Hams have been operating amateur radio systems in space for just about as long as there have been space operations. The first non-government satellite anywhere was amateur radio’s own Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio, OSCAR 1, launched back in 1961. Back then, OSCARs only sent telemetry, but within a few years, they were relaying amateur radio communications between stations on Earth.
Since then, amateurs have launched nearly 100 satellites into orbit that relay everything from SSB and FM ‘phone to CW to APRS data to SSTV. We’ve even made sure there was amateur radio gear on NASA’s Space Shuttle, Soviet (later Russian) MIR space station, and now the International Space Station.
Here are some links to get you started in working the world by pointing your antennas ‘UP’. The best source for amateur radio satellite information is at the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, better known as AMSAT.
The Sat-1 Initiative is a group based in Bulgaria that is working to build spacecraft and their subsystems, researching new solutions in a variety of scientific and technological fields, and sharing our know-how with universities and businesses. Part of their initiative is to build a ground network that will receive signals from space and send the downloaded information to their data network.
Now you can track them on your phone., mobile device, or computer. You can check your device’s app store for them. There are also several programs for desktop computers. The most popular Windows-based system is SatPC32. For those of you in the Macintosh environment, MacDoppler is very popular. Gpredict is available for the Linux, Windows, and Macintosh environments. Licenses for SatPC32 and MacDoppler are available by donating to AMSAT-NA.
A great way to get started in tracking the amateur, and other, satellites in real time and without installing software, is to visit the online tracking site that is maintained by AMSAT-LU. Enter your location, for Norman, OK Maidenhead grid EM15 is sufficient, and then select the satellites you want to track.
Build Your Own Ground Station
With a few parts, and pieces, totaling about $400, you can build your own ground station. This station will automatically track satellites, letting you concentrate on the QSO. Here is a link from Make Magazine that will show you how to build your own ground station.
NASA Orbital Mechanics Video
Four hundred years ago, German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler worked out the mathematics needed to describe planetary motion. NASA and the US Naval Space Command prepared a video in 1989 that explains orbital mechanics.
The SatNOGS project is a complete platform to build an open source satellite ground-station network. The scope of the project is to create a full stack of open technologies based on open standards, and the construction of a full ground station as a showcase of the stack. This ground station can be built for about $250 and will track satellites using an azimuth/elevation set of rotors, and an automated aiming system. The SatNOGS ground system uses a USB Software Defined Radio to receive signals from space, and those signals are forwarded to a database so the operators of those satellites can receive the information in near real time.
ESA’s Fly Your Own
The European Space Agency is offering a ‘Fly Your Satellite’ program that will let organizations launch their own CubeSats. On April 23, 2016, three different student-built CubeSats were launched from a Soyuz rocket from Kourou, French Guiana. Here’s a link that talks about that launch and that program.
Working the ISS with a J-Pole
Our own Scott Miller W5EDM worked the International Space Station in the first 90 days of having his license. Here’s a link to his description of how he got it done.