AMSAT is a name for amateur radio satellite organizations world-wide, but in particular the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT-NA) with headquarters at Silver Spring, Maryland, near Washington DC. AMSAT organizations design, build, arrange launches for, and then operate (command) satellites carrying amateur radio payloads, including the OSCAR series of satellites. Other informally affiliated national organizations exist, such as AMSAT Germany (AMSAT-DL) and AMSAT Japan (JAMSAT).
AMSAT-NA was founded in 1969 in Washington DC to continue the efforts begun by Project OSCAR
. Its first project was to coordinate the launch of OSCAR 5
, constructed by students at the University of Melbourne
. Some design modifications were needed and were made by AMSAT members, and the satellite was successfully launched on January 30
on a NASA Thor Delta
AMSAT's next launch was AMSAT-OSCAR 6 (AO-6) on October 15, 1972. AO-6 was AMSAT's first long-life satellite, and was built with participants from Australia and West Germany. Command stations in Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Hungary, Morocco, New Zealand, the United States and West Germany controlled the satellite, contributing greatly to its 4½ years of service. Further launches continued to emphasize international cooperation, with AMSAT-OSCAR 7 (AO-7) launching with a new transponder developed and built by Karl Meinzer and AMSAT Germany (AMSAT-DL). AMSAT Japan (JAMSAT) contributed a transponder to AMSAT-OSCAR 8 (AO-8).
In order to launch its satellites, AMSAT has worked with space agencies and commercial launch contractors to develop new ways to take advantage of unused areas of launch vehicles. In return, AMSAT sometimes can negotiate a reduction or waiver of launch costs. One of the most significant is the Ariane Structure for Auxiliary Payloads (ASAP), developed and manufactured in partnership with the European Space Agency in 1990 for use on its Ariane IV launch vehicle. AMSAT was again able to take advantage of unused space with the launch of AMSAT-OSCAR 40 (AO-40), occupying unused space on an Ariane V.
AMSAT organizations worldwide
From its first launch, AMSAT projects have had international scope. As of 2006, 21 countries have launched an amateur satellite. Many of these countries have their own AMSAT affiliate, some of which are noted below:
- AMSAT Germany (AMSAT-DL, AMSAT Deutschland) has built and managed projects of several amateur radio satellites, notably AO-40.
- AMSAT Japan (JAMSAT) has contributed to many satellites, in addition to launching its own satellites in cooperation with JAXA: the Fuji-OSCAR series.
- AMSAT India (AMSAT-IN) launched its first amateur satellite, VUSat-OSCAR 52 in 2005 aboard an ISRO PSLV rocket from Sriharikota, India.
The AMSAT Phase system describes an amateur satellite based upon its capabilities or mode of operation and roughly parallel the development of amateur satellites.
- Phase 1: No solar cells (battery-powered only), short-lived, technology test-bed. Must be able to orbit to be classified as a satellite.
- Phase 2: Long life using solar cells, communications capabilities, Low Earth Orbit.
- Phase 3: Long life, more powerful communications, telemetry and command systems. Highly elliptical orbit, usually a Molniya orbit; usually the initial orbit is a Geostationary transfer orbit, onboard propulsion systems boosting it to its final orbit. Because of the highly elliptical orbit, the satellite remains over an area for long periods of time, allowing amateurs longer contacts through the satellite..
- Phase 4: Amateur satellite in Geostationary orbit. Phase 4 amateur satellites have been designed, but not built, though they have received favorable attention.
- Phase 5: Spacecraft capable of lunar or planetary missions.
Most amateur satellites do not receive their sequential OSCAR designation until after they are successfully in orbit, and then only at the request of the launching organization.. Regardless, amateur satellites will have been named by the organization that constructed it, and that name is frequently prepended to its OSCAR designation, resulting a name such as CubeSat-OSCAR 57. In conversation, names are usually abbreviated as CO-57 or similar.
A unique amateur satellite was SuitSat, an obsolete Russian space suit with a transmitter in it, which was launched in 2006 from the International Space Station. In a twist of fate, "Oscar" was the name given to an obsolete space suit by its young owner in the book "Have Space Suit, Will Travel," by Robert A Heinlein. This book was originally published a year after the launch of the first artificial satellite (Sputnik).
In 2006, AMSAT is currently building the P3-E
satellites (Both Phase 3, see above), and has cooperated in developing the AMSAT Widget, a system used to communicate from one device to another using as few wires as possible. It works over the CAN interface, using an AMSAT-developed protocol called CAN-DO. AMSAT-DL is planning the GO-Mars/P5A
spacecraft (Phase 5), to be launched to Mars
Currently operating missions
- On June 29, 2004, AMSAT-NA launched a new microsat-class satellite, designated AO-51. AMSAT-NA also operates the AO-7 and AO-16 satellites, which are open for general amateur use.
See also OSCAR.
AMSAT organizations in other countries: