History of SAREX

The year 1995 was a year of transition for the Shuttle Amateur Radio EXperiment (SAREX) program. In the period 1983 through 1995, SAREX was flown 19 times as a secondary payload on all 5 U.S. Space Shuttles. These flights are listed in Appendix ZZ. NASA is currently shifting its manned space activity from short duration missions on U.S. Space Shuttles to long duration continuous presence experimentation on the International Space Station (ISS). As NASA transitions, SAREX is striving to stay in lock-step with NASA’s manned space plans. Through these efforts and international coordination with amateur space activities in other countries, the SAREX team hopes to provide a permanent amateur radio presence on human-tended space vehicles. The SAREX program has now evolved through two major phases in its development cycle and is preparing to enter a third.

Phase I

The first phase, the pure experimental phase, introduced new amateur radio hardware and techniques to the Space Shuttle program and accomplished several firsts in manned space history. These include the first communications between astronauts and people on the ground outside of the “official” channels (usually reserved for presidents and heads of state). This occurred on STS-9. Other firsts included the first uplink and downlink of pictures on STS- 51F, the first packet computer-to-computer radio link on STS-35 and the first video uplink on STS-37.

Phase II

SAREX Phase II, which started in 1992, represents the operational frequent-flyer phase. During this phase of SAREX, the paperwork, tools and operational techniques have been honed to allow SAREX to fly up to 4-5 times a year on the Space Shuttle. This could only be accomplished through careful development of several specific SAREX configurations which allowed the generation of generic SAREX paperwork to meet Shuttle payload integration requirements. The Crew Training Plan was formalized and made more efficient; generic lessons were developed that could be used for every flight. In addition, a concerted effort was initiated to license the Space Shuttle astronauts. To date, almost half of the U.S. astronauts currently have ham radio licenses. ARRL developed SAREX educational materials to be distributed to the schools. To support SAREX Phase II, AMSAT set up a network of volunteers who prepare the schools for their SAREX contacts. These volunteers, who comprise the AMSAT SAREX Operations Team, provide real-time information bulletins to hams around the world and provide critical mission control support to the SAREX team at the Johnson Space Center.

Phase III

The beginning of SAREX Phase III is represented by the current transition from short duration, intense, Space Shuttle flights to long duration U.S. presence on the Russian Space Station MIR and finally permanently tended human operations on the ISS. As was required when SAREX transitioned from Phase I to SAREX Phase II, the SAREX team will need to evolve its hardware development, its documentation and its operations techniques to better serve the long duration activities in space during the Phase III era. Since both MIR and ISS represent international facilities, a much closer relationship with our international amateur radio partners is required. School group contact, personal contact and experimental contact scheduling and preparation will also require new techniques and procedures. New hardware and new operating bands will naturally occur with a new facility. While this permanent amateur station will provide some new challenges to the SAREX team, it also promises to open the doors to some very exciting, new capabilities which will significantly enhance the SAREX educational outreach program. In addition, it will also provide hams on the ground more frequent, comprehensive access to space.

Return to SAREX Field Operations Guide Main Page