Talking to Satellites on Ham Radio

(Source: Life in Solera, July 2023)  

When new hams get their licenses, they generally purchase a handheld transceiver (HT) and get on the local repeaters. This is fun for a while, but don’t get stuck just talking on the repeaters. Ham radio has much more to offer. For example, one of the other cool things you can do with a Technician Class license is work the “birds,” otherwise known as amateur radio satellites.

Did you know that amateur radio operators have been sending satellites into space since the early 1960s? The Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio, or OSCAR I for short, was successfully launched into a low Earth orbit on December 12, 1961. It carried a small beacon transmitter whose purpose was to study radio propagation through the ionosphere. It only lasted a few weeks before it dropped into Earth’s atmosphere and burned up, but it secured amateur radio’s place in space.

Now, there are dozens of amateur radio satellites in space, and as a licensed radio operator, you can make contacts by bouncing your signals off of them. Think of them as repeaters in space. If you’re a do-it-yourself type, antennas are not difficult to build. A “cheap yagi” antenna for satellite work can be built using a wooden boom handle and stiff copper wire or welding rod.

Once you have the gear, you need to be able to find out when the satellites will be in view. Remember, this is all line of sight operation. You can only work the satellites if they are above the horizon. To find out when satellites will be above the horizon, visit the N2YO.Com website.


Question:  Gerson Strassberg, WA2JXX invented this item which no self-respecting geek could have been without. Now, you can probably only find one on eBay. What is it?

Answer: Plastic Pocket Protector

"It happened by accident," Strassberg says. "I was just starting up my company, and we were making clear plastic covers that cover bankbooks. At that time, ballpoint pens were prone to leaking. One day I cut one side of the plastic longer than the other. The phone rang, so I stuck the plastic in my pocket and thought, 'Wow, this might make a great product.'”

TRIVIA QUESTION THIS MONTH (Answered next month)

Aside from satellites, what other objects in space can Ham Radios call?

This article was brought to you by Ray C. Gayton-Jacob (N6KZM) The Solera Radio Club is part of the West Riverside County - Amateur Radio Emergency Radio Service (ARES) Division/Banning Pass District.