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Now You Can Talk To Your Astronaut Via Ham Radio

By Siti Hajar Abd Aziz

New Straits Times - Persekutuan,Malaysia
March 31, 2006

It’s like a dream come true for Malaysians — to be able send our own astronauts into space.

But did you know that you too can be part of this space programme — albeit in a land-locked way.

Just get to know amateur radio, or an amateur radio operator, and you are on your way to talking to our astronaut while he (or she) is on board the International Space Station (ISS).

The Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) programme was set up by amateurs from the ISS partner countries in the USA, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada in 1996. It became part of the International Space Station project in October 2000.

The ARISS programme is aimed at allowing students to experience the excitement of amateur radio communication by talking directly with crew members of the ISS, with the help of amateur radio community.

According to the ARISS website, the unique educational experience of speaking with astronauts will hopefully encourage youths to learn about science and technology.

Amateur radio (or hams) operators too have the opportunity to make unscheduled contacts with astronauts from time to time, when the space station make a pass over their region.

Although the astronauts are normally very busy, they do take some time off to make contact with schoolchildren and hams.

Ghazali Hassan, 26, who has just passed the Radio Amateur Examination (RAE) and is applying for a callsign, said he couldn't wait to talk to the Malaysian astronaut.

"Malaysians should also take this opportunity to learn about space communication.

“Monitoring satellite and shuttle commissions have become a popular hobby on its own.

“Teachers should apply for a future school contact, almost guaranteeing that students will have an opportunity to communicate with a space crew,” he said.

Currently, the ISS ham radios are Ericsson MP-X handhelds, and the Kenwood D-700, which has been programmed with numerous channels, including the two-metre radio support voice operations.

Several check-out passes were conducted during November 2000 and the first school contact was made by Expedition One astronaut Bill Shepherd on Dec 21, 2000, in the United States.

To prepare to talk the space crew, one needs a radio with a two-metre FM transceiver with an output power between 25 to 100 watts.

In any radio communication, an antenna is vital, and to be able to make this contact, one needs to experiment with a number of antennas, including a circularly polarised crossed-Yagi, vertical and ground plane types.

Commercial and public domain software can help track when a shuttle or the ISS will be in range of the station, and where to point the antenna.

Frequencies used for ARISS
Voice Downlink: 145.80 (Worldwide)
Voice Uplink: 144.49 (Regions 2 & 3) 145.20 (Region 1)
Packet Uplink: 145.99 (Worldwide)

For information on ARISS check out:

* For information on amateur radio in Malaysia check out:

This article is a tribute to ham radio enthusiast Idris Zainuddin (9M2GL) who died at his residence in Jalan Klang Lama on March 28, 2006 at the age of 77. For years, Idris has been a devoted teacher in preparing candidates of the Radio Amateur Examination (RAE) and the Morse Code tests and has assisted in disaster communication with the Malaysian Amateur Radio Emergency Services Society.