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How to Listen to the International Space Station (ISS) | British Science Week 2023

British Science Week is an annual event that celebrates the achievements of science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM), the theme for 2023 is communications. What better way to celebrate science communications than by listening to the International Space Station (ISS)?

The ISS is a technological marvel that provides a unique platform for scientific research in a microgravity environment. It is also a joint effort between various countries, making it an excellent example of international communication and collaboration.

International Space Station (ISS) in space above Earth

By listening to the ISS using amateur radio equipment, anyone can experience firsthand the power of communication in space. This is an excellent way to connect with the wider scientific community and learn more about the research being conducted on the ISS.

So, if you're participating in British Science Week 2023, try your hand at listening to the ISS!

Follow the step-by-step guide outlined in this article, and you might just be able to pick up signals from the ISS crew. Good luck!

When is the best time to listen to the ISS?

To listen to the International Space Station (ISS), it’s important that you choose the right time as the space station needs to be right above you for the best chance of receiving communications. The window of opportunity can be as short as 10 minutes, so make sure all the equipment you need is set up and tested well in advance. Various websites such as N2YO and NASA can help you find the best time to listen based on your location.

Sent Into Space engineer pointing to the current position of the International Space Station (ISS) or a digital map

The ISS is next due to pass over the United Kingdom at around 8:45 PM on the 18th of March and again at 7:55 PM on the 19th of March.

Equipment Required

Before you can start listening to the ISS, you will need some specialised equipment. Here is a list of the minimum equipment requirements:

Rugged laptop running SDR software, directional yagi antenna, VHF/UHF receiver - equipment  needed for listening to the ISS

  1. VHF/UHF receiver - This can be a handheld radio or a dedicated receiver that covers the 144-146 MHz and 430-440 MHz frequency bands.

  2. Antenna - A directional antenna with high gain is preferred. A Yagi or a Log-Periodic antenna is a good choice. You should be able to find one up for under £30.

  3. A computer - You will need a computer to decode the digital signals sent by the ISS crew. Any computer running Windows, MacOS or Linux should do the trick.

  4. Software - You will need specific software to decode the digital radio signals. There are several free software programs available on the internet, such as Fldigi, HD SDR, and MMSSTV.

Setting Up Your Equipment

Once you have acquired the necessary equipment, you can start setting it up. Here is a step-by-step guide:

Sent Into Space engineer setting up equipment for listening to the ISS

  1. Install your software - Install the software on your computer, and configure it as required.

  2. Choose a location - Choose a location that has a clear view of the sky, and is away from sources of interference, such as power lines, buildings, or trees.

  3. Set up your antenna - Install your antenna according to the manufacturer's instructions. Make sure that the cables are securely set up.

  4. Connect your receiver - Connect your receiver to your computer using a microphone aux, USB cable, or serial cable.

Listening to the ISS

Once you have set up your equipment, you can start listening to the ISS. Here is a step-by-step guide:

Sent Into Space engineer standing outside in the snow listening to the ISS

  1. Check the ISS schedule - The ISS crew follows a strict schedule, and they only communicate during certain times of the day. You can find the ISS schedule on the NASA website.

  2. Tune your receiver - Tune your receiver to the ISS frequency, which is 145.800 MHz in the UK.

  3. Point your antenna in the direction of the ISS - This will give you the best chance of receiving communications from the ISS. This European Space Agency website will help you determine the current location of the ISS.

  4. Decode the signals - Once you have detected the signals, use your chosen software to decode them (we used Fldigi and HD SDR for this exercise). The software will display the decoded messages on your computer screen.

Here at Sent Into Space, we specialise in sending scientific and commercial payloads to the edge of space. We use a variety of communication methods to maintain contact and transmit data to and from our spacecraft during every flight, including the same method used by the ISS - VHF/UHF.

Sent Into Space spacecraft in space with Earth in the background

With the help of specialised software, we can decode digital signals sent by our spacecraft and display them on a computer to help ensure our tracking and recovery teams are under every craft before it lands.


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