Amateur Radio aboard the International Space Station...




Susan Helms at ISS ham radio station
NASA photo of U.S. astronaut Susan J. Helms, KC7NHZ, Expedition Two flight engineer, the first U.S. military woman in space, talking with Amateur Radio operators on Earth on July 16, 2001, from the Amateur Radio station in the Zarya module of the International Space Station (ISS). Click image for larger picture.

Nine years later, in 2010, Lt. General Susan Helms was appointed Commander, 14th Air Force (Air Forces Strategic-Space), Air Force Space Command; and Commander, Joint Functional Component Command for Space, U.S. Strategic Command, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

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Astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have an Amateur Radio station at hand for recreation and educational activities.

As human spaceflight moves through the 21st century, an organization known as Amateur Radio aboard the International Space Station – ARISS – has been designing, building and operating Amateur Radio gear.

The agencies backing ISS and ARISS describe access to Amateur Radio as necessary for psychological crew support. It provides contacts with family and with the general public for men and women working in space for months at a time.

Astronauts and cosmonauts will require some 40 shuttle flights over several years to assemble the complete space station. As they work hard on construction in space, those men and women need recreation activities during rest periods. That's where the ham radio station comes into play.

Contacting schools. The ISS astronauts also use their ham radio gear for educational outreach to schools down on Earth. In fact, NASA's Division of Education is a major supporter of amateur radio activity aboard ISS.
school contacts >>

SAREX heritage. Radio amateurs pioneered space radio experimentation including voice communication, television and text messaging. In fact, since the first hamsat went to space in 1961, more than 70 Amateur Radio satellites have been launched.

In the 1970s and 1980s, astronauts who also were Amateur Radio operators worked to convince NASA that taking their ham gear along on spaceflights could enhance the space agency's public education role. Since Garriott, England, Parise and Cameron convinced NASA of the educational benefits from Amateur Radio in human spaceflight, ham operators have flown on more than two-dozen space shuttle missions. Dozens of men and women have used the Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment – SAREX – to talk from orbit with thousands of school kids and their families down on Earth.

Mir. Russia had a similar program for the cosmonauts aboard its former space station Mir. When U.S. astronauts were aboard Mir, preparing for the future long duration missions of the International Space Station, they used ham radio for personal communication and even for emergency messaging when Mir was in distress.

Now that human spaceflight activities are focused on the International Space Station, the focus of Amateur Radio in human spaceflight has shifted to ARISS.

ARISS founders. National radio organizations from eight countries and from AMSAT, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, formed ARISS in 1996.

NASA, AMSAT and the Russian space firm Energia signed agreements placing Amateur Radio on the space station. The technical team ISS Ham supports hardware development, crew training and operations on orbit. First contact. William M. "Shep" Shepherd, callsign KD5GSL, worked hard to make sure that an amateur radio station was on board the International Space Station. After three shuttle flights in 1988, 1990 and 1992, Shepherd commanded the first expeditionary crew aboard the ISS in 2000-2001.

Using the callsign assigned to the ISS – NA1SS – Shepherd completed the first-ever ARISS contact on December 21, 2000. During a ten-minute pass overhead, he talked with 14 students in grades 1-8 plus science and math teacher Rita Wright at Luther Burbank Elementary School near Chicago.

Training and testing. The operator-training program was devised by an Amateur Radio operator employed at NASA, Matt Bordelon, callsign KC5BTL. Astronauts who already are licensed radio amateurs become familiar with the use of various types of equipment, the general principles of amateur operation, operating modes, and packet radio modules, theory and software. For hands-on training, they have a hardware mockup to simulate a real ham radio station. Other astronauts and cosmonauts have been shown how to be tested and receive a U.S. amateur radio license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).    

The first ARISS station equipment was tested, then delivered by shuttle Atlantis flight STS-106 to the ISS. The shuttle crew placed the ham gear in the station for future use by the Expedition 1 crew.    

Modes and frequencies. The initial space station communications were FM voice and packet. Packet radio is a text messaging mode of communication. Ham television and other modes are being added.

The first ARISS gear operated on the two-meter ham band. The initial operating frequencies were: Region 1 is Africa, Europe, Russia, Middle East except Iran, and Mongolia.
Region 2 is the Americas, including Hawaii, Johnston, and Midway islands.
Region 3 is the rest of Asia and Oceania.

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Space Station Crews and Amateur Radio Callsigns

For voice contacts with Amateur Radio stations on Earth, crew members may use their personal callsigns or one of the "club station" callsigns issued to the ISS by various nations.

Those club station callsigns are NA1SS (U.S.), RSØISS and RZ3DZR (Russia), or DLØISS (Germany). The Ø in RSØISS and DLØISS is pronounced zero.

For voice contacts with hams on the ground, American astronauts aboard the ISS have used the callsign NA1SS.

The packet station mailbox callsign is RSØISS-1. The packet station keyboard callsign is RSØISS.

The ARISS operating on-the-air schedule depends on the crews' work schedules. Below are the space station crews and their personal amateur radio callsigns:

Expedition One. The first ISS crew launched October 31, 2000, and landed March 21, 2001: Expedition Two. The second ISS crew launched March 8, 2001, and landed August 22, 2001: Expedition Three. The third ISS crew launched August 10, 2001, and landed December 17, 2001: Expedition Four. The fourth ISS crew, launched December 5, 2001, and landed June 19, 2002: Expedition Five. The fifth ISS crew, launched June 5, 2002, and landed December 2, 2002: Expedition Six. The sixth ISS crew launched November 23, 2002, and landed May 3, 2002: Expedition Seven. The seventh ISS crew launched April 25, 2003, with landing planned for October 2003: Expedition Eight. The eighth ISS crew, to be launched October 18, 2003, with landing planned for 2004:
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Space Station Radio Contacts With Schools

From time to time, astronauts aboard the space station make direct contact with groups of students in schools around the world. Those contacts energize students, teachers, parents and their communities about science, technology, and learning, as well as ham radio.

