Space has never been more accessible! Yes, you read that right!
We all know pretty much that ham radio has been a long time favorite for short-distance communication and local transmission.
But the best news is that, with tech advancements, there are ham radio satellite transceivers that allow communicating with people via satellite.
Amazing, isn’t it?
This article is the ultimate guide to building a base station to talk with satellites. We will see the best ham radio for satellites, the antennas for the best reception and also the steps you should carry out to set up the whole system.
So, How can I get started?
About two dozen amateur radio satellites are orbiting the space, which enables connection over a thousand miles!
Before you start wondering about the license and other requirements, here are some things you should know:
- You need some essential gear to get started on this exciting hobby. You can use a whip antenna, but for better coverage, you will need a Directional Yagi
- You can access the satellites with your technician-class license.
- Additionally, you can find various apps with all the details about passes along with your desired angle details.
Like with any radio setup, the antenna is an essential element to efficient functioning. Many operators have made use of mobile-whip antennas. However, for best results, you must opt for the small directional antennas.
One problem most users face is that of signal loss. You can invest in a preamp to boost the received signals on both 2-meter and 70-centimeter antennas.
Without the rotator, you will be unable to track satellites. If you’re an expert in the business, you can interface it with your PC for auto-tracking.
When looking for the transceiver to use for satellite operation, you must consider duplex ability. It refers to the ability to receive while you transmit. Not many rigs support this feature.
However, instead of duplex ham radio, you can use two different ham radios to get the job done.
ISS Detector Satellite Tracker is an impressive and informative application. It is available on Google Play store; however, keep in mind that you will have to lay for the amateur satellite information.
Nonetheless, the price is pretty low, and the value quite splendid! It tells you regarding the satellite elevation and weather, as well as other handy details.
Best HAM Radio for Satellites
A handheld ham radio transceiver is the easiest and most inexpensive way to venture into satellite tracking. Many people believe that you need a powerful transceiver for the job, which is untrue!
A standard handheld transceiver paired with a good-quality antenna can help you meet success. Let’s look at some of the market-best transceivers you can use for sat tracking.
1. Yaesu FT-60R – The Best All-Rounder
The Yaesu FT-60R is a solid purchase in terms of money and value it offers.
Most notably, it is not overwhelming for new users with a ton of features. It is simple and offers user-friendliness. You will be surprised by its transmission capabilities, that also, at only 5-watts of power!
It comes housed in a premium-feel case with rugged construction, making it ideal for outdoor usage. Its exceptional quality is not the only feature that makes it the best in the business! In fact, it also boasts an excellent battery life, offers versatility, and has outstanding transmission abilities.
The Yaesu FT-60R also offers:
- 1,000 memory channels
- Receives 108-520MHz and 700-999.99MHz
- Transmits 144-148MHz and 430-470MHz
- Three variable power settings
The dual-band rig has everything you need to utilize it for sat transmission. All you require is some programming knowledge of “splitting frequencies” to acquire signals.
2. Baofeng UV5RA – Most Affordable
Another compact and economical HT you can consider is the BaoFeng UV-5RA. This highly capable transceiver supports dual watch and dual reception. Additionally, it supports 128 memory channels.
It is another 5-watt transceiver capable of split frequency programming.
Any beginner would find programming to be a breeze on BaoFeng HTs. They are easy to operate and pretty reasonable as well!
Many users have purchased the BaoFeng UV-5RA for backup communication with satellites and cell phone towers when all else fails. It has become a popular choice given its value for money, signal reception, and robust construction.
You will need to add in a longer antenna to enhance the frequency range for sat-operation.
3. BaoFeng BF-F8HP – Customer’s Choice
When it comes to portable handheld transceivers, BaoFeng is a reputable brand. The BF-F8HP is an updated model with higher power output, better durability, and more significant antenna gain.
Besides these remarkable qualities, the device also boasts the following:
- 2000mAh battery
- 65-108 MHz FM (receive) range
- 136-174 MHz and 400-520 MHz (TX/RX)
If you’re looking for all the top tech features, BF-F8HP is the way to go. It offers power, range, and function for an affordable price.
One of the best aspects of this BaoFeng HT is the ease of programming it offers. You can use the BaoFeng software or CHIRP to make radical changes to the radio frequencies.
Best Ham Radio Satellite Tracking Antennas
The best part about communication using ham satellites is that you do not need to splurge on a powerful transceiver. However, you do need a good-quality Yagi antenna to replace the rubber duck for gain.
