Amateur Radio on the International Space Station

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HAM Video

A DATV (digital amateur television) transmitter is installed in the Columbus module of the International Space Station (ISS). This transmitter is dubbed “Ham Video”.

Main characteristics :

  • Downlink frequencies: 2.422 GHz, 2.437 GHz
  • Contingency frequencies : 2.369 GHz, 2.395 GHz
  • DVB-S like signal (without PMT tables)
  • Symbol rates: 1.3 Ms/s, 2.0 Ms/s
  • FEC : ½
  • Video PID = 256
  • Audio PID = 257
  • Antennas: ARISS 41 and ARISS 43 patch antennas on the nadir of Columbus
  • RF radiated power : approximately 10 W EIRP

Ham Video operates with a Canon XF-305 camera.





Commissioning of the Ham Video transmitter was performed April – March 2014. All four frequencies and two symbol rates were checked with each of the two antennas.

For each commissioning step, US astronaut Michael Hopkins transmitted video and audio during a pass over the Matera ground station. The Matera VLBI station is located at the Italian Space Ageny’s ‘Centro di Geodesia Spaziale G. Colombo’ (CGS) near Matera, a small town in the south of Italy.

The final commissioning test was performed by JAXA astronaut Koichi wakata, using configuration 4 for optimum results:

  • 2.395 GHz
  • 2.0 Ms/s

The signals were received by several ground stations and streamed to the BATC server (British Amateur Television Club).

Ham TV streams are identified ISS1 – 5. The BATC server is available at


Blank transmission


When "Blank Transmission" is operational, Ham Video transmits a continuous DATV signal with the camera turned off. Ground stations receive a black image and audio at zero level. This Blank Transmission will go on till August 6, 2014.

A « blank » DVB-S signal contains all the data of normal DVB-S. The information tables describing the content and the content itself, i.e. the video (black) and the audio (silence), are the same as for the image and the sound produced by a camera.

Receiving a black image and silent sound may seem uninteresting but, from a technical perspective, the digital signal offers an important source of information.

Even without decoding, several measurements of the received signal provide valuable information:

  • analogic HF signal strength (dBm)
  • analogic Signal/Noise ratio (dB)
  • digital Signal/Noise ratio = MER (dB)
  • error/correction ratio = Vber, Cber …
  • validation of the received transport stream = TS


Reception Reports

Ground stations with S-band capability can provide valuable information.

Basic data such as:

  • noise level without signal
  • AOS time (UTC)
  • maximum signal level during pass
  • LOS time (UTC)

can be reported by ground stations without the need of DATV hard- and software. A reporting facility is available here : Ham Video Reporting



Windows computer with TechnoTrend TT S2-1600 card and Tutioune software

A Windows computer with TT S2-1600 receiver card can be used for Ham Video reception.

The Tutioune software, developed by Jean Pierre Courjaud F6DZP, measures and records the Ham Video signals second per second:

  • HF signal level
  • digital Signal/Noise level = MER (dB)
  • error/correction = Vber
  • validation of the received transport stream = TS

The recorded file can be examined and forwarded to ARISS.

Better even, the data can be forwarded during an ISS pass to the TiouneMonitor on the website. In other words, the data can be observed worldwide, real time.

Tutioune also shows the constellations during signal reception (see HamTV Bulletin #4). The TS stream can be recorded, but this is less interesting since richer information is already available.

Tutioune also decodes the DVB tables and provides the PIDs and the channel name (« HAMTV ») recovered from theSDT table.


October 20, 2007

A few days ago, two ARISS antennas were installed on the European Space Laboratory Columbus. The module will be delivered to the International Space Station by a nearby Shuttle mission. From the beginning, there will be Amateur Radio antennas on the European segment of the ISS.

All this started five years ago, when the ARISS-Europe chairman took the initiative to submit a request for amateur radio facilities on the Columbus module to Mr Jörg Feustel-Büechl, ESA Director of Manned Spaceflight and Microgravity:

“The ARISS international working group provides the many organizational and operational services needed to insure successful educational school contacts. All these activities are offered, free of charge, by volunteering amateur radio operators of the different countries involved.

