Andy Thomas G0SFJ was invited to attend the ISS Symposium 2012, organised by ESA and DLR in Berlin on May 2-4. This is his personal reflection of the event. Official highlights are on their own website, Twitter, YouTube etc.
It’s impossible to single out any particular speaker, so I’d like to give only an account of some things that resonated with my own amateur experience.
Dr Julie Robinson ISS Programme Scientist at NASA - Image Credit ESA
I was very pleased to see in an early presentation by Julie Robinson the images of both “ends” of an ARISS contact, and equally it was heartening to see in the NASA “Assembly complete edition of the Reference Guide to the ISS” on page 95, Communications, a diagram in which we see ”Ham radio transmits directly to the ground”. The theme of engagement with young people was a constant throughout the Symposium with many references to them being inspired by astronaut/cosmonaut contacts, and I felt that ARISS was recognised as an important programme in this, hence my invitation described on my label , amongst the space professionals, as “Radio amateur -G0SFJ”.
Roscosmos/ TsNiiMash also referred to the Shadow experiment which relies on sending a beacon or “Mayak” signal from the ISS and received on Earth by us hams – and as a participant I talked with TsNiiMash delegates about that – and illustrated their presentations with Chiblis-M and with the MAI SSTV experiment. And the 3D journey in an adjoining salon visited the antennae on the Columbus module, both in simulation and in a real 3D picture!
Over dinner I discussed my personal view that some of us as hams would like to see more contacts of opportunity with the crew as time allowed, and I also described our work in receiving and passing on CubeSat data. There was a view expressed that CubeSats’ reliance on COTS radio equipment did not always teach much about radio, and student CubeSat projects did not always lead to the next level of bigger and more complex space equipment. I was interested in this common problem between space science and ham radio, of getting young people involved, in this age of throwaway mobile phones and laptops. I was a little surprised that some German delegates I spoke to did not know of the work of the ISEI in Leipzig and the Kosmonautenzentrum in Chemnitz, who both stimulate young people into space exploration in their own ways, and I think the people who do this good work should enjoy a higher recognition.
Many presentations demonstrated the utility of space-generated data to Earth based problems, and a good example came from the reinterpretation of data taken on salt consumption by Sigmund Jähn on an Intercosmos flight in 1978. It was both interesting and disturbing to see that bone tissue had not regrown to pre-flight levels in many long duration astronauts and cosmonauts. Visual problems were also becoming obvious.
ISS Symposium 2012 exhibition - Image credit ESA
The debate extended beyond the current use of the ISS into the future of space exploration, Waleed Abdalati giving an inspirational speech about the future. Essentially our sphere of action extends only to the asteroid belt. From the floor I asked the symposium a question of medical ethics, whether the Mars crew should be a younger or an older crew. As I recall, Chiaki Mukai immediately picked up on “Because of the radiation!” and the panel agreed with her and with psychologist Peter Suedfeld, who said that life taught many experiences in problem solving, that an older crew – by which I think we meant over about 55 – would be the ones who should go. Oleg Orlov from IBMP in Moscow concurred. Later, when Charles Bolden spoke about the US commitment to a manned flight to Mars in 2030, I fell to thinking that the US crew who would go would be currently Astronauts aged about 40. That is my personal conclusion. Bolden added in his speech “- and comes back to Earth and has lost his vision. Should we be thinking of that? I think we should be thinking of that”. There is no doubt in my mind that a manned expedition to Mars is not yet possible and Bolden said we also had to look at new ways of communications in working up to it. Interesting that in discussions over dinner, AMSAT-DL’s proposed satellite mission to Mars, the dish at Bochum and the possible use of a 30 m dish elsewhere was also recognised as a potential contributor.
It seemed evident to me, too, that the compromises inherent in the design of the ISS were beginning to show. Roscosmos emphasised their interest in flying a separate vehicle unattended by humans except at the beginning and end of its experiments, in order to take away the minimal disturbances describes by Bolden as “some astronaut jumping about on a treadmill”, but also I think attitude changes in pitch, roll and yaw, which are corrected for to an extent in experiments, are also a potential problem to zero gravity experiments such as crystal growth or metallurgy. And it was evident to me that the data on ozone depletion by a JAXA experiment SMILES only touched the edges of the problem region due to the ISS inclination of 51.6 degrees.
The “elephant in the room” was China – there is no possibility of her joining any current space treaty as a nation. However I fell to wondering whether her commercial interests might not find a locker in the new commercial availability of experimental space on board the ISS – money talks – we shall see.
I stress all the above is my personal observation, opinion and commentary, one day after the end of the conference.
The Symposium was very stimulating and enjoyable, and I’d like to thank ESA and the organisers for inviting me.
73 de Andy G0SFJ
ESA ISS Symposium Blog http://blogs.esa.int/iss-symposium2012/
ISS Symposium 2012 http://www.isssymposium2012.com/
Research Overview of the International Space Station Partnership http://blogs.esa.int/iss-symposium2012/files/2012/05/Robinson_02_May_1545.pdf