HAMNET Report 17th December 2023

Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, he of HAMNET KZN has sent me a report of the Upper Highway Trail Marathon held last Saturday. He says:

“Saturday 9th December, HAMNET KZN once again partnered with S.T.A.R.T Rescue to assist with communications for this annual event. S.T.A.R.T (Specialised Tactical Accident Rescue Team) consists of Netcare 911, Rescuetech, K9 Search & Rescue and their Horse Unit. 10 HAMNET KZN members were deployed, 2 of whom are active members of the S.T.A.R.T Rescue team.

“A Joint Operations Centre (JOC) was established at the beautiful finish venue of Camp Orchards in Hillcrest that was manned by Provincial Director Keith Lowes ZS5WFD for HAMNET and Justin Wright ZS5JW for the S.T.A.R.T team members.  HAMNET made use of the Highway Amateur Radio Club’s 145.7625 repeater situated in Kloof which gave excellent coverage of the whole route taking runners through 7 nature conservancies, 6 river eco-systems, 3 waterfalls and some of the most beautiful trails in the area.

“111 runners started the 42Km race at 05H30 with 5 Water Points, whilst 400 runners started the 17Km event at 06H00 with 2 Water Points en route.

“Weather conditions were ideal with cloud, overcast conditions and light rain for the duration. I am pleased to report that there were no serious medical emergencies.

“This was our final sporting event for the year, [so] thank you to my HAMNET KZN team for their dedication and loyal support during the year. You may take a well-earned break with your families but please remain vigilant and be available should a call for HAMNET’s assistance be received during the festive period.”

Thank you for the report Keith, congratulations to the KZN team on your regular and efficient handling of sporting events; and congratulations to you too, on a recent birthday. Hope you have many more like it!

On Friday morning the 15th of December, an unexpected HAMNET simulated emergency exercise was launched. At 06h30 that morning, local time, HAMNET National Director Grant ZS6GS released a report that an imaginary earthquake measuring 8.7 on the Richter scale had struck South Africa at 04h35 that morning.

Widespread destruction had ensued, leading to chaos and multiple injuries. HAMNET operators were to “survey the area” they were currently in and report to the “local authorities” via a central Operations Station. If no Ops Centre was available, they and anyone else on air were tasked to establish one.

All central operations stations were required to relay the reports to the National Coordination Centre.

Local repeaters for local Central Ops stations were to be used, with backup by HF, or digital modes such as Winlink, JS8Call, or VarAC; but DMR, IRLP or Echolink were forbidden, because the internet had failed during the exercise.

HAMNET’s current emergency frequency bandplans were to be employed.

Imaginary situations were to be created, including numbers of injured, damage to major structures or infrastructure in their area, as well as requirements for support. Strategic buildings such as hospitals and police stations were to be included, and a report compiled to be sent via radio to another operator or control station, using the IARU Region 1 messaging format for messages.

On all occasions, radio transmissions were to include the fact that this was an exercise and that no action was required.

After their stint was over, and the exercise closed, operators were to email their participation to the National Directorate, for reconciliation between messages sent and those received.

In the Western Cape, the Disaster Control Centre station at the Disaster Risk Management centre in Goodwood ZS1DCC was activated by 07h00 by ZS1MJT, who then fielded reports from a variety of suburbs, mostly on VHF FM frequencies, but also including APRS monitoring, with message handling as well.

By about 10h30, the chatter in Div 1 had died down, and Michael ZS1MJT collected the messages received, and closed down the control station.

It will be interesting to hear what activity took place in other divisions, and how religiously HAMNET members stuck to the script.

Thanks to Grant ZS6GS for choreographing the exercise. I sure hope we never do have an 8.7 magnitude earthquake in our land!

Now, how many of you believe, like me, that doctors are useless communicators? In interviews with patients who had seen other professionals, I was often astonished at how little the patients had been told by their doctors.

Reporting from the Boston School of Medicine, medicalxpress.com says that teaching is an integral communication skill central to the practice of medicine. The art of teaching extends beyond disseminating information. The skill directly translates to health provider-patient communication, the success of which is positively correlated with improved patient outcomes.

“Teaching is a large part of medicine—patient education is critical to providing high-quality patient-centred care. Education helps patients understand the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of their treatments and allows them to be better participants in their own care and in shared decision making,” said author Susan White, MD, assistant professor of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine.

In an effort to foster near-peer inter-professional teaching and teamwork, the school has developed a curriculum using medical students as teaching assistants, called Educational Fellows, to work with students studying to become physician assistants (PA’s).

“Our Educational Fellows curriculum allows medical students to learn the art of teaching (pedagogy) and learning theory and to practice what they had learned in working with PA students in the classroom,” explains White, who also is director of the Physician Assistant program at the school. “We expect that the Educational Fellow experience will make those medical students better prepared for patient education.”

White and her colleagues present their experiences and lessons learned from establishing this program that 1) introduces select medical students to PA students in the context of a near-peer teaching framework during pre-clinical training; 2) trains the medical students in best practices of teaching and learning; and 3) provides an additional source of instructors for introductory science courses.

White believes the program could be modified for other training programs that use peer-peer or near-peer teaching for tutoring or as teaching assistants.

For example, PA students might work with students in nursing or physical therapy to provide tutoring or assistance in a lab setting, or Ph.D. graduate students might be teaching assistants for undergraduate courses. She hopes that all graduate-level programs in medicine will adopt the curriculum better to prepare their graduates to teach and educate their patients, whether it be bedside nurses teaching patients home care skills, or surgeons explaining a complex procedure.

Well, HAMNET members are skilled communicators. I’m sure we could teach doctors a thing or two.

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

HAMANET Report 10th December 2023

Reliefweb.int has reported that after a long period of drought, heavy rainfall hit the countries in the Horn of Africa in October and November 2023. The arid soil could not absorb the water, resulting in devastating floods in many areas.

The floods in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan have been particularly destructive. The people of East Africa waited in vain for the rainy season for several years, before the climate phenomenon El Niño brought abundant rainfall. The floods are a typical consequence of long periods of drought: The water cannot soak into the completely dried-out upper layers of the earth and eventually runs off in sometimes torrential streams. Weather forecasts predict even more rain in the coming weeks, meaning further flooding is expected.

In Somalia, over 450,000 people have left their homes and fled to higher ground. Two hundred and forty thousand people have evacuated in Ethiopia, and 150,000 in Kenya, where over 100 people have died. In the entire region between Sudan and Tanzania, over 3.1 million people have been affected by the disaster in one way or another.

The damage is enormous: in Kenya alone, the water has drowned over 2,000 farm animals and flooded large areas of agricultural land. There is **limited access to drinking water and **food, and many people have lost all their household items and valuables, making it a challenge to meet even the basic needs of those forced to evacuate. There is a risk of disease outbreaks. Members of vulnerable groups need accommodation and access to essential services.

