DSLWP-B camera planning for February 3 and 4

As you may know, I am on a scientific expedition in Antarctica until mid-February. Currently I am in the Spanish base Gabriel de Castilla, where we have relatively good satellite internet access. As I have some free time here, I have updated the DSLWP-B camera planning to reflect the upcoming observations announced by Wei Mingchuan BG2BHC on 2019-02-03 14:30 and 2019-02-04 08:20.

As we can see in the figure below, the Earth will be very near to the centre of the image, since there is a new Moon on February 4 (recall that the DSLWP-B camera points away from the Sun, so the Earth is visible on the camera when there is a new Moon, as the Earth is then opposite to the Sun, as seen from the Moon).

The observation times have been selected taking into account the orbit around the Moon, so that the Moon is also visible on the image. On February 3 the Moon should be completely visible inside the camera field of view. On the contrary, on February 4, the Moon will only be partially visible inside the frame.

The figure below shows the angular distance between the centre of the Earth and the rim of the Moon. This kind of graph can be used to compute the times when the Earth crosses the Moon rim, allowing us to take an “Earthrise” image. There is an Earthrise event on February 4, during the time when the Amateur payload is active. Generally, an image is taken whenever the Amateur payload powers up, but in this case it could be possible to command the payload manually to take an image near the Earthrise event.

The figure below shows in detail the Earthrise event, with both edges of the Earth plotted. It seems that a good time to take the Earthrise image is on 2019-02-04 10:00 UTC.

Es’hail 2 stationed in 26ºE

If you’ve been following my posts about Es’hail 2, you’ll know that shortly after launch Es’hail 2 was stationed in a test slot at 24ºE. It remained in this slot until December 29, when it started to move to its operational slot at 26ºE. As of January 2, Es’hail is now stationed at 26ºE (25.8ºE, according to the TLEs).

The new GEO orbit at 26ºE is much more perfect than the orbit it had at 24ºE. This is to be expected for an operational orbit. Since December 30, I’ve been recording Doppler data of the satellite moving to its operational slot, and I have found some interesting effects of orbital dynamics in the data. This post is an account of these.

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In-orbit testing of Es’hail 2 Amateur transponders

Yesterday, December 23, MELCO carried out some in-orbit tests of the Es’hail 2 Amateur radio transponders. Since Es’hail 2 is currently under commissioning, it was expected that at some point the Amateur transponders would be activated for testing, but no announcement of the tests was done in advance. At around 11:00 UTC, Rob Janssen PE1CHL, noticed that the narrowband transponder was active and a carrier signal was being transmitted through it.

Since then, I monitored most of the tests and sent updates on Twitter, together with other people (see also the posts in the AMSAT-DL forum). Without knowing the details of the test plans, we limited ourselves to watching and following the tests that were being made. If some schedule of the tests had been published in advanced, we could have thought, prepared and performed some interesting measurements on the downlink signals.

I understand that since these tests are carried out by MELCO, AMSAT-DL might not have the specific details, but still I think that AMSAT-DL is publishing very little information about Es’hail 2 events. It was only at 22:35 UTC that AMSAT-DL published a small note on Twitter about the tests. I think the greatest concern is that people start transmitting through the transponder, interfering with the tests. However, since news spread very fast these days through social media, I think that publishing more information rather than keeping things discreetly serves better to prevent people from using the transponder during the commissioning. In any case, I’ll repeat it here:

Es’hail 2 is currently under commissioning. The 2.4GHz uplink of the Amateur transponders should never be used until authorized by AMSAT-DL. The Amateur transponders will sometimes be enabled for in-orbit testing by the MELCO/Es’hailSat/AMSAT-DL engineers. Relax, sit back, and watch the tests on the 10GHz downlink.

I also think that publishing more information would be beneficial to educate the community of radio Amateurs. Some people have asked me about the concept of in-orbit tests. After a satellite is launched into orbit, the performance of all its systems is tested to ensure that it matches design specifications, simulations, and pre-launch tests done on ground. This is important to guarantee that any problems, malfunction or damage that occurred during the launch can be diagnosed and hopefully mitigated by activating backup systems or other reliability measures. In-orbit testing of large satellites can take several months, since there are many complex systems that need to be tested remotely.

