HAMNET Report 12 May 2019

HAMNET is shocked to learn of the sudden passing, on Thursday evening, of Dave Holliday ZS5HN, deputy director of HAMNET KwaZulu Natal. Keith Lowes ZS5WFD, Regional Director for KwaZulu Natal reports that he had spent Thursday evening working in his shack in the garage, but collapsed and died as he entered his house at 23h30 late that evening.

Keith writes in a Face Book entry that he was a very dedicated member of Hamnet and served as Keith’s Deputy Director for many years. He was also a long time member of the Highway Amateur Radio Club, and was responsible for lecturing many members in studying for and passing the exams to obtain their licences. HAMNET South Africa joins Keith in sending sincere condolences to his wife Cheryl, family and many friends. Rest In Peace, Dave.

Grant Southey, ZS1GS, Regional Director for HAMNET Western Cape, reports that the newly-acquired container for us to use as a storeroom, has been installed at Tygerberg’s Emergency Management Centre, and that he and two other stalwarts of the Western Cape, have transferred all the contents of the previous storeroom into the container. Painting and cleaning up will still need to be finished, but all is otherwise complete. Thank you to Doug ZS1DUG, Peter ZS1PDE, and Grant ZS1GS for doing this work on the afternoon of Voting day.

Grant has also notified us that he is still two radio operators short for the Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge trail run taking place next Saturday the 18th of May. So if you are able to assist with this event, please contact Grant at grantsouthey@gmail.com.

Anette, ZR6D, of HAMNET Gauteng South, has sent me the entire write up of the 100 Cycle Challenge event, that took place at Germiston Lake on Sunday past. You will have heard a mention on the HQ bulletin, and can find the report as a header on the SARL website, at www.sarl.org.za.

It appears that 24 operators, under the controlling eye of Glynn ZS6GLN, started installing APRS equipment in ambulances last Saturday afternoon, and helped deploy the speed fences to close off various roads on the routes early on Sunday morning.

There was a delay due to serious congestion at the start, but finally the three races were sent off, the short 50km race first, followed by the 100km regular race, and finally the UCI Elite riders, who set off at 11h00.

HAMNET members were instrumental in managing the intersection of the R23 and the R554 in Brakpan, and in getting all the Elite cyclists safely on to the N17 freeway.

They further assisted in opening some of the major roads, once the back riders were through, as well as following the slower riders safely back to the finish at Germiston Lake.

The Event Organisers were loud in their praise of the HAMNET Member’s contribution, professing that the radio operators had saved the day with their expertise and professionalism. The third of May 2020 has already been diarised as the date for HAMNET’s participation in next year’s race.

Thank you to the 24 operators who participated, and to Anette ZR6D for including me in the distribution of this report. For the complete story, don’t forget to look at the front page of the SARL webpage.

In The Vintage News, we read that “surprise” might be an understatement to describe amateur astronomer Phil Williams’ reaction upon being told that the ghostly radio signal he had detected was in fact coming from a satellite that had failed and disappeared decades ago.

Williams told Southgate Amateur Radio News that the signal he detected from his base in Cornwall seemed to cycle every four seconds, diminishing and returning to create an eerie repetitive sound.

It would later be determined that the fluctuation was the result of the long-lost satellite barrelling end over end through the void of space, causing variations in the light reaching the solar panels that Gunter’s Space Page says likely now power the depleted batteries of this 65 lb (30 kg) relic of the space age.

Scientists are unclear as to how the satellite continues to operate — Williams himself expressed some uncertainty as to how the craft might continue to function given the particularly harsh environment of space and its tendency to destroy electronic equipment.

The mystery is compounded by the fact that the propulsion system of the satellite, built by MIT’s Lincoln Lab and launched in February 1965, failed upon its launch and the craft was thought lost forever when it ceased to transmit in 1967.

After initially failing to reach its projected orbit, the satellite stopped communicating with its base for 46 long years before Williams’ discovery of its abrupt revival.

Some speculate that the battery’s demise may now be allowing power to pass directly from the solar panels to the computer, with human error in the wiring of the device to blame for its premature failure.

The satellite, named LES-1, was originally launched to test the United States’ capability to communicate via satellite after nuclear testing in the Pacific annihilated portions of the ionosphere and effectively halted high-frequency communications with their allies in Hawaii and New Zealand.

With parts of the ionosphere effectively turned into black spots, the US was suddenly without a vital communication infrastructure, and, as Mark Wade described in an article on Astronautix.com, the LES program was started to guarantee vital lines of communication.

In the case of the LES-1 satellite, however, the waters are still murky as to the cause of its demise and resurrection. Without physically recovering the craft, it is likely impossible to determine with any certainty what went wrong and how the craft’s deterioration led to it resuming its broadcast.

So unlikely was its self-recommissioning, that NASA was hesitant to believe it. From the moment of Williams’ discovery, it would be three long years before NASA was able to conclusively confirm suspicions that the mystery signal was emanating from the nearly 50-year-old LES-1 satellite.

Other satellites in MIT’s LES program successfully completed their missions, lending credibility to the assertion that the craft was robustly engineered despite its failed mission.

Today, LES-1 continues to tumble through the blackness of space, slowly disintegrating in the unprotected reaches of Earth’s orbit and giving off its last faint warbles as earthbound astronomers await the day it gives off its final transmission at 237MHz and falls silent for the last time.

Thanks to The Vintage News for that strange story.

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