HAM Radio Underpinning Mars Mission

HAM Radio Support for Mission

Aussie HAM Radio Operator to Make an Impact on Mars

HAM Radio Operator Robert Brand VK2URB11 impacts to be precise. Early next year on a salt lake in Central Australia an Australian HAM radio operator will be conducting tests of a wide area radio network destined for Mars

Robert Brand, VK2URB, of Thunderstruck Aerospace reports that it is an essential part of a project to develop the Mars Nano-Lander and Methane detection system called MEDIAN, set to land in 2025.

It calls for 10 separate penetrators to be ejected from the jettisoned heat shield at about 6km from the surface of Mars. They will spear into the surface of Mars at 80m/second and form a ring about 8Km wide. The radio systems will begin measuring distance between the other landers and map the network. They will then switch to a random packet mode and begin ferrying messages to the 11th unit that will be a relay to an orbiting craft. Even the orientation of each probe will be detected and used to calculate the direction that wind (and hopefully any methane)is coming from in the thin Martian atmosphere.

Robert VK2URB says that the audacious mission is a joint project with the UK Methane detection group at the University of Central Lancashire and the Australian Thunderstruck Aerospace team. Robert is the design architect of the landing system, the mapping, orientation, communications, data relay, and the on-going non-methane science package. He says that never before has a network of probes been landed anywhere outside of earth and never before have impactors landed with the intention of surviving the process. Also never before has Australia directly played such a huge role in any Mars mission.

The possibility of microbial life on Mars has been discussed by scientists since the presence of methane gas on the red planet was found several years ago. Median will map possible methane vent locations for a rover to investigate. If the rover fails to land, the project will still relay local weather and subsoil information back to earth.

It’s expected that the tests in central Australia during April 2017 will demonstrate the essential role that radio will play in mapping, locating, orienting the network and then relaying data around the network. The tests will involve dropping a simulated heat shied from 3Km altitude and having the impactors fire at 2.5Km feet to simulate the impact that each would have on Mars. We will work with CASA to organise restricted airspace for the testing.

Even the orientation of each probe will be detected and used to calculate the direction that wind is coming from in the thin Martian atmosphere. The penetrators will stay vertical and will elevate the science and radio package about 1m off the surface allowing for better radio connectivity and clear wind profile. A 1M in diameter solar panel will provide adequate power and the network is expected to survive for at least 6 month on Mars relaying weather and sub surface information from fixed points around an area the size of a small city. It is expected that 7 of the 10 spikes will survive the impact.

HAM radio will provide essential communications for the tests and for the event. It is hoped a special event around the testing will attract the interests of HAM operators world-wide, focusing attention of the role that Australia is playing in space missions.

Footnote: It should be noted that no commercial activity will take place as part of the testing, allowing HAM radio support. HAM Radio is a strictly non commercial activity.