In the case of the Amateur radio payload of Es’hail 2, MELCO is carrying out the tests, since the payload was built by MELCO according to the design specifications by AMSAT-DL. The kind of tests they are performing are related to the performance of the bent-pipe transponders. They sweep in frequency the transponders to make sure that the passband shape is as expected. They transmit carriers of different power levels to check for linearity of the transponder and AGC performance, and they try different gain/power level settings of the transponder power amplifier to make sure it performs correctly over all its working range.

This is a rough account of the tests that were made yesterday, using my tweets as a sort of activity log.

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December DSLWP-B camera planning

It is again the beginning of the month, which means that the Earth will be in view of the Inory eye camera on board DSLWP-B. As usual, I have updated my camera planning notebook to compute the location of the Moon and Earth, as seen from the camera.

Wei has already scheduled observations on 2018-12-06 11:20 UTC and 2018-12-07 08:30 UTC. On each of these observations, an image will be taken at the start of the observation and the UHF transmitter will be activated for 2 hours.

I have used the 20181128 tracking file from dslwp_dev as orbital state for the calculations. As the date of the observations comes nearer, I might rerun the computations with updated ephemeris data, but this time it doesn’t seem critical to estimate the orbit with precision. In November, there were occultations of the Earth behind the lunar disc, and the times for these depended a lot on the orbital state. In December there will be no occultations, however.

The figure below shows the prediction for the camera view in the scheduled observations. On the 6th, the Earth will come close to the edge of the Moon. On the 7th, the Earth will be closest to the camera centre since we started planning and taking images in October.

Es’hail 2 launch in GMAT

After a long wait by many Amateur radio operators, Es’hail 2, the first geostationary satellite carrying an Amateur radio transponder launched yesterday on a SpaceX Falcon 9 Full Thrust from the historical LC-39A pad in Kennedy Space Centre, which was used by many Apollo and Space Shuttle launches in the past.

Es’hail 2 is the second communications satellite operated by the Qatari company Es’hailSat. It was built by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (MELCO). It carries several Ku and Ka band transponders intended for digital television, Internet access and other data services. It also carries an Amateur radio payload designed by AMSAT-DL, in collaboration with the Qatar Amateur Radio Society. The payload has two transponders, with S-band uplink and X-band downlink. One of the transponders is 250kHz wide and intended for narrowband modes, and the other one is 8MHz wide and intended for DVB-S and other wideband data modes.

SpaceX live-streamed the launch, and the recording can be seen in YouTube. Today, Space-Track has published the first TLEs for Es’hail 2 and the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. Here I look at these TLEs using GMAT.

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November DSLWP-B images of the Moon and Earth

In previous posts, I have already spoken about the chance of DSLWP-B taking images of the Moon and Earth during the beginning of November. The window to take these images was between November 6 and 9. This window included the possibility of taking an Earthrise image, with the Earth appearing from behind the Moon.

The planning for the activations of the Amateur payload made by Wei Mingchuan BG2BHC was as follows.

7 Nov 2018 08:13 to 7 Nov 2018 10:13
8 Nov 2018 09:40 to 8 Nov 2018 11:40
9 Nov 2018 12:00 to 9 Nov 2018 14:00
10 Nov 2018 14:00 to 10 Nov 2018 16:00
11 Nov 2018 13:30 to 11 Nov 2018 15:30

On November 7, from 8:13 to 9:33 UTC, a total of 9 images with 10 minutes of spacing between each would be taken. These images would be downloaded during the activations on the next days. As usual, an image would also be taken when the Amateur payload powered up on November 8 to 11, but the main focus was on downloading the sequence of images taken on November 7. This is a complete report of the images taken and downloaded.

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Updated DSLWP-B camera planning

In my last post, I detailed the DSLWP-B camera planning for the beginning of November. There, I used orbital state taken from the 20181027 tracking file to compute good times to take images of the Moon and the Earth, especially looking for an Earthrise-like image.

Now that the planned dates are closer, it is good to rerun the calculations with a newer orbital state. It turns out that there has been an important change in the mean anomaly, which shifts all the predictions by a few hours.

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DSLWP-B camera planning for the beginning of November

I have spoken in other occasions about planning the appropriate times to take pictures with the DSLWP-B Inory eye camera. In the beginning of October there was a window that allowed us to take images of the Moon and Earth. A lunar month after this we have new Moon again, so it is an appropriate time to take images with the camera.

