HAMNET Report 5 August 2018

Writing in EngineerIT, Hans van de Groenendaal reports that two South African amateur radio associations, the South African Radio League (SARL) and AMSAT SA, are planning to launch an umbrella association that will link up with scientists in various electronic and physics disciplines to enhance research opportunities. The two organisations are currently involved in propagation research on 5 MHz, and a study of the rapid increases in the radio frequency noise floor, its causes and possible mitigation, and the possible slowing down of the noise pollution which will ultimately render the radio spectrum useless for communication, particularly for weak signal communication.

The new organisation will be known as Amateur Radio Science Citizen Investigation, or HamSCI SA. The concept of HamSCI was started by US scientists who study upper atmospheric and space physics and who are also licensed radio amateurs. HamSCI SA will be a platform for the publicity and promotion of projects that are consistent with the following objectives: to advance scientific research and understanding through amateur radio activities; to encourage the development of new technologies to support this research; and to provide educational opportunities for the amateur community and the general public with a main focus on the youth.

HamSCI SA will be a means of fostering collaborations between professional researchers and radio amateurs. It will assist in developing and maintaining standards and agreements between all people and organisations involved. HamSCI SA will not be an operations or funding programme, nor a supervisory organisation. HamSCI SA will not perform research on its own. Rather, it will support other research programmes such as the SARL’s 5 MHz propagation study, the RF noises monitoring projects, and programmes funded by structures such as the National Research Foundation.

The SARL and AMSAT SA invite interested persons to join the HamSCI SA initiative and offer their expertise. “It will work (in) two ways”, says SARL president, Nico van Rensburg. “It will create interesting activities for radio amateurs, in particularly for the new generation of young people who have been bitten by the ‘radio bug’ but need more challenges than just communications. For the scientific community it means that they can involve many more people in their projects and make a contribution to make science popular.”

Since the beginning of the amateur radio service in South Africa in the early 1900’s, radio amateurs have made significant contributions to radio technology and the understanding of radio science.  This work must be continued today, as the ITU Radio regulations state that a primary purpose of the amateur radio service is the continuation and extension of the amateur’s proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art. Recent advances in the fields of computing, software-defined radio, and signal processing provide unprecedented opportunities to meet this mandate, specifically in the field of radio science. These opportunities are already beginning to be realised with the advent of systems such as the reverse beacon network (RBN), the weak signal propagation reporting network (WSPRNet), and PSKReporter. In addition, enabling amateurs to make and contribute legitimate scientific observations will expose amateur radio to a wider community of people interested in science around the world.

Many radio amateurs unwittingly generate a large portion of data during their regular amateur radio operations. A good example of this is the annual SARL High Frequency contest during which hundreds of radio amateurs transmit over a two- or three-hour period, logging the details of every contact they make. Similarly, on a world-wide basis (there) are international contests where thousands of radio amateurs are active over a 24-hour period. There is a massive volume of data collected, however it is unstructured and currently perhaps not that useful, scientifically speaking. This is where collaboration with scientists can make the difference.

The SARL is in partnership with AMSAT SA, who will drive the initial thrust to get HamSCI SA off the ground. If you would like to be part of HamSCI SA and be invited to their launch conference later this year send your contact details to admin@amsatsa.org.za with HamSci SA in the subject line.

Thank you to Hans ZS6AKV for these extracts from his report. I sincerely hope this will generate a greater interest in using more science to further the aims and objectives of HAMNET, in serving the cause of our community.

And from the New York Times, Austin Ramzy reports that one of the greatest aviation mysteries of all time deepened Monday when the official government inquiry into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 released a 495-page report that gave no definitive answers as to the fate of the airliner.

The plane was heading north from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing on March 8, 2014, when it deviated from its scheduled path, turning west across the Malay Peninsula. It is believed to have turned south after radar contact was lost and crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean after running out of fuel.

No significant pieces of the wreckage of the jetliner, a Boeing 777, have ever been found. Nor have any remains of the 239 people on board.

The absence of definitive answers in the report, which was released at a news conference, devastated families of the victims.

Intan Maizura Othaman, whose husband, Mohd Hazrin Mohamed Hasnan, was a steward on the flight, told reporters after a briefing for family members that she was angered by the absence of answers.

“It is so frustrating, as nobody during the briefing can answer our questions,” Bernama, the Malaysian state news agency, quoted her as saying.

The report offered no conclusion on what caused the plane to veer off course, cease radio communications and vanish.

The head of the safety investigation team, Kok Soo Chon, said the available evidence — including the plane’s deviation from its flight course, which tests showed was done manually rather than by autopilot, and the switching off of a transponder — “irresistibly point” to “unlawful interference,” which could mean that the plane was hijacked.

But he added that the panel found no indication of who might have interfered or why, and that any criminal inquiry would be the responsibility of law enforcement authorities, not safety investigators.

While Kok did not directly address theories that the disappearance was the result of pilot suicide, he said investigators were “not of the opinion that it could have been an event committed by the pilot.”

The report detailed an extensive examination of the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, and the first officer, Fariq Abdul Hamid. The investigators “could not detect any abnormality,” Kok said.

An entirely unsatisfactory ending for the bereaved families of those lost in the disaster!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.