There is an 80% probability that the effects of El Niño will last until at least May 2024. These effects could mean that those who have evacuated cannot return to their homes and earn a living for a long time. The last El Niño phenomenon in 2019 brought flooding and landslides, it affected 330,000 people in Kenya alone and 160,000 of them had to leave their homes. That number of people has almost already been reached again this year, after just a few weeks.

GDACS has been reporting since Tuesday this week on a new tropical storm named MICHAUNG which formed over the western Bay of Bengal on 3 December very early in the morning (UTC) and started moving north-west toward central-eastern India. On 4 December at 6.00 UTC its centre was located over the sea approximately 85 km east of the border between Tamil Nadu and Andra Pradesh States, with maximum sustained winds of 102 km/h as a tropical storm.

On the forecast track, MICHAUNG was forecast to make landfall over the area of coastal City of Nizampatnam, central-northern Andra Pradesh State on 5 December very early in the afternoon (UTC), with maximum sustained winds up to 92 km/h.

Over the following 48 hours, very heavy rainfall and strong winds were forecast over the northern Tamil Nadu and the whole Andra Pradesh States. Storm surges were also forecast over the central and northern coastal Andra Pradesh State.

According to media reports, at least 16 people died in Tamil Nadu State due to severe weather-related incidents, as heavy rains affected Chennai and surrounding areas. In Andra Pradesh State, authorities evacuated over 9,000 people to 236 relief camps in eight coastal districts and were preparing to evacuate 28,000 others.

Hamsci.org has reported that Dr. Nathaniel Frissell W2NAF, Lead Organizer for HamSCI and assistant professor of Physics and Engineering at the University of Scranton, has announced that its latest paper, “Heliophysics and Amateur Radio: Citizen Science Collaborations For Atmospheric, Ionospheric, And Space Physics Research And Operations,” has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers of Astronomy and Space Science*.

The paper reviews the history of amateur radio and science back to 1912, with the greatest emphasis on results that have emerged in the last decade. Dr. Frissell stressed the importance of this work by noting “This paper is the result of expanding and combining two white papers submitted to the National Academy of Sciences Decadal Survey for Solar and Space Physics (Heliophysics) 2024-2033, which helps the United States to establish research priorities for the next ten years. As such, this paper not only reviews past results, but also provides recommendations for amateur radio – professional science collaborations in the future from both technical and community-building perspectives.”

*Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences is a multidisciplinary journal that unravels the mysteries of the universe and explores planetary science and extragalactic astronomy in all wavelengths.

Yesterday, the 9th of December was an interesting day for those of you, who have wondered about comets, or who know what happened in 1911 or 1986. Those were the years in which the most famous comet of them all, Halley’s comet, came closest to earth as it swung by the son on its 75 year orbit. When close to the son a comet travels very fast and leaves a long dust tail that can be visible.

When a comet swings out away from the son, it slows down, and reaches its furthest point, called its aphelion very slowly. Well, yesterday Halley reached aphelion, 37 years after perihelion, and now starts the long trek back to swing past the son in the year 2061.

Because its dust tail gets less as it leaves the son, it becomes less and less visible, and was last seen in the Very Large Telescope in 2003 as a magnitude +28 object. That is frightfully dim.

A very clever chap born near Stuttgart in Germany in the middle fifteen hundreds, called Johannes Kepler, published his three laws of planetary motion, which are still valid today to calculate why Halley is where it is, between 1609 and 1619. It is astonishing that such intense mathematical ability was already available even before Isaac Newton was born. The equations are very complex for idiots like me!

HAMNET National Director Grant Southey ZS6GS has sent a note of greetings and thanks to his regional deputies as the year winds down.

He thanks them all for the hard work and dedication shown during the year, and expresses gratitude for the work done to make HAMNET a better organization. While wishing all a pleasant break, he reminds them that disasters and incidents do not have holidays, so all need to be ready always and prepared for any eventuality that may arise.

On behalf of the general HAMNET membership, I’d like to thank Grant for continuing to steer the ship in a forward direction, and greet him and all the regional staff on your behalf.

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

HAMNET Report 3rd December 2023

Commercial air crews are reporting something “unthinkable” in the skies above the Middle East.

Brian Jacobs, ZS6YZ, our Deputy National Hamnet Director drew my attention to an article by Matthew Gault in vice.com, which notes that novel “spoofing” attacks have caused navigation systems to fail in dozens of incidents since September. 

In late September, multiple commercial flights near Iran went astray after navigation systems went blind. The planes first received spoofed GPS signals, meaning signals designed to fool planes’ systems into thinking they are flying miles away from their real location. One of the aircraft almost flew into Iranian airspace without permission. Since then, air crews discussing the problem online have said it’s only gotten worse, and experts are racing to establish who is behind it.

OPSGROUP, an international group of pilots and flight technicians, sounded the alarm about the incidents in September and began to collect data to share with its members and the public. According to OPSGROUP, multiple commercial aircraft in the Middle Eastern region have lost the ability to navigate after receiving spoofed navigation signals for months. And it’s not just GPS — fall-back navigation systems are also corrupted, resulting in total failure.

According to OPSGROUP, the activity is centred in three regions: Baghdad, Cairo, and Tel Aviv. They have tracked more than 50 incidents in the last five weeks, the group said in a November update, and identified three new and distinct kinds of navigation spoofing incidents, with two arising since the initial reports in September. 

While GPS spoofing is not new, the specific vector of these new attacks was previously “unthinkable,” according to OPSGROUP, which described them as exposing a “fundamental flaw in avionics design.” The spoofing corrupts the Inertial Reference System, a piece of equipment often described as the “brain” of an aircraft that uses gyroscopes, accelerometers, and other tech to help planes navigate. One expert Motherboard spoke to said this was “highly significant.” 

“This immediately sounds unthinkable,” OPSGROUP said in its public post about the incidents. “The IRS (Inertial Reference System) should be a standalone system, unable to be spoofed. The idea that we could lose all on-board nav capability, and have to ask [air traffic control] for our position and request a heading, makes little sense at first glance— especially for state of the art aircraft with the latest avionics. However, multiple reports confirm that this has happened.”

Thanks for the interesting, if worrying, report, Brian.

Danie ZS1OSS, of HAMNET Western Cape has reported on the latest City of Cape Town/Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant disaster exercise which was held last Thursday the 29th at the Disaster Risk Management Centre in Goodwood. He notes that HAMNET is always present as an observer, noting how things pan out, learning where the communications weakness might be, and ready to provide amateur radio ideas to aid communications during the exercise, or in a real disaster. Danie was joined by Ian ZS1BR as HAMNET representatives, monitoring the “action” and the associated communications. It turned out not to be necessary to activate our radio room upstairs in the building during the exercise. Thanks for the report, Danie.

