What is AMSAT?
Amateur Satellite Corporation, or AMSAT, is a worldwide group
of amateur radio operators who communicate through, or are just
interested in, amateur radio satellites. AMSAT members are involved
in the organization at all levels from those who design and build
the spacecraft, and those who use them for QSOs -- morse code
"shorthand" for a two-way amateur radio conversation -- or merely
monitor their signals.
formed in 1969 in the District of Columbia as a nonprofit, educational
organization. Its stated aim was, and is, to foster amateur radio's
participation in space research and communication. As such, it
continued the efforts begun in 1961 by Project OSCAR, a West Coast
group which built and launched the first Amateur Radio satellites,
beginning with OSCAR 1 which was launched Dec. 12, 1961. OSCAR
stands for Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio. Since 1969,
AMSAT groups around the world have participated in the design,
construction, launch and operation of some 40 amateur radio satellites.
Many of these groups use the word AMSAT in their names. In order
to distinguish between them, suffixes are often appended, but
are omitted if the meaning is clear. For example, AMSAT-NA is
for North America, AMSAT-UK is for Great Britain or AMSAT-DL is
for the German group. Some groups combine their country name with
AMSAT to form combinations such as JAMSAT in Japan and BRAMSAT
a vast array of support for those interested in learning about
amateur radio satellites. The AMSAT Journal, published
six times per year, provides members with many interesting articles
about satellite operation and news of upcoming amateur satellite
projects. The AMSAT Software Exchange makes available satellite
tracking software for most popular personal computers. AMSAT even
runs its own QSL -- written documentation of a QSO -- bureau for
coordinators in many sections of the country, the AMSAT Filed
Organization is ready to answer your satellite questions and help
you get started. Among other material, new members receive a list
of these area coordinators.
sponsors regular VHF nets where you can hear the latest news of
the amateur space program, or get answers to your questions about
amateur satellites. In addition, there are many VHF nets held
on various repeaters across the United States as well as in other
countries. Amateur satellite information is also carried on many
packet bulletin boards. Your nearest area coordinator has a list
of such nets and bulletin boards in your vicinity.
with Internet access, AMSAT-NA maintains both a Web page and an
e-mail service. The Web page is at www.amsat.org.
To get weekly AMSAT news bulletins, send a "SUBSCRIBE ANS" message
For regular updates of orbital elements for use in your satellite
tracking program, send a "SUBSCRIBE KEPS" message to the same
address. You can also participate in discussions about amateur
satellites by subscribing to the AMSAT Bulletin Board. A message
saying "SUBSCRIBE BB", sent to email@example.com
will get you connected.
to, even working through, the amateur satellites, or "birds" as
they are affectionately known, is quite easy. Even those with
only high-frequency equipment can do it. The Russian RS-12 satellite
has an uplink on 15 meters and a downlink on 10 meters, and thus
can be readily worked with a high-frequency transceiver. It also
includes a 2 meter downlink. Other birds employ 2-meter Single
Side Band/Continuous Wave, or SSB/CW, uplinks and 10-meter downlinks
and more are expected to follow.
27, or AO-27, allows you to transmit, via FM, on 2 meters
and receive on 437 MHz. It has been worked with as little as dual-band
HTs and "rubber duckies". And the Russian Space Station MIR carries
a German built SAFEX 70 70 cm in-band FM repeater.
amateur satellites, Fuji OSCARs 20 and 29, offer both analog and
digital operation via the 2-meter and 70-centimeter bands. AMSAT
OSCAR 10 is amateur radio's currently operating high-altitude
satellite. Although launched back in 1983, and having suffered
computer and battery failure, it is still useful for communication.
AO-10 requires a little more in the way of power and antenna size
than the lower altitude RS satellites, but the rewards make this
extra effort worthwhile.
primarily in the digital side of amateur radio, the "pacsats"
provide a great means of expanding one's horizon. AMSAT-OSCAR
16 (AO-16), LUSAT-OSCAR
19 (LU-19), AO-22, KITSAT-OSCAR
23 (KO-23) and KITSAT-OSCAR
25 (KO 25) plus Italy-OSCAR-26
(IO-26), and the two Fujis, provide orbiting bulletin boards and
store-and-forward mail facilities worldwide. Two other such spacecraft,
TMSAT-1 (TO-31) and TechSat-1B (G-32), were launched in mid-1998.
Some of these Amateur Radio satellites, plus WeberSat-OSCAR
18 (WO-18), also have onboard cameras, which take pictures
of Earth that can be downloaded. Except for Radio
Sputnik 12 (RS-12), U.S. hams need only a technician class
license to participate in all this fun.
interested in awards, there is much to accomplish on the Amateur
Satellites. The American Radio Relay League-sponsored Worked All
States (WAS), DX
Century Club (DXCC) and VHF/UHF Advisory Committee (VUAC)
are available to those who qualify. In addition, AMSAT sponsors
several awards of its own. For example, one award is given in
recognition of various numbers of stations contacted via the Amateur
Satellites. Of course, you can merely enjoy the rapid fire QSOs
available on the various low altitude birds, or sit back and experience
the thrill of engaging in old-fashioned "ragchews" via OSCAR 10.
Radio satellites have been used for a number of exciting and worthwhile
activities. One such activity involved a group of Russians and
Canadians who skied across the North Pole from the northernmost
point of Russia to the northern most point of Canada - a distance
of nearly 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles). The skiers' location
was uploaded to amateur radio satellite, UoSat-OSCAR 11 (UO-11),
which provided it to school students all over the world, using
that spacecraft's digital voice unit. A more recent example involved
a team flying across the North Pole in an old Russian biplane.
They used the digital satellites to relay news of their progress.
OSCAR satellites have also been used to transmit medical data
and were employed in early tests of the concept that led to the
joint US/Soviet Search And Rescue Satellite, or SARSat, system.
Amateur satellites have also proven useful in a variety of emergencies
from hurricanes to earthquakes.
conjunction with the American Radio Relay League and NASA, worked
to create SAREX, the Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment, which has
been renamed Space Amateur Experiment in recognition of the role
it is playing in amateur radio participation in the International
Space Station. SAREX has permitted ham astronauts on shuttle missions
to communicate directly with amateurs on the ground. One important
use of this capability has been to enable conversations between
young students and the orbiting astronauts without the use of
NASA communications facilities. This has been possible with the
help of amateurs all over this country and abroad, who set up
equipment at schools and other facilities. Flight crews on the
Russian space station, MIR, have also been active on the 2 meter
amateur band, talking to hams all over the world, as well as conversing
more modes and more fun are coming! The fourth in the series of
high elliptical orbit satellites, Phase 3D, is awaiting launch.Phase 3D
will usher in a whole new era of amateur radio satellites. It
has been dubbed "the satellite for all amateurs" because its combination
of high transmitters and high gain antennas, always directed at
Earth, will make it much easier to work than previous high altitude
Phase 3D will
bring satellite operation to within the reach of virtually every
licensed amateur in the world. In addition, its improved link performance
should make it feasible for it to be used to interlink repeaters
for many hours per day.
financed by membership dues and donations, AMSAT continues to
work hard to maintain amateur radio's presence in space.