The AO-27 FM satellite is back on the air! AO-27 is an FM V/U Mode satellite that was launched back in 1993. The satellite’s Amateur Radio payload became inoperative about 7 years ago due to an internal communications failure. Thanks to some great work by Micheal, N3UC who was one of AO-27’s original designers, the satellite is back on the air on a limited-time basis (4 minutes, twice per orbit over the mid-latitudes).
I was able to make my first contact through AO-27 this morning. The contact was with AI9IN in Indiana, USA. I’m looking forward to making more contacts using this satellite in the near future. Here are the current frequencies for the uplink and downlink (no PL tone is required):
Uplink – 145.850 MHz FM
Downlink – 436.7975 MHz FM
It’s great to have yet another FM satellite that we can all use. I hope that other satellite operators will give AO-27 a try.
We get quite a few requests from folks to explain how to get started with Amateur Radio Satellites. Requests for information on how to build a computer-controlled ground station for Linear Satellites are also pretty common. I recently got such a request from our CWA class so I decided to put together a session on this topic.
We covered a number of topics and demonstrations during the session including:
How to put together a simple station and work FM EasySats with HTs and a handheld antenna
A recorded demonstration of some contacts using FM EasySats
How-to build a computer-controlled station and work Linear Transponder Satellites
Fixed and Portable Satellite Station Antenna options
A recorded demonstration of some contacts using Linear Satellites
Tech Night – Getting Started in EME (Click to View The Presentation)
We recently did a Tech Night Program as part of the Nashua Area Radio Society’s educational program. I wanted to share the presentation and video from this Tech Night so that our readers might learn a little more about how to get started in EME or Moonbounce Communications.
April 2020 Tech Night Video – Getting Started in EME Communications
I have joined the ARISS Program as a Mentor to help schools make contacts with astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). School contacts as part of the ARISS program can take two forms – Direct Contacts and Telebridge Contacts.
ARISS Direct Contacts
Direct contacts involve setting up a space communications ground station at the school making the contact.
ARISS Direct Contact Ground Station Antennas at Council Rock HS
Direct Contacts involve a great deal of preparation and a local Ham Club which has considerable VHF weak-signal experience and equipment to partner with on a school’s contact. There can also be considerable expense involved in assembling the necessary ground station for a Direct Contact. In addition, some locations are much better than others in terms of access to good, high-angle ISS passes and an environment that is relatively free of nearby obstructions like buildings, hills, etc.
Students at Maani Ulujuk High School in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Canada
Telebridge contacts involve using an existing ground station in a different location with an audio link to the school making the contact via telephone. This type of contact provides a high-quality experience with an astronaut on the ISS without the need to construct a ground station at the school. It enables the teachers involved in the contact process to focus on the educational aspects of their contact with the ISS.
All of the ARISS Telebridge Ground stations are built and operated to very high standards.
Also, schools in difficult locations or those who don’t have the needed support of a local Ham Radio club with the necessary space ground station equipment can still enjoy making a contact with an astronaut on the ISS. In addition, a Telebridge contact also enables the supporting Amateur Radio Club to focus on providing great Amateur Radio activities and educational support to their partner school.
Adding Telebridge Capability to Our Station
Space Communications Ground Station at AB1OC-AB1QB
We’ve used the station here to make many satellite contacts and to listen to ARISS contacts from the ISS. We’ve also used our station to receive images from the ISS during ISS SSTV events. We’ve decided to add a Phone Patch to our station here to enable it to be used as a testbed for schools preparing for Telebridge contacts.
Adding A Telephone Patch
Phone Patch To Enable Testing and Hosting Telebridge Contacts
A Telephone Patch enables a third party to communicate over an Amateur Radio link using a telephone. A Phone Patch provides a connection between a Transceiver and a telephone line. It also handles creating a proper balance at the 2-wire Hybrid Interface that connects to the telephone line to the radio. A typical Phone Patch device also provides for Transmit and Receive level adjustments.
Setting up the MFJ Phone Patch was pretty straightforward. All that was required to work with our IC-9700 Transceiver was to set the internal jumpers in the MFJ Phone Patch to configure its microphone connection properly. The MFJ Phone Patch came with a cable to connect to the round microphone jack on the IC-9700 Transceiver. A connection between our audio amplifier to bring audio into the Phone Patch was made to complete the installation.
