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Amateur Radio Satellites

This is not intended to be a definitive article about amateur radio satellite operation. There's lots of good articles describing equipment choices, but I'd like to think I was frugile in my operations--all of my operations were conducted with equipment I already owned prior to starting satellite comms.

The most important thing, regardless of anything else, is to have two radios or a radio that is capable of dual receive. It's important to be able to hear yourself talk for the sake of interference reduction (you don't want to transmit on top of anyone else) and so you can hear your own signal into the satellite. This becomes a little bit less necessary on the linear transponder satellites (running CW and SSB), but on a single channel FM bird, satellite time is precious. Also, don't transmit unless you can hear the satellite. Often, you will not be able to hear a satellite that is in range, and keying up can cause you to transmit on top of someone else.

At home, I use my Icom 706 MKIIG into a vertical antenna for transmit. This only works on 2 meters (since my antenna is a 2 meter monobander). I can adjust the transmitter in very small tuning increments (usually I set it on 1 KHz) and my handsfree setup allows me to transmit without using up a hand.

On the road, I use my Icom IC-V8 as a transmitter into a 5/8 wave antenna rotated into the same plane as the satellite pass. This helps compensate for the lower power output of the handheld transmitter, and I've always had excellent results.

My receive radio is my Yaesu VX-5R due to its wide receive capabilities. The tuning increment is only 5 KHz but it seems to work okay for UHF receive (I can't always keep fiddling with the receiver anyway). The antenna is a 3 element Yagi tuned for 419 MHz, which, while not a perfect match, is well suited for receive on the lower part of the UHF ham band, where the satellite downlinks are.

I always use a pair of headphones. This is hugely important for hearing what's going on, as the audio is going to be marginal coming down from a satellite (remember that these sats rarely put out more than 500 mW). I also recommend recording the audio output with a tape recorder or on a computer so you don't have to worry about logging contacts while multitasking; it's a lot easier to do this after the fact.

For more information, visit the following websites:

www.amsat.org - Provides good information about satellite etiquette. Also provides a frequency chart and operation details for nearly all amateur radio satellites.

www.ao27.org - Official site of AO-27, my favorite amateur satellite. Includes operating schedule.