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Amateur Radio in Space: A Global Collaboration

Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, has been reaching the final frontier for decades, fostering international collaboration and educational opportunities while simultaneously providing a thrilling hobby for licensed operators. Here is a brief look at the international aspects of amateur radio in space, including the involvement of various countries, astronauts with amateur radio licences and the launch of amateur radio satellites.

Amateur Radio on the International Space Station

The Amateur Radio station aboard the International Space Station (ISS) is part of the ARISS program – Amateur Radio on the International Space Station. Many astronauts and cosmonauts, from ISS partner countries including the USA, Russia, Japan, Europe, and Canada, have amateur radio licenses and have established the ARISS program to foster communications between the crew residing on the station and stations on the ground.

The ARISS was the first amateur radio project to gain access to the ISS, helping NASA fulfill its Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) goals for education. The project is an international educational outreach program partnering with space agencies like NASA, the Russian Space Agency, ESA, CNES, JAXA, and CSA, along with the AMSAT, ARRL, and IARU organizations from participating countries.

A significant component of the ARISS program is its educational value, offering students the opportunity to experience the excitement of Amateur Radio by talking directly with crew members on-board the ISS. This engagement helps to stimulate interest in science, technology, and learning among young people.

Astronauts with Amateur Radio Callsigns

Many astronauts have become licensed radio amateurs to communicate with stations on Earth while traveling in space and on the ISS, with some even earning their licenses while in space. This list includes astronauts who have actively participated in Amateur Radio activities, as well as those who have supervised unlicensed astronauts conducting Amateur Radio contacts.

For instance, NASA astronaut Kayla Barron completed her introductory course and received basic ham radio operations training, subsequently earning the call sign KI5LAL. Similarly, European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer passed his amateur radio exam and received the call sign KI5KFH.

Amateur Radio Satellites

Amateur radio satellites are artificial satellites built and used by amateur radio operators, and they form part of the Amateur-satellite service. These satellites use amateur radio frequency allocations to facilitate communication between amateur radio stations. They are often referred to as OSCARs (Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio), a designation assigned by AMSAT, an organization which promotes the development and launch of amateur radio satellites.

Amateur radio satellites can be used free of charge by licensed amateur radio operators for voice and data communications. They may be designed to act as repeaters, as linear transponders, and as store and forward digital relays.

Amateur radio satellites have significantly contributed to the science of satellite communications, including the launch of the first satellite voice transponder, OSCAR 3, and the development of advanced digital “store-and-forward” messaging transponder techniques.

Notably, the first amateur satellite, OSCAR 1, was launched on December 12, 1961, barely four years after the launch of the world’s first satellite, Sputnik I. Over 570 amateur radio operators in 28 countries forwarded observations to Project OSCAR during its 22-day orbit.

Several countries have launched their amateur radio satellites. Programs besides OSCAR have included Iskra from the Soviet Union, JAS-1 from Japan, RS from Soviet Union and Russia, and CubeSats. For instance, Iskra was launched by the Soviet Union circa 1982, JAS-1 by Japan in 1986, and RS by the Soviet Union and Russia. More recently, Es’hail 2 / QO-100 was launched in 2018 and is in geostationary orbit covering Brazil to Thailand.

In conclusion, amateur radio in space represents an exciting intersection of technology, education, and international cooperation. From astronauts engaging in real-time communication with Earth to the launch of amateur radio satellites, these activities inspire students, enhance scientific understanding, and foster global collaboration. The sky is not the limit for amateur radio – it’s just the beginning.


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