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Astronauts start ham video broadcasts from space station


May 6, 2014

NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins making the first ham video transmission

NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins making the first ham video transmission

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ESA has announced the inauguration of its “Ham TV” broadcasts from its Columbus laboratory module on the International Space Station (ISS), which will allow the station to talk to amateur radio operators using video equipment, as well as providing space crews with a backup means of contacting mission control. Using equipment developed by Kayser Italia and brought to the station last August on a Japanese space freighter, NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins made the first video chat with ground stations in Livorno, Casale Monferrato and Matera, Italy.

Ham radio has been a part of space exploration since the first Sputnik launch in 1957 when radio amateurs tracked its historic beeps across the sky. In 1961, the first ham radio satellite, Oscar 1, was launched, and hams have been chatting with the ISS since its commissioning in 2000. The ISS orbits only about 350 km (220 mi) above the Earth, which is very easily within range of the average ham set. The only real trick is having the directional gear to work on the S-waveband used by the station.

Ham TV equipment

The new set up was commissioned last month for general use. ESA says that though the video feed is one way, the astronauts can still hear the hams using the standard radio gear. However, the contact is brief because it must be line-of-sight, so it can only work when the ISS is above the horizon.

To help keep Ham TV on the air, ESA has provided five transportable ground stations to the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station organization. These can be linked together to provide video contact for up to 20 minutes at a time. The agency also hopes that the set up will also be used for educational purposes in schools.

Source: ESA

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

This is awesome and something Ham really needed. I got a Ham license just to break up the IT track and while I think I learned a lot of cool stuff getting it I never actually bought a radio or used the license for anything and it seems like almost all the people who /could/ be interested in ham all end up playing with/learning other stuff.

Now that the morse code requirement for the higher licenses is gone I would love to see ham salvaged to try be a platform for learning the future instead of just a platform for studying the past.

There is a vid of the broadcast here: http://youtu.be/EpFzbKvK1pk

It looks like they used 2369 MHz for the signal and used the Tutioune software in combination with a TV tuner card (TT S2-1600 or S2-3200) to decode it.

I think Tutioune and the tuner cards support both MPEG-2 and H.264 but I think it looks like DVB-S was probably used to communicate to a ground station in France (F6DZP) so the codec was probably MPEG-2 (based on the DVB-S wiki).

I am kind of surprised the ARRIS project didn't have most this info in one place but if digital operating modes were more encourages like this on HAM there would be potential for people to actually develop open standard communication protocols and codecs that aren't restricted by licensing.

DVB-S seems tied to MPEG2 but H.264 (aka MPEG4) uses about half the bitrate for the same quality feed but needs more processing power. The next round of codecs are H.265 and VP9 which cut bitrate in half again but using a ton more CPU to do it. Using SDR and a strong FEC you could do a lot of cool stuff over HAM but a lot of the frequencies are still restricted to analog only operating modes.

Am and FM radio in the US is another analog platform that should be brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century but admittedly with much less CPU intensive standards. I think the US actually licensed a proprietary technology from iBiquity for "HD Radio" instead of using a royalty free digital platform that could have been well, ubiquitous.

There are so many tech companies that largely ignore this space :(


At about $200 the S2-3200 is not that cheap. Maybe we can try a rtl2832u with a downconverter.... Anyway it's good to have yet another reason to aim some antennae at the ISS.

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