Writing in Science News, Jake Beuhler says that nesting chinstrap penguins take nodding off to the extreme. The birds briefly dip into a slumber many thousands of times per day, sleeping for only seconds at a time. 

The penguins’ breeding colonies are noisy and stressful places, and threats from predatory birds and aggressive neighbouring penguins are unrelenting. The extremely disjointed sleep schedule may help the penguins to protect their young while still getting enough shut-eye, researchers report in the Dec. 1 Science

The findings add to evidence “that avian sleep can be very different from the sleep of land mammals,” says UCLA neuroscientist Jerome Siegel

Nearly a decade ago, behavioural ecologist Won Young Lee of the Korea Polar Research Institute in Incheon noticed something peculiar about how chinstrap penguins nesting on Antarctica’s King George Island were sleeping. They would seemingly doze off for very short periods of time in their cacophonous colonies. Then in 2018, Lee learned about frigate birds’ ability to steal sleep while airborne on days-long flights. 

Lee teamed up with sleep ecophysiologist Paul-Antoine Libourel of the Lyon Neuroscience Research Centre in France and other researchers to investigate the penguins’ sleep. In 2019, the team studied the daily sleep patterns of 14 nesting chinstrap penguins using data loggers mounted on the birds’ backs. The devices had electrodes surgically implanted into the penguins’ brains for measuring brain activity. Other instruments on the data loggers recorded the animals’ movements and location.

Nesting chinstrap penguins grab seconds of sleep at a time, perhaps so they can stay alert enough to defend chicks and eggs from predators, and to ward off aggressive neighbour penguins. Nesting penguins had incredibly fragmented sleep patterns, taking over 600 “microsleeps” an hour, and each averaging only four seconds, the researchers found. At times, the penguins slept with only half of their brain; the other half stayed awake. Altogether, the oodles of snoozes added up, providing over 11 hours of sleep for each brain hemisphere across more than 10,000 brief sleeps each day. 

Some marine mammals and other types of birds have strange or restricted sleep patterns too, often when staying alert is important. Dolphins can sleep with half their brain at a time, letting them remain vigilant for over two weeks straight. To stay wary of predators, mallard ducks can sleep with one half of their brain at a time too, and elephant seals dramatically reduce their sleeping hours while out at sea. But the sheer number of microsleeps seen in chinstrap penguins is unprecedented among animals, Lee says.

“It seems that the penguins do not have any time where they decrease their vigilance,” Libourel says. “just a slight increase of microsleep-bout length around noon.”

The sleep pattern may help the penguins balance the brain’s need for rest with the demands of nesting. Predatory birds like brown skuas patrol penguin colonies looking to plunder undefended eggs and chicks. “Penguin parents should be vigilant all the time during breeding to keep their offspring safe,” Lee says. There’s also constant commotion and noise in the colony disrupting sleep. Such extremely interrupted sleep may reflect the penguins’ flexibility in handling the stressors of raising chicks.

The many micronaps did appear to be at least partially restorative to their brains, since the studied penguins were able to function well enough both to survive and successfully raise their chicks. It’s unclear if the penguins’ sleep pattern changes after the breeding season.

“Sleep seems to be very diverse and flexible among species,” Lee says. “I believe that there are still many things unrevealed about animal sleep. By studying their sleep behaviour, we can understand how animals have evolved to achieve brain restoration.”

Hmm – 10000 micronaps a day, he says. I think my sleep pattern during interminable Varsity lectures was much the same!

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

HAMNET Report 26th November 2023

A tunnel being excavated though a mountain in Uttarakhand, India partly collapsed some two weeks ago, trapping 41 workers behind some 50 metres of rock. Rescue efforts have been underway to reach the men, and supplementary oxygen, water, and simple meals have been conveyed to them via pipelines. A flexible endoscopic camera has been passed through the pipeline too, and the men have been seen and assessed by medical teams, as the work continues to burrow through the collapsed rock and earth to reach them.

As of Thursday, drilling through the fallen rock was still continuing, with hitches due to problems with machinery, including damage to the drill when it struck an iron girder which was in the rubble needing removal. Repairs to the drill were needed, while the girder was cut away to allow further drilling to continue.

News yesterday afternoon is that the drilling machine, known as an augur, broke while being extracted after striking the iron beam, so the last 15 metres or so of earth needing to be removed to rescue the workers will have to be removed by hand. This will delay their rescue even longer.

The NSRI has reported that a catamaran, with two men aboard issued a distress call on Tuesday the 21st, after they suffered engine and rudder failure, while en route to Durban from Mozambique.

A Transnet National Ports Authority helicopter, during a routine flight, had intercepted a VHF marine radio distress call from the yacht skipper reporting to be adrift at sea caught in strong South Westerly winds with motor mechanical failure, limited battery power and rudder failure. The helicopter crew then raised the alarm.

Initially unsure of the safety of the 2 crewmen the NSRI Richards Bay rescue craft Ocean Guardian was swiftly launched. On reaching the general area that they had reported to be in, and following a brief search, the NSRI located the yacht 20 nautical miles from the Port of Richards Bay and 18 nautical miles off-shore of Durnford Point lighthouse.

Communications were assisted by Telkom Maritime Radio Services, NSRI Richards Bay duty controllers and the TNPA Richards Bay Port Control.

The NSRI crew rigged a towline and the sailing Catamaran was towed safely to the Port of Richards Bay where their rescue craft was drafted alongside and they were moored safely at a berth at Tuzi Gazi small craft harbour, where they will render repairs before continuing on their voyage.

Sunmedia from New Zealand issued a report on Friday the 24th, noting that around 40 people from Police, Amateur Radio Emergency Communications (AREC) and Land Search and Rescue were put to the test in the exercise last weekend.

The Operation Extra scenario revolved around three anglers who became separated and lost in the Tukituki River area in the Ruahine Ranges after a day’s fishing. The group had split up, creating two separate search operations.

One operation involved a dementia sufferer (aka “Jon the dummy”) wearing a Wandersearch tracker who was located ‘deceased’ in thick blackberry bushes after succumbing to hypothermia.

A second search was launched for the other two anglers who had walked upriver before getting caught in heavy rain and rising river levels.

After a night in the bush for both searchers and the ‘lost’ fishermen, the pair was found early on Sunday morning.

The Incident Management Team (IMT) was based at the Hawke’s Bay Coastguard HQ in Napier and run by a mix of Police and LandSAR staff.

Senior Constable Andy Walker, who put in months of planning for the exercise, says for some Police staff it was their first exposure to being part of the planning, operational and logistical decision making associated with a search.