ARISS, especially the European team, wishes to gain access to the Columbus module. An amateur radio station on European territory in space would considerably enhance amateur radio research in Europe and contribute to orient talented students to space related careers. Considering the freely offered expertise of the volunteering amateurs involved in such a project, the return ratio would be most favourable.

No amateur radio activity is possible without access to one or more antennas affixed outside the module. This involves the disposal of coaxial feedthroughs to access the antennas”.

Following this request, the Columbus management convened a meeting at the EADS offices in Bremen , Germany . EADS is the main contractor for the Columbus project. This meeting took place February 19 th, 2003 with representatives of ESA, EADS and ARISS. ARISS was represented by Gaston Bertels, ON4WF, ARISS-Europe chairman, and Danny Orban, ON4AOD, developer of patch antennas. When asked where we would like to have the antennas installed, we said “On the nadir of Columbus , facing the Earth”. Impossible: Columbus will fly in a Shuttle bay and not enough room is left for antennas. “But what about patch antennas?” That seemed feasible, but the weight should be very low. Finally, it was agreed to work on UHF, L-band and S-band antennas, VHF being too large to accommodate on the Meteorite Debris Panels (MDP) which protect Columbus ’ hull.

Another issue was how to get coaxial feed lines from inside Columbus to the nadir. No feedthroughs existed. Finally, ESA’s management decided to install an eightfold feedthrough fixture on the port cone of Columbus and to support the cost. An element of the cone was dismounted and sent to Alenia Spazio in Italy , where the fixture was installed.

Also in 2003, Danny Orban ON4AOD submitted plans for VHF, UHF, L-band and S-band antennas. December 2003, the VHF patch antenna was abandoned, being too large and too heavy. In 2004 Danny, who was very busy developing his microwave business overseas, wished to be discharged of his task. Dr Pawel Kabacik, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Telecommunications and Acoustics of Wroclaw University of Technology in Poland , who had developed the patch antennas for the SSETI project, accepted the development of the ARISS antennas.

Meanwhile an agreement was reached between ESA and ARISS: ARISS was to support the cost of the antennas development and manufacturing as well as 50.000 euro of the installation cost. ESA was willing to support the remainder of the installation cost, estimated well over 100.000 euro. Consequently, a funding campaign was launched by ARISS-Europe, gathering donations for the Columbus project.

June 25 th, 2005 a contract was signed between Wroclaw University and UBA, the Belgian Royal Amateur Radio Society, bearing development and construction of combined L/S-band patch antennas. UHF was abandoned by lack of funding. The University was to build two flight antennas, two spare antennas and an engineering antenna. Indeed, ESA/EADS had decided to install two identical antennas on two different Meteorite Debris Panels. If one panel was to be removed in space for inspection, that antenna would probably be lost. The contract amounted to 47.000 euro. The UBA would pay the bill and recover the expense with donations gathered by AMSAT Belgium.

July 19 th, 2005 a meeting was convened at ESTEC, Noordwijk in the Netherlands , where ESA, EADS, Alenia Spazio, Pawel Kabacik and Gaston Bertels finalized and signed an Interface Control Document detailing the tasks of each party involved.

November 17 th, 2005 and December 15 th, 2005 meetings were convened at EADS, Bremen . Oliver Amend, DG6BCE represented ARISS. Pawel Kabacik presented the L/S-band engineering model ARISS 1. Two coaxial cables had been installed between the feedthroughs on the port cone and the MDP’s on the nadir. Meanwhile, ESA had accepted to support the installation cost totally, for ARISS had not been able to collect enough donations to cover their part. Early in 2006, five L/S-band antennas were manufactured: ARISS 21-22-23-24-25.

June 12 th, 2006 AMSAT Belgium signed a contract with Wroclaw University for qualification tests (3.000 euro). The mechanical vibration tests were very severe (49G at 2kHz) with regard to extreme acoustical vibrations produced by the Shuttle boosters during launch. The antennas failed.

March 15 th, 2007 UBA signed a contract with Wroclaw University (18.000 euro) for the development and manufacturing of modified L/S-band antennas: ARISS 31-32-33-34-35. One of these antennas, ARISS 31, was exposed in the Exhibition Ham Radio a European Resource set up in the European Parliament, Brussels by the EUROCOM working group of the International Amateur Radio Union. The antennas were successfully submitted to vibrations tests, but failed thermal/vacuum tests (several cycles -100°C / + 120°C in vacuum chamber).

