The new geostationary satellite Es'Hail-2 officially allowed access to its amateur radio transponders for public use yesterday (12-Feb -2019). It's a decision that was likely forced upon the Qataris, as despite radio amateurs being asked not to use them until the official switch on date of 14 Feb, several could not obey this simple request.
So what do we have? In essence two geostationary transponders. One is for narrowband modes (SSB and CW etc) while the other is for wideband "TV" type transmissions. Uplink is 2.4 GHz and the downlink is 10 GHz. A relatively modest set-up is needed to use the satellite.
As soon as it was commissioned there were perhaps 20+ users making contacts. Radio amateurs were asked to keep their power low as the transponder shares the power between all users. As you can imagine, this request also fell on (some) deaf ears. Unfortunately it appears to be worryingly easy to jam. After the initial rush of contacts there was something of a "what next?" moment and indeed when I checked this morning, for a while there was no activity.
No doubt radio amateurs will devise some experiments. Already people have been testing to see how little power they can use and interalia how small an earth-terminal is practical. Dual band feeds will be devised and more special equipment will come to market (the satellite has a design lifetime of 15 years). I don't think there is much left to learn about earth-space propagation on 2.4 and 10 GHz - it's standard stuff. Maybe there are some interesting experiments for people using narrow-band modes on the very fringes of the coverage footprint - but these areas are largely remote from the amateur radio population.
It is possible that the wideband transponder will lend itself to some more interesting experiments and applications.
The satellite footprint is centred over equatorial Africa and so it misses coverage of the USA and Oceania - it's a commercial payload so it was positioned for the main application of the satellite (TV broadcasting to the Middle East and North Africa). In terms of amateur radio populations, Europe is covered as is South Africa and part of Brazil.
Once everyone has said hello to everyone else, what will it be used for? It's unclear. Maybe it will have an EMCOMMS role? Maybe SOTA people will develop light transportable terminals for hilltopping? Whatever happens it's the culmination of a hugely complex project and something that has been dreamt about in amateur radio satellite circles since the late 1970s. We should be grateful to those who have delivered it, but now it's down to the rest of us to think of some uses for it.
Will it be "All hail the emperor", or the emperor's new clothes? It's up to us.
Listen live to Es'Hail here: https://eshail.batc.org.uk/
Find out more about Es'Hail-2 here. https://amsat-uk.org/satellites/geosynchronous/eshail-2/