Space Operations

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.

Satellite Tracking – where is the target in the sky?

Tracking satellites used to be a laborious, manual process involving Satellabes and OSCARLocators. No more. Now you can track them on your phone. Check your devices “store” for them. There are also several programs for desktop computers, the most popular being SatPC32 (Microsoft), MacDoppler (Macintosh), and Gpredict (Linux/Microsoft/Mac). Licenses for SatPC32 and MacDoppler can be had by making a donation 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 AMSAT-LU’s at tracking site. Enter your location (Maidenhead grid EM15 is sufficient for Norman) and then select the satellites you want to track.

Build Your Own Ground Station

Well, it used to cost millions to build a satellite ground station. Now, with a few parts, and pieces, totaling about $400, you can build your own. This station will automatically track the satellites, letting you concetrate on the QSO. Here’s link from Make Magazine that will help you build your own ground station, and you can be a part of SatNOGS.

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 of a open 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. This 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.