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Space Station Alpha begins testing 2-meter Amateur Radio Station
The current ISS (International Space Station) crew members are the American Commander Frank Culbertson (KD5OPQ), the Russian Pilot Vladimir Dezhurov and the Russian Flight Engineer Mikhail Turin. The call signs available for use on the ISS are RS0ISS, RZ3DZR, NA1SS, RZ3DZR-1 (packet station mailbox callsign). The following frequencies are currently used for ARISS general QSOs: 145.80 (Voice and Packet Downlink, worldwide), 144.49 (Voice Uplink for Regions 2 and 3), 145.20 (Voice Uplink for Region 1) and 145.99 (Packet Uplink, worldwide). QSL for the USA to ARRL Headquarters, ARISS QSL Expedition-2, 225 Main Street, Newington, CT 06111-1494 USA. QSL for Canada to Radio Amateurs of Canada, ARISS QSL Expedition-2, 720 Belfast Road, Suite 217, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. QSL for Europe to ARISS-Europe QSL Bureau, c/o AMSAT-France, 16 rue de la Vallee, 91360 Epinay sur Orge, France. For other countries, please use the US or Canadian address above.
November 14, 2000
By Miles Mann WF1F,
MAREX-NA (Manned Amateur Radio Experiment, North American Division)

Space Station Alpha on 2-meters
Yesterday the International space Station Alpha began testing the crew's new Amateur Radio station on the 2-meter band. The Amateur Radio station is used by the ISS crews during their fee time to provide the crews with an extra way to entertain them selves and to talk to school children during pre-arranged school schedules. The Russians have been using Amateur radio on Mir since 1988 and have found it to be very beneficial for crews on long duration missions. The Mir Amateur radio was even used as a emergency comminations link on many occasions, and I have even heard rumors the amateur radio link on the NASA Shuttle was used to inform the Shuttle crew of an antenna switch problem which disconnected the Shuttle from the normal voice channels.

The testing of the Amateur radio station initially took place while ISS was over Russia during two prearranged test orbits.
1 pass  6:17 - 6:25 UTC (9:17-9:25 MSK)
2 pass  8:53 - 9:03 UTC

The Amateur Radio station on ISS consists of a commercial grade hand held radio called a HT. The radio operates in the ITU satellite portion of the amateur radio 2-meter band 144.000 - 146.000. The exact frequencies used during the test are of course a closely guarded secret, however when testing is completed the radio will be placed on one of the published public channels. The ISS Amateur Radio station is not currently open to the public at this time.

Russian view of the test
The club station R3K at RSA Energia in Korolev Russia (near Moscow) was equipped with two different 2-meter radio stations to simulate typical amateur radio home stations. One station is what we call an Oscar class station and the other a typical home station.

Station #1
Transceiver, Oscar Class 180 watts RF FM. Antenna 20 element Circular polarized, gain approximately 9+ dBd, Approximate ERP 1440 watts.

Station #2
Transceiver, Mobile Class 50 watts RF FM. Antenna, Vertical collinear 7 meters in length, gain approx 6 dBd, Approximate ERP 200 watts.

The first pass test used the big station #1. This orbit was a low orbit pass, only getting 28 degrees above the horizon, and its closest approach to the station was just over 700 kilometres. Cosmonaut Musa U2MIR was to be the first person in the club station to make the contact, however Musa was a little late for the schedule. So the task fell upon Sergej Samburov RV3DR to make the first contact with ISS via Amateur Radio. (Sergej Samburov is also the manager of the club station at RSA and the club station on ISS.). The initial contact took place on schedule and the microphone was quickly passed around the room to the other present, including Vladimior Zagainov, UA3DKR and Eugene Labutin, RA3APR. The audio and signal quality were excellent, we use the term DFQ, Darn Full Quieting. The contact lasted 10 minutes as the space station travelled from horizon to horizon. A strong signal was maintained during the whole 2-way conversation.

The second test orbit used the lower power station with a smaller antenna. This orbit was also a low orbit pass, only getting 28 degrees above the horizon, and its closest approach to the station was just over 700 kilometres. On occasions you may get an orbit directly over your house and the station will be only 400 kilometres away. The signal quality was noticeably lower and there was considerable noise on the signal during the beginnings and end of the 10 communications pass. The difference in signal strength was primarily because of the lower gain antenna on the club station. The bigger the antenna, the more signal you can pull in. The ISS crew and club station member enjoyed another 10 minute conversation and declared the initial voice testing of the Amateur Radio station a success. Cosmonaut Mikhail Turn was present during the testing. It will be Mikhail job to install the new Amateur Radio antenna on ISS during his expedition 3 ISS mission in 2001.

After the test Sambrov and I discuss the signal quality and compared it to the Russian Space station Mir. The Mir station had a slightly better antenna and it had the ability to select different transmitter power levels with the Kenwood TM-733 settings of 5,10 and 50 watts output. To help conserve power, the Mir station was usually kept on the 5 watt setting. The signal quality results of this ISS test were similar to signal quality reports from Mir, when Mir was using the 5-watt setting. The ISS transceiver has an estimated ERP transmitter value of 1.5 watts. These results are still preliminary. However, it looks like stations with a zero gain antenna will be able to hear ISS and will be able to establish 2-way connections on good close orbit passes. Sergej then said, there are plans to upgrade the antenna system on ISS during expedition #3 mission, with an antenna system specifically designed for the amateur radio bands. There are also tentative plans to upgrade the transceiver on ISS to a 50-watt class transceiver (pending many approvals).

