aerial.jpgMassey's Irish Connection

Massey University has linked into Irish electronic developments with the establishment of a southern gateway for a satellite communications system on the Albany campus.

Early in 1998, a Dublin group submitted a proposal to the European Union to establish a very low cost communications network through which expertise and advice of a medical or agricultural nature could be rapidly passed to the less developed, remote locations of the world. The proposal identified a satellite system as the only feasible technology and northern and southern gateway stations were envisaged.

The initial contact between Albany and Dublin was when Professor Gordon Foster, formerly Dean of Engineering and Systems Science, Trinity College, Dublin, and chair of the Irish organising group, visited the Albany campus and broached the topic with Physics Coordinator, Dr Scott Whineray. Subsequently, while on conference leave in Europe, Dr Whineray met with the Dublin organising committee. Last November the European Union accepted the Irish proposal and agreed to fund it. It was then decided to install the gateway at Albany.

Because of the smaller power requirements, low earth orbit (LEO) satellites - of which two are available Æfree to air' for philanthropic purposes - were chosen as the link between the ground stations. Dr Whineray says the orbits of LEO satellites are deliberately positioned over the North Pole - South Pole axis, so that a satellite can transfer data during two or three successful orbits when it passes reasonably close to either the Dublin or Auckland ground stations. LEO satellites, which take about 100 minutes to orbit, are visible from a ground station for five minutes or so during each pass " the satellite traversing anywhere between the eastern and western horizons. Tracking the satellite with the directional antenna increases the chance of a successful link, he says.

Dr Whineray says to expedite establishment of the southern gateway, the University sought local expertise in the field. Commander Fred Kennedy, a man well known in both the North Shore and national amateur radio circles for his knowledge of satellite communication, and a marine engineer by profession, joined the team as a Research Associate. In a matter of months the Albany station has been brought to operational status under the call sign ZL1MUA. While currently operating on frequencies of 148 and 429MHz, a 2.3GHz dish has been included on the antenna to keep in touch with a possible trend to higher carrier frequencies and for fine tuning the tracking accuracy using satellite reference beacons.

In the near future, the present antennas will be replaced with high gain units and automatic computer protocols will be established for down loading messages, these to be forwarded by email to Dublin. Following this stage, and in collaboration with Dublin, the Albany team will assist with the development of the electronics package and (non-tracking) antennas for the low cost, remote up/down links. Currently, messages are now arriving from Dublin where African operators are undergoing training on a prototype design for the low-power, remote site rigs, says Dr Whineray.

He says there are a number of spin-offs for Massey. "Foremost is the availablity of a working satellite ground station (ie a Ælaboratory experience') at a heavily discounted cost and the opportunity for practical, and challenging student projects - particularly on the design of the remote stations," says Dr Whineray.

"In addition, there is the likelihood that two or three Massey graduates could spend time in Dublin gaining further experience in electronic communications. Then again, there is the satisfaction of belonging to a global net with a common philanthropic purpose."

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