Testing On The Air
The MFJ Phone Patch was adjusted to achieve a good balance on the 2-wire Hybrid Interface to the telephone line and the Transmit and Receive levels were properly adjusted prior to on-the-air use. These procedures are clearly explained in the manual for the MFJ-624E and are easy to complete.
With these steps complete, we set up a telephone call and made several contacts using FM stateless on the air. We received good audio reports and could easily understand the downlink audio using a standard telephone receiver.
Becoming an ARISS Telebridge Ground Station
My initial purpose for adding Telebridge capability to our ground station was to enable it to be used to perform testing of the audio systems in schools that will be hosting Telebridge contacts. I am also going to apply to become one of the ARISS Telebridge Ground Stations in North America. We have an emergency backup power system here and our station’s location in our home makes it a good choice for situations where contacts need to be made at any time of the day or night. More to come on this in the future.
More About Our Ground Station
Here are links to some additional posts about our Satellite Ground Stations:
Ann Stockbridge, Educator at Kennebunk’s Sea Road School
Regional School Unit 21 has been selected for an out-of-this-world opportunity. An international association of space agencies and Amateur Radio organizations has chosen RSU 21, represented by Sea Road School, to advance in a process climaxing in a conversation between students and astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
RSU 21 was one of 10 schools selected nationally to continue through the multi-month acceptance process. The contact event with the ISS could occur between July and December of this year.
The opportunity is provided by ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station), an association that includes NASA, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, the American Radio Relay League, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, and space agencies in Canada, Japan, Europe, and Russia. They collaborate to enable students to communicate with ISS astronauts and help inspire interest in space, communications and STEM coursework.
As our readers may know, I have joined the ARISS program as a Mentor to help schools prepare for and make successful contacts with Astronauts on the International Space Station. I am working with Regional School Unit 21 Sea Road School teachers and local Ham Radio folks in Maine, USA to help them make contact with the ISS during 2H2020. The link above shares more about the STEM learning program that is being created around this contact.
Slow-Scan TV from the International Space Station (ISS) was on the air again late in December 2019. The ISS SSTV event was in memory of cosmonaut Alexei Leonov. We had our satellite station running to track the ISS and capture the SSTV images during the event. It’s pretty easy to receive these images – it can be done with an HT, hand-held antenna, and a laptop…
This article includes a gallery of the images that we received during the December 2019 ISS SSTV event and some how-to information that you can use to receive SSTV images from the ISS with just an HT and a handheld antenna.
After our contact, I decided to become an ARISS Mentor so I could help other schools make contacts with astronauts aboard the ISS. I spent the last year working with Dave Jordan, AA4KN to learn how the ARISS program works and how to help schools make successful ISS contacts. Dave did a great job coaching me as I worked with Council Rock H.S. South in Holland, PA to prepare for their ISS Contact…
I recently had the privilege of helping Council Rock H.S. South in Holland, PA to make contact with astronaut Drew Morgan on the ISS. The link above shares the story of this amazing experience and my journey to become an ARISS Mentor. The article also contains videos and photos that capture and share the experience. I hope that you enjoy it!
Students at Council Rock High School South in Southampton, PA will be talking with Astronaut Drew Morgan, KI5AAA aboard the ISS on Thursday. The ISS will be over our area here in the Northeastern Unit States beginning at about 12:55 pm eastern time on Thursday, December 5th. Council Rock’s ARISS Contact is made possible by the ARISS Program…
You should be able to hear Drew on the ISS voice downlink at 145.800 MHz FM. The ISS pass will be a high one over our area. As a result, we should be able to hear the downlink using a good vertical antenna and perhaps even using an HT.
I am serving as the ARRIS Mentor for Council Rock H.S. South’s ISS Contact. I am looking forward to the opportunity to be at their school on Thursday to be part of what I am sure will be a very memorable event.
We continued to test our Portable Satellite Station 4.0 as part of AMSAT’s 50th Anniversary Celebration WAS Activations. You can read about the activations and our station’s performance via the link above. Overall, we were pleased with how the portable setup performed. The weakest link was the downlink performance of our antenna system. We are working on some ideas to improve this element of our setup – more to come on this project…
Portable Satellite and Grid Square Activation Station
We were up on Mt. Washington here in New Hampshire this past weekend and we decided to use the SOTA activation as a test for our updated Portable Satellite Station 4.0. It turned out that the station was also a great SOTA and Grid Square Activation station for terrestrial contacts.
