November 18, 2017 ... Central U.S. Time

A new “country” on the satellites

Posted or updated 09.30.08 by Glenn Miller

One of the activities in the amateur radio world is collecting “wallpaper.”  Wallpaper consists of certificates for accomplishing tasks.  There are certificates for working all 50 states, all continents, all the counties in a particular state, etc.  Another is called the DX Century Club.  This certificate can be earned by contacting and confirming contact (through the exchange of QSL cards) with 100 (the century part) different countries.  DX is the Morse abbreviation for “distant” and is commonly used in amateur radio high frequency (HF) contacts stateside to specify most any foreign country.  If someone is calling “CQ DX” from California, they don’t want to hear a station in Texas responding.  Not considered DX on the HF bands (30 MHz and below).  However, if you’re in Texas and you hear “CQ DX” from a California station on 145 MHz, now that’s DX because signals don’t generally travel that far on 2 meters.

DXing on the satellites is limited by the “footprint” of the satellite.  That means, theoretically, if two stations have a mutual view of the satellite (it’s above the horizon at both stations), communication should be possible.  The orbit altitude of the satellite determines how large its footprint will be—the higher the orbit, the larger the footprint.  The satellites useable right now are considered LEOs (low-Eath-orbit).  Satellites in elliptical orbit have an apogee of about 43,000 miles and a perigee of around 200 miles.  So, when the satellite is out near apogee, it appears nearly motionless and has a footprint covering a hemisphere.  There are three (I think) “dead” elliptical amateur satellites orbiting right now.  Unfortunately, I got back into satellite work after they had all become non-operational.

For me, in San Angelo, TX, working a station in Hawaii was a bit of a challenge because there’s currently only one amateur satellite orbiting high enough to provide a mutual footprint between me and anywhere in Hawaii.  And then there’s the issue of very few amateurs in Hawaii operating satellite stations.  I worked Kyle/WH6BIE who lives in Kanoeohe, HI, early in the morning on August 30.  My satellite tracking program not only shows the elevation of the satellite I’m using at my location, but, when I add an element to the program, I can determine what the elevation of the satellite is at the other station’s end.  I was down to about 6 degrees elevation when I spoke with Kyle.  He was seeing the satellite at less than 10 degrees.

This evening I worked Julio/WP4LBK who’s in Guaynabo, PR.  Needless to say, he was a pretty popular station on the satellite while he still had a view of it.  There are few PR stations dabbling in satellite communications.

That “element” I mentioned above is called a Maidenhead Grid Square.  My grid is DM91sk, but on the satellites, we normally exchange only the “major grid” of DM91.  The entire 6-digit grid is for modes or frequencies where pinpointing the location further is desirable (e.g., microwave communications).  And, another of those certificates is call the VUCC award.  That’s short for VHF/UHF Century Club and you have to work and confirm 100 different grids on VHF or UHF frequencies.  So, I’m working on both the VUCC award and the Worked All States via satellite.  I already have the WAS award on HF, so this will earn me an endorsement for doing it all again via satellite.

Until the launch of an another elliptical orbit satellite (in the final stages of construction) getting a satellite endorsement for my DXCC certificate is pretty much out of the question.  I have a total of seven countries (USA, Canada, Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, Venezuela and Puerto Rico) on the satellites so far.  I’ve heard, but not been able to contact stations in Honduras and Costa Rica.  I’ll get them eventually.  Perhaps a few more local amateurs or amateur radio operator/tourists will become satellite active from the Caribbean Islands (each pretty much considered a separate country).

If you’re at all curious about amateur satellites, Dave/KD5QGR has put a nifty page up that allows amateurs around the world to log when they hear (or operate through) the various amateur satellites.  It called Live OSCAR Satellite Status Page and I’m a regular contributor.  My call sign is AA5PK and you’ll see my entries as AA5PK-DM91.

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Glenn Miller

About Glenn Miller

Glenn Miller served in Rimbach from June 1972 until June 1975. He retired from the Air Force in 1994 following a series of enviable tours, both overseas and stateside. He now works as a civilian at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, and blogs here about amateur radio and other topics.

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