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Amateur Radio Operators Make Contact with Juno Spacecraft
Amateur Radio Operators Make Contact with Juno Spacecraft

For years, Ham radio operators around the world have been aware that they could send a signal into space. Such projects reach as far back as 1961 when the satellite OSCAR I (Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio) built by amateurs on the U.S. west coast was launched. It held a simple radio beacon and worked successfully for 22 days and 570 amateurs in 28 countries picked up its signal.

Now, thousands of amateur radio heads were able to say "Hi" to NASA's Juno spacecraft when it made its recent slingshot around Earth and headed toward Jupiter.

Tony Rogers, the president of the University of Iowa ham radio club, mans the equipment used to send a message to the Juno spacecraft in October. The simple message "Hi" was sent repeatedly by ham radio operators around the world. Photos by Tim Schoon.

According to Donald Kirchner, University of Iowa research engineer on Juno and one of the coordinators of the all-volunteer "Say Hi to Juno" project, all licensed amateur radio operators were invited to participate by visiting a website and following posted instructions. "The idea was to coordinate the efforts of amateur radio operators all over the world, and send a message in Morse code that could be received by the University of Iowa-designed-and-built instrument on the Juno spacecraft," he says. "We know that over a thousand participated, and probably many more than that."

Although the greetings were sent to the spacecraft, no replies were sent back. What's more, Juno didn't decode the message itself. After receiving the October 9 signal from amateur radio operators, the Juno team then surveyed the Waves instrument data. They found what they were looking for: The message sent from Earth was visible early in the fly-by when Juno was still over 37,000 kilometers, or about 23,000 miles, away. According to Kirchner, earlier space missions were able to detect shortwave radio transmissions as they passed Earth, such as Galileo on its way to Jupiter and Cassini as it sailed toward Saturn. Even though these messages were received, it wasn't possible to decode the transmissions from the data.

According to Bill Kurth, UI research scientist and lead investigator for the Waves instrument: "We believe this was the first intelligent information to be transmitted to a passing interplanetary space instrument, as simple as the message may seem," he says. "This was a way to involve a large number of people -- those not usually associated with Juno -- in a small portion of the mission. This raises awareness, and we've already heard from some that they'll be motivated to follow the Juno mission through its science phase at Jupiter."

Artist depiction of Juno passing in front of Jupiter. Credit: NASA/ JPL-Caltech

Just where did the "Say Hi" ideas come from? Kirchner says the project first started when then public outreach staff at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California became curious about the UI receiver. Would it be possible for it to detect a voice message? Even though this idea wouldn't work, Kurth and Kirchner brainstormed that a slow Morse code transmission just might fulfill the requirements.

According to the news release, Kirchner is also an amateur radio operator and took the lead in designing the project. His routine ham radio activities include being an assistant emergency coordinator with the Johnson County Amateur Radio Emergency Service, which works closely with the Johnson County Emergency Management Agency to provide backup and auxiliary communications. To facilitate the message to the Juno spacecraft, he turned towards the students, in particular, the UI Amateur Radio Club. The group then designed a temporary station on the roof of Van Allen Hall. Operating for a few days up to the flyby, he and other club members engaged hundreds of stations in 40 states and 17 countries to raise awareness of the project.

The "Say Hi" project was made possible by the fact that Juno passed within 350 miles of the Earth's surface on October 9, 2013, in a maneuver to gain momentum for its July 2016 encounter with Jupiter. If all goes well, Juno will orbit the giant planet 33 times. Plans for the mission include flying directly above Jupiter's poles and encountering both its northern and southern aurora regions to investigate the electrical current systems that cause them. What an amazing greeting that will be!

Original Story Source: University of Iowa News Release

About Tammy Plotner - Tammy is a professional astronomy author, President Emeritus of Warren Rupp Observatory and retired Astronomical League Executive Secretary. She's received a vast number of astronomy achievement and observing awards, including the Great Lakes Astronomy Achievement Award, RG Wright Service Award and the first woman astronomer to achieve Comet Hunter's Gold Status.

Date Taken: 12/16/2013
Author: Tammy Plotner
Category: Astronomy

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