Well-known AMSAT figure and Virginia Tech researcher Bob McGwier, N4HY, says the Amateur Radio payload planned to go into geosynchronous orbit in 2017 will be like “a new ham band” for the Americas, available every hour of every day. McGwier, a research professor in Virginia Tech’s Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Director of Research for the Hume Center for National Security and Technology, said the satellite’s geosynchronous orbit also makes it viable for emergency and disaster communication. AMSAT-NA announced in April that Amateur Radio would be a “hosted payload” on the geosynchronous satellite that Millennium Space Systems (MSS) of California is under contract to design, launch, and operate for the US government.
“It will allow rapid deployment to disaster areas and support long-haul communications for first responders,” McGwier allowed in a December 22 Virginia Tech News report. McGwier, a former AMSAT director and Vice President for Engineering, has said the Amateur Radio payload must be delivered for testing and integration by next spring.
According to AMSAT Vice President-Operations Drew Glasbrenner, KO4MA, the satellite’s potential footprint would extend over the US from the Mid-Pacific to Africa.
The Hume Center team that’s building the ham radio payload met with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate, KK4INZ, in September to discuss the project. At last summer’s ARRL National Centennial Convention, Fugate and ARRL President Kay Craigie, N3KN, signed an agreement outlining how the two organizations will work together to provide disaster relief.
McGwier pointed out in the Virginia Tech News article that transmitting emergency communications via the geosynchronous satellite would be much more dependable than HF, allowing Amateur Radio volunteers to provide more reliable communication support. With a geosynchronous, the satellite would always be within a band of longitudes over the Americas, continually accessible to any Amateur Radio operator there. That would include the students and researchers at the Virginia Tech Ground Station.
MSS will operate the satellite on behalf of the US Air Force, while MSAT will manage the Amateur Radio payload, being designed and built by Virginia Tech students.
According to the article, the Hume Center team is designing a ground terminal that emergency personnel could use to relay their own communication channels through the satellite. “This setup could be deployed through the American Radio Relay League and the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation as a key part of a robust national emergency response system, allowing trained operators to reliably mobilize to disaster areas in the first critical hours after a devastating event,” the article suggested.