So you want to have an experience that’s out of this world?  Ham radio delivers!  Working satellites is immense fun once you get the hang of it.  Don’t worry, getting the hang of it is easy especially if you do a little prep, have some basic equipment and knowledge, and are willing to learn from mistakes.  It also helps to have a mentor help you with this.  See list for everything below, including some folks to help you.

Satellites move fast, and are sometimes elusive.  But you will get the hang of it after a few attempts, and soon you can have as much fun in 7 minutes as you can in a contest.  Talking vua a satellite to locations thousands of miles away is really fun.  And it’s a great way to impress others.

As you learn more, you can consider more station investments, working the linear satellites, or helping a school with an ARISS contact.  But for now, this page is meant to get you started in the easiest possible way.

Basic Equipment

An Arrow Antenna Yagi and a homemade tape measure Yagi

Dual band Handheld Transmitter

It doesn’t need to be full duplex, but they are better. Unfortunately, no full duplex HTs are presently in production.  Another desirable but not required feature is a recorder to record your received audio.

Have a good antenna

While you can often hear satellites on verticals, they aren’t ideal.  Eggbeaters are better, but the best are dual band yagis.  Arrow Antenna makes a very tried and true one.

Tabletop or a Friend

Radio is always better with friends! Since you are going to be holding a radio on one hand, and an antenna in one, it’s nice to have a friend or a table to help with tracking / looking at the phone.

Satellite Tracking Phone App

You’ll need to know where the satellite will pass over head and you’ll need to track its position. Try out ISS Detector or Stellarium (iPhone version).

Basic Voice Instructions

  1. Pick a satellite to work.  Easiest ones to start with are:  ISS, AO-91, SO-50.  Thanks to the repeater in the ISS, this tends to be the most sought after, but also has a relatively fast pass.  In choosing a pass, you should not limit yourself to visible passes – as most happen during daylight hours in the times we want to be outside.
  2. Program your radio with the right uplinks and downlinks, with tones if needed.  Consider the effect of Doppler shift, so you might tune a little up and a little low on RX.  Ideally, these are in separate memories so you just click up and click down to change.  The pass starts above the main frequency, then trends down.  The center frequency happens at the apex of the pass.
  3. Know your grid square.  Most of West Seattle is CN87, but you can check for sure.  Just need four places, not six.
  4. Find the satellite.  Use a phone app (recommend the ISS Detector)
  5. About a minute before the pass, prep your radio.  Turn it on, get recording ready (if you have it).  Turn squelch off.
  6. Watching the app, start tracking the satellite.  Rotate your antenna on it’s axis (if you have a yagi) and try and get the best signal.
  7. Make a contact:
    1. Exchanges are very brief so as to not hog the satellite.
    2. Exchanges are cal sign and grid square.  For example “Whiskey Seven Alpha Whisky, Charlie November 87”.
    3. Don’t call CQ.  If you hear a void, just throw out what’s above.
    4. To call someone, give their callsign, then the exchange above.  So, “KK7 Papa Whisky; Whiskey Seven Alpha Whisky, Charlie November 87”
    5. Log their call sign!  See why you want to record the pass, or have a helper?
    6. When the pass ends, celebrate your success, or if you didn’t make it, trying to figure out what happened.

Specific to the ISS, they have to turn radios off when operations are happening outside of the station.  Craft docking or undocking, spacewalks, etc.  Check here to see the status and planned activities.

Also, if you make contact with or via the ISS, get a QSL card!  Click here to get one.  They are really cool and impressive.

Common Mistakes

    • Setting up and not having all your equipment (BNC to SMA gets me all the time).
    • Not having tone set

the video is unlisted right now because it’s still kinda a draft, so don’t go reposting to

  • Not being on the right frequencies.
  • Not checking the ISS status page to make sure it’s operating

More Info

Operating Videos:

Helpful Information:

Organizations: