HAMNET Report 21st February 2021

I’m sure anybody who lives in the Eastern half of South Africa is watching the development of Tropical Cyclone Guambe in the Mozambique Channel with interest. There have been dramatic time-lapse videos of the cloud formation as the storm starts to build. Forecasts during this last week have suggested the cyclone will turn east as it passes the southern tip of Madagascar and travel off harmlessly into the Indian Ocean. We continue to watch. The northern half of South Africa has already had its fair share of rain this rainy season, as pictures of the Orange River in full spate at the Augrabies Falls show. Let’s hope we get off this cyclone lightly.

Meanwhile the Southern United States, Texas and Indiana in particular, are experiencing bitterly cold weather. Snow, sleet, rain, and sub-zero temperatures abound, and there are stories of people sleeping inside tents inside their houses, on the grounds that it is easier to keep the small area inside the tent warm than it is to keep the whole house warm. Snowfalls of up to 30cm were measured in some towns.

The Washington Post reports that “millions of Texans remain without power for what could be days, and hospitals throughout Texas have now lost water and heat, leaving doctors scrambling to conserve resources and coronavirus vaccine shots while caring for vulnerable residents.”

The ARRL News reports that ARES volunteers in Southern Texas, New Mexico, Illinois, and Alabama are either on standby or have been activated to carry messages and assist the communities where required. A strong unseasonal tornado hit eastern North Carolina on Monday, killing three people and destroying homes. Twenty eight others have died in the extreme weather across the country.

The New Zealand Herald reports this week that a crew of 12 Land Search and Rescue volunteers, as well as members of the Amateur Radio Emergency Communications group were involved this week in the search for an elderly Invercargill man missing from his rest home since Monday.

He apparently has trouble communicating, due to a stroke, has limited mobility and is unlikely to approach anyone.

Police were contacted about his disappearance on Monday, about 1pm, and search and rescue volunteers were involved from about 5pm. He was last seen at the rest home at 8am. Since then, residential areas, Queens Park, the railway tracks, green spaces and the Otepuni Stream have been searched, some areas more than once.

Sgt Martin of the Invercargill Police said the search had involved dog handlers and kayakers going down the stream. Those involved were extremely concerned for his welfare, given that the temperature dropped to 1.3deg Celsius on Tuesday night.

Local residents were asked to search their properties, even if they have previously searched them, as the man was believed to be on foot and might have wandered on to a property. People with CCTV cameras on their properties were asked to review the footage and submit it to police if they saw anyone who looked like the lost man.

We can only hope the search ends happily.

I’m sure a large proportion of you sat up on Thursday evening, and watched while the Jet Propulsion Laboratory team supervising Perseverance’s landing on Mars bit their fingernails to the bone, waiting for the delayed news of its safe landing. Everything had to be automatic of course, because a one-way radio trip to Percy, as she is affectionately called by her controllers, takes 11 minutes. So there’s no immediate decision-making going on there. Percy had to make up her own mind where and how to land, and she did.

The difference with this lander, of course, was that JPL was not disconnected from her during the landing, because she was able to relay telemetry to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) above her during those 7 minutes of terror.

But did you know that a team of five people came together to create a social media persona for Perseverance. On Twitter and Facebook, the team has worked hard to show that Perseverance is a “boss.” The team messages in English and Spanish.

Ultimately, they were just trying to bring everybody along with the mission. They got together and thought about what makes this rover different. What makes this rover different from the others that have gone before it? What was different about its story?

And it wasn’t about just giving a voice to Perseverance. The rover has a personality; a drive to succeed that informs its choices. Linda Rivera, a digital and social media specialist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who on Thursday monitored Perseverance’s Facebook account, said the character-creation processes included deep thoughts about things like the rover’s hobbies.

Amusingly, according to Twitter, those hobbies are photography, collecting rocks and off-roading!

“I’m safe on Mars” was the first tweet to emerge after she landed safely on Thursday evening, our time.  “Perseverance will get you anywhere”, was another! So was “I’ve come nearly 300 million miles, and I’m just getting started”.

