Welcome to the
Simulated Satellite (SimSat)
PRESS KIT and Technical Announcement Page

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment
before starting to improve the world." - Anne Frank (1929-1945)

Experimental Flights To Follow
See Announcements below.

See below for information about our SimSat-4 flight. This is news you can use. You are welcome to participate with us!


Monday, October 11, 2010

GREENBELT -- by Pat Kilroy -- The SimSat-4 launch is delayed indefinitely, but that is not bad news.

In the mean time we are going to enjoy opportunities for smaller "unofficial" test flights through the month of June. You are invited to participate.

We will fly expendable payloads that have a similar function as the PICetSat II module, a similar telemetry style and content. (See telemetry details below.) The payloads will be much smaller and lighter, and less prone to a scrub.

And we are working with one or more high schools to launch locally from their football field. Watch for late breaking announcements here.

You may enjoy our CarrollSat "practice" flights from the link embedded here to get an idea of what to expect. There may be a VHF net but likely NO HF net for our small "practice" flights. Stay tuned!

SimSat-4 Mission Objectives

"A SimSat mission is a complete, hands-on, student-driven NASA
space mission in microcosm."

The SimSat-4 mission is a test flight. It features the first of a new
series of SimSat ultra-light, low-cost, expendable payloads where
"virtually every high school football field in America is a
launch pad."

We are testing the performance of the successor to the PICetSat module
that flew as an experiment on the SimSat-3 flight two years ago. With
many improvements over the original PICetSat, the PICetSat II module
promises to provide more fun and more learning opportunities for all
who participate.

The SimSat program is still pretty much in the R&D phase right now,
but we anticipate these education and outreach opportunities to scale
well and become "operational" soon. That is, college students or high
school science classes, for example, will be provided our blueprints
and a payload in kit form to build, test, fly, analyze & share their
results, ... with friendly, high quality mentorship offered.

The PICetSat payload, is what we call "LLL" expendable. That is,
"launch 'em, lose 'em, learn from 'em". (No messy recovery operations
are required.) However, through the heroic efforts of folks like Mr.
Bob Bruninga (WB4APR), we have learned how to track and recover
these payloads when we are so moved. (See Bob's exciting payload
chase and recovery story on our SimSat-3 mission page.)

[Note: We are looking for a way to make our payload capsule more
optically visible for the Century High School astronomy club. The
students may offer to provide valuable Azimuth/Elevation data to us
in real time while they experiment with obtaining optical fixes during
a mission. (Your ideas are welcome!) We are working with CHS science
teacher Mr. Gary Fuhrman -- one of the finest educators in the state
of Maryland.]

We invite students and other volunteers to copy our wireless telemetry
and share it and the experience with us and others. One can't help but
to develop a number of valuable personal and technical skills while
learning how to copy and decode the signals from a payload in flight!

The telemetry format is described below.

Helpful Hint: When receiving the PICetSat signals, you ought to record the
time accurately for each telemetry frame you copy correctly, otherwise
the value of your data will be lessened. (You will see what we mean by
this better, once you work with the telemetry format a bit.) It's easy.

High Schools: Get started! Check out this opportunity. Get the PDF.

Ready?   Let's go.

Let's fly again!!

o How a school, class or any community organization may participate in
   SimSat: Contact Mr. Pat Kilroy, SimSat Principal Investigator.

o How an Amateur Radio operator may participate: See the TASK
   LIST below.

SimSat Flight Announcement - Fast Facts (Pre-flight)

