SARA Annual Conference – Paper Abstracts

SARA Annual Conference – Paper Abstracts


Breakthrough Listen’s Role in the Quest for Extraterrestrials

Ron Maddalena


Breakthrough Listen is by far the most ambitious search ever taken for radio signals from extraterrestrial civilizations.  Observations on the Green Bank Telescope started in January 2016 and uses 20% of the observing time on the GBT, as well as time on other telescopes.  The project, which will examine 1 million stars over 10 years, has the same sensitivity in 1 day of observing as previous SETI surveys acquired in a full year.  This paper examines how the Breakthrough Listen survey fits in with historical SETI searches, what Breakthrough might tell us about the terms in the Drake equation, as well as how the project fits in with other, on-going SETI activities.



A Radio Astronomy CubeSat – One Year Later

J. Wayne McCain

Athens State University and

Collin R. McCain

Calhoun Community College


At last year’s Western and Eastern SARA Conferences, papers were presented proposing development of a Radio Astronomy CubeSat for low-to-medium Earth orbit to be used to monitor VLF and LF frequency emissions that are normally blocked by the upper atmosphere. This paper updates the status of this project and describes its evolution over the last 12 months. The proposal has been redirected to emphasize STEM activities as primary objectives, followed by the actual radio-astronomy science as secondary. Efforts are still underway to establish formal relationships with AMSAT and Vanderbilt University, the latter who now has two CubeSats in orbit. Project organization, schedule, and funding planning will also be discussed.



Correlation of Direct and Indirect Sudden Ionospheric Disturbance Data – INSPIRE VS. SuperSID

J. Wayne McCain

Athens State University and

Amelia Claire McCain

SPARK Academy at Cowart


Two STEM-related activities, co-sponsored by SARA and NASA, are the INSPIRE and SuperSID programs. Both employ specialized, student-assembled receivers to monitor solar activity such as Coronal Mass Ejection and high-energy gamma or x-ray bursts. Both of these projects originate data that can be compared to NASA solar satellite data taken directly for the Sun. This research examines methodology for correlating the INSPIRE and SuperSID data in its original form with each other and the NASA satellite data. Attempts to statistically compare results are anticipated. In addition, brief background and description of INSPIRE and SuperSID hardware and procedures will be presented.



Instrumentation Section Report - RASDR

Bogdan Vacaliuc


The electronics and instrumentation section is dedicated towards informing the membership of the advances in components and techniques that are available to them for use in their projects.  The section provides introductory information as well as links to curated technical documents, specifications and software that can be used to successfully assemble radio telescopes over a wide variety of wavelengths.  Recent updates to the section data will be highlighted in this talk as well as an update on the current state of the Radio Astronomy Software Defined Receiver (RASDR) project.



Adventures with the IBT

By Bruce Randall NT4RT


The Itty Bitty Telescope(IBT) is a popular demonstration radio telescope. The IBT is not a serious astronomical instrument but it does an excellent job of demonstrating what a radio telescope does.  This paper documents some of the problems and solutions in building an IBT.  Both electronic and mechanical aspects are discussed. Problems of which LNB/LNC can be used is addressed. Discussed of problems with satellite finders used as the IF amplifier and detector is also included.


The Engineering Development of Morehead State University Deep Space Network Station for Interplanetary CubeSat Missions