He says as with all searches communications played a huge role in its success.

“AREC did a fantastic job keeping communication channels to all teams, including having teams carry the 25kg repeaters to the top of the ranges to provide coverage into the headwaters of the Tukituki,” says Andy.

He says there was a slight hiccup when overnight winds snapped an aerial, necessitating some hasty field repairs.

Andy purposely piled on the pressure on the Incident Controllers, giving them several interjections to contend with.

“These included calls from media wanting information on the search; a large group of family members launching their own search operation; a visit from Inspector Marty James questioning staffing; TOIL, costs and budgets; plus the family liaison aspects due to ‘Jon’ being from Australia and being located deceased”, he noted.

Michael ZS1MJT, the Western Cape’s Regional Director, has written a report about an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) which was activated suddenly on the 17th November.

He says that a request was sent out to HAMNET members to assist with the tracking. Some members started trying to get a direction to the beacon from their homes, but nothing was heard across the Peninsula.

A member went to the top of Tygerberg hill to try to get a direction of the signal from a higher vantage point, but to no avail. Nothing was heard.

Driving around the area where the GPS points were plotted, was also proving a challenge as the noise levels in the area were causing interference on radio frequencies (RFI).

Following some of the GPS coordinates received from Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC), our members travelled from Tygerberg to Goodwood, Cape Town International airport, Montague Gardens, and back to Tygerberg Hill.

As nothing was heard, a call was made to stand down that evening and resume the following day.

Through the night, all locations were recorded and plotted on Google Earth. From there, using triangulation of most locations, members were deployed on Saturday to hunt for the elusive signals.

At 11h26, a clear signal was heard, and it was possible to track down the ELT to a business in Elsies River. On closer investigation, those premises proved not to be harbouring the elusive beacon, so the neighboring business was contacted. The owner made arrangements to open up later in the day and finally, at 17h42 on Saturday 18 November, the unit was located and switched off.

It appears that the ELT had been incorrectly disposed of at a dump site, and ended up at an Ewaste facility. The item was in a big crate with other electronic waste, and appears to have been rattled around, unintentionally turning it on. The signals were very scattered due to the nature of the building, the roof, and the material on top of and around it.

Thanks are due to Colin (ZS1RS) and Doug (ZS1DUG) who actively looked for it on Saturday 18 November, Shawn (ZS1LED) who assisted on Friday the 17th and Sybrand (ZS1L), who mapped the locations on both days.

Thank you, Michael, for managing the search while away for the weekend, and for the report.

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

HAMNET Report 19th November 2023

BBC.com reported on Friday that Zimbabwe has declared a state of emergency in the capital Harare over a cholera outbreak. The outbreak has so far killed dozens of people with more than 7,000 suspected cases.

The city authorities say the outbreak, spreading throughout the city, has invoked memories of a deadly outbreak in 2008, in which thousands died. “We have declared a state of emergency because of cholera,” local media quoted Mayor Ian Makone as saying.

The authorities are now asking for help to contain the spread and provide safe water, saying the aid being received is inadequate. Health authorities have been struggling to contain the high number of admissions following the outbreak, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC).

It cites a lack of health workers to manage the cases, as well as lack of supplies to stop the transmission. Zimbabwe has been battling the deadly cholera outbreak in recent months amid a lack of access to clean water.

The epicentre of the latest outbreak is Harare’s high-density suburb of Kuwadzana, which accounts for nearly half the reported cases, according to the authorities. On Tuesday, the ministry of health announced that the country had recorded 7,398 suspected cases, 50 confirmed deaths, and 109 people in hospital.

It came as the health minister visited the epicentre, announcing measures to deal with the outbreak – including the removal of street food vendors, and trucking of safe water.

The IFRC says the disease is quickly spreading, affecting multiple geographical areas in 45 out of 62 districts and in all 10 provinces of the country. It says the outbreak can be expected to cross the border.

I do not have to remind you that we share a border with Zimbabwe.

Here’s a clever concept. Hackster.io reports in its news department that Researchers at the Centre Tecnològic de Telecomunicacions de Catalunya (CTTC), the University of Luxembourg, and the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) have taken CubeSat technology and blended it with 3D printing to design a nanosatellite which can be held aloft by balloon to deliver broadband connectivity to disaster-hit regions in as little as 90 minutes.

“Our project provides a solution that means that a communications network to provide help in emergency situations can be established quickly,” says Carlos Monzo Sánchez, a professor at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. “It uses equipment that offers a communications service quickly, when it would not otherwise be possible. It is especially designed for emergency services, so that they can work in a safer and more coordinated way in complex situations.”

The core of the concept is the CubeSat standard for nanosatellites, low-cost- highly-miniaturized satellites which have been used extensively for experimentation in space. In the team’s approach, though, it doesn’t have quite so far to go: the CubeSats, built on a 3D printer in as little as 90 minutes, are lofted above the disaster zone on a balloon, communicating with the ground over a LoRa low-power long-range radio.

“Our solution enables communication over long distances, as well as providing a scalable system for a large number of users that is reusable anywhere and at any time,” claims Raúl Parada, a researcher at the CTTC and first author of the paper. “We chose [a] CubeSat as for communications in difficult environments due to its speed of deployment and functioning. It operates independently of current communication systems, which may be damaged during a disaster, and enables long-range communication.”

The team’s prototypes are based on the Semtech SX1278 LoRa transceiver, which can be connected to an antenna as simple as a length of metal ruler. The 1U CubeSat in which the transceiver is installed was 3D printed and fitted with a sensor package including a Bosch Sensortec BME280 environmental sensor, a TDK InvenSense MPU-9250 inertial measurement unit (IMU), a Hanwei MQ-135 air quality sensor, and a Roithner LaserTechnik GUVA-S12SD ultraviolet light sensor, all linked to an Arduino Nano microcontroller — with a GPS receiver added at a later date to make it easier to recover downed satellites.

“Our solution is designed to provide a rapid service in complex scenarios, and as such we have prioritized its ease of deployment over its use as a telecommunications solution in normal situations, where other infrastructures would be more suitable,” Monzo concludes. “The next step is to work on the services that could be included in this type of infrastructure, minimizing deployment times and ensuring it can be used in a wide range of situations.”

The team’s work has been published in the journal Aerospace under open-access terms.

Now Hackaday’s Dan Maloney reports on a Ham who used a can of “ham” to make a pretty effective 70cm “cantenna”. If you’d have asked us for odds on whether you could successfully turn a canned ham into an amateur radio antenna, we’d have declined the offer. Now, having seen [Ben Eadie (VE6SFX)]’s “hamtenna” project, we’d look at just about any “Will it antenna?” project with a lot less scepticism than before.

