More SSTV from the ISS

Like many others around the globe I spent yesterday attempting to receive and decode the SSTV transmissions being broadcast from the International Space Station by the Russian Cosmonauts.

The SSTV activity had been due to last three days starting on Saturday but commencement was delayed by the NASA space walk.

Receiving the signal and decoding is relatively straightforward due to relatively high power used (around 25W) however getting a perfect image is a challenge and dependant on a number of factors.
  • The timing of the overhead pass. Due to the time taken to transmit the image and the three minute delay between each image it is possible to only be in reception range for the end of one image and the start of the next. 
  • The ISS is moving quickly and so the transmission suffers noticeable Doppler shift. FM is more immune to the effect but for optimal performance adjustment of the tuned frequency is required especially on high elevation passes (more information).
  • The ISS moves position, both in direction and elevation as it moves across the sky and will show up the peaks and troughs in a static antennas radiation pattern. This leads to bands of noise when the signal level falls. The use of a rotatable (and if possible tiltable) antenna (or even an handheld one) is the dirigour mode of operating satellites (and the ISS) for serious enthusiasts. 
  • Noise and local interference will also obviously affect the image.
Mission Control

I opted a two pronged approach, the Yaesu FT857D connected to my rotatable four element YAGI which is mounted horizontally for SSB and the old TRIO/KENWOOD TR9000 was connected to the X50 dual-band collinear mounted vertically.

I had two copies of the MMSSTV program running on separate laptops The TR9000 was left running largely unattended tuned to 145.800MHz, while the FT857D was tweaked to the optimum frequency while the YAGI antenna was rotated to the correct azimuth during the pass.

All adjustments were done manually and I use the Orbitron program for prediction and under the Rotor/Radio tab the frequency and azimuth are shown and updated during the pass (as can be seen in the screen show below)

I missed the first low elevation at 11:07UTC, but was able to monitor and decode images on all the remaining passes during the day, with some excellent results, the images show the full images decodes on both radio set ups as a comparison.

FT857D - Yagi

TR9000 - Collinear

FT857D - Yagi

TR9000 - Collinear

FT857D - Yagi

TR9000 - Collinear

FT857D - Yagi

TR9000 - Collinear

FT857D - Yagi

TR9000 - Collinear

I was especially pleased when one of my best images was featured on the Amsat-UK and the Southgate Amateur Radio News websites.

What was slightly worrying and it also happened during the last SSTV activities were some operators transmitting on the downlink frequency even during a pass, what sounded like someone keying up was responsible for the single noise line on another perfect image. I even received an unexpected SSTV image, complete with a call sign while the system was waiting for the next pass. I won't publish it here as everyone makes mistakes.

The experiments are continuing today but I am in work so will just leave an automated set up running on the collinear.

Judging by the messages on social media these SSTV activities seem to have captured the imagination of a lot of operators and several members of my local club South Kesteven Amateur Radio Society (SKARS) had their first go with some excellent results and are hooked! The images can seen on the SKARS Facebook page

Long may the activities continue, hopefully started to transmit some live images from space.
Andrew Garratt, MØNRD, is a regular contributor to and writes from East Midlands, England. Contact him at [email protected].

3 Responses to “More SSTV from the ISS”

  • Cliff KU4GW:

    Wow! You sure did much better than I did! I missed the direct overhead pass on Sunday because I was still installing MMSSTV Version 1.11G, but caught several other where NC was still in the footprint. I think I could have done much better with a omni-directional antenna. I was using a Radio Shack HTX-242 mobile 2 meter transceiver and a Cushcraft A148-10S 10 element yagi vertically mounted up around 30 feet (9.14 meters) on a roof tripod and due to the doppler shift each time I would activate the Channel Master TV rotor I turn it with to keep the ISS signal strong I would get a noise line across the picture caused by the rotor motor turning on and off. The image you captured with the FT-857D and the Yagi antenna is remarkable and as clear a image as I have seen! Wish I could have caught that closest overhead pass! I left everything running until 2130Z Monday so I know I got another direct overhead pass, but still no clear image for me and I’m sitting up on the NE slope of a small mountain at 1,434 feet (437 meters) ASL. There’s 500 more feet (352 more meters) of mountain to my WSW directly across the road from my house and may have affected my efforts also. Thanks for sharing your experience Andy and the great photos you received! Very 73, Cliff KU4GW (Maidenhead Grid Square: EM95iv)

  • Colin GM4JPZ:

    Again, if anybody was wondering: the top two stamps have a photograph of Yuri Gagarin being congratulated by Leonid Brezhnev and the text “40 years since the first flight in the world of a man into space. 09:07 on 12 April 1961”

    The RS0ISS background has the text “80th birthday of planet Earth’s first cosmonaut Yu[ri] A. Gagarin”.

    The fifth and sixth stamps down contain the text: “A man from the country of Soviets in space” and “The first cosmonaut in the world Yu[ri] A. Gagarin”

    The next two show his full name: “Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin”

    Congratulations on getting these pictures Andrew, you’ve fired me up to put an antenna up for 2m so I can give this a try!



  • Colin GM4JPZ:

    PS: If anybody is being picky, the text actually says “80 years since the birth of…” but I think we would say it the other way.

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