A Solar-Battery Power system capable of operating the station continuously for a full day
A laptop computer for Satellite Tracking and Doppler correction
Portable Antenna System
Elk Antenna on Tripod
We decided to keep our antenna system simple and quick to deploy. We choose a portable 2m/70cm antenna from Elk and mounted it on a camera tripod. A carpenter’s slope gauge is used as an elevation indicator and our iPhone serves as a compass to point the antenna in the azimuth direction. A weighted bag, Bungie cord, and a tent stake anchor the tripod in the windy conditions on the mountain. A 15 ft length of LMR-240uF coax with N-connectors makes the connection between the antenna and the rest of the station.
Station Transceiver and Supporting Gear
Portable Station Transceiver and Preamps
We decided to mount the station Transceiver and supporting gear on a piece of plywood to make it easy to transport and setup. The components from lower-right moving counter-clockwise include:
The preamps are powered and sequenced by the IC-910H through its coax outputs. The 70cm side of the second diplexer is used as a filter to prevent transmissions on 2m uplinks from de-sensitizing 70cm downlink signals.
Portable Station Electronics
The use of the mounting board for all of the components allows the station to deployed quickly and helps to ensure reliable operation.
We used a MacBook Air Laptop running MacDoppler to control the transceiver’s VFOs (via a USB CI-V cable). MacDoppler also provided azimuth and elevation data used to point the antenna during satellite passes.
Portable Solar-Battery Power System
Powering a 100w radio in a way that allows continuous use for a day can be a challenge. It’s important to do this in a way that does not generate noise so we do not disturb others trying to enjoy the outdoors. We met all of these needs using a combination of solar power and batteries.
Portable Solar Power
The primary source of power comes from a pair of 90w foldable solar panels from PowerFilm. The panels are wired in series and connected to an MPPT Charger which charges a pair of batteries. This approach allows the system to provide usable power when it is cloudy and the voltage output of the solar panels drops.
We use a pair of A123 10 Ah LiPo battery packs to supply high-current capacity when transmitting. The solar-battery combination is capable of maintaining full battery voltage while supporting the continuous operation of our station for a full day.
The MacBook Air Laptop batteries are adequate to operate the station during the available satellite passes. We have a 12V DC to 120 VAC inverter which can power the computer from our solar battery setup if needed.
View from Mt. Washington Summit
Our portable station did very well during its initial test! I had to move the antennas and operate the station by myself on this activation which limited my ability to make a large number of contacts during the limited number of satellite passes that were available. Still, I was able to make 6 solid contacts through AO-91 and AO-85 while on Mt. Washington. I did not have a suitable linear satellite pass to make contacts but I was able to hear the EO-88 beacon with no problems and confirm that the doppler correction system was working well.
The station also put in a great performance visa-vie 2m terrestrial contacts. We made a total of 70 contacts using 2m FM and USB! We received many good signal reports with our longest contacts being some 275 mi from our location. We also worked stations on four other SOTAs this way.
Learnings and Next Steps
Our station exceeded my expectations during our initial test on Mt. Washington – especially in terms of the number of Terrestial Contacts that I was able to make with it. I did notice that the transmit side of the system was quite a bit stronger than the receive side. This is an indication that a better antenna would help.
We changed the antenna polarization to vertical for 2m FM contacts and to horizontal for 2m USB contacts. This helped the receive side performance quite a bit.
I found that a headset was essential for satellite and terrestrial weak-signal operation in USB mode. I was able to use the hand microphone and the radio’s speaker for most of the 2m FM contacts that I made. This gave interested onlookers a chance to experience Amateur Radio.
Satellite operation would have been much easier and more productive with a helper to handle pointing the antenna while we operated. This improvement will need to be coupled with a headset/speaker combination that allows the person that is pointing the antenna to hear the quality of the downlink while moving the antenna and finding the best polarization.
I am looking forward to doing some grid-square activations using our upgraded portable station. It was a pleasant surprise to find as much interest in Terrestial contacts on the 2m band as we did. The Nashua Area Radio Society does several SOTA activations each year and I am looking forward to using that station for these as well.
Here are links to some additional posts about our Satellite Station 4.0 Projects: