I'm sure that few people even
in the space activist community realize the extent of
the involvement of amateur radio enthusiasts with space.
See below just a partial list
of the firsts achieved by the amateur space
radio enthusiasts. They have truly been the pioneers
in public participation in space development.
out the section
on assembling a low cost, easy-to-build ground
station to receive weather satellite images.
No ham radio license or special training needed.
Just need a computer with a sound card, a short-wave
receiver, and some tracking and decoding software.
In a sense the amateur radio community has been using
space ever since they learned to bounce signals off
the ionosphere to reach other hams far beyond the horizon.
It seems natural that they eventually continued on above
this thin barrier.
Amateur radio enthusiasts pioneered
the movement towards small, cheap satellites with their
development and orbiting of more than 30 amateur
radio satellites since the 1960's. Using
these orbiting transponders, radio enthusiasts can communicate
with each other using the only free uplinks available
in the whole constellation of comsats.
Bryan Burrough's book Dragonfly,
(Harper Collins 1998) tells the dramatic story behind
the Mir-Shuttle program and the fire, collision and
other mishaps that occured on board the Mir while the
astronauts were there.
The use of the Mir Ham station
is brought up several times in the book. Several
of the astronauts found it an indispensible link to
the US and used it often to send emails to wives and
In another section, he discusses
how one engineer, Mark Severance, had used amateur radio
as a teenager to communicate with earlier Soviet missions.
Using this knowledge he was able to fix the problems
in a radio system that Goddard was trying to use to
improve communications with Mir when it crossed over
But you don't need
a ham radio license and transmitter to participate
in space radio. Monitoring
of radio transmissions is a popular hobby of its own.
You can listen in on satellite downlinks and shuttle
communications with police scanners and shortwave
radios, available at your local electronics store.
(Listening in on manned spaceflights
began early in the space age. This article The
first 'scoop' from space in
1999 by John Rich at the Christian Science Monitor reports
on NBC reporters eavesdropping on Gordon Cooper's communications
while he was in space on Mercury Faith 7.)
You can also directly
capture weather satellite images and
other satellite signals using radio and computer kits.
A related hobby involves reception of Natural
Radio signals produced by atmospheric
phenomena such as lightning and aurora. VLF (Very Low
Frequency, less than 500HZ) signals from the magnetosphere
can be detected from as far as 20000 miles above the
earth. When these signals are converted to audio, an
assortment of unique sounds such as whistlers and sferics
can be heard.
Amateurs even do Radio
Astronomy with homemade systems. They
can carry out a wide range of observations ranging from
listening to electromagnetic storms on Jupiter to picking
up pulsar signals to searching for ET signals.
Oscar OSCAR - "Orbiting Satellite Carrying
Amateur Radio. Promoting use of the amateur radio
Magazine : Make 24: Space - included th article
Listening to Satellites by Diana Eng, who described
how to "Tune in to space with a homemade yagi
The quickest way to begin monitoring space radio transmissions
is to buy a shortwave radio and/or police scanner as
described by the FAQ
This involves an investment in the US$200-500 range.
You will also need to become familiar with how to find
out when and where the object of interest (i.e. Shuttle,
Mir or a particular satellite) will be overhead. There
are several online services that will give you this information
just by entering your longitude/lattitude or the name
of the nearest major city. See the HobbySpaceSatelliteWatching
page for more information.
If you want to talk personally to astronauts on the
ISS and do other space radio
activities such as communicating over Amsats, then you
can contact a local ham radio operator or club and ask
Or you can become a full-fledged ham radio
operator yourself. This will require a substantial
committment of time, effort, and expense but will
result in a marvelous hobby to last a lifetime. Go
to the American Radio
Relay League for information on the steps required
to start your own radio
Here are a few of the accomplishments of the amateur
space radio community (ref):
Reber in the 1930's used homebuilt parabolic
antennas in his backyward in Wheaton, Illinois
to make comprehensive radio sky maps showing the
locations radio noise sources across the sky.
This led to the creation of the branch of science
know as Radio Astronomy.
1953: Ross Bateman (W4A0) and William L.
Smith (W3GKP) successfully received radio signals
bounced off the moon.
Dec. 12, 1961: The satellite OSCAR I
(Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio) built
by amateurs on the U.S. west coast was launched
piggyback (i.e. used in place of ballast) with
the Air Force Discover 36 satellite. This satellite
held a simple radio beacon and worked successfully
for 22 days. 570 amateurs in 28 countries picked
up its signal.
March 9, 1965: The communications satellite
OSCAR III was the first amateur satellite
to provide voice relay. Over a 1000 amateurs
in 22 countries communicated with one another with
its transponder, which worked for several months.
August 1971: amateurs used 2.3GHz recieving
stations of their own construction to monitor direct
transmissions from the Apollo 15 Command
Service Module as it circled the moon.
