Makerspace November Newsletter

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New Amateur Radio Group now part of Bellingham Makerspace
By Steve Stroh N8GNJ

The Bellingham Makerspace Amateur Radio Group (BMARG) was formed in October, 2021 and is now officially authorized by the Makerspace Board. Makerspace members who are Amateur Radio Operators include BMARG Coordinator Steve Stroh (N8GNJ), Garth Johnson (KF7TOY), Mark Allyn (WA1SEY), Rochelle Sears (KF7VOP), and Tina Stroh (KD7WSF).

A primary reason for forming BMARG is to expose the members and visitors to the Makerspace to Amateur Radio. Such opportunities are very rare in this era (typically, only at science / tech museums and some venues such as fairs).

A secondary reason to create BMARG is to leverage Amateur Radio as a way to teach radio technology as a part of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) activities at the Makerspace. For example, many Amateur Radio projects and systems are based on Raspberry Pi computers, and it’s even cooler to make Raspberry Pis into radios (yes, really).The first activity of BMARG was to develop some representative displays of “modern” Amateur Radio activities as part of the Maker Faire, including microwave networking and mobile data communications (Automatic Packet Reporting System – APRS).

But what really showed off “Amateur Radio” during the Maker Faire was a local Amateur Radio Operator, Gayland Gump KG7GCF working on soldering components to a printed circuit board. (Yes, it was an Amateur Radio project.) Gayland was really able to engage the young folks and make soldering look really cool!

An immediate goal for BMARG is to write a grant proposal to Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC) to purchase equipment for BMARG and some general financial support for the Makerspace for some infrastructure and STEM activities. After the grant proposal is complete and submitted, BMARG will develop an “Introduction to Amateur Radio” class for those that want to learn more about what Amateur Radio is and what its capabilities are (open to the public) that we will repeat regularly.

Longer term goals for BMARG include developing radio-related projects appropriate for the Makerspace such as building good, but inexpensive antennas out of common materials such as stiff wire and PVC pipe, building a satellite ground station to receive data from small satellites built by colleges such as Portland State University and University of Washington, Amateur Radio license preparation classes, and (if we do receive a grant) building out several radio systems in the Amateur Radio area. We also want to reach out to local Amateur Radio and other tech-related organizations such as TAG NW.

As an example of what’s possible for Amateur Radio projects, it’s feasible for Bellingham Makerspace to be the first Makerspace (in the world?) to build its own research micro-satellite (using Amateur Radio to communicate) and get it launched from the International Space Station.

A unique challenge for Amateur RADIO in the Bellingham Makerspace is that Bellis Fair Mall does not allow any external antennas. And, operating radios within the Makerspace does not work very well because of radio interference generated from many electronic devices such as 3D printers with stepper motors and switching power supplies. BMARG plans to adapt to that challenge, and still be able to work with radios at the Makerspace, to “split” radios that we want to use into a display / front panel at the Makerspace, and the corresponding radio / antenna system somewhere else that antennas are allowed. The display / front panel and the radio / antenna system will be linked via Internet.

Most importantly, Bellingham Makerspace Amateur Radio Group will be about having fun with radio technology, including many activities that don’t require individuals to get their own Amateur Radio license.

For more information about Bellingham Makerspace Amateur Radio Group, contact Steve Stroh N8GNJ – steve@bellinghammakerspace.org, via the Makerspace Slack system, or by phone / text at 206-849-9019. Steve also publishes a free weekly newsletter about the more techie aspects of Amateur Radio – see https://zeroretries.substack.com.