To be painfully and somewhat unnecessarily clear about [Ben]’s antenna, the meat-like product itself is not included in the build, although he did use it as sustenance. Rather, it was the emptied and cleaned metal can that was the chief component of the build, along with a few 3D printed standoffs and the usual feedline and connectors. This is a slot antenna; a design [Ben] recently experimented with by applying copper foil tape to his car’s sunroof. This time around, the slot was formed by separating the top and bottom of the can using the standoffs and electrically connecting them with a strip of copper tape.

Connected to a stub of coax and a BNC connector, a quick scan with a NanoVNA showed a fantastic 1.26:1 SWR in the centre of the 70-cm ham band, and a nearly flat response all the way across the band. Results may vary depending on the size of canned ham you sacrifice for this project; [Ben]’s can measured just about 35 cm around, a happy half-wavelength coincidence. And it actually worked in field tests — he was able to hit a local repeater and got good signal reports. All that and a ham sandwich? Not too shabby.

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

HAMNET Report 12th November 2023

At the beginning of this report, and it being Remembrance Sunday, I should pause to reflect on those special people, both Radio Amateurs and signalers all across the world, who have lost their lives in the course of their duties. I hope and trust that their endeavours were never in vain, and that they shall not be forgotten.

An earthquake that struck Nepal last weekend, with magnitude 6.4, affecting the Karnali Province in southern Nepal, has turned out to have resulted in 157 fatalities, of which 82 were children. Another 349 people were injured, and 10000 displaced. 17740 houses were destroyed, and another 17127 partly damaged.

The Nepal Humanitarian Country Team estimate that 1.3 million were exposed to the shaking, and that 250000 people are still in need of assistance. Will it come before the next humanitarian disaster strikes that part of the world, I wonder.

HAMNET Western Cape is busy renovating and repurposing a horsebox-like trailer, acquired from a source in Division Six, with a view to equipping it with the necessary power infrastructure, coaxial cables, working surfaces, radios, antennas, solar panels,  computers and screens, to become a fully operational mobile Emergency Operations Centre, which can be moved to wherever it is needed.

It is tall enough to stand up in, and can host at least three operators comfortably in chairs at desks built in. Its side wall flaps up like an awning to provide shelter to anyone standing next to it during bad weather, but a door has been cut into that awning, so that it doesn’t always have to be flapped up if not needed. It has been repainted with very weatherproof paint in a white colour, and will have suitable logos and identification from above, so that it will stand out at an event, and for helicopters from above.

A work party was held yesterday, to lay out the wiring from battery, mains, solar and generator sources, as well as reconnecting the trailer’s backlights to the 7 pin socket on the towing vehicle. A small group of HAMNET members has formed the trailer working group, under the command of Sybrand Cillie, ZS1L, the Deputy Regional Director of HWC.

Here’s some interesting technology described by TechXplore.com. Most anyone who’s used noise-cancelling headphones knows that hearing the right noise at the right time can be vital. Someone might want to erase car horns when working indoors, but not when walking along busy streets. Yet people can’t choose what sounds their headphones cancel.

Now, a team led by researchers at the University of Washington has developed deep-learning algorithms that let users pick which sounds filter through their headphones in real time. The team is calling the system “semantic hearing.” Headphones stream captured audio to a connected smartphone, which cancels all environmental sounds.

Either through voice commands or a smartphone app, headphone wearers can select which sounds they want to include from 20 classes, such as sirens, baby cries, speech, vacuum cleaners and bird chirps. Only the selected sounds will be played through the headphones.

The team presented its findings on 1st November at UIST ’23 in San Francisco. In the future, the researchers plan to release a commercial version of the system.

“Understanding what a bird sounds like and extracting it from all other sounds in an environment requires real-time intelligence that today’s noise-cancelling headphones haven’t achieved,” said senior author Shyam Gollakota, a UW professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering.

“The challenge is that the sounds headphone wearers hear need to sync with their visual senses. You can’t be hearing someone’s voice two seconds after they talk to you. This means the neural algorithms must process sounds in under a hundredth of a second.”

Because of this time crunch, the semantic hearing system must process sounds on a device such as a connected smartphone, instead of on more robust cloud servers. Additionally, because sounds from different directions arrive in people’s ears at different times, the system must preserve these delays and other spatial cues so people can still meaningfully perceive sounds in their environment.

Tested in environments such as offices, streets and parks, the system was able to extract sirens, bird chirps, alarms and other target sounds, while removing all other real-world noise. When 22 participants rated the system’s audio output for the target sound, they said that on average, the quality improved compared to the original recording.

In some cases, the system struggled to distinguish between sounds that share many properties, such as vocal music and human speech. The researchers note that training the models on more real-world data might improve these outcomes.

Thank you to Phys.org for bringing that post to our attention.

I was going to start the bulletin off by warning you of the rogue white dwarf star WD 0810-353 which is due to hit our solar system. This latest scare came about in 2022 when astronomers Vadim Bobylev and Anisa Bajkova analysed the data sent back by ESA’s Gaia space observatory, which was launched in 2023. By studying the shift in the spectrum of the white dwarf star WD 0810-353 in the constellation of Puppis 36 light-years away, they calculated that the star was on a collision course with our solar system.

Since the rogue star will only pass within 31,000 AU (4.6 trillion km) of the Sun, this doesn’t seem much to lose sleep over, but that distance means it will pass through the Oort cloud, which is home to icy objects only kept in position by the tenuous grip of the distant Sun. When something like a rogue star passes through it, it can dislodge these objects and send them into the inner solar system.

Long story short: it could cause a rain of comets and asteroids, like the one that may have killed off the dinosaurs.

Taking new spectra of the rogue star confirmed that the first calculations hadn’t taken into account the powerful magnetic field of the star. Such fields can distort a spectrogram, spreading out the spectral lines and shifting them into new wavelengths. In the case of WD 0810-353, it made it look as if it was coming our way. By correcting the spectrum using a polarizing filter, a more accurate calculation was possible, which showed that the first estimate was more than a little bit off.

“We found that the approach speed measured by the Gaia project is incorrect, and the close encounter predicted between WD 0810-353 and the Sun is actually not going to happen,” says Stefano Bagnulo, an astronomer at Armagh and co-author of the study.

So I moved this item to the bottom of the bulletin instead. Oh, and by the way, it was only due to affect our solar system in 29000 years, so there is still time to take in the washing and bath the baby.

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

HAMNET Report 5th November 2023

The ARRL letter of this Thursday says that Radio Amateurs are still providing communication services to and from the affected areas in and around Acapulco, Mexico.

On the morning of Wednesday, October 25, 270km/h winds from Hurricane Otis knocked out all communications and unleashed a nightmare scenario in Acapulco. The area is home to roughly 800,000 people.

