Today PI9CAM´s QSL for the first Satellite Bounce QSO via an unmanned spacecraft done by radio amateurs arrived by mail. As we know, there have been previous commercial attempts for Satellite Bounce in the early 60s using ECHO 1 and ECHO 2 which were inflated balloons with diameters of 30 and 41 m. The initial orbits were at heights of 1500 km and 1200 km.
The theoretical radar cross section (RCS) of ECHO 1 was 700 m², but measurements by military radar stations resulted in 900 to 1000 m² in the beginning. Later, the satellite deformed and shrunk. OKEAN-O, the one we used, has a radar cross section of 18 to 20 m² but is in a much lower orbit at a height of 650 km. This leads to quite similar unit power budgets, regardless the difference in size,
Enjoy the movie “The Big Bounce” about our predecessors 55 years ago!
While ISS Bounce took Jan, PA3FXB, and me 2 months of testing and improving to succeed, Satellite Bounce was a much bigger challenge. Despite the fact, Jan and the team of PI9CAM are operating the 25 m dish of the Dwingeloo radio telescope, it took us nearly 2 years, enormous patience and scores of tests until we finally managed to receive “Rs” to complete a QSO today (December 8th, 2015). As far as we know, it is the first time ever, a two way amateur radio contact could be completed by using an unmanned spacecraft as a reflector.Above screenshot shows the position of the satellite at the end of the QSO. The Satellite rose in SSE and set in NNW. A calculative common window opened at the point, marked “O”. Local obstructions were not considered. Due to safety reasons transmissions in Dwingeloo are limited to elevations above 10°. So the AOS (acquisition of signal) happend shortly before the groundtrack of the Satellite crossed the 40th degree of latitude northwards, as soon as PI9CAM started transmissions. Sum of slant ranges (distance between ground station and satellite) was 3400 km at the beginning and 2000 km at the end of the contact.
Much of the reflections remained below the noise floor, but this one of PI9CAM, right at the beginning (14:10:10 UTC), is a nice example, of what can be received:
And vice versa DJ5AR as to be heard in Dwingeloo (14:11:00 UTC):
The used object OKEAN-O (NORAD #25860) is a joint Russian-Ukrainian Earth observation satellite, launched on July 17th, 1999 by an Ukrainian Zenit-2 carrier rocket. The satellite is in a polar orbit of about 650 km height with an inclination of 98°. The mass is 6.2 tons and the RCS (radar cross section) is figured between18 and 20 m². It has been used for research of natural resources, ecological monitoring and hazards prevention. Designed for a life time of 3 years, it is out of service now.
QSO in WSJT-X
In use by the ground stations were the 25 m radio telescope in Dwingeloo by PI9CAM with 120 W and a 3 m dish with 150 W at the feed by DJ5AR in Mainz. The mode used was digital JT9H that comes with the new WSJT-X software by Joe Taylor, K1JT. The transmit/receive periods were set to 10 seconds, working around a center frequency of 1296.300 MHz. The automated Doppler tracking (+/- 60 kHz) has been performed for the complete path on DJ5AR´s side with a homebrew tracking software. The calculative power budget during the QSO was about -154 dBm. This value is very optimistic, as it presumes the optimum reflectivity of the satellite, which depends on its orientation.
Conclusion: The main difficulties in this game are:
Selection of suitable satellites, depending on radar cross sections and slant ranges.
Compensation of the Doppler shift with a maximum rate of 600 Hz/second.
Jan, PA3FXB, and I skeduled a very special ISCAT test on 23 cm for today. The CAMRAS team had planned to operate PI9CAM with the 25 m radiotelescope in Dwingeloo for some astronomical experiments this afternoon. Before starting with that, we used an ISS pass with low elevation to try ISS bounce with the big dish. Such a pass ensures slow variation of azimuth end elevation angles, which is essential to track moving object like the ISS (or other spacecrafts in low orbits) with an antenna of a weight of 120 tons.
We had very strong reflections right from the beginning, but no decodes. Maybe the signal level was to high? This has to be investigated. Then we changed to aircraft scatter, although the dish had to be kept elevated at 10° by safety reasons, I got strong reflections from airplanes quite close to PI9CAM. Not as strong as from the ISS, but decodable now and it was possible to work in CW too.
Despite the fact, we had no QSO via ISS bounce, we learnt, that it is possible to track objects in low orbits with the 25 m radiotelescope, as long as the elevation keeps low. This opens up a perspective to make use of other spacecrafts as reflectors.
My presentation “Let´s Bounce” will be given on two more dates:
October 25th, 2014 on the 4th Hessian GHz Meeting in Fernwald
Short version of the lecture with focus on aircraft scatter and ISS bounce.
We meet at 15:00 MEST on the car park at the town hall. There will be a flee market for GHz stuff and the opportunity to test own equipment or to have QSOs with other participants.
The italian-dutch artist Daniela de Paulis is the inventor of visual moonbouce. Slow scan television is used to send pictures towards the moon. When the bounced signals will be received and visualized, the pictues are a kind of distorted and win a very special charm.
The pictures shown below are screenshots, I took during a performance on April 13th, 2014.
I am very proud, that Daniela has choosen one of my pictures for her performance. It shows the moon resting on clouds and has been bounced at the moon.
Nando, I1NDP, transmitted a selection of pictures in SSTV, to be received by PI9CAM with the radiotelescope at Dwingeloo. Using a “GOOGLE Hangout”, an audience from all over the world watched live, how Daniela and her team (Nando, I1NDP, Jan, PA3FXB, and many more) were bouncing all the pictures at the moon.
A video recording of the session can be found here.
After an extensive restoration by ASTRON and the CAMRAS foundation, the 25m dish of the radiotelescope in Dwingeloo has been reopened by astrononomer, radio amateur and Nobel laureate Prof. Dr. Joseph Taylor, K1JT, on April 5th, 2014.
In future it will be used by radio amateurs, amateur astronomers and artists for certain projects.