Satellite tracking & Ham Radio

One of the things I have recently had an interest in is Ham Radio Satellites, or AMSAT. There are a bunch of small satelllites in orbit (including the International Space Station) that can be used as repeaters for ham radio.  One of the most well known and easy to use satellites is SO-50.  I’ve heard people on SO-50 that were over 1,000 miles away from me.

If you are looking at getting into satellite tracking or using them for Ham Radio, there are a few things you need to know.

  1. How to track/predict satellite passes
  2. Equipment to communicate from the ground to the satellites
  3. Frequencies of the satellites

Tracking

There are several programs available to predict satellite passes. I purchased one for my iPhone, GoSatWatch. GoSatWatch was $10 and well worth the money. It can track everything from Ham Satellites, the Internation Space Station, visible satellites, commercial and GPS satellites, and Iridium flares (looks like shooting stars). It has the option to show a world map, a sky map, and predict passes for whatever you want to track.

If you want a decent program for the computer, I recommend Gpredict. Gpredict is free and has many of the same features, but requires a computer.

Equipment

baofenguv-5rFor my setup, I run a baofeng uv5r handheld. This handheld cost around $25-30 on amazon. I use Chirp to program it (I will be doing a write up on how to use Chrip).

 

 

 

arrow_antennaSome satellites are strong enough to pick up with an extended whip style antenna. For better reception I purchased an Arrow Antenna. This antenna is great and I have been able to speak and hear with no issues. Just point the antenna towards the satellite as it passes and you will start hearing transmissions. If you are looking to do telemetry or packet radio, you’ll need equipment for this as well. I haven’t ventured into that yet, but I will be exploring that in the future.

 

Frequencies

The last thing you’ll need it a list of the frequencies for which the satellites use. I had generated a list from different locations, but I’m unable to locate the list. Some suggested sites are:

 

When I started this, I had no one to show me how to do anything, so I learned it all on my own the hard way. Some tips from me would be to:

  1. Make sure your squelch is wide open when talking
  2. There are many people attempting contacts, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t break in, just keep trying
  3.  Be patient and try to predict out the passes
  4. Focus on trying to pick up satellites before transmitting
  5. Listen to how people talk before trying transmitting
  6. Write down call signs you here and look them up for distance information
  7. Have fun

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ADS-B Piaware Flight Tracker

I recently purchased a Raspberry PI2 CanaKit from Amazon. My goal is to use it with Ham Radio, but to get a quick project going I set it up as a ADS-B flight tracker.

For those who don’t know, ADS-B stands for Automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast, and is used by airplanes to send out a broadcast message on 1090 MHz of their positions, flight number, altitude, and speed. The technology is utilized by air traffic controllers as a secondary way to track flights besides radar tracking.

This project took me about half an hour to setup and is still running. I’ll go over the setup and items needed to get this going. It costs less than $100 bucks to do all of this.

Tools needed:

  1. Raspberry Pi
  2. NooElec SDR Receiver
  3. Piaware software – FlightAware.com
  4. Setup an account with FlightAware.com

It is extremely easy to get this going. Flightaware.com, a flight status tracking website, provides all the steps and information needed to create your Piaware device. Basically you download the Piaware software. Install it on your microSD card and insert it into your Raspberry Pi. From there, hook up you NooElec receiver and antenna (it is best to have an outside antenna if possible or one with little obstructions).  Cable up your Ethernet cable and then power on the Raspberry Pi. Once on you can register the device with your FlightAware.com account. You can also browse locally to your Raspberry Pi an see the flights as they pass near you. Below is a screen shot of one I took tonight.

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If you click on the Flightaware link next to the flight number, it will bring up the FAA logged route for this aircraft.

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Being close to a military base, I see a lot of aircraft appearing and disappearing on the tracker. I’ve been told that the reason for this is that military aircraft only have to enable their transponders when in civilian airspace (this is what I’m told). Also, the military aircraft usually have interesting flight names, but I won’t discuss those here. This project has been fun and I have enjoyed seeing the amount of air traffic and their routes while flying near me. I’ve noticed a sort of “Interstate in the Sky”, as many of the planes travel the same routes. Not sure how much longer I will run this, but it will definitely run until I figure out the Ham Radio application for this device.

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Ham Radio Attic Antenna

About a year ago I obtained my Ham Radio Technician License.  The very first radio I purchased was a Baofeng UV-5R Handheld. This radio was good for listening while driving around, but I needed a good setup in the Cole Command Center. I ended up getting a Kenwood TM-V71a radio with the Kenwood KPS-15 Power supply, that I setup as a base station.

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The setup was fantastic minus one thing, the antenna. Due to my HOA regulations I am not allowed to place a visible antenna on the outside of my house. I debated stringing one in a tree behind my house, but decided against it. After some research I decided the best thing to do would be to install an attic antenna.

The antenna I purchased was a Comet GP-1 from the antenna farm, Link.

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The second problem I ran into was the fact that there were no wall plates designed for the connections for this antenna and radio.  I searched all over looking for something that mirrored a tv coax wall plate, but for the PL259 connector, but came up with nothing. I ended up purchasing a female2female PL259 connector and a blank wall plate. After some measuring I drilled out the blank wall plate and placed the connector through it.

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The next step in the process was to cut the wall plate hole and drop the coax cable from the attic to the wall plate. I had an old phone drop that I removed off the stud and replaced it with a hollow wall drop and the new custom plate.

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Once the cable was connected to the back of my radio everything worked like a champ. I can hit the local repeaters with no problems and have even made a direct contacts about 45 miles away.

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