Oct. 15, 1972: The AMSAT-OSCAR 6
satellite, built by teams in the U.S., Australia,
and Germany, was launched and succeeded in demonstrating
dopplar location techniques for search and rescue,
and low cost medical relay from remote locations.
1970's:Japan (JAMSAT) and Soviet
amateur satellites (RS series) were successfully
1983: Astronaut Owen Garriot on the Columbia
space shuttle mission STS-9 SpaceLab-1 used
a 2-meter FM transceiver to contact over 250 hams
on the ground, including his sons.
1985: The SAREX (Shuttle Amateur
Radio Experiment) on Spacelab-2 aboard the shuttle
Challenger succeeded not only in voice communications
with the ground but also in slow-scan TV. SAREX
is now often included on shuttle flights.
1988: First amateur radio communication
with cosmonauts aboard Mir.
1996: Amateur radio enthusiasts on earth
help to test the Mars
Relay transponder aboard the Mars Surveyor
on its way to Mars.
Since the launch of OSCAR 6, there has always
been at least one low altitude amateur satellite
with a transponder relay on board till this day.
2000+ : Ham
station installed on the ISS and is routinely
used by astronauts, cosmonauts, and space tourists.
The HearSat website provides an enormous amount of information
on monitoring of satellite transmissions. The
FAQ, in particular, provides a good starting place
for the beginner.
Satellite Times, a wonderful magazine for the space
radio enthusiast, is unfortunately no longer in publication.
However, many of the same articles, news and reference
material will be included in Monitoring Times, as well
as the advertising of equipment and software aimed towards
the radio hobbiest. Published by Grove
Enterprises Inc, whch also provides an extensive
of products of interest to space radio enthusiasts.
Space Place Sven
Grahn , program manager of the Science Systems Division
of the Swedish Space Corporation,
has been interested in space radio since he listened
in to Sputnik beeps as a kid. His page here provides
lots of information and links related to space radio,
especially from Russian satellites.
with the goal of enthusing and educating
young people about radio, space, physics and electronics.
It will support the educational Science, Technology,
Engineering and Maths (STEM) initiatives and provide
an additional resource for the GB4FUN Mobile Communications
Centre. The target audience consists of primary and
secondary school pupils and FUNcube will feature a 145
MHz telemetry beacon that will provide a strong signal
for the pupils to receive.
A great spinoff project from FUNcube is the FUNcube
Dongle Software Defined Radio. This small device connects
to the USB port of your computer and turns it into a powerful
satellite receiving station. You just need an antenna
to receive signals directly from satellites passing over
your location. From the FUNcube
Similar to a USB TV Dongle, the FUNcube Dongle simple
fits into your computerís USB port. Itís compatible
with many radio reception programs like Rocky, M0KGK,
Spectravue and LinRad. The FUNcube Dongle also works
with Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 both x86 and
x64. In addition, it is compatible with Linux and
MacOS as it uses standard USB drivers already integrated
into the operating system.
There are two versions. The entry level FUNcube Dongle
gives access to the satellite frequency band that
FUNcube and some other satellites use. The Pro version
gives unlimited access to the frequency range 64 to
Itís also all-mode: this means that itís not just
limited to narrow band FM reception. As well as data,
the FUNcube Dongle will also recieve many other narrow
band signals including AM, FM and SSB. It will even
receive TV sound channels!
The video below displays the basics
of the device, which can be ordered here from the FUNcube
Alexandru Csete (OZ9AEC)
has several blog posts about using the Funcube Dongle.
His posts are listed
here and include, for example, these items:
- Software Defined Radio
SDR uses the power of modern microprocessors to allow
a software program to replace many of the tasks previously
done in a hardware tuner to isolate and process a signal
of interest at a particular frequency. The software
works on data obtained from digitising the raw electromagnetic
wave patterns from an antenna.
Ideally an antenna output would go into an analog to
digital converter in the PC, such as that available
in the soundcard, and the SDR program would work on
the AD output. However, that is not practical with real
world noisy and weak signals. So interface hardware
is still needed. This can be provided by a "dongle"
USB device that can include a low noise amplifier, a
tuner to obains signals in a given frequency range,
and a AD converter. The output of this then used by
the SDR program running on the PC.
So a system to recieve low earth orbit weather satellite
images can be as simple as a low cost antenna (which
can be connected to a pre-amplifier) connected to a
low cost "dongle" plugged into the USB port
of a computer is running the SDR program to analyze
the digitized signal in the frequency range selected
by the user. For satellite imaging, there would, as
with the standard hardware tuner case, use the SDR output
to decode the signal into a weather image.
