Amateur Radio and the International Space Station

Digital Services Monday, January 30, 2012 - 15:32

SuitSat - image courtesy of NASAMany people have asked what technology we’re using to talk to the International Space Station (ISS), and often they are surprised at the answer – Amateur Radio!

NASA has been taking amateur radio rigs into space since 1983, to allow astronauts to talk to students in schools and also to communicate with their own families back on earth. The astronauts also use the amateur radio during their own down time, makng brief contacts with other “hams” on Earth as they hurtle overhead at a speed of 28,000kph.

Licensed amateur radio operators undergo training and testing in electronics and radio theory and operation to gain a callsign and the right to use their radio to communicate with people around the world (and in space!).

The callsign of the ISS is NA1SS. In Australia, amateur radio callsigns begin with the letters VK.

At SRO, we have many items in our collection that might appeal to people with an interest in radio communications – from original tapes of telegraphed messages from across the Nullarbour to High Frequency (HF) predictions and of course information on the Carnarvon tracking station which was a key station for NASA’s Apollo missions including the first moonlanding – Apollo 11.

There are over 1,400 licensed “hams” in Western Australia today and some of them, from the Hills Amateur Radio Group, are helping us to bring communications the ISS to Perth on the 20th February. If you’re interested in finding out how to become a licensed amateur radio operator, courses are run by both Ham College and the Scouts

Meg Travers
Digital Archive Support Manager
aka VK6LUX