Spacewalk to Fix the ISS Ham Station

Spacewalk Could Return ARISS Ham Station in International Space Station back on the Air


Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) reports that efforts to determine what’s keeping the ham station in the ISS Columbus module off the air have been unsuccessful thus far. The radio equipment works, but no signal appears to be reaching the external ARISS antenna. The station, typically operated as NA1SS, has not been usable since new RF cables were installed during a January 27 spacewalk extravehicular activity (EVA) to support the commissioning of the Bartolomeo payload hosting platform installed last spring. During the January EVA, the coax feed line installed 11 years ago was replaced with another built by the European Space Agency (ESA) and Airbus.

ARISS has scheduled a March 10 news conference to discuss efforts to restore operational capability to the Columbus module ham station. The news conference will provide insights into some of the cable troubleshooting already conducted, ARISS said. During a March 13 spacewalk (EVA), astronauts Mike Hopkins, KF5LJG, and Victor Glover, KI5BKC, plan to return the ARISS antenna feed line cabling to its configuration prior to the January 27 spacewalk.

ARISS International Chair Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, said the ARISS team has been working closely with NASA and the ESA to identify what may have caused the “radio anomaly” keeping the ISS Columbus module ham station off the air.

This past week, astronauts on the ISS performed troubleshooting tests on all four new feed lines installed on the Columbus module. One cable was earmarked for the ARISS station, while the other three are for Bartolomeo. ARISS reported over the weekend, however, that it was unable to establish communication using any of the feed line cables connected to the ARISS radio system, which was tested in Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) mode. 

The plan to return the ARISS cabling to its original configuration was a “contingency task” for a March 5 spacewalk, but the astronauts ran out of time. On March 5, astronauts Kate Rubins, KG5FYJ, and Soichi Noguchi, KD5TVP, worked on some other Bartolomeo cable/connector troubleshooting. If all goes well, the March 13 spacewalk will complete that work.

ARISS became aware of the station problem after a contact with a school in Wyoming, between ON4ISS on Earth and Hopkins at NA1SS, had to abort when no downlink signal was heard. For the time being, ARISS school and group contacts with crew members have been conducted using the ham station in the ISS Service Module.