You can communicate with the ISS using just a handheld radio with its built in “rubber duck” antenna!

Now that the ISS’s digipeater is active there are several opportunities per day to try out different ways of confirming a radio contact with it.

Yesterday I wanted to see if it’s possible to get a data packet heard by the station 250 miles up with just the “rubber duck” antenna that came equipped with my super low-end 8 watt Baofang BF-F8HP radio (affiliate link).

Normally for satellite communications I use an Arrow Antenna designed specifically for satellite work. But is it possible to use something smaller and more portable? The answer is yes but it’s going to be much more challenging.

I attempted this contact when the station was almost directly over my location for the best results. I attached the radio to my computer with the BTECH-APRS-V01 (affiliate link) cable that converts the radio’s mic and headphone jacks into a three prong TRRS connector for smartphones and laptops with a single headphone/microphone jack on board.

After sending a ton of packets into the air while tracking the station with my smartphone it looks like one of them actually made it according to that listens for packets beamed back down from the station.

I was traveling when I did this so I didn’t have my Windows computer with me. I used an iOS app called PulseModem running on my Mac in its iOS compatibility mode. It was having trouble triggering the radio’s VOX so I probably sent less packets than I thought I did. I ended up holding down the PTT button on the radio and pushing transmit on the computer’s screen.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this works with a more reliable set up on future passes!

The ISS Digipeater is Active!

The astronauts turned on a data packet repeater on the space station last week. When the station is overhead licensed amateur radio operators can send short messages to the station and it re-transmits those messages back to the ground. I had a successful transmission on my first shot!

Somebody from Virginia heard me through the station and sent a message back:

To hit the repeater I used a handheld radio, an Arrow Satellite antenna, and a Signalink USB soundbox that I talked about in this video. I used a piece of software called PinPoint to manage the data packet traffic which connects up with another piece of software called Direwolf that listens for the packets and passes them to Pinpoint.

Here’s a fun video from RetroRecipes where they made contact using a Commodore 64! This worked because the packet data protocol used is the same one that was used in the 1980s to transmit data over the radio. Sometimes when something works it doesn’t need to change all that much.

This repeater isn’t always active. But the voice repeater on the station is usually going all the time. Sometimes you can even catch an astronaut operating the station during their break periods!

You can learn more about amateur radio on the ISS by visiting the ARISS website.

A Visit to the National Association for Amateur Radio (ARRL) Headquarters!

My journey into the world of amateur radio continues. This week we took a tour of the ARRL headquarters in my home state of Connecticut. We ended up with so much footage we had to split this piece into two parts!

In this first video we look at W1AW, also known as the Hiram Percy Maxim Memorial Station. Maxim was the co-founder of the ARRL and an early pioneer of radio technology. You’ll see one of Maxim’s radios towards the end of the video. It still works but it’s rather dangerous to use around modern electronics due to the electrostatic fields it generates.

W1AW is where the ARRL transmits their morse code trainings and digital bulletins and is known throughout the world as an important entry to get into contact amateur logbooks.

W1AW is open to licensed amateurs and the public to operate from too which is what we’ll do in part of the series!