For more information on this mission please check the NASA web pages.

ISS ALPHA Visibility
The NASA web page has a program, which will calculate the potential for being able to visually see the ISS ALPHA as it passes over your city. They have a listings for many different cities and countries.

International Space Station Alpha Amateur Radio Call signs
The ISS ALPHA is keeping the international flair by hosting several amateur radio call signs from around the world, and the list keeps growing. So far the ISS ALPHA has 4 calls signs from three different countries, Russia, USA and Germany. Also each of the crewmembers of expedition 1 has their own personal Amateur Radio call sign. One NASA engineer sent a message to the ISS crew saying, "You guys can use what ever [Amateur Radio] call sign you want."

William Shepherd, Expedition commander, KD5GSL
Yuri Gidzenko, Soyuz commander (pending)
Sergei Krikalev, flight engineer, U5MIR
Russian Module call sign: RZ3DZR
Other club call signs ISS used: RS0ISS, NA1SS and DL0ISS ALPHA

Suggested receiving station
Casual listening for ISS ALPHA and Mir 2-meter vertical or scanner antenna (0 dBd or better). Police scanner or amateur radio with the ability to receive in the 144 - 146 mc or MHz range, FM mode. Antenna cable should be a low loss RG-8 style cable less than 100 feet long (RG-213 best choice). You will not need to mount the antenna very high, just try to get above the roof ridgeline. And of course you will need to find / buy a satellite tracking program. I recommend the InstantTrack 1.5. It's a simple easy to use program, which can be purchased from Amsat.

ISS ALPHA frequencies
The Amateur Radio frequencies for ISS ALPHA have been posted.
Worldwide downlink for voice and packet: 145.800
Worldwide packet uplink: 145.990
Region 1 voice uplink: 145.200
Region 2 & 3 voice uplink: 144.490

You will need to dig out the manual for your radio and program in the following frequency combinations. Note that some of the older FM mobile and Walkie-talkie HT style radios over 15 years old may have some difficulty in saving these combinations into memory. The channels listed below will help you compensate for the speed of the space station, called Doppler. If the smallest channel step your radio supports is 5k, then only program in channels 2, 5 and 8. If your radio supports the smaller 2.5k channel step, then program in all channels listed. After you have determined your smallest channel step supported by your radio, then program in the channels. You can either use the procedures for storing ODD-Splits or you can reprogram your repeater off set for each of the channels and then save the new combination in a new memory location. This channel procedure has been successfully used on the Mir Amateur Radio program for years and is the choice of usage for school schedules (you do not want to fiddle with VFO's during a 10-minute pass). I also recommend you program in all channels, no mater what part of the world you live in. The World Map ISS ALPHA location display used by the ISS ALPHA crew is not located next to the Amateur Radio station.

Voice operations Region 2 & 3 (North and South America and Pacific)
Chan Receive Transmit Offset (Meg)
1  145.802.5  144.487.5  -1.315
2  145.800.0  144.490.0  -1.310
3  145.798.5  144.492.5  -1.306

Packet operations Regions 1, 2 & 3 (Europe, North and South America and Pacific)
Chan Receive Transmit Offset (Meg)
4  145.802.5  145.987.5  +0.185
5  145.800.0  145.990.0  +0.190
6  145.798.5  145.992.5  +0.194

Voice operations Region 1 (Europe)
Chan Receive Transmit Offset (Meg)
7  145.802.5  145.197.5  -0.605
8  145.800.0  145.200.0  -0.600
9  145.798.5  145.202.5  -0.596

Usage Example
Lets assume ISS ALPHA is approaching for a good 10 minute over head pass, running Packet. When ISS ALPHA comes over the horizon the Doppler frequency error will initially be 3.5k plus 145.990 = 145.993.5. This means the frequency ISS ALPHA will appear to be transmitting on is 145.993.5. Set your radio to channel #4 for the first 3 minutes of the pass. Then for the next 3 minutes use channel #5 and for the last three minutes use channel #6. Follow the same procedure for Voice operations. Since we are using the Mode FM, we do not have to have our Transmit and receive frequency exactly on frequency. We can be off frequency 1-2 kHz and still get reliable Voice and Data. The MAREX-NA team has been using this procedure for 10 years with excellent results.

QSL card
A QSL card is a post card, which you can request to confirm you made a two-way or heard the crew on the Amateur Radio band. The QSL procedure for ISS ALPHA is under development, please check the AIRSS web pages for the latest updates and QSL procedures for ISS ALPHA.

Copyright 2000 Miles Mann, All Rights Reserved. This document may be freely distributed via the following means - Email (including list-servers), Usenet, and World-Wide-Web. It may not be reproduced for profit including, but not limited to, CD ROMs, books, and/or other commercial outlets without prior written consent from the author. Images received from the MAREX-NA SSTV system on the Russian Space Station Mir are considered public domain and may be freely distributed, without prior permission.

Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS)
How to Work ISS