“If Perseverance is anything, she’s a boss,” said Stefanie Smith, the JPL’s digital and social media lead. “She’s the biggest, most ambitious rover we’ve ever sent to the surface of another planet. She’s got a rock vaporizing laser on her head, just like Curiosity did.

“But she’s unlike Curiosity, who, while charming, isn’t as capable as Perseverance. Curiosity can’t walk and chew gum. Curiosity can’t drive and think about driving at the same time. Perseverance can. Perseverance has a second brain and if Perseverance had gone to college, she would have been summa [cum laude]. But she’s also super-lovable.”

The Twitter account has been providing updates on Perseverance since March 2020. It got started by letting the world know its name.

“Call me Perseverance,” the account’s first tweet reads. It adds: “I’m headed for Mars: driven to search for signs of ancient life, test new tech to help future human explorers, and collect the first rock samples for future return to Earth.”

Twitter’s official account responded: “Please find water”!

The nuclear-powered, 1025kg (2,260-pound) rover’s mission is to “seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith (i.e. broken rock and soil) for possible return to Earth,” according to NASA.

So far, all seems to be going according to plan.

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

HAMNET Report 14th February 2021

I will start by correcting myself regarding the expected touch-down time of the Mars Perseverance lander. I thought it would happen in our morning of the 18th February, but of course, we are ahead of America, and so touch-down is expected at around 21h15 our time that evening, or 2.15pm Eastern Standard Time. I am not sure what time NASA TV will start transmitting but YouTube is the place to look. Don’t forget!

Incidentally, a satellite from the United Arab Emirates and one from China were due to arrive at and be inserted into orbit around Mars this past week. This is the first time that satellites from three different countries all arrive at Mars within a few days of each other!

The ARRL says in its news that the hamradio.org domain has been donated to the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) for non-profit educational use to promote the amateur and amateur satellite services, by its owner Andrew J. Wolfram KI7RYC.

In accepting this gift, IARU President Tim Ellam, VE6SH, said, “The hamradio.org domain offers a unique opportunity for which we are deeply grateful to Andrew. It is our intention to develop a website that can serve as a focal point for anyone, anywhere, who may be seeking information on amateur radio, which is better known as ‘ham radio’ by the general public.”

The IARU is the global federation of national amateur radio organizations with member-societies in more than 160 countries and separate territories. Since its founding in 1925, the IARU has successfully defended and expanded access to the radio spectrum by radio amateurs internationally.

This is a wonderful domain, easy to remember, and likely to be put to good use by the IARU. We join the IARU in expressing gratitude to Andrew.

Jose A Mendez EA9E, EmComm coordinator for Spain in IARU Region1 has informed the mailing list that an exercise called # EMCOMNET2K21 / 1 will be held on February 21, 2021 from 11:00 a.m. to 13:00 CAT.

In Spain, the effects of the Filomena snowstorm of mid-January isolated many small towns, and so the objective of the exercise will be to establish two special stations EH1NET and EH4NET to support communications on SSB (on 7110.0 kHz ) and two other special stations EH9NET and EH5NET giving message support on the Winlink VARA HF system.

Please be aware of the use of 7110 kHz next Sunday late morning.

Space weather events, triggered by solar emissions and their interactions with Earth’s atmosphere, can have significant effects on communications and navigation technology and on electric power systems. As with terrestrial weather events, the economic impacts of space weather–related disruptions can be substantial, affecting satellite systems as well as systems on the ground. A severe geomagnetic storm could have a catastrophic effect on modern infrastructure. Even solar storms of more ordinary size can induce currents in the power grid that drive up energy prices, affecting manufacturing and commerce.

Considerable interest exists in developing space weather forecasting technologies that use Earth’s ionosphere as a sensor for events in its neighbouring atmospheric layers. The ionosphere occupies a privileged niche in the geospace system, as it is coupled into both the terrestrial weather of the neutral atmosphere below and the space weather of the magnetosphere above.

