Satellites; Amateur & Otherwise

Learn how to make radio or visual contacts with them

Last revised: July 20, 2007


Many amateur radio operators enjoy the multiple interests of our hobby.  One is communications from ground based stations to satellites flying overhead.  Amateur radio operators from around the world have contributed to designing, building and launching amateur radio satellites.  At last count  over 100 since the space program began with the Russian Sputnik.

Having worked both ARISS and AO-51, I would like to pass on my knowledge on how you can do it with a little "on the job" training. I'm suggesting 3-4 classes which will lead you to making contact with one of the "birds"  voice repeater.  In the third class, one student will call another station via satellite.  Beyond that, who knows, maybe you'd like to involve one of our local schools and NASA's program?

Since learning to plot satellite orbits is needed for both radio and visual viewing, we learn both using the same tools.

Class Sessions:

  1. First session will be indoors with Internet terminals available.  Ideally as many as we have students.  We learn why satellites orbit the earth and introduce you to one of many tracking programs.  Emphasis will be on learning how to find a satellite that will be in visual or radio range.  Where to get Keplarian elements and online support.  Homework on your home computer will be assigned.  Session may be held in the PA library.

  2. This session will be outdoors, probably in my backyard in which we will try our skill at visual and radio reception of a passing "bird". All students should have done the homework to propose observing time and sky coordinates.  Radio reception will be on UHF using a high gain homebuilt antenna. Homework will be assigned for next session.

  3. If students become comfortable with computer planning and reception, we'll move to attempting transmission on VHF.  If not, we'll have one more session on planning receive only.  Uplink will use a high gain homebuilt VHF antenna.  Session outdoors. Radio equipment can be yours or mine. Issue homework for final class.

  4. Set up two way communications  by plotting targeted "bird" beforehand and as a team, try your hand at making contact.  Working as a team of three handling two antennas, doppler correction  and the third operating the radio.  Session outdoors.
Before and after contact attempts, we'll have a campfire which we can gather around telling radio stories and warming up.  Lots of things have to come together for outdoor sessions so a need to be flexible is important.  We should always have plenty of lead time to plan the sessions but the weather could cancel well intended plans the last minute.  For visual observation we need good clear skys after dark but radio contacts can be made anytime as long as its not raining or windy.

Class #1 Outline

Class #2 Outline

Class #3 Outline

Class #4 Outline


Classes will usually be held in evening hours or during the day (radio only) on weekends, TBD. Mostly determined by orbital plots of the targeted "birds".


If interested, who do I contact? 

The decision as to wheither I hold this class will depend upon level of interest.

Prepared by Neil  Robin, WA7NBF