Amateur Radio in Space

A new chapter in the history of Amateur Radio will begin later this year when ham gear is installed aboard the International Space Station for the first time. Three major events must happen before the first QSO is made from the ISS, however.

First, the Russian-built Zvezda Service Module is scheduled for launch in early to mid-July, providing the living quarters for the first ISS crew. Then, the initial amateur station hardware will be sent up to the ISS aboard shuttle mission STS-106 in August. Finally, the initial crew of US astronaut Bill Shepard, KD5GSL, and Russian Cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev, U5MIR, and Yuri Gaidzenko will be launched in October from Russia aboard a Soyuz spacecraft for what's expected to be a long-duration mission.

Amateur Radio will be available to the first crew members once it's been installed temporarily aboard the Zarya Functional Cargo Block module, already in space. Earlier plans had called for the initial station gear--primarily VHF and UHF hand-held transceivers--to be put aboard the Service Module. Launch delays forced the change, however. The amateur gear likely will be transferred to the Service Module next year. The initial station will use existing antennas on the Functional Cargo Block. The system is being adapted to support Amateur Radio operation on 2 meters but not on 70 cm.

A Russian station license and call sign, RZ3DZR, have been granted for the ISS ham radio station. Long-term plans call for obtaining an international call sign for the ISS station to recognize the cooperative nature of the ARISS project. With assistance from the International Amateur Radio Union, efforts are under way to request a specific ISS call sign block from the ITU.

"A multinational call sign block is the most desirable route," said ARRL First Vice President Joel Harrison, W5ZN, after a meeting of the ARISS international partners earlier this year in the Netherlands. ARISS team members continue to pursue licenses in their respective countries. A German call sign, DL0ISS, has been issued, and a US call sign has been applied for.

The initial ISS amateur station will provide primarily FM voice and "improved" packet capability on 2 meters and--once aboard the Service Module--on 70 cm using Ericsson hand-held transceivers. It's expected that slow-scan TV, various types of amateur TV, and experimental projects eventually will be added.

A primary goal of ARISS is to continue a schedule of Amateur Radio contacts with schools, so students can interview the astronauts and cosmonauts directly--as a major component of a classroom project. NASA "clearly supports the educational outreach aspects" of the ARISS project, US delegation member Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, told the Netherlands gathering.

The ARRL Letter, ARRL National Convention 2000 Edition
Vol. 19, No. 20. May 19, 2000