Learn how to work the FM ham satellites

Clint Bradford, K6LCS

Clint Bradford, K6LCS

Many hams don’t have the financial resources to buy some of the more exotic equipment you see in the full-page QST ads. Don’t worry, you don’t have to feel left out! What almost every ham DOES have is a dual-band HT. Clint Bradford, K6LCS, has created an excellent THE go-to resource to show you how you can easily work the FM birds with minimal equipment — most of which you probably already have! His site is truly a wealth of information.

He shared this with me:

It has been my mission in life the past 8+ years to show those who have never worked an amateur satellite that they CAN do it – with equipment they probably already own. I mean, when I first saw an AMSAT table at a hamfest several years ago, I just walked on by, wrongly believing that I needed 100W of TX power, multiple Yagis on the roof (which has led to divorces in my state), and that expensive Yaesu rotator.

Clint lays it out step-by-step:

  • Radio options

    Clint uses a Yaesu FT-60R with a speaker mic, but you can use most dual-band HTs that feature the ability to program “split frequencies.” Ideally, you could use a second radio (or scanner) and work in full-duplex mode. According to Clint, there are discontinued HTs which support full-duplex including the Kenwood TH-D7/TH-D79, Icom IC-W32a, and the Yaesu FT-470/FT-51/FT-530.
  • Antenna options

    Clint recommends the Arrow Antenna Model 146/437-10WBP or Elk Log Periodic Model 2M/440L5, but these very nice (but expensive) antennas aren’t your only option. He suggests that you could build a simple and inexpensive tape measure beam with very acceptable results. Just want to listen?  Well, Clint shares that although it takes more patience and finesse to work satellites with “lesser” antennas, one of the first 2-meter reception reports from the ARISSat-1 was from someone using the stock antenna on his Yaesu VX-9 HT!
  • Find an “easy” satellite

    Clint recommends starting off with SO-50  or even the ISS (International Space Station). He has a great satellite schedule page on his site which lists the current status/availability of each bird and the necessary frequencies and CTCSS. Of note, some birds may require the transmission of a certain tone to activate a timer. After that, a different subaudible tone is used for the duration of the QSO. He does note that SO-50 can be a little “finicky” — for best results, work it full-duplex.
  • Track the satellite

    You have to know both when the satellite will be “visible” to you, and where you’ll need to point your antenna. Clint has a tracking page on his site which lists some of the programs and apps he recommends. While there are a variety of commercial options, he offers some good free options including AMSAT’s Online Satellite Tracking and Heavens-Above.
  • That’s it! Have fun!

If you haven’t already done so, download and print his 4-page PDF guide called Work FM Satellites with your HT! to use as a reference. Thanks for the hard work, Clint. We appreciate it!

Matt Thomas, W1MST, is the managing editor of AmateurRadio.com. Contact him at [email protected].

6 Responses to “Learn how to work the FM ham satellites”

  • Joe KB3PHL:

    Making a contact with a Ham satellite or the ISS is a goal I haven’t achieved yet. I have the Arrow antenna & a dual band handheld. I made a tripod mount very similar to K7AGE’s, but with everyone trying to make contact in that narrow window of opportunity it’s hard to get a word in edge wise. It can be very intimidating. But I’ll keep trying.

    Joe KB3PHL

  • K6LCS:

    Joe – DON’T GIVE UP! Yes, SO-50 is the only “easy to work” bird up right now for FM voice V/U mode. But try a weekday pass … The weekends are, indeed, a challenge. You can also monitor the ISS’ packet signal (heck, even set up an APRS station to “work” the ISS, too!). And there are other sats whose telemetry signals can be heard and/or decoded. http://www.amsat-uk.com seems to have the latest info for us! -Clint K6LCS

  • Clint K6LCS:

    >> … Clint Bradford, K6LCS, has created THE go-to resource …

    Matt is my new “favorite blogger.” (grin)

    I have received several inquiries from folks new to this aspect of our magnificent hobby, Matt, due to this blog post. THANK YOU very much!

    And there are more sats deployed since this post … LITHUANIA – of all countries – is now in space, along with many others!

    Clint K6LCS

  • Robert Rode:

    Can I get by running a yagi/hand held,for Down link,.. and a 2 meter Ground plane on top of my P/U truck for uplink ??

  • TA2NYQ:

    studies are very nice on this page

  • VE3HFX:

    Why does your site tell me I need a different address when I have been using this one for over 20 years?

    I would like to subscribe but it won’t let me.


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