QIKCOM-1 - Awaiting Release from ISS since December 2015
APRS User Data and Text Messaging Transponder

Bob Bruninga, WB4APR, Instructor, US Naval Academy,(last name at usna dot edu)
Todd Bruner, WB1HAI, Student Mentor and Control Operator
Midshipmen students: Skinker, Segalla, Hunt, Diasordaz

QIKCOM-1 was supposed to be a very quick reaction student built amateur radio relay module to take advantage of a flight opportunity as an attached amateur radio payload to the Novawurks SIMPL spacecraft for launch from ISS. Although the students finished the module in one semester and delivered it in the spring of 2015, it is now finally approaching activation this summer 2017.

ARRIVED on ISS and AWAITING DEPLOYMENT: However, the spacecraft (SIMPL) to which the QIKCOM-1 amateur radio relay module is attached is being held from release due to a SNAFU over radio licensing. The problem appears to be the SIMPL spacecraft (host) comms on S-band is being licensed under an STA from the FCC as an experimental license and the FCC initially was concerned that students at a Federal Academy could not fly the attached independent Amateur Radio module under FCC rules and had to go via the NTIA even though its design and mission and objectives are 100% amateur. The resolution was to add the Amateur Frequencies to the NovaWurks STA in parallel with the Amateur API Notice filed by the QIKCOM1 control operator, WB1HAI.

Filling the APRS Constellation: Now that the ISS digipeating has resumed operation on 145.825 MHz VHF (after the late October 2016 failure and switch to UHF), users will now have the opportunity to enjoy double the access times as both the ISS digipeater and QIKCOM-1 will both support the same user uplink path VIA ARISS used on 145.825. (...and possibly the launch of QIKCOM-2 also this year filling the constellation to maybe 4 satellites at the same time!).

Dual Hop Experiments: Since the uplink and digipeated downlink are on the same 145.825 MHz simplex channel, radio amateurs might find it possible to do dual-hop communication. But due to all the congestion on the channel, this will likely only be possible when one spacecraft is over users, and the other is thousands of miles away over an ocean with virtually no users in its footprint to clog its receiver. Once they drift about 1000 miles apart, then a 2 hop path of ARISS,ARISS might be heard by a very distant remote individual still in the fooprint of that second isolated digi. This direction has an order of magnitude better probability of success than expecting for the digi over the populated area to hear the other one. On the other hand, coastal stations should listen closely for dual hop packets before the spacecraft sees too many users such as the success seen several years ago using PCSAT-1 and 2.

Recognizing dual-hop packets: The digipeaters on ISS and on QIKCOM-1 have slightly different ways of indicating a successful digipeat. The ISS does path-callsign-substitution and replaces the uplink ARISS path with the ISS callsign RS0ISS and marks it with a (*). The QIKCOM-1 module does callsign-insertion and so it inserts its callsign in front of the ARISS alias that was used and marks that alias with a (*) So here are the two ways that a dual hop packet might appear:

  • A3GGW-2]CQ,QIKCOM-1,ARISS,RS0ISS*,qAO,ESAJ-2::CQ :Hello! 73! . . <-- via Q1 first, then ISS
  • A3GGW-2]CQ,RS0ISS,QIKCOM-1,ARISS*,qAO,ESAJ-2::CQ :Hello! 73! . . <-- Via ISS first, then Q1

    Capturing the packets: In addition to live monitoring the downlink by individuals everywhere, amateurs can also check the live downlink web pages daily looking for dual hops captured by our worldwide APRS internet linked ground station network:

  • packets relayed by ARISS on the ISS
  • packets relayed by QIKCOM-1 and other APRS satellites

    This transponder will join a number of Networked APRS transponders operating in the Amateur Satellite Service that are, or will be, on Orbit in 2016 and all will appear on the live APRS satellite downlink page and ISS downlink page:

    OUTNET a global APRS channel on 3 GEO satellites!
    PCsat-1 in orbit since 2001 semi-operational
    ARISS on the ISS since 2007
    PSAT Operational May 2015
    BRICSAT-1 launched with PSAT, but insufficient power budget
    QIKCOM-1 with terrestrial APRS alert beacon on ISS, awaiting astronaut deployment
    QIKCOM-2 with APRStt (TouchTone uplink and Voice downlink) for launch late 2016
    PSAT-2 To be Launched spring of 2018
    BRICSAT-2 To be Launched spring of 2018
    ASTARS missions: Prior APRS missions on other spacecraft, ISS, Shuttle and MIR

    Please see the IARU Coordination Letter
    and how it fits in the Amateur Satellite Service
    and also the FCC Public Notice rules for operating in the Amateur Satellite Service.


