- THE ONE TRUE RULE for HT success (and even for FM
base station users) - keep your SQUELCH OFF. If you ignore every
other rule in this list, don't ignore this one. Working
satellites starts off as a process of finding weak signals, so
don't expect the satellite to be anywhere as strong enough to
break squelch like your local repeater. I know it's noisy, but
that's part of the process. Noise can also be an aid in locating
the satellite because when the frequency starts to exhibit
QUIETING, that's a sure sign that you are hearing the satellite,
and you should get ready.
- LISTEN FIRST! Even though you only have 5 watts,
it's still possible to jam other stations. Expect to hear other
stations before you transmit. If you can't hear other stations
and need to check your uplink, don't call CQ, just transmit your
callsign. If others hear you, they will want to work you.
- Use a good antenna for your HT. A good gain whip
antenna like the AL-800 is very good. Using an
dual-band handheld antenna is better, and if you prefer to
homebrew your antenna, Alex Diaz XE1MEX has an excellent
- When you identify yourself, always say your
CALLSIGN followed by "HANDHELD" - I've found most operators will
give way to HT users if they identify themselves that way.
"Portable" is also good.
up your radio so you can to tune for DOPPLER. If your HT only
has 5KHz tuning steps, start listening 5 KHz above the center
frequency - you will hear the satellite sooner and clearer.
When you hear the downlink signals get scratchy or fuzzy, tune
down 5KHz and it should be clearer. Follow the signal down in
frequency as the pass continues. (See the graphic to the right.)
If your HT doesn't allow you to use split frequencies in VFO mode,
consider programming a couple of memory channels in this way,
then just move to the next memory channel. For 5KHz tuning step
radios it's debateable whether or not tuning the transmit
frequency is helpful. If you have 1KHz or finer tuning steps it
hold your whip antenna upright. Vertical antennas are not good,
and a HT held upright isn't either. The satellite isn't on the
ground (which is what HT's and vertical antennas were designed
for). TILT IT about the same amount as the satellites ELEVATION.
This means that if you are FACING the satellite, tilt it down
towards the ground from HORIZONTAL an equal amount. If the
satellite is to your back, tilt it up an equal amount away from
the satellites position off the vertical. You will be surprised
at the difference.
- Make sure you know where the satellite is. Even if
you don't have a palm sized computer running a tracking program
such as PocketSat or PetitTrack you can estimate this. If you
know the AOS azimuth and the satellite pass time, you can just
estimate how much to move until you find the satellite. On
ASCENDING (South to North) with the satellite EAST of you or
DECENDING passes (North to South) and WEST of you, move your
body anti-clockwise (counter-clockwise for people in the US). If
the satellite is ASCENDING WEST or DECENDING EAST, move
- HEADPHONES are very important, especially if you
are working full duplex. You are much better off listening with
two ears than one. If you have a full duplex HT like a Icom
IC-W32A you can listen to your own downlink (a good thing). Your
brain is far better at discriminating signals than most
- Know your gridsquare as that is a quick way of
identifying your location. Saying CM87 is much quicker than
saying "San Francisco, California". The ARRL and Icom have some
dandy gridsquare maps, the latter of which are free at most
amateur radio stores. You can download both from the respective
- Map out a strategy for contacts. This isn't rocket
science, but close. So preparation and planning is important.
Not every pass is workable with an HT, so don't go after the 10
degree passes. Pick your passes, and work the ones you know will
give you the best chance. It's not a battleground out there, but
it's not a walk in the park either. You are competing with other
stations for a limited resource so it helps to plan. If there
are population centers (bright spots on the map) to the east of
you, work western passes. If they are south of you, listen
north. If you live on the coast, try passes out over the ocean.
- If you don't plan to write down your contacts, try
to work out someway to record them. You can hook a MP3 or
Cassette recorder into the headphone jack on the receive side to
record your contacts so you can review it later. On many HTs you
can just use a simple "Y" cable available from Radio Shack. Even
if you don't make contacts, it helps to accustom yourself to the
callsigns, voices and personalities of the other operators. When
I first started out, I found it more valuable to know which
contacts I missed rather than the ones I made.
- Ask questions! Find an elmer or look up the AMSAT
area coordinator for your area. You can
locate an Area Coordinator on the AMSAT website. Posting
specific questions on the AMSAT bulletin board will also help
you find answers.
Most of all -
It will help you get plugged in to a very good organization, keep
you informed of the latest developments, and contribute to the
success of the amateur satellite program.
* Contributed by Emily Clarke W0EEC,
AMSAT Area Coordinator, San Francisco Bay