My First Satellite Contact

A story by John, W5ODJ

After 45 years of being a “ham” it finally came together for me. I talked through this device traveling in low earth orbit at about 2:15 am in the morning on April 23, 2019.

AO-91; RadFxSat (Fox-1B) designated AMSAT-OSCAR 91

The Delta II rocket carrying RadFxSat (Fox-1B) was launched at 09:47:36 UTC on November 18, 2017 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. So this bird hasn’t been up in orbit for very long.

I almost didn’t go outside last night. It was a long day and I was very tired. But I had just received an external earbud and mic to work with my HT (Kenwood TH-D72A) and wanted to test it out. When I got the accessory was during the day and there were no visible passes at my QTH for about 8 hours. And there is this whole work thing that gets in the way all the time. I would have to wait.

The reason I need the earbud is because my HT operates in full duplex mode when using split frequencies. This causes a problem because the receive frequency is not squelched when using a split transmit frequency. When you chat through a satellite you hear yourself on the transponder which also causes feedback. The feedback makes it very difficult to make a QSO. I learned this on my first few attempts to make a contact via satellite.

This is all I used to communication through the satellite; A dual band antenna, HT and earbud with mic.

I made sure my radio was charged, hooked up the new earbud and also my external antenna to get things ready to roll with the AOS (Acquisition of signal) could take place. All I had to do was wait for the appointed time.

The pass was going to be 15 minutes long since the elevation of the satellite was going to be directly overhead (88º) at its highest elevation. This also meant I didn’t have to worry too much about Doppler shift.

It felt weird to be in the middle of a field on a near-full-moon lit night holding an antenna and talking loudly into a microphone. But I did it anyway. I’m sure my neighbors are used to my shenanigans by now. They likely were asleep anyway.

At the appointed AOS time I heard the satellite faintly and shortly after I hear someone say, “N2FYA – FN41”. So I called back. He didn’t hear me very well because I didn’t have the polarization of my antenna set up very well for this. But soon I was locked in and again heard him make a call and let me know his grid square.

I called back. This time he heard me! But he did not repeat my call sign which would have made this contact official. I wanted to make sure I had his call correct and make sure he read my call back to me. You see, I was very skeptical that he was actually talking to me. I needed to make sure.

And I got that confirmation. What an exciting time!

Audio of my first contact given to me via e-mail from N2FYA in Connecticut the next morning.

This is John’s email to me this morning:

Hi John, I am happy to hear that I am your first satellite contact on AO91 @0557Z. For equipment, I am running two 5 watt HT’s into an handheld Arrow Quad antenna. I am located in the southeast corner of Connecticut in the town of Mystic. I am fairly new to satellite operation and have only been doing it since March 26th, so almost a month. I have made many contacts with my furthest ones being Anguilla, Puerto Rico and Oregon. What are you running for equipment. I heard you saying a handheld antenna. Good luck with the satellite QSOs and if you’re like me, you are going to be having a lot of fun. Best wishes. 73’s, John – N2FYA – FN41 Mystic, Connecticut

I was beyond excited! I wanted to tell someone but everyone was asleep. All of that would have to wait until morning. I’ve got a busy day in the morning (now only a few hours away) and I need to get to bed myself.

The cool thing was I also made a contact with a gentleman in Texas. Both of these guys were very clear with a 599 signal on my end. The audio above makes it sound like I was not making it into his side with high audio but I’m thinking that is because this is an ambient recording not direct recording. The Texas contact said I had a very strong signal through the transponder.

It took 45+ years to finally do this after talking about it for so long. It turns out it takes a little bit of planning an HT with 5 watts and a dual band antenna and you can work pretty much anything that is “active” in the ham bands. There is a surprisingly large community of people out there that are active with this technology. It’s a totally cool slant on the hobby.

Totally worth the wait and effort. I’ll be doing much more of this!