August 14 th, 2007 UBA signed an Annex to the Wroclaw contract (additional 18.000 euro) for the development and manufacturing of 2 flight antennas and 1 qualification antenna with different materials.

September 25 th, 2007 ARISS 41-42-43 antennas were successfully submitted to vibrations tests in Germany and ESA decided installation on Columbus .

October 9 th and 10 th ,2007 ARISS 41 and ARISS 43 were installed on Columbus in the high bay of the Kennedy Space Center . October 12 th the electrical properties of cables and antennas have been tested and validated.

In the week of October 15, qualification antenna ARISS 42 was successfully submitted to thermal tests in vacuum chamber in the Netherlands .

ARISS 42 will also be submitted to detailed efficiency tests to determine the precise electromagnetic characteristics of the antennas.

Since September 2005, the Columbus working group has met 17 times per teleconference. These meetings will now intensify in order to finalize the project for the onboard ARISS equipment. The intention is to build a wideband transponder, L-band uplink, S-band downlink. Moreover, digital ATV is also thought of. Anyway, among many other aspects, equipment volume, weight, power consumption and heat budget are to be discussed with ESA and EADS.

We are very grateful to Mr Bernardo Patti, ESA’s Columbus project manager, as well as to ESA’s Education Programme leaders Sylvie Ijsselstein and formerly Elena Grifoni, who supported the ARISS project. Many thanks also to the ESA, EADS and Alenia engineers for their efficient guidance. Special thanks and congratulations to Dr Pawel Kabacik and his team who developed the ARISS antennas and used Polish research funds for this purpose.

Very special thanks to all the donators whose support made possible this unique achievement.

Not all the bills are paid. The funding campaign continues.


Gaston Bertels – ON4WF
ARISS-Europe chairman


An amateur radio station on Columbus

1. Columbus : the main European contribution to the International Space Station (ISS)

Mankind's outpost in Space, the International Space Station, is a common scientific exploration effort of 16 nations: the United States , Canada , Japan , Russia , 11 nations of the European Space Agency ( Belgium , Denmark , France , Germany , Italy , the Netherlands , Norway , Spain , Sweden , Switzerland , United Kingdom ) and Brazil .

Several modules have already been installed: Zarya (the Russian functional cargo block), Swesda (the Russian service module), Destiny (the American laboratory). These modules constitute a pressurized ensemble.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is presently building Columbus , a Space laboratory, which will be attached to the ISS in the near future.







2. Amateur radio on the International Space Station (ARISS)

The first element of the ISS, Zarya the Functional Cargo Block, was launched from Baïkonour , Kazakhstan in 1998. Two years later, the ARISS initial station gear went into space and William Shepherd--who dubbed the ISS "Space Station Alpha"--made the first ARISS school group contact on December 21, 2000 .

As the Space Station grows, the amateur radio station on board also evolves. The initial ham station Phase 1 is located on Zarya and ham station Phase2 is located on Swesda, both on Russian territory.

During several EVA's (Extravehicular Activities), four antennas have been fixed on handrails outside Swesda. The primary function of these antennas is to provide microwave communications for the astronauts when they work outside the ISS. These antennas are multiplexed to antenna elements covering several amateur radio bands, HF, VHF, UHF and L-band.

Presently the amateur station is running as Packet Radio (VHF) or as FM crossband repeater (VHF downlink, UHF uplink).

Licensed astronauts and cosmonauts also use the VHF station for QSO's with amateur radio ground stations.

Most significant is the use of the VHF station for educational outreach. ARISS has developed a very efficient organisation for setting up School Contacts, allowing students and schoolchildren to ask questions to astronauts and get their answer direct from Space. Volunteering amateur radio operators provide the ground station for the selected school when a contact is scheduled. In principle, NASA allows one contact per week. ARISS-Europe has also an arrangement with ESA for European astronauts and a similar agreement is under discussion with Energia, the Russian Space agency. ARISS School Contacts energize youngsters' interest in science, technology, and learning. In Germany and in France , participating students have become licensed radioamateurs. Moreover these radio contacts are widely covered by the news media and contribute to show the general public a positive image of amateur radio.


