With the success of AMSAT’s Fox project, more FM satellites are in the sky, and more are on the way. As a result, many radio amateurs are getting interested in working satellites for the first time. If you are new to FM satellite operating, welcome!
While working stations through an FM satellite is fairly easy, there are some operating practices that all operators should follow. Since FM satellites are a shared resource, all operators during a pass need to help keep the passes accessible for as many stations as possible.
Many of these guidelines are based around two simple “Golden Rules” of satellite operating: Don’t transmit if you can’t hear the satellite, and operate using full-duplex capabilities if at all possible, meaning you can transmit and receive at the same time. Some radios offer full-duplex capabilities, or you can use two separate radios to achieve this.
1. Share the Pass
FM satellites are just like a repeater: only one person may transmit at a time. Since a satellite is overhead for 15 minutes at most, each operator will want to make some contacts. Please don’t monopolize a pass; let your other ham colleagues have some time on the pass as well. It takes a lot of self-discipline, but sometimes the best engagement is to make one single QSO and sit back to listen for the remainder of the pass.
2. Let Other QSOs Finish
Please let other stations complete their QSO before you call another station. It’s very frustrating when you are calling a station to complete a QSO and another station starts a call before your QSO is completed. Calling someone who has just called another station is considered rude. It’s the equivalent of being interrupted; nobody likes being interrupted. If you hear a QSO in progress, please let that QSO finish before you make your own call.
3. Minimize Repeat QSOs
There are often times where you will hear stations on a pass that you have already worked several times. If a pass has other callers, please refrain from calling a station you have already made contact with numerous times. If you think about it, there are only so many QSOs that can be made during a given pass. Each QSO that is made between two station that have already contacted each other prevents another QSO from happening, one that might be a new grid square or state for another station, or a station’s first QSO.
4. Don’t Call CQ
Please don’t call “CQ Satellite” on an FM satellite. It’s the same as calling CQ on a repeater; you just don’t do it. Generally, it’s better to pick out a station and call them directly. However If you want to announce your presence an FM satellite pass during a pass with low activity, simply give your call and grid (example: “W1ABC FN32”). If you have given your callsign several times and are not getting calls, there may be a problem with your station. Take a break and examine your station before transmitting again.
5. Use Phonetics
It can be very difficult during a busy pass to hear and understand a callsign correctly. Using standard phonetics will make initial copy of your callsign much easier, which reduces the need for repeated transmissions. This makes each QSO shorter, which make more of the pass available for others. It is not a race. There is no need to give your callsign quickly.
6. Rare/Portable Stations Take Priority
It is common for satellite operators to take their equipment with them to portable locations, to transmit from rare grid squares or other DX countries. Courtesy should be extended to these stations; they are providing a rare location to all satellite operators and will be at that location for a limited time. If you hear a station on from a rare grid or DXCC entity, use good judgement before calling stations in more common grids. If the rarer station is working a lot of people on a pass, it may be best to let that station work as many people as possible. There will always be another pass to work more common stations. Info on how to know when rare stations will be on is at the bottom of this list.
7. Use Only the Minimum Power Required
Generally, 5 watts from an HT and a directional antenna is plenty of power to work an FM satellite from horizon to horizon.
8. Work the New Stations
Satellites are for everybody, and the satellite community LOVES hearing new calls on the FM birds. Regular satellite operators should pay close attention during a pass; if you hear a callsign that’s new to you, take the time to call them. You may be that station’s first satellite QSO; what an honor!
How to Get the Latest News on Satellite Activity
There are several ways satellite operators can stay abreast of operations from rare grids or DXCC entities. AMSAT’s website has an area for Upcoming Satellite Operations; check this regularly for the latest info. If you’re on Facebook, you can also join the AMSAT-NA Facebook group; many operators post their activity news in the group. It’s also a good place to meet other satellite operators and ask questions if you’re new.
Many of the most active satellite operators use Twitter to post their real-time activity. If you’re on Twitter, look for posts that tag @AMSAT or use the hash tag #AMSAT. You will quickly see who the frequent posters are; be sure to follow them for the latest info on where they will be operating from.
Lastly, you can always listen to a pass. If a lot of people are calling a specific station, that’s a good indicator they are at a rare location. This is especially important at the beginning or ending of a pass, when the satellite’s footprint is more likely to include DX stations.
We hope that these guidelines provide a way for all satellite users to cooperate and share each pass. We want you to work lots of stations and have fun, but not in a way that prevents others from having a good time on the satellites, too. Be neighborly and a good steward of the satellites, and we can all have fun for a long time.
RadFxSat (Fox-1B) is scheduled for launch on November 18, 2017. RadFxSat is one of four CubeSats making up the NASA ELaNa XIV mission, riding as secondary payloads aboard the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS)-1 mission. JPSS-1 will launch on a Delta II from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
RadFxSat is a partnership with Vanderbilt University ISDE and hosts four payloads for the study of radiation effects on commercial off the shelf components. RadFxSat features the Fox-1 style FM U/v repeater with an uplink on 435.250 MHz (67.0 Hz CTCSS) and a downlink on 145.960 MHz. Satellite and experiment telemetry will be downlinked via the “DUV” subaudible telemetry stream and can be decoded with the FoxTelem software.