This time, the Moon will pass nearer to the centre of the image than on October, and at certain times the Earth will hide behind the Moon, as seen from the camera. This opens up the possibility for taking Earthrise pictures such as the famous image taken during the Apollo 8 mission.

I have updated my camera planning Jupyter notebook to compute the appropriate moments to take images. The image below shows my usual camera field of view diagram.

The vertical axis represents the angular distance in degrees between each object and the centre of the image (Assuming the camera is pointing perfectly away from the Sun. In real life we can have a couple degrees of offset). The red lines represent the limits of the camera field of view, which are measured between the centre and the nearest edge, and between the centre and one corner. Everything between these two lines will only appear if the camera rotation is adequate. Everything below the lower line is guaranteed to appear, regardless of rotation.

We see that between November 6th and November 9th there are four times when the camera will be able to image the Earth and the Moon simultaneously. On the 6th it is almost guaranteed that the Earth will appear inside the image, and on the 9th it depends on the orientation of the camera. On the 7th and 8th it is guaranteed that the Earth will be in the image.

To compute appropriate times for taking an Earthrise picture, I have made the graph below. This shows the angular distance between the Earth and the rim of the Moon. If the distance is negative, the Earth is hidden by the Moon. We see that the Earth hides behind the lunar disc on each of the four days mentioned above.

In the figures below, we zoom in each of the events. In this level of zoom we can plot the “inner” and “outer” Earth rim, so we can see when the Earth is partially hidden by the Moon.

On November 6th the situation is the most interesting in my opinion. It turns out the the Earth will not even hide completely between the Moon. In theory, a tiny sliver will remain visible. Also, it will take more time for the Earth to hide behind the Moon and then reappear. As we will see, the next days this will happen faster. Here, it takes 15 minutes for the Earth to hide, and another 15 minutes to reappear. It spends 10 minutes almost hidden.

It can be a good idea to take a series of 10 images with an interval of 5 minutes between each image, and spanning from 12:40 UTC to 13:30 UTC, to get a good coverage for this event.

On November 7th the Earth goes deeper into the lunar disc, taking 5 minutes to hide, spending 70 minutes hidden, and taking 10 minutes to reappear.

On November 8th the Earth goes even deeper into the lunar disc. It takes around 7 minutes to hide, spends 105 minutes hidden and takes 10 minutes to reappear.

On November 9th the configuration is quite similar to November 7th, but the hiding speed is slower. It takes 15 minutes to hide, spends 100 minutes hidden and takes 15 minutes to reappear.

Overall, I think that the best would be to take a good series of images on November 6th, since this shallow occultation is a rarer event. The challenge will be perhaps to download all the images taken during these days. On average, I think we are downloading around 2 new images per 2 hour activation, taking into account repeats due to lost blocks and dead times. DSLWP-B is able to store 16 images onboard, and every time the UHF transmitter comes on, a new image is taken, overwriting an old image (more information in this post). Thus, if we take many images during these days, we have the danger of overwriting some when trying to download them over the next few days.

Perhaps a good strategy is to arrange for a series of 10 images to be taken on the 6th, and then programming the UHF transmitter to take an image as the Earth comes out of its occultation on the 7th, 8th and 9th. In this way, the 2 hour periods of these three days can be used to download some of the images taken on the 6th, and there are still 3 images of margin in the buffer in case something goes wrong during the downloads over the next few days.

Upcoming DSLWP-B Moon occultations

In my previous post I showed that during the DSLWP-B observation on 2018-10-27 17:20 UTC, the orbit of DSLWP-B would take it behind the Moon. This doesn’t happen every orbit (read as every day, since the orbit period is around 22 hours). It depends on the angle from which the orbit is viewed from Earth, and hence on the lunar phase.

Knowing beforehand when DSLWP-B will hide behind the Moon allows to perform radio occultation studies. These consist in measuring the RF signal from DSLWP-B as it gets blocked by the lunar disc. Interesting phenomena such as diffraction can be observed.

I have calculated the occultations that will be visible from the Dwingeloo radiotelescope in the remaining part of this year.

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Download of DSLWP-B Moon and Earth pictures continues

In a previous post I spoke about the images of the Moon and Earth taken by the Chinese lunar-orbiting satellite DSLWP-B between October 6 and 10. Some images taken during these days hadn’t been downloaded yet. The activities have continued during this week by downloading the remaining images and taking and downloading new images. This is a report of the images downloaded between October 14 and 19.

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