3. An amateur radio station on Columbus

November 2002, ARISS Europe extended a request to ESA's Directorate for Manned Space Flight and Microgravity, asking for ham radio facilities on the European Space Laboratory. In 2003, ESA's Columbus division agreed on the principle. October 2007, the antennes have been installed on the module.

Columbus will be transported in the bay of an American Shuttle. Therefore, since little room is left between the module and the Shuttle bay, the ARISS antennas are patch antennas, flat planes ten millimeters thick.

The patch antennas are fixed on the Meteorite Debris Panels (MDP) protecting the hull of Columbus. On the port cone of the module, where it attaches to the ISS main structure, feedthroughs have been installed for the ARISS antennas and coax cables are run from the feedthroughs to the nadir.

The development of the antennas has been taken care of by the Institute of Telecommunications and Acoustics of the Wroclaw University of Technology. The Columbus antennas will work on L-band and S-band. UHF was initially considered also, but was abandoned by lack of funding.


4. The benefits of adding ARISS antennas to the Columbus module

The existing ARISS antennas on the Service Module are shared through diplexers and will not be especially effective on the microwave bands. Using the dedicated antennas on Columbus will, for the first time, permit viable ARISS operations on these useful bands.

With the Columbus module being located at some considerable distance from the other two ARISS stations, this will permit parallel operations on the new bands at the same time as the existing operations.

The availability of these new frequencies will enable us to establish wideband and video operations for the first time. This facility will provide ATV facilities for School contacts and, additionally, continuous transponder operation.

The Columbus module is designed to undertake experiments but may also be used as temporary sleeping accommodation for the European astronauts. It is anticipated that most, if not all of them, will be licensed amateurs.

To summarise, the addition of these new antennas will provide greatly enhanced opportunities for amateur radio operations on the ISS and an additional emergency communication facility for the astronauts.


5. Funding the ARISS antennas on Columbus

The construction of Columbus has reached its final stage. The ARISS antennas have been installed in October 2007. A most important aspect has still to be solved : funding.

The installation cost of the ARISS antennas on Columbus exceeds 100.000 euro (coaxial feedthroughs, coax cables on the hull of the module, etc.). ESA initially offered to support 50.000 euro of this amount. Presently ESA has decided to cover the installation cost completely .

The Wroclaw University of Technology has obtained a special funding for the ARISS antennas from the Polish Ministry of Research and Development. This helps cover the total cost and limits our effort to 86.000 euro.

69.000 euro has already be paid by ARISS.

We still have to pay 17.000 euro to finish the work.

Presently our goal has been set to 100.000 euro, but it will most probably be reconsidered. After Columbus is attached to the ISS, we will still need to build the onboard equipment.


6. Call for donations

ARISS-Europe renews the call for donations to the IARU and AMSAT societies as well as to their members individually.

A financial account has been opened by AMSAT Belgium. Donators within the European Union will not have to pay any additional banking costs (beyond the costs of a national money transfer) if they use the following international banking number (IBAN) and mention the international identification code (BIC):

AMSAT Belgium

IBAN BE63 0012 3065 9208

Without any additional cost for international money transfer, even the smallest donation is useful and will be most appreciated.

Please don't forget to reference the transfer as Donation Columbus .


7. PayPal

If you have a PayPal account you can easily make a donation by using the "Donate" button in the left column.

Even if you don't have a PayPal account you can use your creditcard to make a Paypal donation for the Columbus project.

Simply click the "Donate" button and follow instructions.


8. Credits

On the ARISS-Europe website a special Columbus page has been added.

Donations are listed from societies as well as from individuals.

Taking into account the regulations on privacy protection, donations are listed as anonymous, unless the donator states his identity as reference for the transfer.

This list is permanently updated and distance from the target shown.

8. Thanks

On behalf of all the volunteering parties involved in the project, we extend thanks to all donators.

This is a great goal for amateur radio at its best.


October 20, 2007

Gaston Bertels, ON4WF
ARISS-Europe chairman





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