Although we have a good understanding of ionospheric climate—diurnal and seasonal variations are well known, as are the rhythms of the sunspot cycle—there are new and vital areas of research to be explored. For example, it is known that the ionosphere—and near-Earth space—experiences variability (e.g., radio signals can fade in and out over periods of seconds, minutes, or hours due to changes in ionospheric electron densities along signal propagation paths), but this variability has not been sampled or studied adequately on regional and global scales.

To understand variability fully on small spatial scales and short timescales, the scientific community will require vastly larger and denser sensing networks that collect data on continental and global scales. With open-source instrumentation cheaper and more plentiful than ever before, the time is ripe for amateur scientists to take distributed measurements of the ionosphere—and the amateur radio community is up for the challenge.

The Ham Radio Science Citizen Investigation (HamSCI) is a collective that unites amateur radio operators with the research community in the space and atmospheric sciences. This confederation of scientists, engineers, and hobbyists holds annual workshops during which ham radio operators and space scientists share findings. A new HamSCI effort, the Personal Space Weather Station project, aims to develop a robust and scalable network of amateur stations that will allow amateurs to collect useful data for space science researchers. The next HamSCI workshop will be held virtually 19–21 March 2021, and it will focus on mid-latitude ionospheric measurements.

Amateur radio operators have an empirical knowledge of space weather because they want to know when and on what frequencies they can establish communications—and when and where they cannot. Changes in the ionosphere like those caused by the day–night transition or by solar activity can impede or aid communications on various frequencies. Amateur radio frequency allocations are distributed throughout the electromagnetic spectrum, enabling useful propagation experiments for any frequency range.

Ham radio is currently experiencing a technical renaissance, thanks to the advent of inexpensive single-board computing platforms and open-source software. Such computer-based systems serve as virtual radio repeaters, connecting computers via the Internet to actual ham radios in the real world to enable remote control and data collection. Beyond the old-fashioned pursuit of voice communication, the lure of maker movement projects and the removal of the Morse code requirement from the amateur licensing exam have led to a greater number of licensed amateurs than ever before.

Thank you to EOS Science News for these paragraphs from their report.

Finally, it being the 14th February today, it is my happy duty to wish all of you in meaningful relationships a happy Valentine’s Day. Today is the day you spoil your significant other rotten, telling your partner how special she or he is to you, which is just long enough for you to slip out, while your better half is glowing with enchantment, to go back to your ham shack for some decent contacts!

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


HAMNET Report 7th February 2021

Southgate Amateur Radio News reports that, for the first time ever, a telecommunications satellite has used an iodine propellant to change its orbit around Earth.

The small but potentially disruptive innovation could help to clear the skies of space junk, by enabling tiny satellites to self-destruct cheaply and easily at the end of their missions, by steering themselves into the atmosphere where they would burn up. The technology could also be used to boost the mission lifetime of small CubeSats that monitor agricultural crops on Earth, or entire mega-constellations of nanosats that provide global internet access, by raising their orbits when they begin to drift towards the planet.

The technology was developed by ThrustMe, a spin-off company from the �cole Polytechnique and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), and supported by ESA through its programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES). It uses a novel propellant – iodine – in an electric thruster that controls the satellite’s height above Earth. Iodine is less expensive and uses simpler technologies than traditional propellants. Unlike many traditional propellants, iodine is non-toxic and it is solid at room temperature and pressure. This makes it easier and cheaper to handle on Earth. When heated, it turns to gas without going through a liquid phase, which makes it ideal for a simple propulsion system. It is also denser than traditional propellants, so it occupies smaller volumes on board the satellite.

ThrustMe launched its iodine thruster on a commercial research nanosat called SpaceTy Beihangkongshi-1 that went into space in November 2020. It was test fired earlier this month before being used to change the orbit of the satellite.

Dawn O’Shea, writing in Medscape’s Univadis publication, says that listening to music can significantly reduce anxiety and pain after major heart surgery, found by a pooled data analysis of the available evidence, published in the online journal Open Heart.

