Work Satellites with your handheld radio

Want to work the satellites like the pro’s from day one?

Working satellites is a great way to increase your understanding of a lot of what makes our lifes possible these days… TONS of communication is done via the satellites, whether geostationary or LEO or otherwise we rely on them for everything from paging, phones, TV, weather forecasting, etc… With todays tranceivers and the amateur satellites that are in orbit, it has never been easier to get online talking to other hams via the satellites!
Your first satellite contact…
If you can program split frequencies in your HT (transmit on 2 meter and receive on 440), you can work the FM amateur satellites! In satellite AO-51’s primary VHF/UHF (V/U) mode, the UPLINK frequency (to AO-51) for voice is 145.920MHz. The DOWNLINK freq (from AO-51) is 435.300MHz. First, you need to know WHEN and WHERE the satellite will be passing over your location. I use satpc32 to track the satellites and predict when they will be overhead. The one “absolute” for success is to open up your squelch. We’re talking “weak signals” from low earch orbit satellites – so don’t expect the satellite to be strong enough to break squelch like your local repeater. Sure, it’s a little noisy, but that’s part of the process. Noise is also an aid in locating the satellite: When the frequency starts exhibit QUIETING, that’s a sign that you are on to the satellite’s signal! Remember, The LEO (low earch orbit) satellites are travelling very fast and thus require tuning to compensate for the Doppler effect. You need to set up your radio to tune for the Doppler effect on the downlink. You accomplish this by starting your listening above the center frequency – you will acquire the satellite sooner and clearer. When the downlink gets scratchy or fuzzy, tune down 5KHz at a time, and reception should be clearer. With low power, only transmit when you can clearly hear the satellite. Follow the signal down in frequency as the pass continues.
Ideally you should be using a dual band yagi or 2 yagi’s to get directional reception and transmissions between you and the satellite but you can be successful with just the HT’s whip. Don’t hold your whip antenna upright. Held in a vertical position, your transmitted signal is hitting land-based receivers. You need to tilt your HT’s antenna so that it is perpendicular to the airborne satellite. You must TILT your antenna about the same amount as the satellite’s ELEVATION. You’ll quickly get the hang of it and hear the difference! Ideally, we should all be working the satellites in full duplex mode, where we can simultaneously listen to the downlink as we are transmitting. Although this method is preferred, it is not mandatory: Carefully monitor the downlink, and wait for a break in the conversations to announce yourself. You might find it helpful to record your sessions for later review. Even if you don’t make a contact during a pass, a recording can help you recognize the callsigns, voices, and personalities of other operators. Pocket recorders are as inexpensive now as they have ever been. Some hams use headphones to monitor the downlink.
Ideally, we should all be working the satellites in full duplex mode, where we can simultaneously listen to the downlink as we are transmitting. Carefully monitor the downlink, and wait for a break in the conversations to announce yourself. You might find it helpful to record your sessions for later review. Some hams use headphones to monitor the downlink. Knowing your grid square – and having a grid square map – is a quick way of identifying locations of what you will be hearing. The ARRL and Icom have grid square maps: Icom’s is free and available at better ham radio stores. It just takes a little preparation and planning for working amateur satellites. Not every pass is workable with an HT — don’t go after the passes with an top elevation of less than 10 degrees. Choose passes wisely, working ones you know will give you better results. When you clearly hear others, try to find a break in the action, and use phonetics to announce your callsign and grid square.
Alright…. so your on the air now! Looking forward to hearing you on a satellite soon!
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