Holiday Party and Tech Talk: Amateur Radio Satellite

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The open-source movement in software and hardware has dramatically changed our engineering culture and economy for the better. With open-source on the ascendancy, and all the obvious advantages, amateur radio seems to be the perfect place for open-source software to triumph. Amateur radio experimenters have access to and an increasingly large amount of involvement within one of the most interesting and powerful open source projects in the radio world: GNU Radio. The amateur radio service includes satellites.

The history of amateur satellite service in the United States dates back to 1961 when the satellite Oscar 1 hitch-hiked a ride to space along with a government spy satellite. Quietly, hams pursued a half-century long, astonishingly successful private space program that is still little-known outside of ham radio today, but has launched over 80 satellites, almost all of them as hitch-hikers along with other payloads that were the main purpose of the launch.

The challenge that we face as amateur satellite developers is that Communications satellites were regulated as munitions under ITAR for many years. ITAR is the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. Both amateur and commercial satellite development in the United States were very negatively impacted by ITAR. Open Source development, which we pursue, is all about openness and sharing.

This talk will cover the impact of regulatory decisions on the collaborative history of AMSAT, the current efforts to get back on track within AMSAT, how one particular AMSAT project was restructured to avoid ITAR, and how both AMSAT-DL and AMSAT-NA are working together to implement an amateur-radio centric open source version of DVB-S2 for use in amateur satellite payloads and satellite simulators. Technical details of the DVB-S2 and S2X protocol will be discussed. This project is called Phase 4 Ground and is ongoing.

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