Mission designation: SimSat-4
Sponsors: NASA GSFC, AMSAT-NA, Carroll County Public Schools, K3PZN, WA3NAN.
Launch date: Saturday morning, TBDmonth xx, 2010.
Launch time: Target release: about 12 noon EDT.
Flight time duration: Expected to be about 150 minutes (2.5 hours) aloft.
Launch site: Century Space Port, Century High School, Sykesville, Md. 21784
Launch site coordinates: 39.4238, -76.9894, ground level at 675 feet AMSL.
Mission Control: Century Mission Control Center, CHS, Sykesville, Md.
Flight ID: Callsign N8PK/BALLOON transmitting to all.
UHF balloon waveform: Wide Band AM or FM, copyable using "standard" FM.
UHF balloon downlink: 433.920 MHz +/- 0.060 MHz, drifting, likely T and V sensitive.
Recovery team callsigns: Expendable payload, ... but (TBD) will attempt to recover it.
Recovery team coordination: Repeater TBD (MD Eastern Shore or southeast PA areas?)
Net frequency, HF: 3860 kHz SSB +/- 9 kHz -- but this frequency may change soon!
Net Control Station (NCS), HF: Hugh O'Donnell, W3FUO, Beltsville, Maryland 20705
Auxillary Station, HF: Gary Chatters, WA9ZZZ, from the launch site.
Net frequency, VHF: 146.835 MHz FM, WA3NAN/R, Greenbelt, Md.
Backbone Coordination, VHF: 145.410 MHz FM, K3PZN/R, Westminster, Md.
Propagation Forecast: John WB4LNM performed propagation projection for our HF net.
Sponsor Club: Carroll County Amateur Radio Club, Inc., P.O. Box 2211, Westminster, MD 21158.
Sponsor Club Web Site: http://www.qis.net/~k3pzn/

Remote Ground Stations:
o Century Mission Control Center (WA9ZZZ), CHS, Sykesville, Md. 21784
o Century Mission Control Center (N8PK), CHS, Sykesville, Md. 21784
o Marco Midon (N5ACR), Laurel, Md. 20723
o Bruce Semple (WA3SWJ), Potomac, Md. 20854
o Your station listed here.
o Next station listed here.
o Room for lots more.

PAYLOADS and Balloon Train Info

The information below will change once the new PICetSat II LITE module is completed, calibrated, tested, integrated and ready for launch. Please check back here soon for updates.

1. PICetSat II flight module with remote sensing.
2. External audio (piezo buzzer) for recovery assistance.
3. External recovery sticker: "Harmless School Science Fair Experiment:
When found please call Mr. Pat Kilroy at xxx-xxx-xxxx to return this capsule
intact and claim your prize."
4-6. NASA stickers and small cloth American flags.

Capsule structure: about H XXX x W XXX x D XXX-inch O.D., wall
thickness XXX-inch, all EPS "styrofoam" material, mass XXg empty.
Payload module: green PCB, double-sided, 2.5 x 3.5-in., mass 48g.
Flight battery: A single 9V alkaline at 47g or lithium at 37g.
Antenna and feedline: Quarter-wave vertical GP at 434 MHz, downfacing, mass 25g.
Payload count: Six.  (Five inside payload capsule, one external.)
Payload descriptions: See below, with lots more info on the nets, live and realtime.
Total mass of flight capsule: XXX grams (0.XX lbs) ready to fly.
Capsule weight/size ratio: Less than 0.8 ounces per square inch.
Microcontroller: PICAXE-28X1 from Revolution Education, Ltd.
Onboard sensors: flight battery voltage (V), inside air temp (TI) at battery, outside
air temperature (TO), altitude via calibrated pressure transducer (P), and checksum (C).
GPS Engine: none. Azimuth and heading determined by RDF triangulation on the nets.
Balloon type: A KCI 100 100-gram, helium-filled pibal.
Ascent rate: about 820 feet/minute.
Float phase: No float phase. Only ascent or descent, drifting with winds aloft.
SimSat-4 footprint: Based on altitude, about 200-mile radius of Baltimore, Md.
Recovery, descent: Upon burst, streamer recovery, plus capsule small density
and large surface area design predicts failsafe soft landing.
Recovery, landing: RDF-capable; recovery sticker offering a prize for its safe return.

Changes since the original announcement: Several.

              The PICetSat II module. Click for larger image.

Telemetry Format (What You Will Hear or are Hearing!)

Listen for the PICetSat II sequence in 13 WPM Morse Code.

It will:

o Send the "HI HI" salute to grab one's attention
o Note: Please record the time of day (hh:mm) accurately at the start of each frame!
o Send the letter "F" for Frame, then
o Send sequential frame counter number, incrementing by one, each frame
o Send "V" for Voltage, then
o Send numerical code for battery voltage, decreasing code for decreasing voltage
o Send "TI" for Temperature Inside, then
o Send numerical code for inside temp, decreasing code for decreasing temp
o Send "TO" for Temperature Outside, then
o Send numerical code for outside temp, decreasing code for decreasing temp
o Send "P" for Pressure, then
o Send numerical code for pressure in hPa, decreasing code for decreasing
   pressure and thus for increasing altitude in feet
o Send "C" for Checksum, then
o Send arithmetic sum of measurement codes, where C = V + TI + TO + P
o Send "DE" for "from" and then ID, callsign N8PK and "/Balloon"
o Send 3-second solid tone for tuning, RDF or beacon finding assistance
o Turn off transmitter
o Send internal "CAM" command for external audio tone locator assistance, then
o Silent period, resting to conserve battery and yield channel, then
o Take sensor measurements and start over, repeating this cycle throughout mission.

