L / S-band ARISS antennas

All this started in 2002, when Gaston Bertels, ON4WF, the ARISS-Europe chairman, took the initiative to submit a request for amateur radio facilities on the Columbus module to Mr Jörg Feustel-Büechl, ESA Director of Manned Spaceflight and Microgravity:

“The ARISS international working group provides the many organizational and operational services needed to insure successful educational school contacts. All these activities are offered, free of charge, by volunteering amateur radio operators of the different countries involved.

ARISS, especially the European team, wishes to gain access to the Columbus module. An amateur radio station on European territory in space would considerably enhance amateur radio research in Europe and contribute to orient talented students to space related careers. Considering the freely offered expertise of the volunteering amateurs involved in such a project, the return ratio would be most favourable.

No amateur radio activity is possible without access to one or more antennas affixed outside the module. This involves the disposal of coaxial feedthroughs to access the antennas”.

June 25 th, 2005 a contract was signed between Wroclaw University and UBA, the Belgian Royal Amateur Radio Society, bearing development and construction of combined L/S-band patch antennas. The University was to build two flight antennas, two spare antennas and an engineering antenna. Indeed, ESA/EADS had decided to install two identical antennas on two different Meteorite Debris Panels. If one panel was to be removed in space for inspection, that antenna would probably be lost. The contract amounted to 47.000 euro. The UBA would pay the bill and recover the expense with donations gathered by AMSAT Belgium.

Description and all specifications can be found in the Wroclaw University document (below).

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June 12 th, 2006 AMSAT Belgium signed a contract with Wroclaw University for qualification tests (3.000 euro). The mechanical vibration tests were very severe (49G at 2kHz) with regard to extreme acoustical vibrations produced by the Shuttle boosters during launch. The antennas failed.

March 15 th, 2007 UBA signed a contract with Wroclaw University (18.000 euro) for the development and manufacturing of modified L/S-band antennas: ARISS 31-32-33-34-35. One of these antennas, ARISS 31, was exposed in the Exhibition Ham Radio a European Resource set up in the European Parliament, Brussels by the EUROCOM working group of the International Amateur Radio Union. The antennas were successfully submitted to vibrations tests, but failed thermal/vacuum tests (several cycles -100°C / + 120°C in vacuum chamber).

August 14 th, 2007 UBA signed an Annex to the Wroclaw contract (additional 18.000 euro) for the development and manufacturing of 2 flight antennas and 1 qualification antenna with different materials.

September 25 th, 2007 ARISS 41-42-43 antennas were successfully submitted to vibrations tests in Germany and ESA decided installation on Columbus .

October 9 th and 10 th ,2007 ARISS 41 and ARISS 43 were installed on Columbus in the high bay of the Kennedy Space Center . October 12 th the electrical properties of cables and antennas have been tested and validated.

In the week of October 15, qualification antenna ARISS 42 was successfully submitted to thermal tests in vacuum chamber in the Netherlands .

ARISS 42 will also be submitted to detailed efficiency tests to determine the precise electromagnetic characteristics of the antennas.

Since September 2005, the Columbus working group has met 17 times per teleconference. These meetings will now intensify in order to finalize the project for the onboard ARISS equipment. The intention is to build a wideband transponder, L-band uplink, S-band downlink. Moreover, digital ATV is also thought of. Anyway, among many other aspects, equipment volume, weight, power consumption and heat budget are to be discussed with ESA and EADS.

We are very grateful to Mr Bernardo Patti, ESA’s Columbus project manager, as well as to ESA’s Education Programme leaders Sylvie Ijsselstein and formerly Elena Grifoni, who supported the ARISS project. Many thanks also to the ESA, EADS and Alenia engineers for their efficient guidance. Special thanks and congratulations to Dr Pawel Kabacik and his team who developed the ARISS antennas and used Polish research funds for this purpose.

Very special thanks to all the donators whose support made possible this unique achievement.

Not all the bill had been paid at the time of the installation of these antennas.. The fundraising was still on.