Satellite Communications and the Void

I often call Amateur Radio “the void” because it is an almost bottomless pursuit. I’ve been licensed for 30 years now and was lucky enough to fall in with an active ham radio club in Farmington, Connecticut, the Insurance City Repeater Club. They met at the Red Cross offices near UCONN Medical and that meant the ICRC met at the ICRC. Fun. The hams there were welcoming in most cases and the ones that I respected the most were very encouraging. This was the early years of the Volunteer Examiner (VE) program and they were both pushing new members to upgrade and letting them know that you could spend a lifetime exploring the privileges of the entry-level Technician license. I ended up earning an Amateur Extra license and becoming a VE. It was a good time to get into ham radio.

Licensed hams have privileges on frequencies from VLF (below the AM broadcast band) to daylight. And daylight is not metaphorical. In the 10ghz and up world there are operators using coherent light generators to communicate over surprising distances. My path through ham radio has been fairly pedestrian with almost all of my activity on HF, VHF and UHF operation. Not that it is very limiting, but 440Mhz is not a very high frequency in the world of the electromagnetic spectrum. Sadly the frequency allocations above that see very little use, and there is precious little equipment on the market for those 1GHz and up frequencies.

What you do on these frequencies is another matter entirely. Morse code, voice, various digital modes conveying text or images or data… There are many options and many ways to be involved in those options. I’ve played with all of those and unlike some hams I don’t pick favorites, or winners for that matter. It’s all good as long as you bring good operating practices to the party.

I bring this up because I recently took the plunge into satellite communications. You can see from my Eggbeater Antenna posts I am talking about a very recent entry into satellites. More on that in the next post. But I bring it up because I was reviewing a recording of a RS-44 pass I worked and at the end I had a call from a station and then promptly lost touch with the sat. I sent him an email to let him know I heard him and I would listen for him in the future.

This ham has been licensed for 9 months and dove directly into satellite communications. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was his main area of operation. That’s what you can do with a entry-level license with no Morse Code requirement. I can imagine that becoming a trend but for the current ham radio trend toward nostalgia. I think an operator who goes straight to the VHF+ arena is more likely to expand their activities up, toward daylight, than down. And that is a good thing. The more that happens the more the equipment market has a chance to react, and that brings in more users.

I won’t go on a total rant, but the marketplace for ham equipment is clogged with the same gear that was popular 40 years ago and more. HF base stations, VHF/UHF mobiles, V/U handhelds, and some low-power kits and “fringe” radios. It’s nicer, shiny, and some of the modes have changed. That marketplace drives users when they pick up a magazine like QST and see it full of ads for that equipment. The VHF+ gear is limited, and presented as somewhat mysterious. The chicken-egg question is there, but we know that the manufacturers are the chicken, and the chicken is risk-averse.

73, and keep looking up, toward daylight.

Pete, N1QDQ

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