Space & Satellites

The ISS has regular amateur radio contacts with Schools

The ISS has regular amateur radio contacts between licensed astronauts and schools

Amateurs have a long track record at the forefront of space activities, including moonbounce (EME) since the 1950s, satellites since the 1960s, and licensed astronauts since the 1980s. 

Starting with OSCAR-1* in 1961, amateur satellites have been an innovative and inspiring feature of the hobby for many years. In fact the Amateur Satellite Service is fully recognised as a distinct ITU service from its terrestrial cousin, and has its own specific frequency allocations in amateur radio license schedules. Many countries have amateur satellite groups—such as AMSAT-NA in the USA and AMSAT-UK here.

Amateur satellites operate primarily in the 29, 145, 435 and 2400 MHz bands. They can be used to provide communications using FM or SSB over long distances at VHF and UHF. Using the Moon as a passive reflector for EME also exploits VHF/UHF and higher frequencies that can be transmitted through the ionosphere.

STRaND-1, a 3U Cubesat, being assembled in Surrey

STRaND-1, a 3U Cubesat, being assembled

The recent advent of low-cost smaller satellites—aka Cubesats—has led to increasing numbers and a source of inspiration and innovation around the world. The vast majority are launched into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) where their relative speed as they traverse the sky requires attention to antennas and Doppler frequency correction as well orbital and timing information.

The International Space Station (ISS) has onboard equipment for amateur radio voice, data and TV. ARISS† coordinate schools contacts with astronauts, which are especially popular. The ISS can also act as a launch platform for small satellites. Most astronauts on the ISS are licensed amateurs and during their spare time may talk to other radio amateurs back on Earth. There is a special thrill in talking to an astronaut!

Further reading

AMSAT-UK beginners’ links

Click here for the latest amateur satellite status.

*OSCAR – Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio
†ARISS – Amateur Radio on the International Space Station