Fall 2007 Issue


Back to the Basics

By Keith Pugh, W5IU


Once in a while it is good to go back and review the multi-faceted topic of amateur radio satellites and answer some of the many questions that come up over and over on the AMSAT nets, at hamfests, and at club meetings. I will try out a Question and Answer format to accomplish this communication. I can’t ask and answer all of the questions heard over the years, but I will try to hit the most prominent ones. The answers are covered in the literature and in some cases contain my opinions. Naturally, there are several correct answers to some of these questions.

Q: Are amateur radio satellites new? How long have they been around?

A: The first amateur radio satellite was Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio 1, or OSCAR-1. It was launched on December 12, 1961 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and circled the Earth transmitting the Morse code letters “HI” on the 2-meter amateur band. It was battery powered and transmitted until the batteries ran down. The speed of the Morse characters was proportional to the temperature of the satellite.

Q: How many amateur radio satellites have been launched? How many are still active?

A: At the present time, the OSCAR designation has been awarded to 61 satellites and the RS (Radiosputnik) designation to 18 that I know of. There have been numerous CUBEsats launched that achieved orbit; I estimate 21. This brings the grand total to 100. A score card is maintained on the AMSAT web page. As satellites come and go, approximately 12 are operational at any given time. This activity level has been maintained for several years now. In the beginning, we were lucky to have one at a time.

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