Amateur Radio Activities in Space
The Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT) was formed in 1969 as a non-profit, educational organization in the District of Columbia.
Its purpose is to support amateur radio in space research and communications. AMSAT continued the efforts of the "Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio" (OSCAR) group which started out on the west coast. They built and launched the first Amateur Radio satellites, beginning with OSCAR 1 which was launched Dec. 12, 1961.
AMSAT groups are located throughout the world and are involved in the design, construction, launch, and operation of many amateur radio satellites.
Most of these group names use the word AMSAT along with a suffix (pertaining to callsign prefix or country abbreviation) indicating their country or geographic location.
For example, AMSAT-NA is for North America; AMSAT-UK is for Great Britain; AMSAT-DL is for Germany; and JAMSAT is for Japan.
A typical satellite may be easily accessed for ham radio QSO's or for just monitoring purposes using amateur radio equipment designed for the High Frequency bands.
For example, some satellites have an uplink on 15 meters and a downlink on 10 meters with an additional 2 meter downlink. Other satellites may be accessed using
2-meter Single Side Band/Continuous Wave (SSB/CW) uplinks and 10-meter downlinks.
Plans include many more amateur radio satellites with a choice of operating modes. Phase 3D is the fourth in a series of high elliptical-orbit satellites that will
provide a whole new era of amateur radio satellite communications. Known as "the satellite for all amateurs", its combination of higher powered transmitters and high
gain antennas will always be directed towards the Earth, allowing for better coverage and more reliable communications.
Additional information is available through the AMSAT-NA web site at www.amsat.org. Weekly AMSAT e-mail news bulletins are available by sending a "SUBSCRIBE ANS" message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Regular updates of orbital elements for use in satellite tracking programs are available by sending a "SUBSCRIBE KEPS" message to email@example.com. The AMSAT Bulletin Board provides the
opportunity to join in on amateur radio satellite discussion groups. Send a message saying "SUBSCRIBE BB" to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Owen K. Garriott, W5LFL, was the first astronaut to take a ham radio
into space. This historical mission took place on Space Shuttle Columbia STS-9, in November 1983. Garriott said "In my
spare time only, I managed to hold up an antenna to the window and to talk
to amateurs on Earth." A Motorola hand-held portable radio was used for 2-Meter ham band operations. This was the first radio communications contact
between an astronaut in space and civilians on earth using radio channels that were not reserved for government officials.
Astronaut Tony England, W0ORE, was the second ham to operate the Space Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment. This mission provided amateur radio voice and video modes. It took place on Space Shuttle Challenger STS-51F, which launched on July 29, 1985.
NASA has continued to realize the usefulness of ham radios in space. Since its first flight in 1983, ham radio has flown on dozens of space shuttle missions.
Astronauts used the "Space Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment" (SAREX), to talk to thousands of school kids as well as to their own families on Earth.
This enabled them to pioneer space radio experimentation, including television, packet text messaging, and voice communication. The Russians had a similar program
for the cosmonauts aboard the Russian Space Station MIR. When U.S. astronauts were aboard MIR in preparation for the long duration missions of the International Space Station,
they used amateur radio for communication, including emergency messaging while MIR was in distress. Now ham radio is aboard the International Space Station (ISS) with
the "Amateur Radio on the International Space Station" (ARISS) Program. When astronauts, cosmonauts and mission specialists from many nations fly on the International Space Station,
they will have ham radio as a nice diversion from the scheduled work load.
The Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT), the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), and NASA, worked together in creating The Space Amateur Radio Experiment (SAREX). This has been a long-running program
utilizing amateur radio equipment on board NASA's Space Shuttle, the Russian MIR Space Station, and the International Space Station (ISS) for communications with students and amateur radio operators worldwide.
Students in hundreds of different classrooms across the country are able to ask the astronauts questions about space flight and their mission experiments. The modes of operation used were voice, packet radio, and television (TV), depending on the equipment taken into space for the particular communications application.
SAREX has permitted ham astronauts on shuttle missions to communicate directly with amateurs on the ground and to conduct communications experiments. This was all done via amateur radio without the use of NASA communications facilities.
Radio amateurs throughout the world set up equipment at schools and other facilities in preparation for these activities.
The SAREX program continued amateur radio's role in space that orginally began with OSCAR (Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio). The OSCAR 1 satellite was homebrewed by a group of hams (Project Oscar Association). It was launched into orbit by the Discoverer 36 satellite and a Thor-Agena Rocket (December 12,1961) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
Oscar transmitted a CW signal that could be received worldwide. The Morse code message was Hi (dot-dot-dot-dot dot-dot).
In 1996, AMSAT and delegates from major national radio organizations in eight nations involved with the International Space Station signed a Memorandum of Understanding to form an organization called
Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS). ARISS was formed to design, build and operate amateur radio equipment for ISS missions. It provides an extension of the SAREX program and ham radio in space from the space shuttle to the International Space Station.
In 1997, NASA approved plans to include amateur radio equipment as part of the payload for the International Space Station. NASA and the Russian space organization, Energia, agreed on the role of ham radio for the Space Station.
A technical team, called "ISS Ham", was officially established to serve as the interface for hardware development support, crew training and on-orbit operations.
Leadership and consultation in the United States is provided by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and AMSAT. In addition, they also provide the hardware and coordinate the safety and flight qualification tests with NASA as needed for the equipment to fly.
Initially, the antennas were mounted on the space station's Russian Zvezda Service Module, while it provided living quarters for the astronauts and cosmonauts. The Italian team designed and built the antennas and the German team built the radio repeater stations.
The initial space station operations were designed for voice and packet modes. The first amateur radio station for the space station was flown onboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-106 (September 8, 2000). The crew transferred the ham radio gear into the space station for future use by the Expedition One Crew.
ISS Amateur Radio Frequencies and Modes
Mode V/V FM Crew Contact (Region 1: Europe)
Mode V/V FM Crew Contact (Regions 2 & 3: Americas, Asia)
Mode V/V Packet (Worldwide)
Uplink=145.825 MHz, AFSK 1200 BPS
Downlink=145.825 MHz, AFSK 1200 BPS
Mode U/V (B) FM Voice Repeater (Worldwide)
Mode V Imaging
Downlink=145.800 MHz, SSTV
*The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Regions:
ITU Region 1: Europe, Russia, Africa, Middle East
ITU Region 2: North America, South America, Greenland
ITU Region 3: Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific, Asia south of Siberia