Radio and the International Space Station

The International Space Station (ISS) has been orbiting the earth since 1998 and while primarily a science research project it also has on board amateur radio equipment supplied by the ARISS (Amateur Radio on International Space Station) project. Most of the astronauts and cosmonauts are licence amateur radio operators and use the equipment to talk to licensed operators on Earth.

The majority of contacts are pre-arranged and are often with schools where children get to ask questions to one of the crew, but occasionally if operations allow some free time the crew can get to talk to a normal operator has happened to Adrian Lane (2E0SDR) from Gloucestershire back in 2015 (as reported on the BBC and the AMSAT website)

On the evening of August 8  2017 an ARISS contact was arranged as part of the International Youngsters on the Air (YOTA 2017) event, hosted by the RSGB. The ISS flew over the UK during the evening and while there technical difficulties with the first attempt a later pass allowed an excellent contact with the youngsters.

The downlink transmission from the ISS during these contacts can be heard by anyone using very basic equipment listening on 145.800MHz FM who is within range of the space station. There is also an amateur TV station broadcasting around 2GHz which can also be received but requires more specialised equipment.

SKARS Chairman Andrew (M0NRD) was monitoring from his shack during the pass and streamed it live on Facebook. The video was also uploaded to YouTube, showing the reception of the downlink while watching the slightly delayed streamed video from YOTA2017. To see a full recording of the live video stream visit here

In addition to the school contacts there are often broadcasts of Slow Scan SSTV images from the space station. At the end of July to commemorate 20 years of ARISS contacts the ISS was beaming down a series of 12 images as it circled the Earth over a whole weekend. The idea was for people to try to receive all 12, Andrew did manage it and wrote about it on his own blog

Here is one of images commemorating an early ARISS contacts
ARISS SSTV image

It is very easy to decode the images with free software and the signal can even be received with a £10 SDR receiver plugged into a computer, one of Andrew’s videos shows the reception of some images using an SDR taken from the ISS looking down to Earth that were broadcast back in 2013.

That is not all, there is also an APRS beacon on the ISS where operators can send a message up, it is received and then rebroadcast by the ISS and received by others in another country and can be done using a £30 handheld and a computer.

The ISS is a multinational project but a large part of it is operated and supplied by Russia and unlike the USA they use more ‘low tech’ radio equipment. The Soyuz spacecraft when docking and leaving the ISS and the Spacesuits communications used by the Russians during EVAs (spacewalks) transmit using normal FM on VHF frequencies again easily received on Earth. In this video you can see Andrew again receiving the downlink directly while watching the NASA-TV feed of the recent docking of Soyuz MS-05

Another of Andrew’s videos shows a £10 SDR device receiving the Spacesuit transmissions during EVA-33 back in 2013

As well as the ISS there are a lot of amateur radio satellites (often launched from the ISS) which operators can use to make contacts through and receive an decode telemetry.

Anyone interested in trying space communications and wants to keep abreast of new technologies and experiments with amateur radio then look no further than SKARS so come along to a meeting.

Members active on new FT8 Datamode

At the meeting on August 4th MX0SKR was on the air. Adam (M6OLT) put up a fibreglass pole and G5RV antenna and using Andrew’s (M0NRD) Yaesu FT-857D a modest laptop with a simple homemade datamode interface members were given the opportunity to try out the new FT8 datamode as well as operate SSB.

Band conditions were yet again poor for voice contacts so it was a clear demonstration of the effectiveness of datamodes with weak signals in noisy conditions. So much so that many members have been investigating the FT8 and other modes available and experimenting with low power levels.

The map below (from PSKReporter) shows where MX0SKR was received during the short time we operated.map of FT8 contacts by MX0SKR

Darren, Richard, Adam and others have all been spotted on the bands and recently licensed Steve (M6TTZ) has been using his QRP Yaesu FT-817ND with a less than ideal setup due to requirements for unobtrusive, stealthy antenna but has made contacts far and wide.

The software demonstrated was the new beta release of WSJT-X (version 1.8.0-rc1) which as well as supporting the JT65, JT9 and WSPR includes the new FT8 mode, featuring a faster turnaround.

FT8 is slightly less sensitive but contacts are 4 times faster than JT65 or JT9. An auto-sequencing feature offers the option to respond automatically to the first decoded reply to your CQ and auto complete the contact. The beta WSJT-X also offers a new mode for accurate frequency calibration of your radio, improved CAT radio control, and enhanced JT65.

