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 Technician you can make contacts by bouncing your signals off of them. Think of them as repeaters in space.
There are two basic types of satellites: FM satellites and linear transponders. The FM satellites are basically cross-band repeaters. You might, for example, transmit on a frequency, called the uplink, in the 2 m band and receive on a frequency, called the downlink, in the 70 cm band. A satellite whose uplink frequency is in the 2 m and downlink frequency in the 70 cm band is said to be operating in mode V/U (V for VHF, U for UHF). Some satellites have an uplink frequency in the 70 cm band and a downlink frequency in the 2 m band. These satellites are said to be operating in mode U/V.
The International Space Station (ISS) is now equipped with a mode U/V repeater. Its uplink frequency is 145.990 MHz, and its downlink frequency is 437.800 MHz. It requires a CTCSS tone of 67.0 Hz.
One of the cool things about working the FM satellites is that you don’t need a lot of sophisticated equipment. A couple of HTs—or an HT capable of duplex operation—and a handheld, dual-band Yagi, as shown in the figure below, will do.