This is what I have been saying to many people;
a ham antenna is as important as a radio.
Let’s check out some of the popular choices:
1. Log Periodic – Best choice
Yagi is the solution for enhanced signal reception and frequency coverage. It can strengthen the power of any handheld transceiver, as well as significantly increase data transfer speed. In this case, what better than the Log Periodic antenna?
Here is what makes it the absolute favorite:
- Range: 698-960/1710-2700 MHz
- Power: 100 Watts
- 50 ohms impedance
If you have tried any other antenna, let me tell you, this one surpasses every other! Log Periodic is an all-cell booster and works to connect to different bands. If you’re looking to enhance the power on your Yaesu FT-60R, look no further than the Log Periodic.
2. Nagoya NA-771 – Best with BaoFeng radios
Factory antennas do not work as efficiently in getting you the desired range. For this reason, the Nagoya NA-771 is designed to boost weaker signals. It gives you flexibility and roughness – all in one.
The whip is almost 16-inches long, making it a splendid choice for outdoor operation. It is accurate, affordable, and reliable!
Most notably, Nagoya NA-771 is compatible with BaoFeng UV-5RA, BF-F8HP, and all other BaoFeng models.
It has become a top choice for users looking for clean reception for an affordable price. You’re going to love Nagoya NA-771 for its size and lightweight!
How Does Ham Radio Satellite Communication Works?
As I said before, there are amateur radio satellites orbiting around the earth. They allot frequencies to help communication between ham radio stations set up on various parts of the earth.
Yeah, I know it’s interesting!
Basically these ham radio satellites are working as repeaters.
They are also known as OSCARs. It stands for Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio. I don’t think you need an explanation for that.
You can find more info here: AMSAT. AMSAT is the organization of worldwide Amateur Radio Satellite Operators.
How to Set up Ham Radio Base Stations for Satellite Communication
Although it might sound using ham radio satellites is a complicated task, actually, it is not.
It’s one of the easiest technical hacks you can do it; even if you are a beginner in ham radio operations.
Now that we have enlisted and reviewed some of the top-rated market products, ordering a satellite ham radio should be easier! It is time to, now, talk about how to use ham radio satellites for communication.
Download ISS Detector Satellite Tracker or any other application from the AMSAT website. Alternatively, you can visit heavens-above.com to check the orbit of the specific satellite you wish to connect with.
Mention your location
Specify your location and check for information regarding upcoming passes. Ensure that the data is for your accurate location.
Search pass details
Refer to the app to find out details about specific satellites. You may find a pass chart, which includes altitude and end details. The altitude refers to the highest point the satellite reaches in the sky. The end indicates where the pass finishes.
It also provides degrees whereby 0-degree indicates the horizon, and 90-degree indicates directly above the operator.
Select a pass
Since these satellite birds travel at all kinds of angles, they tend to get difficult to catch up with. For this reason, you can refer to the pass chart and choose one that is closer to the horizon. It will help you in picking up the signal, providing clearer audio, as well.
Check the maximum altitude to find a good sat pass, the higher, the better!
Find the frequency
There are two repeater frequencies: uplink and downlink. As the name suggests, the signals you receive and listen to downlink. To transmit, you will need to program in uplink frequency.
As frequencies often change, you will need to stay up-to-date by checking websites regularly.
Find a site with a clear view of the horizon. Next, rotate your directional antenna to follow the satellite as it travels overhead. Adjust the antenna by moving it side to side until you hear audio.
If you have a whip antenna, you will need to place it perpendicular to the satellite. Rotate your wrist to aim for a clearer signal.
Follow the pass
You can trace the orbit path using the frequency chart. Start by holding your antenna perpendicular to the cardinal direction at the listed altitude. Continue tracing so that the antenna is in line with the maximum altitude at the given time.
It can be quite challenging for a newbie to trace the location accurately on their first try. However, with some practice, you will master it in no time.
Rotate the antenna in up and down motions, and you’ll be able to find clear audio.
When you are in the process of tracing the sat orbit, you will also need to tune the radio. Doppler effect can increase or decrease the frequency of sound waves. Thus, you will need to adjust your transceiver frequency by .010 MHz.
We suggest increasing 0.010 when early in the pass. And later, decrease the frequency by .010MHz. It is an important step that is not to be missed if you’re looking for a good signal.
That was all on how to set up your amateur radios for satellite use. It may feel a little intimidating, but the experience will undoubtedly be worthwhile.
We look forward to you joining us in this new area of the ham world!