dark and stormy … “. blah, no it wasn’t. In fact, the weather was great.
–A memorable contact story (ham radio operator in Bulgaria)
–A more technically oriented article about the equipment I used.

These types of articles fit the pattern for what QST prints. Also I wasn’t sure how long to make any one article. The three could have easily stood as one but I was concerned about submitting a book lol.

But one of the email questions was:

4. Do you have any anecdotes about any memorable QSOs*? People were probably very excited to contact you in that rare grid*!

Why yes, Jennifer, yes I did. And it was glorious 😀

I then sent her the other two articles. She has begun incorporating them into the layout and I should see a proof this coming week, by Wednesday I suppose.

I had taken my good camera, my Canon 7D dSLR with L glass, to Dry Tortugas and I’m looking forward to seeing how those fit in to the story!

I’m giddy with excitement as to what the article will look like!

I love it 😀

* QSO. A Q code ‘Can you communicate?’ Sorta like ‘did you copy me?’
* Grid, with respect to the Maidenhead Locator System. In my case grid EL84np, which you can punch in HERE at the bottom of the page.


We’re launching a satellite, a Borg Cube

AMSAT North America (LINK) that is.
I volunteer time to AMSAT, working on the mechanical engineering side of things, specifically the structural side.

Sometime in Summer 2015 we’ll be launching our CubeSat as a secondary payload.

The Chairman, my main character in the Distance In Time series, is an Amateur Extra ham radio operator. AMSAT and CubeSats receive various mentions in the story. 😀

So what’s a CubeSat? It is a 100mm x 100mm x 100mm cube with electronics inside. The cubed 100 is simply called a 1U. If you stack three then you have a 3U design ‘cube’sat.

Here’s our prototype: (GALLERY LINK)

As you can see it really is just 10cm cubed.

So what’s this all about, what’s our involvement here?

Amateur Radio, aka Ham Radio.

There is a VHF/UHF transceiver in the satellite along with a scientific payload. This satellite carries a science payload for a northeastern university.

We’re going to talk about the transceiver side of things. VHF and UHF communications are line of sight. That means that as long as one antenna (not radio) can see the other antenna the distance between the two is essentially meaningless.

Our CubeSats operate in a 600km orbit, approximately. It’s no problem using a 5w handheld transceiver to speak with another operator within the cone of coverage.

What’s the point? Advancing the Radio Art.

Title 47 – Part 97
Subpart A—General Provisions
§ 97.1 Basis and purpose.
The rules and regulations in this part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles:
(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.
(b) Continuation and extension of the amateur’s proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.
(c) Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communication and technical phases of the art.
(d) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.
(e) Continuation and extension of the amateur’s unique ability to enhance international goodwill.

Many astronauts and cosmonauts are ham radio operators as well. Want to talk with the ISS? Get your Technician License. Easy peasy (LINK)
Here’s a link to a youtube video LINK of a ham talking to Col Doug Wheelock on the International Space Station.

Back to the CubeSat.

Those dark sections are stickers representing the solar cells. Two for every side to catch sunlight as the satellite ‘tumbles’ across the sky. It’s called tumbling but it’s really just a slow rotation.

The satellite is powered by ‘A’ cells. Not AA, not AAA, just A. NiCad ‘A’ batteries to be exact. Yeah, you read that right, NiCad. NiCad is an extremely well proven technology and NASA isn’t real big on secondary payloads getting ultra creative. And, yes, Li-ion is considered ‘creative’.

The antennas, one for VHF the other for UHF, are simply spring steel wire wrapped around four corner posts. The end is held in place with fishing line, Dyneema in our design. Yep, fishing line lol.
Once in orbit, about 45 minutes after release from the rocket structure, the fishing line is burned simply by using a hot resistor. The antenna then literally unwinds to return to its normal shape, hence the reason for using spring steel. In this case the antenna started out as straight wire.
The failsafe with fishing line is that UV light will weaken it and then it will break on its own (in case the resistor fails). It may take a few months but the satellite is up there for years.

Check out the photo gallery for more pics (GALLERY LINK)

Don’t tell anyone but this is how the Borg Cube came to be ………. 😀

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