    OVERVIEW: . QIKcom-1 is an amateur radio module built by a group of students as their senior project at the Naval Academy to take advantage of a launch opportunity offered by a spacecraft integrator (NovaWurks). The module was delivered on 2 March 2015 and launched to ISS on 9 Dec 2015 as an attached module to the SIMPL Host spacecraft. The spacecraft is awaiting clearance from the FCC prior to deployment. It was a very short fuse flight opportunity so students took as much that we had that was already developed for previous APRS amateur radio transponders and since it flies on a host spacecraft, we get 28v power and did not need to develop solar panels or an attitude control system. It continues the PCsat and PSAT missions containing an APRS packet radio communications transponders for relaying remote amateur user position, text messages and other user experimentdal data back to Amateur Radio experimenters via a global network of internet linked volunteer ground stations.

    Terrestrial Alert Beacon:The data transponder also includes simple telemetry on the health of the module and its host power. To assist the APRS position reporting mission, it also includes position and attitude data derived from the Host's GPS. In addition, a secondary module will transmit an alert bulletin on the North American (144.39) terrestrial APRS mobile frequency to alert wilderness travelers (outside of the normal terrestrial network) when the satellite is in view and tell them the Space Frequency (145.825) to tune. Mobiles with intergrated Kenwood or Yaesu APRS radios will be able to simply press the QSY button on their radios to shift to the 145.825 satellite frequency when they see this alert and will have about 8 minutes of possible satellite operating time. Note, this module was coordinated, built, and delivered before the IARU policy change of 2015 that will no longer coordinate such becons outside of the satellilte 2m subband.

    Short Several Months Lifetime: The expected Orbit lifetime is short since it will be deployed from the ISS. It is attached to the SIMPL spacecraft with large solar panels to be deployed from the ISS (image below). If the solar panels deploy as designed, the high drag will cause the spacecraft to re-enter in a few months.


  • QIKcom-1 Presentation

    Operations in the Amateur Satellite Service: The transponder and beacon on QIKCOM-1 are operated in the Amateur Satellite Service to encourage amateur radio students, educators and experimenters around the world to contribute additional satellities to this constellation on 145.825 MHz or to build interesting self motivated remote sensors suitable for the uplink channel. See some other student project ideas such as ocean or bay oceanographic data buoys for examples. This kind of Amateur Radio experimentation fits well in the ITU rules (see QIKcom-1 ITU RULES) for operating in this service and well serve our educational and outreach goals for student projects encouraging young people to be interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

    The QIKcom-1 System is composed of three commercial off-the-shelf amateur packet radio modules from Byonics.com as shown above. On the left is the Power System board, and on the right is the main packet transponder module (the MT-TT4 all-in-one APRS packet system with internal RF transceiver). The MicroAmp-3 above it boosts that to 4 Watts. In the center vertically is the 4 Watt QSY Alert Beacon transmitter for use over North America. A European alert was also planned since the beacon did have an A & B frequency selection, but this was disabled due to coordination issues. The final board is the combination power supply system and antenna release mechanism with the prototype shown in the lower right above.

    QIKcom-1 APRS Packet Transponder: The APRS packet transponder is an AX.25 Packet Radio Relay similar to what is flying on PCsat and the ISS. This ongoing mission in space on the original PCsat is now over 14 years old and pioneered this very popular operating mode via the ISS since 2006. Both of these missions deliver packets to users worldwide via the global network of volunteer ground stations feeding the two downlink capture pages: psat.aprs.org and ariss.net. These pages display live maps such as the one above, of the most recent user position data and capture all message traffic between users. See the APRS link budgets.

    QIKCOM-1 Integrated on top of the SIMPL Satellite: The image above shows the complete SIMPL spacecraft with the QIKCOM-1 module on top. In this solid works view, the spacecraft is still attached to its separation plate which will separate it from the ISS and the solar panels are not deployed. The large solar panels will have significant drag and are the reason for the relatively short few months or so life of the mission.

    Global Experimental Data Channel: QIKcom-1 is the 6th USNA student transponder in this initiative to encourage both new satellite construction in support of this experimental data channel and lower cost amateur radio terrestrial applications and experimentation at other schools. Today, the only AMSATs that are available for easy access by schools with such experiments are the Naval Academy student's PCSATs. But with QIKcom-1 along with PCsat, ISS, and Psat (spring 2015) we hope to continue an ongoing full time presence in space to continue this support of the 145.825 data uplink channel for future experiments. To this end we hope other schools to either build additional 145.825 MHz relay satellites and/or to build experimental sensors. The complete QIKcom-1 modules are commercial off-the-shelf items and easy to build inito spacecraft systems.

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