Radio Club Queretaro member Ruben Navarrete Galvan, XE1EC, told ARRL News that amateur radio operators are still active with multiple operations, and they are receiving citizen requests to obtain information on the whereabouts of their relatives.

“We keep an online database with these requests that we share with the different hams participating in the operation. Read-only access to this database is provided to the authorities who might need it, too. We also transmit this information to hams deployed in the Acapulco area via HF,” Galvan said.

Additionally, hams in the Acapulco area are trying to locate civilians using their own resources. Some of these hams are operating their equipment on battery power, while others have access to generators. Accessing many areas in the region has been a challenge due to the amount of debris blocking travel

Amateur radio operators have also been receiving requests from Acapulco residents to call their relatives and let them know they are fine. Those requests are transmitted via HF to the Emergency Net Operator, and then the call is made to the family members.

Galvan also reported that hams have been providing communication between state agencies and their field personnel deployed in the Acapulco area. “At least three state agencies have hams on their teams. This is the case for the states of Durango, Morelos, and Santiago de Querétaro. We have been communicating their messages to their central coordination via HF relays. Requests for specific requirements have been escalated to the support teams. Air medical services have been directed to areas that were not being attended,” he said.

Just too late for inclusion in last Sunday’s bulletin, Keith Lowes, ZS5WFD, of HAMNET KZN sent me a report of the radio comms during the Amashova Durban Classic cycle race of 22nd October.

He notes that eleven Hamnet KZN members were deployed in very challenging weather conditions to provide communications for the Amashova Durban Classic cycle race held that Sunday..

Thunderstorms, heavy rain, strong winds and misty conditions prevailed throughout the day to keep [them] on [their] toes.  This also had a major impact on participants as 1893 did not start the race although they had registered.  This was likely due to family members not prepared to take unnecessary risks with potholes hidden underwater and slippery road conditions.

The 38Km race from Hillcrest and 65Km race from Cato Ridge started at 05H00 whilst the 106Km from Pietermaritzburg started at 06H00.

Communications were via the 145.7625 Highway and 145.750 Midlands Club repeaters with the Joint Operations Centre (JOC) at Suncoast Casino in Durban manned by Keith ZS5WFD.

Operators were situated at five Water Points along the route with one Roving Patrol crewed by Deon ZS5DD and Troy ZS5TWJ that had full route access.

Apart from a number of private vehicles entering the closed route, no other serious issues were reported.  One cyclist was admitted to hospital suffering from a dislocated shoulder. Three other cases involved cuts and abrasions but they were treated and discharged.

An initial report of a serious accident on the N3 freeway at Cato Ridge caused some concern in the Durban JOC as this could have resulted in traffic having to be diverted onto the alternate route which would have required possible stoppage of the race. Fortunately, the incident had been cleared prior to the arrival of the Emergency Services and no further action was required.  This was an important lesson, as if action had been taken without first verifying the initial report it would have had a major negative impact on the event. [The message is] “Verification before Action”.

Thank you to the team that braved the miserable weather to ensure the successful outcome of the event, on behalf of the organizers and Keith himself.

He regrets to have to bid farewell to Hamnet KZN members Peter ZS5HF and Hettie ZS5BH as they are emigrating to Australia at the end of November. This was their last sporting event with HAMNET KZN, so he expresses his sincere appreciation for their loyal support of HAMNET over the past years and wishes them every success in their new ventures in VK land.

Thanks for the report, Keith. I’m glad the weather didn’t make matters too difficult for your group.

Talking about reporting about things, Grant ZS6GS, our National HAMNET Director, has sent an email to HAMNET Members who are involved with the dissemination of information of the public relations type.

He correctly feels that we need to put more effort in to informing both radio amateurs and the public of what HAMNET is there for, what it can do, and what it has done, in the way of service to the community.

Anette ZR6D is tasked with posting any and every news item she hears about on Facebook, Grant ZS6GS will manage Instagram and Twitter (or X) feeds, Brian ZS6YZ will manage the reporting of the very busy time which HAMNET Gauteng South seems to experience, and I will continue providing a bulletin on the website and both Facebook pages.

This may succeed in bringing to the attention of all, the many endeavours we do get up to, but which seem to slide under the radar, and are never reported on.

In this connection, I appeal to everyone who involves him or herself in activities involving radio, to remember to write a short report of a paragraph or two, and send it to me for distribution amongst the PRO group just mentioned.

You can reach me at zs1dfr@gmail.com

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

HAMNET Report 29th October 2023

The tropical cyclone belt is currently peppered with cyclones. Tropical Cyclone HAMOON is threatening 4.6 million people in Bangladesh, India and Myanmar, LOLA has already attacked the island of Vanuata, and the Solomon Islands, with 70000 people in danger, and NORMA has damaged the west coast of Mexico, affecting about 400000 people.

On Tuesday of this week, a new one arose in the Eastern Pacific, again threatening more than a million people on the west coast of Mexico with over 200km/h winds, and called OTIS.

The IARU Region 2 issued a statement on Wednesday, saying that, in the early hours of Wednesday, October 25, some states of Mexico with Pacific coasts received the impact of intense Hurricane Otis.

OTIS made landfall over the area of the coastal city of Acapulco, central Guerrero State, southern Mexico on 25 October around 6.25 UTC, with maximum sustained winds of 270 km/h as a Category 5 Hurricane, the strongest ever measured there.

By Thursday, 27 fatalities in Acapulco had been reported. Parks, buildings and streets were damaged, roofs ripped off homes and hotels, and all communications were interrupted, as were electricity supplies. OTIS wrecked the airport’s control tower, preventing all air traffic from arriving or leaving.

Due to the severe impact of the storm, communications in the area collapsed completely, posing challenges to government, emergency and first responder agencies working to assess the extent of damage and impact on residents of the area. Initial reports from the Mexico Defence Ministry indicate both ground and air travel is unavailable.

For the work carried out there by the emergency networks of the Mexican Federation of Radio Experimenters and the Association of Radio Amateurs of the Mexican Republic, they are requesting the protection of the following frequencies:

80m band: 3690 kHz
40m band: 7060 kHz and 7095 kHz.                                                                              
20m band: 14 120kHz

They would appreciate the protection of those frequencies to facilitate emergency communications for Mexican colleagues.

The communique was signed by Carlos CO2JC, IARU Region 2 emcomm coordinator.

The ARRL’s hurricane watch net was also activated at the National Hurricane Centre WX4NHC, on Wednesday, monitoring the frequencies of 14.325MHz and 7.268MHz, Winlink reports, and using the VoIP hurricane net.

Phys.org tells us this week that some 30 years ago, a young engineer named Christopher Walker was home in the evening making chocolate pudding when he got what turned out to be a very serendipitous call from his mother.

