Ham Radio Puts the International Space Station Within Reach

HAM Radio AntennaWhen 52-year old radio operator Adrian Lane made contact with astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) early this month, it made headlines. After all, who would have thought that a base in space could be reachable by those on earth?

However, the ISS can be reached via ham radio, the equipment used by amateur radio enthusiast Lane when he talked with an astronaut for about 45 seconds. This is because there is an Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) that can contact “hams” or radio amateurs around the world.

Astronauts on the ISS actually make both scheduled and unscheduled radio contacts with hams on earth. They typically talk to students all over the world, encouraging them to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the ARISS website said.

Astronauts are typically able to make contact during their personal times, typically an hour after they wake up and an hour before they go to sleep. Weekends are also opportune times for them to get in touch with ham radio enthusiasts. ISS crew members are typically awake from 0730-1930 UTC.

Before a person can get in touch with an astronaut on the ISS, knowledge of how ham radio operates is essential. Passing a licensing test is also another requirement. In the U.S., licenses last for ten years and can be renewed thereafter. In addition to these, having proper equipment is also an important preparation before one can get in touch with an astronaut through ham radio.

The schedules of the astronauts on the ISS as well as the availability of a signal both determine whether hams can make contact. Signal is best when the ISS is directly passing over the hams’ radio station. To figure out when the ISS is within range, there are pass prediction software available online so that the best time to make contact can be determined.

Lane recalled that he was greeted by a voice that said, “Receiving you—welcome aboard the International Space Station.” The astronaut he was talking to also told him that the stars looked very bright from the ISS as there is no atmosphere there when he asked “what the stars looked from up there.”

The astronaut also told him that the earth had a different view from his vantage point, describing it as a “mass of color where everything else up here is black.”

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