Example Frame:
HI HI F 22 V 843 TI 712 TO 552 P 456 C 2563 DE N8PK/BALLOON [4-sec beacon]

Please record the data you collect in your log to share. You add the
timestamp for each frame.

The LOOKUP TABLES AND NOTES are here in a spreadsheet. To be
updated soon.

With these calibration "keys" you can start to make more sense of all the
telemetry number codes. That is, for example, you will reveal actual
temperatures (in degrees C) and the altitude (in feet Above Mean Sea Level)
in place of the coded numbers.

You may notice that some or all of the telemetry codes are only decreasing
during the flight! Can you think of a reason why this might be true?

We are working to improve the Lookup Table & Notes spreadsheet. Please
review it, checking all tabs, and then send your suggestions or questions
to me at my Patrick.L.Kilroy@nasa.gov address.

Additional and updated information can be enjoyed on the nets while the
mission is in progress.

Main Participating Area

If you are located within 200 miles of Baltimore, Md. then chances are
good that you will receive the UHF wireless signals from our high-altitude
balloon experiment directly.

SimSat Telemetry via Wireless (RF) Downlink

Receiving and processing the wireless signals direct from the balloon
payload is educational and fun. But don't wait until flight day to
download a software program (see the links right below). Set it up
in advance and play with it as much as you can.

We highly recommend using one of the following Morse Code or "CW"
readers in order of Pat Kilroy's personal preference:

1. CwGet from http://www.dxsoft.com/micwget.htm
2. MixW from http://www.mixw.net/
3. FLdigi, integral to the NBEMS freeware, from http://www.w1hkj.com/

There are many other worthy code readers from which to find and try.
Just make sure it can save your received text to an ASCII TXT file.

To receive the signals, almost any scanner radio will do. Some attractive
radio features to have are, roughly in order of probability of success:
(1) an external antenna jack (for an outside antenna in the clear), (2) an
external speaker jack (to plug the audio into your computer sound card),
(3) a squelch function that you can turn off, (4) a tuning resolution of
5 kHz (smaller, if possible, would be even better, but cost will go up),
and (5) an external power jack (to run off a battery pack if or when you
are outside). Features that are not critical but would be convenient to
have are: (6) direct frequency input, (7) a controllable up/down scan
function or (8) a good, old fashioned tuning knob.

About finding a knowledgeable mentor regarding much of this stuff,
your local Amateur Radio clubs and individuals are quite valuable
sources of help.

Preparing for SimSat-4 Mission


We watch the weather forecasts closely (both the regular "surface" conditions AND
at upper altitudes) because low visibility or high winds or other nasty conditions
can scrub our attempt on flight day ...

o See the Weather Underground current weather forecast for the launch site. Click
   on day Detail and check the morning cloud cover figure.
o Or see the NOAA NWS current weather forecast at the launch site.
o See the most recent visibility figure. Check if over or under 5 miles at all altitudes.
o For a tracking first guess, see the most recent jet stream activity.
o See the METAR, our official current conditions for the greater Baltimore area.
o See the METAR explanation and key to decode our official weather data.
o See the current aviation flight rules in the area.


I often look to the latest *jet stream* data (see below) for my best first guess of the
balloon path, prior to computing and plotting, as shown in this pre-launch graphic ...

Highest Speed Winds in Upper Atmosphere. Click image for better animation.


See below for my balloon path forecast (Kudos EOSS.org and NearSpaceVentures.com)

SimSat-4 Flight Path Prediction. Click image for larger view.


To the chagrin of some, but for the safety of all, we fly only in good weather.
We observe well-defined conservative weather conditions before releasing
a payload into the stratosphere. The conditions of the launch and predicted
balloon trajectory areas are checked up to release time using reliable sources.
These criteria must be met prior to release: (1) After local sunrise, (2) visibility
at least 5SM, (3) VFR in effect, (4) no OVC in most recent METAR report,
(5) for no more than two BKN in the METAR data then (6) no level shall be
below 6,000 feet AMSL nor no less than 6,000 feet apart in between. The
SimSat Flight Director reviews all WX data and gives his GO (to proceed) or
NO GO (hold) up to 12 noon local. If any one of these criteria is not met,
among others, then a scrub shall be called for the day and the mission date
rescheduled. Relaxed consideration will be given only for payloads flying
on a 100g or smaller balloon.