Taking the call, he shut off the stove and stretched plastic wrap over the pot to keep the pudding fresh. By the time he returned, the cooling air in the pot had drawn the wrap into a concave shape, and in that warped plastic, he saw something—the magnified reflection of an overhead lightbulb—that gave him an idea that could revolutionize space-based sensing and communications.

That idea became the Large Balloon Reflector (LBR), an inflatable device that creates wide collection apertures that weigh a fraction of today’s deployable antennas. Now, with the assistance of NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, funded by the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which supports visionary innovations from diverse sources, Walker’s decades-old vision is coming to fruition.

The concept turns part of the inside surface of an inflated sphere into a parabolic antenna. A section comprising about a third of the balloon’s interior surface is aluminized, giving it reflective properties.

With NIAC funding, and a grant from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Walker was able to develop and demonstrate technologies for a 10 metre LBR that was carried to the stratosphere by a giant balloon. For comparison, the aperture of NASA’s massive James Webb Space Telescope is only 6.5 metres in diameter.

“There was no place other than NIAC within NASA to get this off the ground,” says Walker, now an astronomy and optical engineering professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “At first, I was afraid to share the idea with colleagues because it sounded so crazy. You need a program within NASA that will actually look at the radical ideas, and NIAC is it.”

Parabolic dish antennas use their concave shape to capture and concentrate electromagnetic radiation. The larger the antenna’s diameter, or aperture, the more effective it is for capturing light or radio waves and transmitting radio signals over great distances.

In astronomy, there is a tremendous advantage to placing telescopes above the Earth’s atmosphere, because it tends to distort or degrade signals coming from space. The challenge is that traditional large reflector antennas are heavy, unwieldy, and difficult to stow, leading to launch constraints and risky in-space deployment schemes.

The LBR design solves both problems. Made of a thin film structure, it inflates like a beachball, providing a [lightweight] stable parabolic-dish shape without the need for bulky and complex deployable hardware, and can fold into a tiny volume.

It might be difficult to believe this all started because a young engineer’s idea of dinner one evening was what most would consider dessert. Then again, one could say the proof was in the pudding.

Meanwhile the International Space Station will be transmitting SSTV images before and after this weekend, to test some replacement hardware astronauts install on Monday and Tuesday.

Since Friday, postcards from the Service module have been transmitted, but there will be a hiatus on Monday and Tuesday to do the work. More images will be transmitted from 12 midday our time on Tuesday, until 8pm on Wednesday night, once the installation is complete, and to test the system.

The downlink frequency is 145.800 MHz, and the format will be the typical PD120 type. You should be able to receive the pictures on a handheld radio with a quarter wave whip, using normal 25KHz spaced FM. Amateurs in South Africa have been sharing their downloaded images on the HamSats whatsapp group this weekend.

This is Dave Reece, ZS1DFR, hoping you enjoyed the rugby final, no matter the outcome, and reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 15th October 2023

Well, Tropical Cyclone KOINU still isn’t off the map. In spite of the original forecast that it would affect the Chinese coastline only, KOINU has dumped large amounts of rain over Taiwan, Northern Philippines, and Southern Japan. As of Wednesday, 3.7 million people were still in its path.

And a new one has developed off the Pacific coast of Mexico, travelling towards Mexico, called LIDIA, with maximum forecast wind speeds of 167km/h, and threatening 842 thousand people in its path. When it crossed the Mexican coast on Wednesday however, travelling north-east, wind speeds of 204km/h were measured.

Brian Jacobs, ZS6YZ, Deputy National Director of HAMNET, has reminded me of the Great ShakeOut, which is the world’s largest earthquake drill. It is held annually on the third Thursday of October, and millions of people participate all over the world. In 2022 over 45.6 million people registered their participation. The goal of the ShakeOut is to teach people how to protect themselves during an earthquake.

Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills across the U.S. are coordinated by the Southern California Earthquake Center in partnership with ECA, CUSEC, state and national emergency management partners, with support from FEMA, NEHRP, NSF, and USGS.

The ShakeOut drill is simple. At the designated time (or whenever works for you or your organization), participants practice self-protective actions such as “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” or “Lock, Cover, and Hold On” if they use a wheelchair. You may want to register your group for the Great ShakeOut. Registrants will receive a certificate of participation from the ShakeOut organization.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) and Winlink are collaborating to provide “Did you feel it?” (DYFI) earthquake intensity reports via Winlink. SHARES and Amateur Radio Operators are therefore invited to send an EXERCISE Winlink “Did you feel it?” (DYFI) message to the USGS during Shakeout! In real events Winlink DYFI ground truths contribute to USGS earthquake intensity assessments and event response products, like PAGER. The PAGER system provides fatality and economic loss impact estimates following significant earthquakes worldwide and is used by governments, agencies, NGOs, private companies and citizens.

The third Thursday of October is this coming 19th, so please consider practising the sending of a notification, even if only in practice, to your local radio agency using Winlink if you can, announcing whether you imagine you “felt it”!

 Consider conducting local radio nets or functional radio exercises to test your group’s preparedness.

The ShakeOut is also an opportunity to learn more about earthquake preparedness. Participants can learn about the different types of earthquakes, how to create an earthquake safety plan, and how to make their homes and businesses more earthquake-resistant.

The Great ShakeOut is a great way to get ready for an earthquake. Many preparedness lessons from the Great ShakeOut also apply to floods, fires, landslides and other disasters. It is also a chance to connect with your community and learn how to help others in the event of an earthquake or other disaster.

Thanks, Brian, for the reminder.

This weekend has seen an annular solar eclipse, visible in large parts of North and South America. In that the distance from the moon to the earth varies, it sometimes happens that the moon is not “big” enough to block out the sun completely, and so a ring eclipse happens, also known as an annular eclipse.

Writing in sciencefriday.com, Emma Lee Gommetz notes that, while people across the eclipsed countries donned eclipse glasses and turned their gaze skyward for Saturday’s eclipse, amateur radio operators would have been heading to their transmitters. 

Eclipses have a documented effect on a layer of free-floating ions around the Earth, called the ionosphere. During the day, the sun’s ultraviolet rays and X-rays knock electrons off of their positive counterparts, separating the atmosphere into layers of charged particles. At night, the particles find their way back to one another and neutralize. When the ionosphere has a high density of electrons as a result of sunlight, radio signals (especially those at lower frequencies than those your typical radio station uses) can bounce off it and travel a great distance. But during an eclipse, darkness is focused onto specific places on Earth—neutralizing just a section of the atmosphere for a period of time. This means that eclipses, like weather and solar flares, can affect how radio works. But just how they affect it is unclear.

“We understand, on average, what the atmosphere is supposed to look like day compared to night, or June compared to January,” says Dr. Nathaniel Frissell, WA2NAF, a QSO party host and assistant professor at the University of Scranton. “But a lot of the small scale features, or the short time duration features, we just don’t have a good handle on,” he says. That’s where ham radio comes in.

