Listening to the International Space Station (ARISS) with a Yaesu VX-3

ISS

Yesterday, my buddy Eric (WD8RIF) sent the following message:

“Take your girls outside with an HT and listen to the ARISS pass in just about 10 minutes. The downlink freq is 145.800.”

Though I was in the middle of another project, I took Eric’s advice: I grabbed my Yaesu VX-3, corralled my daughters and ran outside. Eric’s message was already eight minutes old when I read it, so I only had about two minutes to get ready.

My Everyday Carry (EDC) pack, loaded with all of the essentials.

My Everyday Carry (EDC) pack, loaded with all of the essentials.

Fortunately, I always have a Yaesu VX-3R loaded with fresh batteries in my EDC pack (above).

Official NASA portrait of British astronaut Timothy Peake. Photo Date: August 28, 2013. Location: Building 8, Room 183 - Photo Studio. Photographer: Robert Markowitz

Official NASA portrait of British astronaut Timothy Peake. Photographer: Robert Markowitz

With the VX-3 tuned to 145.8 MHz, we waited as the ISS made its way above the horizon. The downlink audio of astronaut Tim Peake (KG5BVI) communicating with Walter Jackson Elementary in Decatur, Alabama, started to punch through the static after a minute or two. We listened the entire time we had line-of-sight to the ISS–about five minutes or so.  We were pretty deep in a valley at that point, so I’m pleased we were able to catch even that much of a pass.

Of course, we could only hear one side of the conversation: the downlink from the International Space Station.

It was a memorable event for my girls who have seen ISS passes at night, but had never heard live audio from an astronaut before.

Here’s a short video of two of the exchanges we heard:

(Click here to view on YouTube.)

Eric pointed me to the ARISS “Upcoming Contacts” (http://www.ariss.org/upcoming-contacts.html) page where future ARISS QSOs are listed. Evidently, this particular ARISS QSO was the third Eric had monitored in two weeks.

Pretty much any receiver that can tune to 145.80 MHz FM–or a VHF scanner–can hear the ARISS downlink as long as the ISS is passing overhead during the transmission. Of course, if you have a high-gain antenna that can track the ISS as it moves across the sky, you’ll get even better results than I did with my basic rubber duck antenna.

My advice?  If you want to impress a child (or your inner child–!) find a little time to listen to a future ARISS QSO!

Indeed, the next step for me is to see if I can propose an ARISS QSO for our school group!

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13 thoughts on “Listening to the International Space Station (ARISS) with a Yaesu VX-3

  1. Pingback: ARISS contact today: stream on the web or perhaps listen with your radio! | The SWLing Post

  2. Robert

    For the last 6 months or so I have been playing with satellite reception as I have time. I use an omni-directional antenna and mobile rig used as a base. I have numerous APRS contacts from around the country (as well as one from Mexico and several from Canada).
    I have several recordings similar to the one Thomas has here – they are some of the most exciting to catch (wish I had paid attention to the schedule to get this one!).
    The biggest help no matter what the radio is an after-market antenna for the handheld which comes closer to 1/4 or 1/2- wavelength. If a setup like mine is used the only real issue is learning at what elevation angles work best for your particular location, and where the natural obstructions are. This only comes with time. ANYONE can at least hear signals given enough chances to experiment with tracking, etc. And there are lots of sites on the net to let you know when a pass is going to happen, as well as apps for the phone or tablet. issfanclub.com is a great site as well.

    Reply
  3. DL4NO

    The scan list of my mobile station also conatins the 145.800/145.200 pair for the ISS. But I never heard anything there. Only the packet radio repeater at 145.825 came through a few times.

    Reply
  4. Tha Dood

    Good luck in reach ISS, unless you’re a big-gun with azimuth tracking with a yagi and a couple hundred watts behind that. At least during daytime hours. Possible chance that you can do it with 5W would be a pass at like 3AM. At least, that was the best time for me to contact MIR when that was still up there.

    Reply
    1. Edward

      Would there be any problem with doppler shift putting your signal off frequency? Is there a “derating” offset to apply to your frequency to offset this to get back on frequency?

      Reply
  5. Edward

    Is there any info on what they are using and antennas on the space station. I doubt that a HT with rubber duck will go that far especially inside those metal cabins. ever wrap a cell phone in aluminum foil?

    Reply
    1. DL4NO

      As far as I know they have a quarter-wavelength antenna on the outside of the ISS. Any directional antenna would be counterproductive.

      Reply
  6. Bod1

    I have just started to try to work Satellites. I have tried the ISS 3 times with no luck but every dog has his day I will get it eventually.. Lol… btw where did you get that case from. Your setup is very nice. Would love to have something like that to carry in my cars..

    Reply
    1. Thomas Post author

      Though I have a lot of EDC bags/pouches (I’m a bit of a pack geek) the one I use daily, and that is pictured, is the Maxpedition Gear Beefy Pocket Organizer. The thing is pretty much bullet-proof and fits a lot of gear without bulging. The large trap inside fits the VX-3 like a glove. It’ll hold everything you see in the photo, plus some stuff you can’t see that are in pockets behind the straps: a wire antenna terminated with an SMA connector (for the VX-3), a few audio/RF adapters, a spare VX-3 battery pack (with three AA enloops inside, and a small first aid kit complete with three pair of Nitrile gloves!

      I bought mine at Amazon because they had the best price at the time, but Maxpedition packs are sold at numerous retailers. Check out the Amazon ratings–everyone seems to like this particular pack.

      Reply
  7. Clint Bradford K6LCs

    You can also monitor ISS’ packet frequency, too, on 145.825 – when there isn’t a mission heading towards it, leaving it, or during RVAs, when they turn it off. Another aspect of ISS monitoring with which to impress your neighbors!

    Reply

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