Sunday, 1 February 2009

A space beacon called Oscar


Since the very first OSCAR satellites (OSCAR stands for Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio) were launched in the early 1960s, AMSAT's international volunteers, often working quite literally in their basements and garages, have pioneered a wide variety of new communications technologies that are now taken for granted in the world's satellite marketplace. These breakthroughs have included some of the very first satellite voice transponders as well as highly advanced digital "store-and-forward" messaging transponder techniques.

Beacons. Early amateur satellites carried only one-way radio beacons which sent down telemetry information about conditions of satellite equipment and the space environment to anybody interested in receiving the data. Hamsats of the 21st century still have such beacon transmitters, alongside their high-tech two-way communications transponders.

However, the thought of a "repeater in space" developed and launched by a group of "know-nothing Hams" working in their basements and garages wasn't always looked upon with favor. While details of the incident are sketchy, it's reported that the builders of TELSTAR I, the first commercial telecommunications satellite, were quite upset to learn that a "rag-tag" group of Hams were also working on a telecommunications satellite called OSCAR III as TELSTAR was nearing completion. For a while, it appeared that OSCAR III might possibly upstage their multi-million dollar TELSTAR effort by beating them to orbit! In fact, it's also reported that TELSTAR's builders did eventually change their public relations approach to include the word "commercial" in subsequent references to TELSTAR I as the "world's first telecommunications satellite".

History of amateur satellite site.
List of amateur satellites.
More at project Oscar page.

Selected references taken from the Amsat website:

Davidoff,  Martin,  The Satellite Experimenter's
Handbook Newington, CT: The American
Radio Relay League, 1984.

Jansson, Richard, Spacecraft Technology Trends
in the Amateur Satellite Service, Ogden, UT:
Proceedings of the 1st Annual USU Conference
on Small Satellites, 1987.

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