During QSO parties, radio operators communicate with as many other stations as possible to see who can establish the highest number of connections, called “spots,” within a given time period. Thousands of radio connections can occur all over the country in one day. This high volume, and the fact that ham radio operators use a variety of frequencies, helps researchers pinpoint the locations where an eclipse is affecting radio contact. 

During the 2017 total eclipse, ham radio data showed that spots at a certain frequency (14 megahertz) started dropping out right as the path of totality passed over their midpoints. That data came from a NASA-funded QSO party that Frissell organized, and research based on the event showed that radio connections changed as a result of the eclipse.

Understanding how changes in the ionosphere impact different radio frequencies could help radio users better perform essential communications at distances across the world. “Ham radio operators, emergency responders…ships at sea, aircraft that are going over polar regions, they’re going to have radios that are equipped with these lower frequencies,” Frissell says. 

The fact that the eclipse was not visible from South Africa did not detract from the value of data collected by ZS stations, because our contacts with other stations in other countries could have failed to refract from the ionosphere at a point where the sky was dark. So any or all data is valuable to such research.

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

HAMNET Report 8th October 2023

By last Monday, GDACS was posting a red level warning for Tropical Cyclone KOINU, directed towards the Chinese mainland, and placing 10 million people in the path of winds of at least 120km/h. Travelling in a north-westerly direction, the cyclone had a chance of crossing the southern-most tip of Taiwan, before hitting the Chinese coast, east of Hong Kong, on about Saturday the 7th.

Very heavy rainfall was forecast over the whole island of Taiwan between 4th and 8th October, as well as over northern Luzon and Batanes islands in the Philippines.

Fortunately, by Wednesday, the alert level had been downgraded to an orange warning, and the number of people threatened by dangerous winds halved.

Nevertheless, heavy rain was forecast to start falling over south-eastern China from yesterday (Saturday).

And Tropical Storm PHILIPPE has been drifting slowly towards the Lesser Antilles Islands, and was due to pass east of Bermuda early yesterday morning, with sustained winds of about 110km/h. Heavy rainfall was predicted for the entire group of islands in its path.

On Tuesday the 3rd, a series of four strong earthquakes struck north-western Nepal, the strongest being of magnitude 6.2. Several milder aftershocks followed. About 400 houses were damaged or destroyed, and the quakes are thought to be partly the cause of damage to a hydroelectric plant’s dam in the north-eastern Sikkim state of India. Heavy rain and flash floods in the catchment area of that dam occurred at the same time as the earthquake over the border. News of casualties is slow to reach the provincial capital in Nepal, due to the remote location of the earthquakes.

And, while I am writing this news has come in of 4 earthquakes in Afghanistan of magnitude 6 or greater, and two 6.7 earthquakes in Papua New Guinea on Saturday morning. The earth under our feet is restless.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), conducted a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) on 4th October.

The national test was to consist of two portions, testing WEA and EAS capabilities. Both tests were scheduled to begin at approximately 2:20 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

The WEA portion of the test was to be directed to consumer cell phones. This was the third nationwide test, but the second test to all WEA-compatible cellular devices. The test message was displayed in either English or in Spanish, depending on the language settings of the wireless handset.

The EAS portion of the test was to be sent to radios and televisions. This will be the seventh nationwide EAS test.

FEMA and the FCC were coordinating with EAS participants, wireless providers, emergency managers and other stakeholders in preparation for this national test to minimize confusion and maximize the public safety value of the test.

The purpose of the test was to ensure that the systems continue to be an effective means of warning the public about emergencies, particularly those on the national level.

This is a very valuable ability on FEMA’s part, one which we should be investigating in this country.

Interestingengineering.com reported this week on an interesting, tiny satellite made by Estonian students which will soon be launched into space with a big mission: to test a novel technology that could help clean up the space junk orbiting our planet.

The satellite, called ESTCube-2, is the size of a shoebox and weighs only 4 kg. It was to hitch a ride on Europe’s Vega VV23 rocket, scheduled to lift off last week from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.

The main goal of ESTCube-2 is to demonstrate the ‘plasma brake’ concept, a type of electric sail (E-sail) that uses a long, thin wire to interact with the charged particles in space.

The plasma brake was invented by Pekka Janhunen of the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI), who envisioned it as a way to explore the Solar System without fuel. By deploying a wire that is positively charged by a solar panel, a spacecraft could harness the force of the solar wind, a stream of protons and electrons that flows from the Sun.

However, near Earth, where the planet’s magnetic field blocks the solar wind, the plasma brake can do the opposite: it can slow down a satellite by repelling the plasma in the ionosphere, an electrically active layer of the atmosphere. This would cause the satellite to lose altitude and eventually burn in the atmosphere, avoiding becoming space debris.

As per the ESA’s press release, the plasma brake could offer a cheap and straightforward solution to deorbit satellites at the end of their lives, reducing the risk of space collisions and clutter. It could also remove existing debris by attaching it to them with a robotic arm or a harpoon.

ESTCube-2 will test this idea by deploying a 50-meter-long wire made of four aluminium strands, each as thin as a human hair. A 3-watt solar panel will charge the wire, creating a 100-volt potential difference with the surrounding plasma. The satellite will measure the force and the current generated by the wire and its effect on the orbit.

The wire is designed to be resilient against micrometeorites and other hazards that could snap it. It has a net-like structure with two parallel and two zigzagging wires that are bonded together.

Certainly, an idea that has been very well conceived. Let’s hope it works just as well.

Reuters.com reports that the flooding that killed thousands in Libya’s city of Derna last month damaged the ruins at the ancient Greek city of Cyrene in the mountains nearby, but it also revealed new archaeological remains there by washing away earth and stones.

The flooding caused mud and rubble to pile in Cyrene’s Greek-era baths that will require specialised clearing said local antiquities department official Adel Boufjra.

While causing great damage to the picturesque ruins at Cyrene, known locally as Shehat and a draw for travellers since the 18th century, the water has also washed clear a previously unknown Roman drainage system, Boufjra said.

“The flooding has revealed a new site – a water canal that I believe dates back to the Roman era. It is a distinctive discovery for the city,” he said.

Cyrene was a Greek colony and one of the principle cities of the ancient Hellenic world before becoming a major centre under the Romans until an earthquake destroyed it in the year 365.

One of Libya’s five UNESCO World Heritage sites, along with the extensive Roman ruins overlooking the Mediterranean at Sabratha and Leptis Magna, Cyrene’s stone pillared temples stand on a fertile hillside near rocky crags.

It is nice to know that, out of disaster, can sometimes come positive developments one might otherwise never have discovered.

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