Learning about HAMSAT

Ham in space!

Ham in space!

Our club has set a goal of 1,000 QSOs for Field Day this year, and I intend to do my part to rack up some points. One way to grab 100 quick points is to work a satellite.

Looking ahead to the weekend of June 22-23 on Heavens-Above.com, I noticed there isn’t a nice high SO-50 pass scheduled for Saturday. Sunday is a little better, with two 50-degree passes — one after 1 a.m. that morning, the other around 10 a.m.

SO-50 is one of the FM sats, and fairly straightforward to work, so chances are it will be very busy on FD weekend.

The linear transverter satellite, HAMSAT, might be a better, although more complex option. There is a nice high 68-degree pass scheduled on the evening of June 22.  I’ve never attempted to work this one, so when I noticed there was a 60-degree South-North pass this evening at 8 p.m., I grabbed my FT-817 and the Arrow and headed to the back deck.

HAMSAT has a 2-meter upper sideband downlink and a 70cm LSB uplink. Tonight, I just wanted to try receiving the bird. The 817, being all-band and all-mode capable,  is ideal for this, although I wish I could link the VFOs to account for Doppler. My 847 CAN link VFOs, and I will have it out at Field Day, so if I can get a hand from some of the other guys in aiming the antenna, I may be able to work this sat without much difficulty.

I was taken aback by the clarity and loudness of the signals I heard tonight. Once the sat came over the south horizon I heard KC3ACQ calling CQ well over S9. Tuning up a bit I ran across NM3B calling CQ with CW. There were a handful of other stations, and they can be heard in this annotated recording I placed on SoundCloud.

First satellite QSO

I managed my first satellite QSO tonight using the Arrow 2m/440 handheld beam to complete a contact with N3CB in Pennsylvania on the SO-50 bird. I was working with my VX-7 handheld at 5 watts.

My previous attempt at SO-50 a week or so ago was a bust. Despite hearing the satellite perfectly on a long pass nearly directly overhead, a radio programming snafu resulted in no one hearing me. I thought I’d set the rig up with the proper PL tone on the odd split, but Yaesu’s instructions on that were a bit fuzzy. It wasn’t until I did some tests with another rig setup for tone squelch that I discovered the issue.

All things considered, pulling a copyable signal from a 250mW transmitter several hundred miles away isn’t too hard. Sites such as work-sat.com are valuable, in particular the radio programming guide that breaks down the frequency splits to compensate for the Doppler effect as the satellite passes overhead.

ISS finally heard: An astronaut phones home

Image above: Pictured from the left are NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, commander; along with Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, Russian cosmonaut Evgeny Tarelkin, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy and NASA astronaut Kevin Ford, all flight engineers. Photo credit: NASA

It took me a while (nearly a year in fact), but I FINALLY heard phone activity from the International Space Station tonight.

I was on Heavens Above recently and noticed a high, 80-degree visible pass of the ISS would occur just after 7:30 p.m. local time tonight. Since I’m normally out walking around that time, and considering we’ve had clear skies for the past two nights, I knew I’d have a good chance of at least seeing the ISS pass over. I decided I’d fire up a radio and see if anything could be heard.

I connected my VX-7 handheld to the magmount antenna on my car, dialed up the ISS uplink/downlink split and began calling NA1SS. Naturally, no one answered me… then a female voice broke through, full quieting, and crystal clear. It wasn’t in response to my call though; it sounded like a QSO in-progress.

As far as I could tell from the QSO (and from doing some digging on the ISS site) I was listening to station Commander Sunita Williams (@astro_suni), KD5PLB, calling Massachusetts to speak with one of her family members, KB1TBT.

I always record my ISS attempts on my iPhone, so I have an MP3 of the QSO. Among the topics discussed? The weather naturally!

So no contact for me, but I’m encouraged. I’d say there is a good chance in making a QSO with the station in the very near future. Not only that, but it was amazing hearing that clear transmission come through my speaker, and being able to look up and actually see the station cruising 250 miles overheard moving nearly 8 km/s! Simply amazing. I wave at those guys every time I see them fly over.