To see if music might help patients undergoing major heart surgery and reduce their length of hospital stay and need for drugs and mechanical ventilation, etc., researchers searched five electronic databases for relevant clinical trials published up to October 2019. They reviewed 20 studies, involving 1,169 patients, and pooled data from 16 involving 987 patients.

The first postoperative music session was associated with the equivalent reduction of 4 points on the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory and 1.05 points on the Visual Analogue Scale/Numeric Rating Scale for anxiety, along with a 1.26 points reduction on the Visual Analogue Scale/Numeric Rating Scale for pain.

Several days of listening to music also reduced anxiety for up to eight days after surgery.

Listening to music was not associated with significant effects on opioids use, length of hospital stay, time spent on mechanical ventilation, blood pressure, heart rate, or breathing rate.

As music has neither risks nor known side effects, unlike drugs, but may influence health outcomes, clinicians should consider it for patients scheduled for major heart surgery, suggest the researchers.

And the Star Advertiser mentions a report from Japan News that says Japan’s government will use communications among smart­-phones as well as a satellite to quickly assess damage from natural disasters and implement rescue operations in areas where telecommunications have been disrupted.

The system, currently being tested in 24 municipalities, would be implemented when cell-phone base stations and other telecommunication infrastructure have been damaged. It uses Bluetooth technology to collect information from private phones via smartphone-to-smartphone communication [a kind of mesh-networking].

The system uses an app that allows residents to enter data on injuries and situations, and will help to speed up evacuation after a disaster. Data is relayed to nearby smartphones, which continue the chain of relaying the information to other phones.

When a resident with data loaded in a smartphone approaches an evacuation centre, the information is sent to the Michibiki 3 satellite, which is connected to military, police and other related organizations. Data can also be shared with family members outside a disaster area.

The technology, developed by Tohoku University, is expected to launch in a few years.

RMS Titanic, Inc., (RMST) the company that owns salvage rights to the Titanic shipwreck, has put off its plans to retrieve the vessel’s radio equipment for exhibit indefinitely. The company cited the coronavirus pandemic for the delay, according to a January 29 court filing. The Atlanta-based company said its plans have faced “increasing difficulty associated with international travel and logistics, and the associated health risks to the expedition team.” RMST’s primary source of revenue comes from its exhibits of its vast collection of Titanic relics, which have been closed or seen only limited attendance due to virus-related restrictions.

RMST — a subsidiary of Premier Exhibitions and the “salvor-in-possession” of the Titanic wreck site — said its planned expedition to recover the ship’s wireless station equipment remains a top priority, however, and will “take place as soon as reasonably practicable.” The Marconi-equipped station transmitted the distress calls after the Titanic (on its maiden voyage) struck an iceberg some 370 miles off the coast of Newfoundland in 1912 and began sinking. The transmissions, heard by some nearby vessels, have been credited with helping rescue some 700 passengers in lifeboats deployed from the Titanic, but about 1,500 passengers were lost.

RMST has been in an ongoing legal battle with the US government over whether the recovery operation would be legal. In May 2020, a US federal judge in Virginia gave permission to retrieve the wireless gear, ruling that the company would be permitted “minimally to cut into the wreck” to access the radio room.

RMST has said the radio room may be reachable via an already-open skylight. But, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has contended that the retrieval expedition is still prohibited under US law and under an international agreement between the US and the UK.

The wreck, some 2 1/2 miles beneath the surface, remained undiscovered until 1985.

Thank you to this week’s ARRL Letter for this latter report.

Finally, a reminder that the Mars Perseverance Rover will hopefully land safely on Mars on Thursday the 18th February, at about 09h00 our time. It is aiming for the Jezero Crater, which once contained a lake, and which provides the investigators with an ideal place to find evidence of ancient microbial life there.

NASA TV will start its broadcast on that day at about 7am, our time, and the easiest way to view it is via the NASA YouTube channel. Don’t forget, see!

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