Launch and Early Orbit Phase (LEOP)
RadFxSat will launch at 01:47 PST (09:47 UTC) on November 18, 2017 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Prelaunch Keplerian elements, which may not be accurate after a few orbits, are as follows:
The estimated time of “First Veronica,” the initial beacon after deployment, is 12:07 UTC. Due to the tight constraints on the primary payload deployment, the secondary payloads may be delayed slightly, so this should be considered the soonest the transmitter will be enabled. Updated orbital elements will be published as soon as they are available on the AMSAT website.
Participation in telemetry collection by as many stations in as many parts of the world as possible is essential as AMSAT Engineering looks for successful startup and indications of the general health and function of the satellite as it begins to acclimate to space. The first amateur radio operator that successfully receives RadFxSat (Fox-1B) telemetry and uploads it to the AMSAT server will receive a commemorative 3D printed QSL card.
If you are capturing telemetry with FoxTelem please be sure that “Upload to Server” is checked in your settings, and that your “Ground Station Params” are filled in as well. You can help AMSAT and everyone waiting to get on the air with RadFxSat tremendously by capturing RadFxSat telemetry.
About 60 minutes after deployment, or 140 minutes after launch, the satellite will start up in Beacon Mode. In this initial mode, the transmitter is limited to 10 seconds on time and then will be off for two minutes. For those of you capturing telemetry, that means that you will only see Current frames and no High or Low frames. The High and Low frames are truncated as it takes just over the 10 second limit to send two frames. Veronica may also be cut off before she gets to say her whole ID string as the full ID, “RadFxSat Fox-1B Safe Mode,” is a bit longer than the approximately 3.5 seconds she has in Beacon Mode. If the voice ID is cut off, the satellite is still in Beacon Mode.
If AMSAT Engineering is seeing nominal values from the telemetry you gather, the satellite will be commanded from Beacon Mode to Safe Mode on the first good pass over the United States. In Safe Mode, the satellite transmits a full two frames of telemetry (one Current frame followed by, and alternating each ID cycle, a High or a Low frame). Veronica now has time to make the whole ID announcement in Safe Mode.
The on-orbit checkout procedure for RadFxSat is similar to Fox-1A/AO-85 and could be completed in as little as a few days if users cooperate. It is very important, and good amateur operating practice, to refrain from using the transponder uplink so the on-orbit tests can be performed, including when the satellite is switched into Transponder Mode for testing.
AMSAT will make it broadly known when the tests are complete and the transponder is available for all to use. If you hear someone on the transponder, please do not assume that it is open for general use – check AMSAT’s website, Facebook, and Twitter before transmitting to be sure you do not interfere with testing.
AMSAT asks all satellite operators to contribute just a little bit of your time by gathering telemetry, not using the transponder uplink, to help complete the last few days of getting RadFxSat operating for the amateur radio community.
Lots of hams put thousands of volunteer hours of their time into making RadFxSat happen. Just like any ham radio project you might undertake, AMSAT builds satellites. AMSAT volunteers do it because they like to, and when they are done, AMSAT freely shares their project with hams everywhere as is the spirit of amateur radio.
Thank you very much and see you on the bird!
Radio Programming Chart
RadFxSat (Fox-1B) Doppler Shift Correction
Your Transmit Frequency
(With 67 Hz Tone)
Your Receive Frequency
Acquisition of Signal (AOS)
Time of Closest Approach (TCA)
Loss of Signal (LOS)
Frequencies are subject to change after launch.
Special Membership Offer
As part of the preparations for the launch of RadFxSat, AMSAT is making the “Getting Started With Amateur Satellites” book available for a limited time as a download with any paid new or renewal membership purchased via the AMSAT Store. This offer is only available with purchases completed online, and for only a limited time. A perennial favorite, Getting Started is updated every year with the latest amateur satellite information, and is the premier primer of satellite operation. The 182 page book is presented in PDF format, in full color, and covers all aspects of making your first contacts on a ham radio satellite.
Please take advantage of this offer today by visiting the AMSAT store at https://www.amsat.org/shop/ and selecting any membership option. While there, check out AMSAT’s other items, including the M2 LEOpack antenna system, Arrow antennas, AMSAT shirts, and other swag. Be sure to view your cart before going to checkout. If you add a membership and then go directly to checkout, you’ll never see an option to add your free gift.
With the recent popularity of Slow Scan Television (SSTV) from the ISS, AMSAT Operations is bringing back Experimenter’s Wednesday to AO-85.
On a trial basis, we invite users to exchange pictures using Robot36 SSTV mode via the FM repeater on AO-85 during UTC Wednesdays. Please identify prior to beginning transmissions, and only send when the uplink is clear.
Stations are requested to only uplink if they have a reasonable expectation of maintaining a full-quieting signal for the duration of the image transmission. Smaller stations are encouraged to focus on receiving the images.
Please don’t send questionable or provocative images. If in doubt, pick another one. Expect all ages to be participating.
Feedback is encouraged, and comments may be directed via email to me at email@example.com.