HAMNET Report 24 February 2019

The Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS) reported on Friday at 12h50 our time, that a magnitude 7.5 earthquake had been registered 33 minutes earlier in Ecuador, at a depth of about 132Km, and in an area inhabited by 46000 people within a radius of 50Km. The quake’s epicentre was in the province of Pastaza, with 28 villages or small towns within the 50 Km radius. So far I have not heard of any casualties, but will be monitoring the agencies.

For those countries who do not have ‘disasters’, Greg Mossop G0DUB has reported on an event in Berlin which started at ~1300UTC on 19th February.

At that time, contractors in Berlin, Germany, working on a bridge hit 110kV cables cutting the power to 30000+ homes and removing heating from 5000 homes which were fed from a combined heating and power plant. A local hospital lost power and had to close their intensive care unit and bring in generators to provide power to 60% of the hospital building.

The fire and police services had to put units into the area for the public to call for help directly as mobile and fixed telephones were reported to have failed. Security systems also failed and a school hall was converted with 196 beds to allow people who needed somewhere warm to stay.

The event did not finish until 30 hours later when a repair was made to the cable to restore some power to the area.

This outage was caused by humans, not the weather or other natural reasons, and demonstrates how vulnerable systems are to a loss of electricity.

In a similar report, Michael Becker, DJ9OZ, says that schools, nurseries, waterworks and central heating works had to close down. Telephone-, mobile phone- and traffic light-networks and road lighting shut down as well.

The two hospitals in this area had emergency power supplies, but one went down after a while and THW, the national technical relief agency, supported with a mobile power generator. The other hospital evacuated their 23 intensive care patients for safety reasons to other hospitals.

Three mobile police stations and a disaster relief truck in front of the town hall had been installed to spread information to the public supported by mobile loudspeaker cars of the police patrolling through the wide spread area. Municipal transport services had been asked by fire brigades – acting in Berlin as disaster relief – to relay emergency calls of inhabitants via their 24h operating radio system.

Looting or other increased criminal activity was not reported.

“Our Berlinham radio emergency group put calls on hourly basis via a VHF repeater covering the affected area and on the direct emcom frequency, but no emcom traffic was requested”, says Michael.

Thank you to Greg and Mike for these reports.

Now interesting news from NASA.

Radio waves are still the main way to communicate with spacecraft, but that aging technology could soon get an upgrade that will allow faster data downloads from space. NASA is currently preparing to test out an X-ray communication system on the International Space Station.

The project, known as XCOM, will make use of equipment already onboard the ISS for different purposes. The Neutron-star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) is currently perched on the outside of the space station, where it’s scanning the cosmos for X-ray emissions coming from neutron stars.

But NICER is no one-trick pony. In 2017, NASA engineers demonstrated how the instrument could use data from millisecond pulsars as a kind of space-GPS, precisely calculating the position of the ISS to within 3 miles (4.8 km). It is this potential to pick up X-ray signals that makes it a good candidate for a receiver in an X-ray communication system.

To test the idea, at the other end NASA is using a specially-designed device called the Modulated X-ray Source (MXS). This device produces X-rays by first shining UV light onto a photocathode material like magnesium. That produces electrons, which are then accelerated into another material that in turn produces X-rays. Importantly, the MXS can be quickly switched on and off, encoding binary messages into X-rays that can be beamed to and deciphered by a receiver.

For the upcoming test, NASA installed the MXS on the outside of the ISS. There, it will beam X-ray messages over a distance of 165 ft (50 m) to NICER, which will attempt to decode them. The message itself will be kept simple at first, the team says, to ensure that the device can pick up exactly what was sent. If that works, a more complicated message may be transmitted in a later test.

If all goes to plan, X-ray communication could eventually be used to beam data to and from a range of spacecraft. X-rays have much shorter wavelengths than radio waves or even laser communication systems, which are also in development. That means they should be able to pack more data into tighter beams, effectively allowing faster data transfer rates. And considering the long delay that can come from communicating with distant craft like New Horizons, anything that hurries the process along can only be a good thing.

Another potential advantage is that X-rays can penetrate the hot plasma sheath that normally cuts off radio communications when a craft is blasting through the Earth’s atmosphere. X-rays could keep the crew in touch with ground control during this critical and intense period.

The XCOM tests are due to take place on the ISS in the next few months.

Thanks to New Atlas and NASA for the report.

For those of you interested in dabbling in geostationary satellite work, George Smart, M1GEO, has published a very comprehensive article on receiving the amateur radio transponders on the Es’hail-2 satellite. The article is available at https://www.george-smart.co.uk/2019/02/eshail2-rx/

I hope this will be off assistance to those ZS stations following the thread on the SARL forum on Es’hail-2, if they have not already seen it.

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