Amateur Radio Volunteers Sought

For the sake of education, outreach, good community relations and public service,
we offer a partnership with technical individuals, near and far, to help make these
balloon experiments to near-space a successful and a rewarding experience for
students. To volunteer, you may select any task below and run with it.

TASK LIST      We need someone like YOU to ...

  1. Check-in to our high-alitude experiment net. See frequencies above.
  2. Show patience and guidance to any student who is participating in
      our net or other activity.
  3. Submit your time-stamped telemetry log to N8PK.
  4. Record HF on-air voice audio activity in MP3.
  5. Record VHF on-air voice audio activity in MP3.
  6. Record UHF on-air audio telemetry in MP3 stereo.
  7. Note: The on-air recordings ought to include the SimSat-4 activity
      on the RIGHT channel and a live time source such as WWV on
      the LEFT channel. The time stamping is important to us, on all logs
      audio, written or typed.
  8. Give positive publicity. Share this news at your club meeting or on a
      net. Tell a friend.

  9. Tell a teacher. (Help a teacher.)

10. Offer a write up in your club newsletter, web site or local newspaper.
      Be sure to pat yourself on the back regarding your efforts too!
11. Take photos. E-mail us photos of your participation and any students in
      action, near and far.
12. Attempt a visual spotting with a telescope: Report your location, and
      time of sighting for each balloon azimuth and elevation measurement. A
      tele-photograph taken, if possible, would be way cool to share with us!
13. QSL direct to the N8PK on www.QRZ.com address given, not ARRL.
      A self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) is required for a QSL
      (hardcopy) card in return for your log/report.

14. NEW NEW NEW: Ask to be delegated as our APRS Liaison who updates the findu.com
and/or aprs.fi web sites with "N8PK-11" information as the mission progresses. (We
can have only one person doing this activity for us at a time.) If no one
volunteers then, unfortunately, this fine public service will not get done.
15. Each participant is asked to share what you are doing via an on-the-air
net or (later, what you did) by e-mail.

Thank you!


Your log is your "story" of your SimSat-4 experience, and
we'd love to hear about it! Your submission can be either
hand written or typed. If typed, it can be in either a text
file (.TXT, such as done in Notepad), or a word processor
file (.DOC, such as in Microsoft Office 2003 or Open Office).

You can also place the telemetry you copied either in the body
of your text, or, better yet, in a spreadsheet (.XLS, such as
in Microsoft Excel 2003 or Open Office). See the following
helpful notes. These are NOT required, but will help you
and us to analyze the telemetry.

NOTES for a Text or word processor file:
If you send us a copy of your telemetry then please include a
carriage return at the end of each line (that is, before each
HI HI). Please place the time (HH:MM) on each line or frame
received. Please delete the frames that do NOT have a valid
checksum match. See the format example below.

NOTES for a Spreadsheet file:
Please submit your log with one frame per line, with like
information arranged in columns as shown in the example.
Please include the time for each frame in either hhmm or hh:mm
units, where hh stands for the hour and mm for minute on the
clock. Use a spreadsheet only for the telemetry parts. Any
pictures or story or description of your experience ought
to be in a word document.


 HH:MM  HI HI F xxx V xxx TI xxx TO xxx P xxx C xxxx DE N8PK/BALLOON <>
 HH:MM  HI HI F xxx V xxx TI xxx TO xxx P xxx C xxxx DE N8PK/BALLOON <>
 HH:MM  HI HI F xxx V xxx TI xxx TO xxx P xxx C xxxx DE N8PK/BALLOON <>
 HH:MM  HI HI F xxx V xxx TI xxx TO xxx P xxx C xxxx DE N8PK/BALLOON <>
 HH:MM  HI HI F xxx V xxx TI xxx TO xxx P xxx C xxxx DE N8PK/BALLOON <>
 HH:MM  HI HI F xxx V xxx TI xxx TO xxx P xxx C xxxx DE N8PK/BALLOON <>

Send your log via e-mail to Patrick.L.Kilroy@nasa.gov and receive
a nice QSL card in return!


