An Antenna in Every Pot | AO-40

AMSAT is a group we bring up often on this blog. Simply put, they work on really cool ham radio projects and we volunteer for them. Unfortunately, AMSAT-NA (AMSAT North America) is no longer able to build satellites as big as AO-40 shown in the video above. If you dig into the details you will see that AMSAT-NA is a victim of ITAR since satellite technology was classified as a “munition” here in the United States. This effectively isolated the organization in the early 2000’s. Additionally, Cubesats completely changed the nature of launch opportunities which meant AMSAT could no longer get near free launches on test vehicles. Universities are now willing to pay for those once free spots! Let us know if you want more details on this in the comments below as it could be an entire post in itself! Be sure to read A Brief History of AMSAT to get a bit more information about the organization as well.

The video above was featured on The Discovery Channel on March 10th, 1996 as a segment in “Eyes In The Sky”. In it you can see Keith Baker (KB1SF), Dick Jansson (KD1K, ex WD4FAB), and Stan Wood (WA4NFY) as well as a few others inside the Orlando, FL facility where AO-40 was built. You start out shopping with the group for antenna parts at the local electronics surplus store as the entire plot of this segment was that spacecraft don’t have to be expensive. AMSAT has certainly proved that over the years and while we see Kickstarter campaigns for Cubesats claiming to be the first volunteer or open source satellite… AMSAT organizations around the world have been doing this since the 1960’s and AO-40 was an example of what it could achieve when many of them worked together (before ITAR) .

So enjoy the video, it’s hard to find on Youtube when searching for AMSAT AO-40 keywords. Luckily I’ve saved the link for years and its time everyone saw it. We plan on diving into some of the technology aboard AO-40 in future posts so don’t worry, there’s more to come. Comment below and let us know if you knew about AO-40 and want to know more, communicated over the satellite, or even helped build it!

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Author: Bryce Salmi

Licensed radio amateur KB1LQC and Co-Founder of FaradayRF. Professional Electrical Engineer designing and building avionics for rockets and spacecraft during the day and developing the future of digital amateur radio experimentation by night. All opinions are my own.

6 thoughts on “An Antenna in Every Pot | AO-40

  • ITAR is a mess for the gun industry too, some of the things they label as regulated under ITAR are really silly. It’s also a problem in the software hardware industry as well since it can be difficult to tell if that program your sharing across the globe is ITAR regulated (and even if it’s available on a server in a foreign country *doesn’t* mean that your not breaking ITAR regulations when you transmit it from within the USA to a country outside the USA! It’s insane.)

  • Thanks, Bryce, for the trip down memory lane! Very glad someone digitized the analog (VHS) version of this video segment and have posted same. The “rest of the story” is filming the three minute segment that finally appeared on the Network was gleaned from the some 4800 feet of 16mm film and was shot in 82 separate “takes”. We all (including the Discovery producers, directors and film crew) had an absolute blast doing the segment. And thanks again for “unearthing” and then preserving this! 73, Keith Baker, KB1SF / VA3KSF, Treasurer and Past President, AMSAT-NA.

  • Keith, glad I could help you find this video. Also, AO-40 was an amazing accomplishment regardless of what ended up happening to it. AMSAT should be proud to have even gotten as far as it did with that bird. It’s truly something of amazement whenever I see pictures or diagrams of it (and I get to work professionally on rockets/satellites too). All credit for archiving this goes to Ron, N2OGB as it’s on his Youtube channel. This is one of those links I’ve kept in my back-pocket for a while.

    On the notion of AO-40. I wonder what documentation still exists and could be public domained on a site like GitHub. It’s what I did for the AMSAT MPPT in Fox-1. It’s a neat way to bypass ITAR. If it’s everyone’s information it’s no one’s critical information as I would say. Schematics and code from that project would be amazing to look at.

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