The signal environment in a particular location, say
the middle of a city with high buildings, could be very
poor for satellite reception. In that case, you can
still do SDR satellite reception by getting the input
signal data from other locations via the web. See SDRSPACE.com
& ISS Monitoring - information below
about radio transmissions from these human spaceflight
systems. Shuttle launches can be monitored, for example,
via re-transmissions (since the voice is typically
converted to digital transmissions) by the Goddard
The late Geoff
Perry started monitoring satellites with students
at the Kettering Grammer Boys schools in the 1960's.
The group became famous for detecting satellites launched
by the Soviet Union and the US during the Cold War and
for guessing at their function by clever analysis of
their radio signals. They were also the first to reveal
the Soviet Plesetsk launch site in northern Russia.
Radio on the Space Station
The International Space Station holds a ham radio station
for astronauts and cosmonauts to talk to earth hams,
school classes, friends and family. These sites follow
the development of this system.
SpaceCam 1- Download pictures directly from
the ISS to your home PC
(Manned Amateur Radio Experiment, North American Division)
group has led a project to install a Slow Scan TV system
on the International Program and to broadcast the pictures
via amateur radio bands to earth. With a very basic,
low cost system, a home space radio enthusiast or a
science school class can start downloading the pictures
when the ISS passes overhead.
See the How
to use SSTV on ISS for instructions on how to setup
a system using a low cost radio receiver, simple antenna,
and a PC with sound card.
took great advantage of the ISS Ham Station. While the
first space tourist Dennis Tito used the station to
contact family and friends, Shuttleworth went much further
and communicated with several schools and individual
He made science and math education a theme of his trip
and the radio played a big role in letting him publicize
He even obtained a special amateur radio operator license
for his trip. Although he tried to finish his qualification
studies before he left, there was not enough time. So
a temporary 3 month license was issued by the South
African Radio League.
Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment at NASA's Goddard Space
Fligth Center involved ham radio communications originally
with shuttles and later with Mir and the ISS. The ARISS
program (see above) has contined the program. (The site
sarex.gsfc.nasa.gov has gone off line.)
Frimout: First Belgian Ham In Space
This site is dedicated to Dirk Frimout - ON1AFD - and
his Ham activities aboard the shuttle on flight STS45,
April 1992. Information on the shuttle ham radio setup
and the contacts he made during the flight.
It works with the packet communications systems that
have developed by hams. Packet radio essentially turns
an amateur band into an Internet or Ethernet like network
A packet consists of the addresses for the recepient
and the sender plus the message to be sent. A ham radio
station uses a modem like (or ethernet like card) device
called a terminal node controller (TNC)
to send the packet to a neighboring stations. The TNC
checks first if no one else is broadcasting and then
sends out the packet when the "line" is free.
If two sites send out packets simultaneously (a packet
"collision") then each waits a random period
of time before trying again. "Digipeaters"
and other systems allow for packets to be forwarded
to other stations just like packets travel over the
internet. See the FAQ at Tucson
Amateur Packet Radio - TAPR for more info on packet
The APRS allows for 3
types of packets - Position, Status, & Message.
From the position and status of stations currently transmitting
their position and status, maps can be made of the extend
of the network. Messages to be forwarded can, for example,
then take advantage of the nearest stations to their
The ISS ham station now includes APRS packet radio
and students around the world can send and receive packets
via the station as it passes overhead. The Navy Academy's
also does APRS.
Contact Astronauts in Orbit with Amateur Radio
by Keith Stein, Final Frontier, May/June 1998.
An informative introduction to ham radio communcations
with Shuttles and Mir. He describes also how to use
shortwave receivers to pickup shuttle and Mir downlinks
and how to use police scanners to listen in on ham
radio transmissions to Shuttle and Mir.
Roberto Ferrari and Enrico Falconelli provide a big
site on how
"..to build by yourself a low cost ground station
to receive satellite images. All the software and
hardware are homemade by Roberto Ferrari and Enrico
Falconelli and are not intended for any commercial
purposes but for educational and/or personal use only."
The NOAA satellites and the SeaStar satellites are
"...caters for everyone interested in remote
imaging from satellites. The group which has a membership
of nearly 2,500 spread across 45 countries, is keen
to assist new members and provide an ongoing service
to our existing membership, which includes both professional
and amateur interests. Members receive a quarterly
colour journal running to approximately 100 pages,
containing articles of an informative and constructional
nature, the latest news on a wide variety of remote
imaging topics, images and related pictures."
This company builds satellite receiving stations especially
for schools for grades 3-12.Weather and remote sensing
satellite reception system is used to teach science, geography,
environmentalism, and other areas. Studies of the images
and data help to develop analytical skills. The systems
include hardware and software.
Remote Imaging Group provides "consulting
services on weather satellite imagery, satellite tracking,
and the use of image acquisition and processing in