J. Kruth
Staff Electrical Engineer & DSN Upgrade Manager
Morehead State University Space Science Center

The technology that supports radio astronomy finds uses in other area of endeavor related to space exploration. This presentation describes the adaptation of a radio astronomy system to provide new co-resident capability for deep space communication. The Deep Space Network (DSN), operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for NASA, is comprised of three locations around the globe.  By invitation from JPL, a fourth location has been added, Deep Space Station 17 (DSS-17), at Morehead State University. This is based on the 21 meter Space Tracking Antenna (STA), a system originally built for use in both radio astronomy and spacecraft communications.
The need for this arises because CubeSats, a relatively new & highly disruptive smallsat technology, are being for interplanetary research.  This is stretching the capabilities of the current, highly scheduled,  DSN configuration.  The 13 CubeSats slated to fly on the NASA's Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) in 2019 is historic, as it will be the first of many planned CubeSat and smallsat explorations of the solar system.  As these CubeSat missions venture to the distance of the moon and beyond within the Solar System, they require a ground station with greater capabilities than the systems currently in use for CubeSats in low Earth orbits.  System attributes such as large aperture, low noise temperature, low processing loss, high transmitting power, operation at higher frequencies (X-band), use of highly efficient forward error correction codes, become more and more important in enabling communication with interplanetary spacecraft.
Under the support of the NASA Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) program, the Morehead State University 21-m antenna is being upgraded to provide tracking support to the EM-1 Lunar IceCube mission, and will available for additional EM-1 (as well as other) CubeSat missions.  The very first of its kind, this project is done in a partnership with the JPL/NASA Deep Space Network (DSN).  The Morehead ground station will have the full telemetry, tracking and command capability required for deep space communications.  Equipped with equipment developed & used at the DSN combined with that built at Morehead, the MSU DSS-17 will have the same data interfaces with mission operation centers as within the original DSN sites.   Mission users would receive telemetry and radiometric data that are tracked by the Morehead State University and relayed to the Deep Space Operation Center (DSOC) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).  For command, the DSOC would directly connect to the uplink equipment at the Morehead system, in exactly the same method as used by the other DSN ground stations.  Telemetry, tracking and command data interfaces are fully compliant to the CCSDS space link extension standards.
This paper and the accompanying presentation, will describe the RF engineering challenges and the approaches to their solutions that have been developed and implemented by the staff at Morehead State University. Included is description of the plan for testing DSS-17 with spacecraft that are soon to be in operation, in particular the Mars Cube One (MarCO), one of the NASA first interplanetary cubesats, launching in May 2018. When complete, radio astronomy at 8.45 GHz for continuum sources will be possible with a most capable system.


Open Source Radio Telescopes: Bringing STEM Down to Earth


by Ellie White, Evan Smith, and Dr. Richard Prestag



Open Source Radio Telescopes (OSRT) is a new educational initiative which aims to inspire students of all ages to enter STEM fields by introducing them to engineering, computer science, and astronomy concepts in a hands-on way. We plan to accomplish this by providing students and teachers with materials, curricula, and documentation instructing how to build simple radio telescopes. OSRT hosts an engaging community where students, teachers, scientists, engineers, and hobbyists can discuss radio telescopes, hardware electronics, digital signal processing (using GNU Radio software), citizen science, and related topics in an open, collaborative, and supportive environment. Currently, information and instructions for two projects – a small loop antenna and a neutral hydrogen horn antenna – have been posted on our website, and OSRT is in the process of developing and testing kits consisting of construction materials and electronic parts to distribute to schools or other educational facilities. Through the actions OSRT has already accomplished and the ideas we intend to pursue in the future, our goal is to help students find their passions by engaging them in fascinating radio astronomy-related projects.



Geographically-spaced Synchronized Signal Detection System
by Skip Crilly

A system has been designed and implemented that makes simultaneous geographically-spaced time-and-frequency-synchronized measurements of hypothetical extraterrestrial narrowband signals in the 1405-1448 MHz band. One radio telescope is the Deep Space Exploration Society sixty foot Plishner Telescope in Haswell, Colorado, and another radio telescope is the Forty Foot Telescope at the Green Bank Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia. A GPS-signal-locked reference oscillator and a digital back-end is used at each site to permit differential Doppler measurements of radio pulses to a resolution of 3.73 Hz. This presentation will describe signal search strategy, the receiver system, observations of simultaneous close-frequency pulses, and future plans to enhance capabilities of the system. 



A road-map to Amateur Radio Astronomy Interferometry
by John Colt

A road-map is presented for the development of stand-alone radio telescopes suitable for variable baseline or VLBI.  Readily available, inexpensive components were used throughout.  The ultimate goal is a file definition and processing standard to enable offline correlation of independent radio astronomy.



Galactic Navigation Position Data Using Interstellar Medium HI Velocity Measurements
by Richard Russel, D.Cs., Ae.E.

This paper explores the use of HI Doppler measurements as an aid to galactic navigation. Historic HI measurements of the Milky Way are used to determine the galactic rotation rate. The location of the interstellar medium producing the HI signals can then be calculated. Knowing the location of the HI signals, the HI frequency corrections can be made for a spacecraft moving between two points in the galaxy. This data can then be used to supplement optical, pulsar and other galactic navigational aids.


Earth’s Orbital Position Using Galactic HI Interstellar Medium Velocity Measurements
by Richard Russel D.Cs., Ae.E.

The use if neutral hydrogen (HI) velocity measurements have been used to map the rotation rate of the Sun around the center of the Milky Way. By mapping the location of the HI interstellar medium (ISM) clouds, the predicted received velocity can be obtained at any point in the galaxy. This enables the use of the HI ISM velocity measurements to be used to determine the position of the HI receiver. The position of the Earth in the Milky Way can therefore be mapped using the HI measurements. The Earth’s orbital path around the Sun can therefore be tracked over time. This orbital geometry includes the Doppler corrections for the Earth’s rotation and orbital path around the Sun as well as the rotational velocity of the Sun and HI ISM sources.