While CW (Morse code) may be the original datamode (something many of use are looking to master) the fusion of radio and computers and the ability to extract signals from deep within the noise are maintaining the relevance of amateur radio and experimentation.

Even the US Navy are reinvestigating the use of datamodes over HF for communication should their satellite systems ever fail http://www.doncio.navy.mil/Chips/ArticleDetails.aspx?ID=9288

Anyone interested in keeping abreast of new technologies and experiments with amateur radio then look no further than SKARS so come along to a meeting.

Grantham Fire Station Open Day (Sept 10th)

Jim Wheeldon is organising an amateur radio station at the Grantham Fire Station Open Day on Sunday 10th September between 10am and 3pm and members of SKARS will be assisting setting up and operating.

Great opportunity to see the workings of the station and a lot fun for kids of all ages.

Let Andrew or Jim know if you are able to help

Grantham Fire Station

CW Success for Brian M0YBX

Brian Hiley M0YBX (pictured above) has been achieving success in morse code (CW) gaining several awards in recent months.

amongst others Brian gained a silver in the Russian CW Marathon, making 172 QSOs including 76 event stations over an 8 hour period.M0YBX-CW Award

and a Gold award for working contacts with Special Event Stations for the recent FINA (International Swimming Federation) world championships held in Hungary

Brian has also been busy chasing event stations around the world, including one for the 90th Anniversary of the Italian Radioamateur Association (ARI) in Genova

Brian joined SKARS earlier this year and has kindly offered to assist members who wish to learn the skill of sending and receiving morse code.

Region 13 Small Club of the Year Presentation

Members of the RSGB Region 13 (East Midlands) team attended the club meeting in July to present SKARS with the RSGB Region 13 Small Club of the Year 2016.

Pictured above (left to right)
Ian Shepherd, G4EVK (RSGB Director)

Andrew Garratt, M0NRD (Chairman South Kesteven ARS)
Jim Stevenson, G0EJQ (Regional Manager- Region 13)
Graham Boor, G8NWC (Deputy Regional Manager – Region 135, South Lincolnshire)
Andrew Gilfillan, G0FVI (Deputy Regional Manager – Region 137, North Lincolnshire)

This is the second year running SKARS have won the regional award and now go forward to compete for the national award. Last year SKARS were awarded third place nationally.

As well as the presentation Graham Boor gave members an update on upcoming activities of the RSGB, including the YOTA week and the recent strategy review. Ian Shepherd gave an update on the proposed exam syllabus changes and the new online exam system.

There was an interesting and passionate Q&A and discussion about the future and direction of the hobby.

Andrew would like to thank all the members of SKARS for their hard work in rejuvenating and supporting the club over the last couple of years.

SKARS Members out and about

Members have SKARS have taken the recent talks by David Gordon G6ENN and Dave Brooks G4IAR to heart and have been out and about operating portable.

Several members built themselves a “flower-pot” antenna, including Sean 2E0ENN and chairman Andrew M0NRD who has been operating with a low-cost Baofeng UV82-L handheld (princely sum of £28 off ebay) while weekend walking.

M0NRD Portable

Andrew has also been to the Isles of Cumbrae and Arran in Scotland on holiday and been operating portable both on HF and 2m SSB during the UKAC.

Darren M0PYU, Adam M6OLT and Michael G7TGL have also been out portable on the Lincolnshire Wolds and on Holme Moss in Yorkshire operating their own and the club callsigns.

Darren operating

Stewart M0SDM is no stranger to operating portable and activating Worked All Britain squares and trig points has also been putting his FT817 to use

Remember any club members can use the club callsign M0SKR if out as a group or operating as part of club activities, But remember a fully paid up club member who is a FULL licence holder must be in attendance to supervise at all times – just contact Andrew M0NRD for permission, either via Facebook or text him 07969 062859

July 7th Meeting Cancelled

Due to access issues the meeting planned for the 7th July 2017 has been cancelled, the next meeting will be the 21st July 2017 where the presentation of the Regional Small Club of the Year and visit from the RSGB Regional managers will now take place – sorry for the inconvenience

Presentation of Regional Small Club of the Year 2016

On 21st July 2017

Region 13 Manager Jim Stephenson and Deputy Manager Graham Boor from the RSGB Region 13 team will be attending SKARS to present the Region 13 Small Club of the Year 2016 award.

In addition there will be an presentation on the developments at the RSGB and the new online exam system.

Please note this has been moved from the original date of 7th May