ARISS School Contacts
The space agencies entrust ARISS with the task of implementing amateur contacts for schools, allowing students to put questions to astronauts on board the International Space Station and receive their answer direct from space.
Candidate schools shall prepare a space oriented educative and submit it, together with an "Application" document, to the ARISS School Selection Manager Francesco De Paolis, IK0WGF. The documents shall be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Selected schools are put on a waiting list. There are waiting lists in each of the ARISS Regions: USA, Canada, Europe (extended to Africa and the Middle East), Russia, Far East and Australia.
The Application form can be downloaded from this webpage. The list of pending applications for the European region is also available on this webpage. The waiting time is between 1 and 2 years, depending on the kind of contact. Indeed, ARISS School Contacts come in two flavours: direct or telebridge.
Direct contact : amateur radio volunteers set up a satellite radio station in the school and the contact with the International Space Station is established during a pass of the ISS over the school.
Telebridge contact : ARISS has a dozen of dedicated "telebridge" ground stations covering the world. These highly performing radio stations are maintained and operated by experienced amateur radio volunteers. For a "telebridge" School Contact, the radio contact with the Space Station is established during a pass of the ISS over one of the ARISS "telebridge" stations and the signals are relayed to and from the school per telephone line.
For the students, a direct radio contact is more exciting as they see the operator handling the radio in their school. Therefore there are more requests for direct contacts than for "telebridge" contacts. Nevertheless, because of their worldwide coverage, there are more opportunities to set up "telebridge" School Contacts than direct contacts. For this reason, and also because there are less requests, the waiting time is shorter for a "telebridge" contact (+/- 1 year) than for a direct contact (+/- 2 years).
Moreover, it is to be noted that ARISS School Contacts are also requested by the Space Agencies, and these requests have higher priority.
From statistics covering several years, we observe that, in the ARISS Region Europe/Africa/Middle-East, every year 20 to 25 ARISS School Contacts can be performed, direct or "telebridge".
How ARISS School Contacts are prepared and planified
Crews on the International Space Station stay on board for six months. For each of these "Expeditions", the ARISS Operations Committee upgrades schools from the regional waiting lists to the "To Do" list. Several parameters are to be taken into account, such as the number of contacts authorized by the agencies, the presence onboard of licensed astronauts, the chronology of submitted Applications.
ARISS Operations Committee members meet weekly per teleconference. For each school on the "To Do" list a volunteering Mentor is nominated. The Mentor takes up the responsibility to prepare the school and the local radio amateurs for the upcoming radio contact. Important aspects of this preparation are detailed in the "ARISS School Contacts procedure" available on this webpage.
When an ARISS School Contact is scheduled in the European region, we circulate an announcement to the subscribers of the ARISS-Europe News Bulletin. Interested parties are invited to listen to the astronaut answering the questions prepared by the students. Radioamateurs can easily receive the radio signal transmitted from the ISS when it is in range of their station.
When a direct ARISS School Contact cannot be done, the option is to set up a "telebridge". In that case, the radio contact is performed by one of the dedicated ARISS ground stations, located in the USA, Europe, Hawaii, Australia and Argentina. The up- and downlink audio is relayed between the school and the ground station per phoneline. The audio of telebridge contacts is mostly distributed real time by Echolink and IRLP.
Reports of ARISS School Contacts are available on the ARISS-Europe Archive page. Some recordings and pictures are attached to the archived ARISS-Europe News Bulletins and can be downloaded.
The complete process for a successful ARISS School Contact is explained in the ARISS School Contacts procedure (see sidebar).
IMPORTANT : Please read carefully the documents available in the left column. Technical requirements for the setting up of a radio station (direct contact) are given in item 4bis), which is a Zoho page. To edit this Zoho page, click button in upper right corner. There are three Zoho sheets included for checking your setup.