September 28, 2006

Listening to Anousheh on Ham Radio!


Wednesday morning, 27 September, I decided to listen once more for amateur radio activity from the International Space Station. The ARISS website (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station) indicated that Anousheh Ansari’s amateur radio activities ended on 26 September. There was a pretty good (45 degree above my northwest horizon) ISS pass due at about 15:40 UT (11:40 a.m. EDT) so I decided to catch up on a few chores before heading to the office.

I powered up my VHF ham radio gear and checked to see that the antenna was pointed in the right direction. As I was about to start the digital audio recorder, at 15:39:00 UT, Anousheh’s voice broke through the static. She was in QSO (contact) with amateur station N8MS, Matt Severin, in St. Joseph, MI. Severin is an Earth Sciences teacher and his students were asking Anousheh questions.

Listen to the StarGeezerAstronomy Podcast of Anousheh’s contact with Matt’s students. We only hear Anousheh’s answers from space. The signals from Matt’s station in Michigan cannot be heard on VHF radio here in southern Indiana. Remember the ham station aboard ISS is 200 plus miles up. The breaks for questions from the ground have been edited. Anousheh was using the Russian callsign RS0ISS.

Listen: -

After Anousheh finished with N8MS I tried calling her. I believe she may have heard me but I am sure many other stations were calling and picking one signal out of the crowd is very difficult. She did not answer my call. For about 2 minutes after ISS dropped below my horizon I continued to hear her, but gradually the signal faded.

ISS Expedition crew members Pavel Vinogradov, RV3BS, and Jeff Williams, KD5TVQ, along with Ansari, returned to Earth Friday, September 29th aboard the Soyuz TMA-8 spacecraft.


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September 26, 2006

Listening for the International Space Station via Ham Radio


Expedition13-Williams-NA1SS-1sm-sm.jpgMy earlier prediction that Anousheh Ansari would be very active on the ARISS (Amateur Radio station aboard the International Space Station) has not proven to be the case. I heard Ansari on Thursday afternoon making contacts with any ground based ham she could hear. While it sounds pretty simple, it’s not. Imagine walking into a room and having a couple hundred people shouting their names at you simultaneously. In amateur radio parlance this is called a “pile up”. It’s challenging even for someone with lots of experience, never mind in a first time real world situation while weightless in the very noisy (lots of fans, etc) environment of the International Space Station.

After hearing Anousheh Thursday I had the impression she would be doing a lot of radio operating during her week in space. Friday afternoon she was scheduled to do a contact with a ham station set up at her alma mater, George Washington University, near D.C. During such “special” scheduled ARISS radio contacts the station calling from the ground is given a “secret” frequency which allows the people aboard the spacecraft to hear the designated station without interference from other stations on the ground. For several minutes during that contact the ISS was also above my horizon. Though I was listening in my ham radio “shack” (my primary radio room here) on one of my better VHF transceivers with a decent mast mounted yagi antenna I did not hear Anousheh. Either I had something set incorrectly on the radio or ISS was operating on another frequency. Maybe they were using UHF.

I was disappointed but undaunted. I headed off to the office with the same handheld portable transceiver I was using when I heard Anousheh Thursday and a recorder. Jeff Williams, the Expedition 13 Flight Engineer, amateur callsign KD5TVQ, was scheduled for another ARISS contact with Crete-Monee Middle School in Crete, Illinois on the next orbital pass at around 18:25 UT  (Universal Time) 2:25 p.m. EDT Friday afternoon.

I’d been at the office a few minutes when I realized it was time to listen for Jeff. It had been raining so I decided to stay indoors and position myself near a window on the northwest corner of our building. I’d checked Heavens Above for orbital passes and knew the station would be above the horizon to the northwest this time around. As I settled in to listen Jeff’s voice broke through the static, but just barely. On this pass the Station was only 20 to 30 degrees above the horizon and I was in a radio studio which contained several computers and monitors and is located in a building with a metal roof and plenty of steel beams and concrete. I was going to have to go outside.


Our receptionist eyed me knowingly as I strode through the lobby carrying the small radio with a 30 inch whip antenna and a digital recorder. “International Space Station” I mumbled. Debbie rolled her eyes as if to say “sure, I understand”. Thankfully the rain had stopped, albeit temporarily. A few hours later Kentucky and Indiana were pelted rains that continued for nearly twelve hours occasionally at up to several inches per hour. Once outside, the signal from NA1SS with Jeff at the microphone was crystal clear. I was able to copy his side of the Q&A with kids from Illinois for nearly 4 minutes until he faded into the noise.

After ISS went over the hill I took the recording to Terry Meiners, afternoon host on 84WHAS radio where I work. Terry shared the recording with his audience that afternoon. Listen here or scroll down for the official Podcast.

 Since Friday afternoon I’ve tried to be listening either at my main station or with the portable handheld every time ISS was within range. I have not heard a peep since hearing Jeff talking with the students in Illinois. Unfortunately the cloud cover has been above 90% at each visible pass opportunity. Published reports indicate that Tuesday, September 26th will be the last day Anousheh is to be active on the ham radio. She is scheduled to return to Earth with the Expedition 13 crew aboard the Soyuz TMA-8 on Friday, September 29th after undocking from ISS on Thursday.

