How hard is it to build a ground station to communicate with people via a satellite? Probably not as hard as you think. [Modern Ham] has a new video that shows just how easy it can be. It turns out that a cheap Chinese radio is all you need on the radio side. You do, however, benefit from having a bit of an antenna.
It isn’t unusual for people interested in technology to also be interested in space. So it isn’t surprising that many ham radio operators have tied space into the hobby. Some do radio astronomy, others bounce signals off the moon or meteors. Still others have launched satellites, though perhaps that’s not totally accurate since as far as we know all ham radio satellites have hitched rides on commercial rockets rather than being launched by hams themselves. Still, designing and operating a ham radio station in space is no small feat, but it has been done many times with each generation of satellite becoming more and more sophisticated.
While it is true you’ll get better results with a directional antenna, it is possible to make some contacts with a fairly modest one. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, tracking when the satellite was overhead was a major task, but the modern ham just needs a cell phone app.
If you have images of hams sitting at their radios having long-winded discussions, you haven’t seen a typical satellite pass. You don’t have much time, so the contacts are fast and to the point. In fact, this video dispels a lot of ham stereotypes. A young guy shows how you can do something exciting with ham radio for very little investment and it doesn’t matter if you have deed restrictions because all the gear would fit in your garage when you aren’t using it.
The downside is that [Modern Ham’s] demo didn’t show him making any solid contacts although he was clearly hearing the satellite and people were hearing him. He admits it wasn’t his best pass. The second video below shows a much more typical pass with the same kind of setup. If you want to see what results you can get with a more modest antenna, check out this video.
In addition to satellites built by hams, some have started life doing a different task and been taken over by hams later. If you don’t have a ham license (and, by the way, they are easier to get than ever), you can still listen in to some very interesting space communications.