Students! Teachers! ...

Need some help? Have questions? Radio mumbo jumbo?

Help is on its way ...

Listed below are individuals who know something about satellites,
simulated satellites, high-altitude balloon experiments, radios,
antennas, software or other technical stuff who have agreed to
allow us to publish their name, location and e-mail address or
phone number for your assistance. Give one a try!

     NAME                    LOCATION    CONTACT INFO
 1. Mr. Bruce Semple   Potomac, Md.   301-983-4753

Technical persons! Please contact Pat Kilroy to offer your name
on the list above to help students and teachers. Thanks!

The SimSat-4 Development Team

Shown are Pat Kilroy and his three Summer 2009 student interns at
NASA GSFC. Alain Hilaire is a senior in Electrical Engineering at
Morgan State University, Baltimore, Md; Matt Marcus, a freshman in
Aerospace Engineering at University of Maryland College Park; and
Ben Jacobson, a freshman in Mechanical Engineering at New Mexico
Institute of Mining and Technology.

L-to-R: Alain, Pat, Matt and Ben, rehearsing on the AO-27 satellite. Click on
the image for larger view. NASA Photo by P.Izzo, GSFC Code 279.

Amateur Satellites: AMSAT, the next level of fun begins here.


Our Thanks To:


o Mr. Karl Schuler, GSFC Code 543, NASA Mechanical Lab Manager
o Mr. Willie Barber, GSFC Code 544, NASA Aero. Eng. Tech.
o Mr. Andrew Cockley, Principal, Century High School, Sykesville, Md.
o Mr. Gary Fuhrman, Science Educator, Century High School
o Mr. Bob Bruninga, WB4APR, Satellite Lab Manager, U.S. Naval Academy
o Mr. Larry Hilliard, NASA Project Manager
o Mr. Curtis Dunsmore, NASA Electronics Lab Manager
o Ms. Dawn Blackburn, GSFC Code 568, NASA Electronics Tech.
o Mr. Rich Hoffman, GSFC Code 568, NASA Electronics Tech.
o Mr. Jim Reynolds, Wesminster Astronomical Society.
o More coming. Many more to list.


These high quality technical experts donated their valuable time and equipment as
a public service to the community. Each one, and several not mentioned here,
deserve your kind recognition.

o Mr. Gary Chatters, WA9ZZZ, the Goddard Amateur Radio Club, WA3NAN.
o Mr. Marco Midon, N5ACR, Primary Ground Station and Tech Advisor.
o Mr. Hugh O'Odonnell, W3FUO, Net Control Station (NCS) and GARC Rep.
o Mr. Bruce Semple, WA3SWJ, fellow AMSAT experimenter.
o Mr. Rich Mitchell, N3III, Carroll County Amateur Radio Club, K3PZN.
o Mr. Steve Beckman, N3SB, Carroll County Amateur Radio Club, K3PZN.
o Mr. John Klingelhoeffer, WB4LNM, Auburn University Technical Advisor.
o Mr. Jim Cross, WI3N, ARRL Section Manager, Maryland-DC Section.
o More coming. Many more to list.

For info on this web page contact:

Mr. Pat Kilroy
Flight Systems I&T Engineer/Manager
SimSat Principal Investigator
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
E-mail: Patrick.L.Kilroy@nasa.gov


o You can visit the national balloon announcement web page, click
on "ARHAB Balloon Schedules".

o See our SimSat-3 altitude placed in ARHAB records page.  Scroll
down below "Highest GPS Reported Maximum Altitude". See below
that our record book place among "Lightest Payloads" as well!

o Go here for APRS details, or here, our adopted primary balloon tracking
standard and method.

o See also Bob Bruninga's tutorial on Radio Direction Finding (RDF) techniques,
as proven to be such a success on a CricketSat flight and the SimSat-3 mission!

o Read Pat Kilroy's (outdated) Amateur Radio biography here.

o Get Pat Kilroy's professional biography here. (Coming soon.)

IF YOU FIND an Amateur Radio High-Altitude Balloon (ARHAB) like SimSat, or
what might be one, then please wait before disturbing it so that photo-documentation
and post-flight processing may be completed by the operators. Please call the phone
number on the recovery tag immediately. Thank you!

©2010 Pat Kilroy
This is Version 1.11.0
Last Modified: October 11, 2010