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

Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS)

Posted or updated 10.04.08 by Glenn Miller

ARISS is an international program that has ensured the presence of amateur radio operations aboard the International Space Station (ISS).  From selecting and flight testing the radio equipment to assisting astronauts and cosmonauts in obtaining amateur radio licenses, the organization has helped educate the public on many aspects of life aboard the ISS.  As a secondary benefit, more of the general public has heard of “ham” radio.

One of the main goals and major justification for amateur radio aboard the ISS is education.  There are regularly scheduled contacts arranged between mostly elementary schools worldwide and the ISS crews.  Amateur radio operators volunteer to bring the required equipment to the school to make the contact on 145.800 MHz (FM mode) with the ISS and let students talk to the crew member chosen to perform for that particular school contact.

Since ISS orbital passes last only about 15 minutes at best, the crew is given a list of the questions that will be asked in advance so they can prepare a brief response.  This allows more kids to get to the mic to ask their question during the brief “interview.” 

I listened in back on June 23 to one such interview between a group of scouts and elementary school students in Round Rock, TX.  Astronaut Greg Chamitoff/KD5PKZ spoke with the kids and provided them a first-hand glimpse of what it’s like to live in space.  It was pretty cool listening to him respond to their questions.  Of course, I was only able to hear his side of the contact, but it was loud and clear from horizon to horizon.

I mentioned earlier that some ISS crews are more active than others in operating the amateur radio station during their non-work periods.  This crew has been pretty much “nil heard” other than for the school contacts.

A new opportunity for “regular” amateurs to work the ISS is coming up this month.  Richard Garriott/K5KWQ is scheduled to fly up to the ISS aboard the next Soyuz resupply vehicle (scheduled for launch on October 12).  He’s one of those paying passengers ($35M-$45M is the going rate—read how Richard made his fortune on his Web site).  He’ll stay aboard the ISS until the Soyuz undocks and takes the current ISS crew back to terra firma.  This period will include the international Scouting Jamboree on the Air (JOTA), October 18 & 19.  Richard plans to activate the ISS station for as many contacts as possible while he’s aboard, especially during JOTA.

If the launch goes off as scheduled with Richard aboard, I plan to take my satellite equipment and hand-held antennas to our local radio club to hopefully make contact with the ISS while the scouts we’re going to be hosting for JOTA are there.  The ISS is going to be spectacularly popular on those two day and there’s no guarantee I’ll make a contact, but it should wow the scouts even if we only get to hear the space station.

I’ll let you know how it works out.

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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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