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International Space Station Reference

Ham Radio
What is AMSAT?

The Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, or AMSAT, is a worldwide group of amateur radio operators who communicate through, or are just interested in, amateur radio satellites. AMSAT members are involved in the organization at all levels from those who design and build the spacecraft, and those who use them for QSOs -- morse code "shorthand" for a two-way amateur radio conversation -- or merely monitor their signals.

AMSAT was formed in 1969 in the District of Columbia as a nonprofit, educational organization. Its stated aim was, and is, to foster amateur radio's participation in space research and communication. As such, it continued the efforts begun in 1961 by Project OSCAR, a West Coast group which built and launched the first Amateur Radio satellites, beginning with OSCAR 1 which was launched Dec. 12, 1961. OSCAR stands for Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio. Since 1969, AMSAT groups around the world have participated in the design, construction, launch and operation of some 40 amateur radio satellites. Many of these groups use the word AMSAT in their names. In order to distinguish between them, suffixes are often appended, but are omitted if the meaning is clear. For example, AMSAT-NA is for North America, AMSAT-UK is for Great Britain or AMSAT-DL is for the German group. Some groups combine their country name with AMSAT to form combinations such as JAMSAT in Japan and BRAMSAT in Brazil.

AMSAT provides a vast array of support for those interested in learning about amateur radio satellites. The AMSAT Journal, published six times per year, provides members with many interesting articles about satellite operation and news of upcoming amateur satellite projects. The AMSAT Software Exchange makes available satellite tracking software for most popular personal computers. AMSAT even runs its own QSL -- written documentation of a QSO -- bureau for satellite users.

With area coordinators in many sections of the country, the AMSAT Filed Organization is ready to answer your satellite questions and help you get started. Among other material, new members receive a list of these area coordinators.

AMSAT also sponsors regular VHF nets where you can hear the latest news of the amateur space program, or get answers to your questions about amateur satellites. In addition, there are many VHF nets held on various repeaters across the United States as well as in other countries. Amateur satellite information is also carried on many packet bulletin boards. Your nearest area coordinator has a list of such nets and bulletin boards in your vicinity.

For those with Internet access, AMSAT-NA maintains both a Web page and an e-mail service. The Web page is at To get weekly AMSAT news bulletins, send a "SUBSCRIBE ANS" message to For regular updates of orbital elements for use in your satellite tracking program, send a "SUBSCRIBE KEPS" message to the same address. You can also participate in discussions about amateur satellites by subscribing to the AMSAT Bulletin Board. A message saying "SUBSCRIBE BB", sent to will get you connected.

Listening to, even working through, the amateur satellites, or "birds" as they are affectionately known, is quite easy. Even those with only high-frequency equipment can do it. The Russian RS-12 satellite has an uplink on 15 meters and a downlink on 10 meters, and thus can be readily worked with a high-frequency transceiver. It also includes a 2 meter downlink. Other birds employ 2-meter Single Side Band/Continuous Wave, or SSB/CW, uplinks and 10-meter downlinks and more are expected to follow.

AMRAD-OSCAR 27, or AO-27, allows you to transmit, via FM, on 2 meters and receive on 437 MHz. It has been worked with as little as dual-band HTs and "rubber duckies". And the Russian Space Station MIR carries a German built SAFEX 70 70 cm in-band FM repeater.

Two Japanese amateur satellites, Fuji OSCARs 20 and 29, offer both analog and digital operation via the 2-meter and 70-centimeter bands. AMSAT OSCAR 10 is amateur radio's currently operating high-altitude satellite. Although launched back in 1983, and having suffered computer and battery failure, it is still useful for communication. AO-10 requires a little more in the way of power and antenna size than the lower altitude RS satellites, but the rewards make this extra effort worthwhile.

For those primarily in the digital side of amateur radio, the "pacsats" provide a great means of expanding one's horizon. AMSAT-OSCAR 16 (AO-16), LUSAT-OSCAR 19 (LU-19), AO-22, KITSAT-OSCAR 23 (KO-23) and KITSAT-OSCAR 25 (KO 25) plus Italy-OSCAR-26 (IO-26), and the two Fujis, provide orbiting bulletin boards and store-and-forward mail facilities worldwide. Two other such spacecraft, TMSAT-1 (TO-31) and TechSat-1B (G-32), were launched in mid-1998. Some of these Amateur Radio satellites, plus WeberSat-OSCAR 18 (WO-18), also have onboard cameras, which take pictures of Earth that can be downloaded. Except for Radio Sputnik 12 (RS-12), U.S. hams need only a technician class license to participate in all this fun.

For those interested in awards, there is much to accomplish on the Amateur Satellites. The American Radio Relay League-sponsored Worked All States (WAS), DX Century Club (DXCC) and VHF/UHF Advisory Committee (VUAC) are available to those who qualify. In addition, AMSAT sponsors several awards of its own. For example, one award is given in recognition of various numbers of stations contacted via the Amateur Satellites. Of course, you can merely enjoy the rapid fire QSOs available on the various low altitude birds, or sit back and experience the thrill of engaging in old-fashioned "ragchews" via OSCAR 10.

The Amateur Radio satellites have been used for a number of exciting and worthwhile activities. One such activity involved a group of Russians and Canadians who skied across the North Pole from the northernmost point of Russia to the northern most point of Canada - a distance of nearly 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles). The skiers' location was uploaded to amateur radio satellite, UoSat-OSCAR 11 (UO-11), which provided it to school students all over the world, using that spacecraft's digital voice unit. A more recent example involved a team flying across the North Pole in an old Russian biplane. They used the digital satellites to relay news of their progress. OSCAR satellites have also been used to transmit medical data and were employed in early tests of the concept that led to the joint US/Soviet Search And Rescue Satellite, or SARSat, system. Amateur satellites have also proven useful in a variety of emergencies from hurricanes to earthquakes.

AMSAT, in conjunction with the American Radio Relay League and NASA, worked to create SAREX, the Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment, which has been renamed Space Amateur Experiment in recognition of the role it is playing in amateur radio participation in the International Space Station. SAREX has permitted ham astronauts on shuttle missions to communicate directly with amateurs on the ground. One important use of this capability has been to enable conversations between young students and the orbiting astronauts without the use of NASA communications facilities. This has been possible with the help of amateurs all over this country and abroad, who set up equipment at schools and other facilities. Flight crews on the Russian space station, MIR, have also been active on the 2 meter amateur band, talking to hams all over the world, as well as conversing with students.

More satellites, more modes and more fun are coming! The fourth in the series of high elliptical orbit satellites, Phase 3D, is awaiting launch.Phase 3D will usher in a whole new era of amateur radio satellites. It has been dubbed "the satellite for all amateurs" because its combination of high transmitters and high gain antennas, always directed at Earth, will make it much easier to work than previous high altitude amateur satellites.

Phase 3D will bring satellite operation to within the reach of virtually every licensed amateur in the world. In addition, its improved link performance should make it feasible for it to be used to interlink repeaters for many hours per day.

Primarily financed by membership dues and donations, AMSAT continues to work hard to maintain amateur radio's presence in space.

Ham Radio in Space
IMAGE: STS-47 Payload Specialist Mamoru Mohri
STS-47 Payload Specialist Mamoru Mohri communicates with students from the aft flight deck of Space Shuttle Endeavour. Several members of the crew were able to talk with students and other ham operators during the mission.
Related Links
Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment (SAREX)
Amateur Radio International Space Station (ARISS)
Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT)
American Radio Relay League (ARRL)
Wanna Be a Ham?What is AMSAT?AntennasCurriculumPhase 1SAREXRadio ClubsHam Radio

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 10/31/2002
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