High Earth Orbit
Recently the incumbent candidates for director released a statement that it takes more than large sums of money to get a HEO satellite in orbit and they have the experience to make it happen. I find this comment peculiar at best. To date, every AMSAT HEO has been an international collaboration with AMSAT-DL playing a prominent role. AMSAT’s current ITAR/EAR policy prohibits ANY international collaboration. Does AMSAT really have the experience to get to HEO? There are not too many volunteers around from AO-40. Even if there were, a HEO satellite today would look very different than any of the previous Phase 3 satellites. What attributes or talents do the incumbents have that make them vital to a HEO satellite project ? I can’t think of any. Both of their time with AMSAT centered around operating activities not technical. I’m sure they both have good organizational skills, but I don’t see that as a unique asset. As a senior principal engineer with the largest operator of geostationary satellites in the world, I have a vague idea of what it takes to get a satellite into a high earth orbit.
I agree it takes more than money to get a satellite in a HEO orbit but it still takes lots of money. AMSAT raised over a million dollars to get AO-40 launched. That was a long time ago under very different leadership. The current leadership has not been very successful in obtaining large monetary donations. It seem odd to me the incumbent board members would chastise another director that has been successful raising significant donations for AMSAT, IEEE, ORI, GNU Radio, and several other organizations. NASA is probably not going to give us a subsidized ride into a HEO orbit. This means AMSAT will need to purchase a launch of it’s own satellite or purchase space as a hosted payload on a commercial satellite. This is going to require major funding the likes of which AMSAT has never seen.
There are going to be a large number GEO satellite launches over the next three years to locations over the United States. If AMSAT proposed a compelling payload that was interesting to a commercial operator they might be inclined to offer a reduced cost for a hosted payload. To be clear, a linear transponder or any other kind of analog transponder would NOT be an interesting payload.
The incumbent candidates tout their experience is required about getting to HEO. We are still having trouble at LEO. Half of the Fox series satellites had technical problems, one was DOA. I understand that space is a difficult endeavor even for people that build $300 million satellites. These satellites all had the same basic design but two had issues. HEO is going to be a lot harder than that. Part of the GOLF project is a so called Radiation Tolerant IHU. Unfortunately the processor being used is not completely radiation tolerant. It’s a commercial chip with some high reliability features. It may be able to recover from a Single Event Upset but will not be able to withstand the Total Ionizing Dose found at higher altitudes. Microcontrollers that can operate in these environments use special fabrication methods that the RT-IHU does not have. So why is this being put on a satellite intended for higher orbit? This controller would be very good for a LEO but is unsuitable for MEO/HEO/GEO orbits. Doesn’t anybody on the board understand this? Is there no engineering oversight? My opinion is that this goes back to the good-ole-boys club mentality. The VPE and the person heading up the RT-IHU are both part of the club so whatever they decide goes, even if it’s not in the best interest of the organization. Putting this so called RT-IHU into a HEO satellite would be a million dollar failure. If you elect me to the board of directors I would move to re-instate monthly board meetings that would include reports from all VP’s .