Radio Packets…from Spaaaace!


[Bill Meara] was watching the International Space Station and the Shuttle Discovery pass overhead a few weeks ago, which rekindled an interest he gave up long ago – sending and receiving radio packets from space.

Years ago, he used to send APRS packets into space with a small rig powered by a 286 computer and HandiTalkie. These packets would drift off into space most of the time, but occasionally they would bounce back to Earth whenever the space station or PC Sat would fly by. The packets were often captured by other ham operators across the globe, who happened to be tuned to 145.825 MHz.

His interest renewed, he dug out his old HandieTalkie and Kantronics Terminal Node, aiming them towards the sky via an antenna situated in his back yard. When he returned 10 hours later, he found that he had collected all sorts of “space packets” from across the globe.

While not exactly a hack, it is definitely a neat exercise in ham radio operation. We can imagine slinging data packets off the space station would be an exciting experience for any budding operator (and OMs as well!)

20 thoughts on “Radio Packets…from Spaaaace!

  1. Yeah, other hams and I have been doing this for years…. The ISS has had a packet station up there for almost the entire time it has been in orbit. MIR did as well.

    This is not new to ham radio operators. In fact during field day there has always been a special additional points for getting ISS both voice and packet.

  2. Oh good times! Always fun to see what is bouncing around out there. Perhaps the “Numbers Lady” will host a Letterman style Night Talk Show this New Year’s Eve hehe.
    Even “dead air” is fun to mess with: the blips and crackles and freq swells sound really neat with some reverb and delay on them :)
    Makes me want to break out the radio gear at the parents house again.

  3. Nothing new indeed. Almost 2 decades ago in high school I used a handheld and a homebrew packet modem (Baylink compatible) to catch the OSCAR-16 beacons. Unfortunately my radio and antenna weren’t beefy enough to make a connection.

  4. Not the first time I have heard this either but it does make me want to get a radio and try this out. I looked up handitalkie and damn there are a few. Coincidentally a few weeks ago I was looking in to some old Radio Shack hand scanners that could be modded to scan a larger range of frequencies.

    My question to HAD- if I were going to get a HandiTalkie as my entry point in to the HAM world- which one? Or if not that- what should I be looking for? Is everything still in the 144.000 to 146.000 range? help….

  5. I just took my license exam and got a General license in one day. If you know electronics the test is not hard, and there is plenty of review material out there.

    You can get a very capable handie-talkie for about $120 (made in china of course).

  6. Nice, I’ve been looking for something cool to do with APRS and my HT.

    @DvD: Check out the Wouxum KG-UVD1P. It’s a 5 watt dual bander (2m and 70cm) and its the HT we get all of our newly licensed hams at our college ARC.

  7. Packet modems had(have?) a cool feature, if you messed up the settings and it no longer worked – sending “KISS” over RS-232 and it was reset back to factory defaults.

  8. @xorpunk: Quit trolling. Try more like eagle scout. They don’t do it for a living, but I’m sure you’d like to have one around if you got stranded out in the wilderness.

  9. @Ian — A US Technician Level licence, an old 286 laptop, a couple of transistors, and an even older RS HTS-100 10m transceiver is how I got started. Right now, I have a 10 meter propagation beacon, an APRS I-gate, a HFFAX station, and a NOAA POES receiver operational (the last two don’t even need a license).

    There’s lots of fun stuff to play with in HAM, and most of the time you don’t even need a whole lot of money to play with stuff. You can build a decent, world-wide transmitter for under $20 and purchase a Chinese-made multi-band receiver for $40 on eBay.


  10. Not to knock the craft, really – hey, I still remember checking what movies were playing using lynx, a home-made 1200 baud modem and a small Yaesu through a net gateway over a decade ago – but this sort of thing changed a lot in the recent past. It used to be something that only HAM enthusiasts could do, and it became something that only those with an interest in the actual radio technology care to do; not really surprising once people could stop thinking in landlines as sole means of communication and started carrying a tiny multi-band radio in their shirt pockets (otherwise known as a “cell phone”). It’s kinda like going to the North Pole – once regular charter lines by air are in place, only those who are in it for the sport of it bother going there by a dogsled – it’s just zero exotic appeal and not all that fun anymore.

    But hey, if that’s what floats your boat – by all means, I’m not trying to talk anyone out of doing it… go right ahead.

  11. One overlooked source for VHF and UHF gear of decent power outputs is retired Police/Taxi/Fire radios that are NOT narrowband capable. Details out of scope for HAD, but reassigning an old Mocom or Syntor etc to Beacon Duty is a worthy project for Hackerspace Ham clubs. As many radios of that general type can be run 24/7 Key Down with only slight derating. \\

    The related modes are Meteor Scatter and Aircraft reflections. Near space and slightly farther space counts as from space after all.

    Also, Beacons need not be a boring callsign loop alone. The details of what’s possible to stack into a properly modulated carrier are really astounding these days. Like our old hack of Dial Pulsing the PL tones :}

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