Contacting the International Space Station

In the spirit of this year’s space theme, I was thinking it’d be a fun experiment to try to pick up the International Space Station on radio.

While technically you can talk directly to an astronaut if they’re not busy – usually around breakfast or dinner, their time (around midnight or noon, our time) – it’s really random whether they’ll be listening at any given time. So not so good for a group event. But we can listen anyway. We should at least be able to pick up the automated packet data link – and with a lot of luck maybe even try to send a packet signal back up.

(Sadly we just missed the Apollo-Soyuz docking anniversary event a couple weekends ago – they were sending down slow-scan images from US/Russian space history to celebrate!)

The catch:

  • The schedule can be a bit odd, because of the way it orbits. You have to catch the ISS when it’s directly overhead, and a pass only lasts for ~5 minutes.
  • The probability of receiving anything “interesting” is low. But there’s a good chance we’ll at least be able to hear the packet data link (sounds kinda like a modem).
  • The antenna I have with me probably isn’t strong enough to transmit back up to the ISS. But again, we can try and see what happens.
  • I’ve never done this before, so I have no clue if we’ll be able to actually pick it up. We might just get silence. But I’m told it’s technically possible with the equipment I have. :wink:

I ran some orbit predictions here:
(The ones with a high elevation are best. Color coding indicates how likely you are to see the ISS.)

It looks like some good options are Thursday night (10:28 pm), maybe Saturday night (10:13 pm), and a great window on Sunday night (9:20 pm).

Anybody interested?

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That’s so nerdy cool :3 Sat night if anything for me since I won’t be there the other evenings.

This just sounds wicked awesome. I’m there.

Neat! I’d vote for Saturday too, that’s probably the night with the most people in attendance. Can always try again Sunday night if it doesn’t work the first time!

Cool, looks like there’s at least some interest. :wink:

Again, just want to set expectations here: We’re listening into space (which is kinda quiet!) and the folks on board are probably doing other stuff. So we’ll probably just get a few data packets. Or maybe nothing. ¯\(ツ)/¯ But let’s give it a try!

I went out this evening and did a quick test in my backyard. After a few minutes of waiting, I did pick up a single data packet from the ISS, relaying a message from somebody elsewhere on earth. :satellite: So there’s hope we might hear something!

And both orbits have pretty good visibility, so worst case we should at least be able to see it moving across the night sky.

So ya, let’s plan on giving it a try on Saturday (10:13 pm) and again on Sunday (9:20 pm) if that doesn’t work out. Tentatively at my campsite (wherever that ends up being)… unless a better location turns up once I get on-site.

Show up at least 5 or 10 min early, since the station’s orbit isn’t going to wait. I’ll also be able to explain a little bit about the theory and technology involved.