Amateur radio clubs and individual ham radio operators on the ground help the high-flying ham astronauts complete their contacts with the schools.

Today, the contacts are part of Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS). Previously, before the era of permanent occupation of the ISS, the contacts were made from American space shuttles. That program was known as the Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment (SAREX).

ARISS is sponsored, as SAREX was, by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

ARISS milestone. The ARISS school contact program reached a milestone on June 12, 2003, when ISS flight engineer Ed Lu, KC5WKJ, completed the program's 100th school contact from space. Using the ISS ham radio station and the callsign NA1SS, Lu answered a dozen questions from students at Lively District Secondary School in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

On the ground at Lively, amateur radio operator Stephen Gorecki, VE3CWJ, and members of the Sudbury Amateur Radio Club, had installed antennas on the roof of the school's gymnasium and placed radio equipment inside. Students in grades 7 through 12 from several schools in the area participated in the ARISS contact.

The students asked Lu what space mission he would pick if he had the choice. He said he would like to travel to Mars. When asked whom he would like to have accompany him into space if he could pick one person, Lu said that would be his fiancee.

Two days later, on June 14, some 500 students, teachers, parents and other visitors at École primaire de l'Apprenti-Sage in Québec, made contact with the help of Gaëtan Trépanier, VE2GHO, of Beauport, Quebec. A dozen primary school pupils asked Lu questions about how he controls the station, his favorite activities in space, whether blastoff hurts.

Four days later, on June 18, students at Kuise Elementary School in Amagasaki, Japan, asked Lu such questions as what country's time the crew followed and if zero gravity changed odors.

Locations of some of the schools contacted recently by the ISS:
Hammond, Indiana
Webster, New York
Stanford, California
Tallahassee, Forida
Boulder, Colorado
Houston, Texas
Cornell, New York
Palo Alto, California
Honolulu, Hawaii
Rouen, France
Transinne, Belgium
Amagasaki, Japan
Lively, Canada
Quebec, Canada
  Current ARISS School Contact Schedule »
  RTF file list of successful school contacts »

Examples of questions that students have asked the astronauts:
How do astronauts bathe?
How does it feel to be launched?
How do you do laundry?
Is it hard to breathe during launch?
How do you go to sleep while floating?
Do people age faster up in space?
What influenced you to become an astronaut?
Are you scared to re-enter the atmosphere?
How does your body feel without gravity?
What is it like to do a spacewalk?
Do you still drink Tang?
What experiments are you doing?
How long did it take to fly to the ISS?
Can you go outside the ISS?
How long does it take to circle Earth?
Have you noticed a meteorite?
Can you see cyclones or pollution?
Do you have free time?
How long are you going to stay?
Is the ISS like a house?
Can you talk with your family?
How do you eat or wash?
What do you do for fun?
When do you sleep?
Do astronauts always get along?
Do you get homesick?
Do you get to watch TV?
Is space scary?
What happens if you drop something?
Is it always black in space?
How can you read if things float?
What is the weather like?
What noises do you hear?
Why do things float?
What time is it in space?
How do you weigh stuff?
What do you eat?
Have you kept a souvenir?
Can you tell where you're going?
Can you see the sun rise?
Do you have any funny stories?
Are you scared?
How old are you?
What do you miss from Earth?
How fast do you travel?
How do you breathe?
How do you go to the bathroom?
Can you see the rings of Saturn?
Is there any sound?
How hot is it?
  Current Lists of Questions To Be Asked »

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Learn More About Amateur Radio in Human Spaceflight
  • Amateur Radio On Board:
          Space Shuttles    STO
          Mir Space Station    STO
          International Space Station    STO
          Piloted Spacecraft    STO

  • International Space Station:
          Construction Launches    STO
          Overhead Pass Schedules    Heavens Above
          Visual Reality Tour    NASA

  • Mir Space Station:
          Amateur Radio On Board    STO
          Amateur Radio Links During Crisis    STO
          Students Chat With Cosmonauts    STO
          About the Station    STO
          Highlights of 15 Years in Orbit    STO
          Americans Who Lived Aboard    STO
  • NASA and Goddard Space Flight Center:
          ARISS    NASA GSFC
          SAREX    NASA GSFC
          ISS Ham Radio    NASA ISS Reference
          SAREX    NASA ISS Reference

  • Amateur Radio Satellites:
          History    STO
          Names and Frequencies    STO
          Space & Beyond    ARRL

  • Agencies and Organizations:
          NASA    U.S. HQ
          Energia    Russia
          JAXA    Japan
          ESA    Europe
          American Radio Relay League    ARRL ARISS
          Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation    AMSAT

  • ARISS sites:
  • FAQ ARRL NASA Europe Canada Japan Germany
  • ARISS sites:
  • STO Schedule Past Schools Mir Hams Astronaut Hams
  • SAREX sites:
  • STO Past Flights Past Schools
  • Hamsats:
  • History Names Frequencies Amateur Radio on Piloted Spacecraft
  • STO:
  • Search Cover Questions E-Mail  

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