HAMNET Report 4th June 2023

Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, Regional Director for HAMNET KZN, has mentioned in two separate posts that he and his band of merry ZS5 operators will be busy today the 4th, assisting at the Isuzu Ironman event, along the coastal margins of Durban. He says 8 operators will be deployed, and he will be based at the Venue Ops Centre on the beachfront opposite the old Natal Command building. They are using the 145.625 Highway Amateur Radio Club repeater as well as 145.550 simplex. We look forward to one of Keith’s thorough report-backs on the event later. Good luck to HAMNET KZN for the day.

Then, next Sunday the 11th is the day of the Comrades Marathon, this year to be run from Pietermaritzburg to Kingsmead in Durban, and HAMNET KZN has been asked at very short notice to assist again with this race. We’ll allow Keith some leeway in getting his reports of these two events out afterwards, because he and his team will have had a busy 2 weeks of it! Best wishes for the Comrades, Keith – I don’t know how they thought they were going to manage without HAMNET.

Interestingengineering.com is reporting that the Mars helicopter, called Ingenuity, went silent for a full 6 days at the end of May. It has been operating on Mars for about 765 Martian days, and appears to be experiencing communication problems.

The Mars chopper has only been communicating with NASA scientists intermittently over the last few days, making it difficult for the Ingenuity team to perform another flight.

Ingenuity was only ever supposed to fly about five times. It has far exceeded those initial mission parameters, though, having taken to the skies for the 50th time in April.

In a status update posted on May 26 by Ingenuity’s chief engineer, Travis Brown explained that the recent communications problems arose before Ingenuity’s 50th flight and just after its 49th on April 2, 2023.

After the downlink of data from the 49th flight, the Ingenuity team was unable to uplink instructions to the rotorcraft for its 50th flight. “That downlink was the last time the team would hear from the helicopter for an agonizingly long time,” Brown explained in the update.

The problem actually began earlier, though, after flight 40 in January 2023 when the Ingenuity team started experiencing “brownouts” — meaning parts of the helicopter were receiving less power than required and it would go into low-power mode.

On Sol 755 (the 755th Martian day of the mission), the team completely lost contact with Ingenuity. “In more than 700 sols operating the helicopter on Mars, not once had we ever experienced a total radio blackout,” Brown wrote. “Even in the worst communications environments, we had always seen some indication of activity.”

Thankfully, though, on Sols 761 and 762, two small radio communications came through, showing that Ingenuity was alive. The team later determined that a rocky ridge between Perseverance and Ingenuity was obstructing communications. When the rover got within 80 meters of the helicopter, they were able to uplink instructions and go ahead with flight 50.

Ingenuity is now a fully-fledged aerial scout for the Perseverance mission as it has gone beyond initial expectations by helping the ground team to plan the rover’s path.

In his post, Brown did state that dust build-up on the helicopter’s solar panels will likely lead to more brownouts. “We are not yet done playing this high-stakes game of hide and seek with the playful little helicopter,” he wrote.

Every Ingenuity flight is a major achievement and every flight might be the historic helicopter’s last.

I know what it feels like when you lose contact with a rover radio op during a critical part of a sporting event or rescue, so I can imagine what it must feel like thinking you’ve heard the last from the little chopper at a distance of more than 300 million kilometres, in its current orbital position relative to Earth.

In a report back from the little island called Rockall, it appears that the 3-man team managed to get on to the rock on Tuesday. James Bertram of Largs, was reported in the Largs and Millport News to have said that their ascent up the granite rock was tougher than expected because the waves were so challenging.

The expert mountaineer in the team from Bulgaria, Emil, was the first officially to land on the rock to fix the lines needed in order for Chris (known as “Cam”) and Adrian to join him. 

But the swell was so great that he was twice washed into the sea before he was able to make it up on the third attempt.

James says he’s delighted to hear that the trio have overcome the adversity to begin broadcasting from the summit in the historic visit.

“I made contact with the expedition for the first time and was able to let the guys’ families know they are on the rock and are OK,” James added.

A week of radio operating is on the go now, and then Chris Cameron starts his attempt at 60 solo days perched on top of the most inhospitable island in the world!

Meanwhile, the ARRL is organizing its summer Field Day, to take place over the weekend of 24th and 25th June. Official National Radio Societies around the world all hold similar Field Days, and America is no exception. Hams from across North America will participate in Field Day by establishing temporary ham radio stations in public locations to demonstrate their skill and service. Their use of radio signals, which reach beyond borders, brings people together while providing essential communication in the service of communities. Field Day highlights ham radio’s ability to work reliably under any conditions from almost any location and create an independent, wireless communications network.

The two most important rules of Field Day are that, firstly, portable power must be used to drive the station in the field, and secondly, that all antennas must be temporary or portable, and not based on any permanent mast structure. These rules help to prove to onlookers that radio amateurs are capable of setting up an emergency station, out in the sticks so to speak, and providing a means of communication during any kind of emergency.

After all, that capability is a core function of HAMNET as we know it.

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