Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Chasing VUCC on the Birds

For the past several years, I've been a strong advocate of those forced to live in deed restricted or HOA situations to have one "on the rocks". That is to use WSJT software and meteor scatter to pursue their dreams of earning VUCC.

Still strongly advocate that position. Thanks mainly to WSJT, I've now worked 104 grids on 2 Meters. If I can nail down the confirmations, I'll be able to cross my second VUCC award off the list.

But in the past five weeks I've discovered another great way to chase VUCC. Namely, via amateur satellites. Using small 2 Meter and 432 Yagis, you can easily work into at least four satellites and the International Space Station (ISS).

In just a little over a month, I've already worked 48 grids and that's with very casual operating. Operating on the birds also fits my busy work schedule and personal commitments. Using satellite position tracking software like "SATPC32" and "Nova for Windows", you can easily predict when the satellites will be overhead days in advance. Simply select the passes that work into your schedule and operate. No trying to drop everything for a band opening.

FM-No Static At All

We're currently down to just one operating FM "repeater" type satellite, SO-50. But it is easily worked using an Arrow satellite antenna or the ELK 2/440 log antenna. Both can be operated portable from  your backyard, handheld. A dual band HT or mobile rig is really all you need.

It's best to be able to monitor the satellite downlink signal at the same time you're transmitting (this is called full-duplex) but it is possible to operate using half-duplex and virtually any rig.

During weekend passes, or at night SO-50 can be a real zoo. Contacts are super-quick, just callsign and grid square, maybe a "73". Convention demands that you only make one or two contacts per pass if the bird is crowded. Get on and get off. Let someone else work a few.

During the weekdays or late at night, passes are much less crowded and  you can have longer QSO's. It's a great way to get your feet wet.

Moving On Up

The other type of "bird" are the so called linear satellites that allow you to operate in SSB/CW modes across a small range of frequencies called the passband. Turning across these frequencies during a pass, you'll hear stations using both modes and having much longer QSO's.

The best radios for this type of operation are the so-called satellite radios like the Icom IC-9100, IC-910H, or the Yaesu FT-847. But SATPC32 can allow lots of other VHF/UHF all-mode rigs to work as well including FT-857, FT-817, IC-706, etc.

You don't need (or want) a lot of power to work satellites. Usually 5 watts is plenty. With small antennas, and low power, you're not likely to bother the neighbors.

One satellite (AO-7) offers great opportunities to work DX stations as it's high "footprint" touches both Europe and North America at the same time during it's passes. FO-29 and some of the other birds offer DX into South America, Canada, Cuba, etc. Many operators have even managed DXCC on satellites.

A Deluxe Apartment in the Sky

The International Space Station is the largest man-made object ever launched, and even visible to the naked eye during the day time if you know where to look. At night, it can be brighter than Venus as it tracks across the sky!

It's also equipped with amateur radio, and nearly every astronaut these days is a licensed amateur operator. Sometimes you can hear astronauts making contacts with schools using ham radio by monitoring 145.800, and on rare moments of relaxation some may even throw out a random CQ on this simplex channel and work amateurs on the ground.

More often, you can hear packet (digital) activity from the ISS on 145.825 MHz. The station is LOUD and easily received even on an HT or mobile rig with just a whip antenna.

The ISS serves as a super-high digipeater, making it possible to work other stations in real-time using the ISS as a digital repeater. And recently, two hams managed to bounce 1296 MHz signals off the ISS using it as a passive repeater--similar to moonbounce (EME) or airplane scatter.


If you want to get started, visit the AMSAT web site at the link below, and pony up the money for membership. Not only will you get a great monthly journal on satellite operation, but you'll be helping to support the next generation of amateur satellites, called the "Fox" series. These FM mode birds will begin launching next year, and will be even easier to work using your HT.

You can learn more about satellite operation at:

And watch some great videos on YouTube to give you a better feel for what a QSO feels like:
AMSAT YouTube Channel

It's a Bird! 

I'm having a ball on satellites, and I think you would too. Working meteor scatter, satellites, and (fingers crossed) moonbounce are all items that were on my ham radio "bucket list" since I was introduced to the hobby at age 7.

If you've always wanted to try it, now is the time. FM operation is really easy--and it's a perfect thing to add to your weak signal station. You can use the gear you already have, and get even more fun out of the world above 50 MHz.

See you on the rocks--and on the birds!