ARISS is a continuing project and all 3 members of the Expedition 14 crew, commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, KE5GTK,  Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, RZ3FT and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter, DF4TR are ham operators.There will be future opportunities to hear voices from space. Click here for more on ARISS

Xprize Blog on amateur radio in space

Above: Expedition 13’s Jeff Williams, KD5TVQ, at the controls of NA1SS. [NASA Photo]

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Solar B Mission to Study the Sun


solarb_naoj.jpgSolar-B, an international mission to study the sun, launched Friday, Sept. 22 from Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima, Japan. Solar B will study the Sun at optical, X-ray and Extreme Ultraviolet wavelengths in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of our nearest star, the Sun. Solar-B scientists will study the activity of solar storms and the huge energy outbursts which create Coronal Mass Ejections, the principal cause of aurora here on Earth.
The Solar-B satellite will orbit Earth with an innovative polar orbit which will enable it to observe the Sun 24 hours a day. Previous orbiting solar observatories were placed in geosyncronous orbit above the equator, placing them on the night side of Earth, and therefore unable to observe the Sun approximately 12 hours a day.

Read more about the mission here


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September 21, 2006

See and Hear the ISS!



International Space Station Expedition 14 Commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin docked with ISS Wednesday morning September 20th. Flying with them is American Anousheh Ansari, who is the first female “spaceflight participant” to visit the station. She is flying under contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency.

As the Soyuz TMA-9 spacecraft approached ISS the Expedition 14 crew flew about 34 miles below and reported seeing Atlantis above. At approximately the same time aboard ISS, Expedition 13 Flight Engineer Jeff Williams observed what he thought was the Soyuz. Flight controllers in Houston informed him that, in fact, what he was seeing was Atlantis which was about 120 miles away at the time. Jeff said he saw the vehicle, whatever it was, as it came into the sunlight and was surprised to see an object that far away.

Lopez-Alegria and Tyurin will replace Expedition 13 Commander Pavel Vinogradov and NASA Science Officer Jeff Williams who have been aboard ISS since late March. European Space Agency Astronaut Thomas Reiter will remain on the station and join Expedition 14.

Observers in North America will be treated to another series of visible early morning orbital passes of the ISS as the Fall season begins. For those in the central and eastern parts of North America passes will occur between 5 and 7 am local time.

Visible passes will occur in the mornings before sunrise. “Radio” passes may be monitored at any time, day or night, when ISS is above the local horizon. Optical aids such as binoculars or telescopes are not necessary. The Space Station will appear as one of the brightest “stars” in the sky. On the best passes when the spacecraft climbs higher than 65 or 70 degrees above the horizon it will cross from horizon to horizon in about 6 minutes. Look carefully for green and red aircraft lights. If the object has no blinking lights and you don’t hear any engines, you’ve probably spotted the ISS!

Midwest observations centered on Louisville, Kentucky

Key to this table: Date/local time, Elevation above Horizon, Direction to Watch

Wednesday, 27 Sept 5:12 AM  87 East*

Wednesday, 27 Sept 6:50 AM 13 NNW

Friday, 6 October 7:03 AM 15 NNE

*There is disparity on the Heavens Above website regarding this pass. Under “visible passes” it shows as being about 12 degrees above the NE horizon at 05:18. When checked under “radio amateur satellites” the pass is reported to start at 05:12 and reach an elevation of 87 degrees above the eastern horizon. 

For tips on listening or watching for ISS passes send an email here

Check ISS pass information for your area here NASA or Heavens Above

Click on “amateur satellites”

See Anousheh Ansari’s blog here

Stargeezer with NASA and ARRL releases

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September 15, 2006

The Planet Formerly Known as Pluto

200px-Pluto.jpgThe International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center has given Pluto a new name to reflect it’s status change to dwarf planet. The former 9th planet’s new designation is asteroid number 134340. This action reflects the recent IAU decision to categorize Pluto with other small solar system bodies with accurately known orbits.

According to a press release from MPC there are presently 136,563 asteroid objects which have been officially recognized. 2,224 new objects were added last week, Pluto being the first. Published reports speculate that in the future there may be two catalogues of dwarf planets, one for trans-Neptunians like Pluto and another for objects like the “former” asteriod Ceres which is now designated a dwarf planet.

Read the MPC release here.

NASA Hubble Space Telescope image

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CFA Discovers Largest Known Planet

puffy1_display.jpgScientists with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have announced the discovery of the largest known planet. Designated HAT P1 because it was discovered by a network of small automated telescopes known as HAT, this gas giant is 1.38 times the size of Jupiter.

In spite of it’s large size, it’s mass is only half that of Jupiter. “This new planet, if you could imagine putting it in a cosmic water glass, it would float,” said Robert Noyes, a research astrophysicist with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. HAT-P-1 is orbiting one of a pair of stars known as ADS 16402 which are 450 light years from Earth in the constellation Lacerta.

The planet is also very near to it’s sun. At only one-twentieth the distance between Earth and our sun, it’s “year” is only 4.5 days long.

“We could be looking at an entirely new class of planets,” said Gaspar Bakos, a Hubble fellow at CfA.

As the giant gas ball “transits”, or crosses in front of our view of the star, it causes apparent dimming of the star. This dimming led to the planet’s discovery.

Constellation Lacerta is north of Cygnus, the Swan (or Northern Cross) and appears near zenith at this time of year. The double star ADS 16402 is visible with binoculars or a telescope.

From CFA press release. Image: Harvard-Smithsonian CFA

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September 5, 2006

ESA SMART-1 Impacts on Moon


At 1:42:22 AM EDT (05:42:22 UT) Sunday, 3 September, the SMART-1 spacecraft impacted the Moon’s surface as planned, ending ESA’s first solar-powered mission to another celestial body and Europe’s first mission to the Moon. ESA estimates that impact occurred at 46.2º West, 34.4º South. ESA Press Release
Image credit: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope / 2006 

The flash in this animation is an infrared flash. It shows heat generated by the spacecraft’s 4500 mph impact into the lunar surface near the edge of Lacus Excellentiae (34.4 S, 46.2 W).


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