First ISS Contact via APRS

I must have seen some blog post or article on Friday or Saturday morning that got me thinking about making a contact with the ISS (International Space Station). On Saturday morning I started visiting various sites and trying to figure out how to get things setup and configured to try and make it happen. It wasn’t easy since I really had nothing previously setup for doing this so there are a bunch of things that needed to be done. I’m also documenting what I did here so I can remember for future attempts.

I guess first is defining my home setup used for a VHF/APRS contact with the ISS. I have a Kenwood TS-2000 that has a built in TNC but in the end, the built-TNC proved irrelevant. I have an external Diamond dual band vertical antenna for VHF. I have a SignaLink USB as a soundcard device and I’m running Windows 7 on my notebook.  I needed to use all these components as well as 2 pieces of software to get the job done though I probably downloaded a couple others throughout Saturday as I was trying to get things working. The software is AGWPE from SV2AGW and UISS from ON6MU. I also used a bunch of web sites such as the ISS Fan Club tracking site, the AMSAT Pass Prediction page and the FindU ARISS page for what stations it heard (and repeated to another I-Gate station which put it on the Internet).

The TS-2000 has a built-in TNC which I kept thinking I should be using but proved to not be the case. I used AGWPE and interfaced it through my SignaLink USB soundcard. No need with this solution to deal with the menus on the TS-2000 associated with the TNC and packet radio. What I needed to do was run the main receiver on the TS-2000 on 145.825 FM (as referenced on the ISS Fan Club Frequency page) as keying the SignaLink would do it on the main receiver. You need to turn up the squelch enough to keep the static quiet. Configuring AGWPE took quite a while for me as I was originally trying to do it using the built-in TNC which might be possible (according to various posts I found) but proved not to work for me, though I didn’t try it on the main receiver (or did I?). So then finding instructions for AGWPE & a soundcard I went that route and used my SignaLink. The issue I ran into and found various other online posts about it, is that with the SignaLink not being set as the default device in Windows 7, AGWPE was using the default. So what is necessary is making the SignaLink USB Audio Codec device the default sound device for playback/recording while this activity is going on. You do this through Windows Sound Control Panel and just need to be aware any sound on your computer will go through the SignaLink while this is set that way. Once I did that, AGWPE showed the SignaLink as the soundcard it will use and I was done with that configuration.

Next I downloaded and configured UISS which a Windows program specific to making packet contacts with ISS. The program is free but for some “PRO” features you need to make a donation. Seeing how much fun this is, if I start to make a few more contacts I will definitely donate. Setup wasn’t complex and for its data interface out, it just points to what is defined in AGWPE. There’s just a tiny bit of setup to define your lat/long for APRS and modification of any of the default messages. On Saturday I wasn’t able to get all the components properly configured but Sunday morning and a fresh start, ignoring anything TS-2000 specific, I was able to get things moving. I knew I was making progress when I tuned to 144.390 which is the national APRS frequency and UISS was decoding the incoming packets and showing them on the main screen. I tuned off frequency and pressed the Position button in UISS and it keyed up the SignaLink and TS-2000 and transmitted my position. After a few hours of tinkering and trying various components/configurations, it finally seemed like I had things setup properly.

With Windows 7 configured to use the SignaLink as its default soundcard, the AGWPE & UISS applications up and running and the ISS Fan Club tracking site, the AMSAT Pass Prediction page and the FindU ARISS page opened in my web browser I was ready for my first attempt. The next pass of the ISS was set for 14:35 (10:35am local) so I watched the web pages and listened for the first packets to break the squelch. I was refreshing the FindU page and saw a couple of station in Mexico show up and then N4ZQ in Florida showed up. Watching the incoming packets being decoded, I saw N4ZQ show up at 14:37 followed by a message from N6WPV in FL to 2Y4Q6T come in. I saw a couple more packets decoded including one from N1RCN in RI sending a message. I finally saw K2DSL show up on the FindU ARISS page and I celebrated! Looking at the raw data it looks like my APRS position was received by the ISS and then received by K8YSE who gated it onto the Internet. I then saw the following message come in from N1RCN:

Fm N1RCN To APRS Via RS0ISS-4* <UI pid=F0 Len=44 >[10:41:16]
:K2DSL    :Good Morning From Bristol, RI USA

Since I wasn’t sure how to respond (and I think I know how to respond now), the pass ended before I could return the message to N1RCN. Here are the raw packets associated with me showing I was iGated twice by K8YSE and I also sent the list of folks I heard from received packets back from the ISS which AL0I received and iGated:

2010-09-19 14:41:01 UTC: K2DSL>APRS,RS0ISS-4*,qAS,K8YSE-6:=4101.11N/07407.17W-First ISS APRS {UISS52}
2010-09-19 14:41:33 UTC: K2DSL>APRS,RS0ISS-4*,qAS,K8YSE-6:=4101.11N/07407.17W-First ISS APRS {UISS52}
2010-09-19 14:42:35 UTC: K2DSL>APRS,RS0ISS-4*,qAR,AL0I::Heard    :N6WPV-4,W1GRE-3,N1RCN,KB2M-2,K4IPH,AB9RF,W1GRE-4,VE1WRG{UISS52}

What shows in the UISS programs list of stations heard in the pass are:
RS0ISS-11, N6WPV-4, W1GRE-3, N1RCN, KB2M-2, RS0ISS-4, K4IPH, AB9RF, W1GRE-4 & VE1WRG.

Wow – that was a little bit of trial and error and not really sure everything was right but it worked! I need to make sure I remember to turn the Windows sound device default back after I am done.

As I was finishing this up, another pass of the ISS was coming by so I tried again. This time I made 2 APRS contacts which were shown as iGated again by K8YSE. I also received 2 messages from AB9RF and KB1GVR but the one I sent to AB9RF didn’t show as received and sent back. There’s a strong pass coming later today at 20:59z (4:59pm local) that I will set things up for again and see what comes of that.

There are so many things to do in ham radio that the fun and having another personal “first” seems to be endless. I hope to make a voice contact with the ISS some day.

73 from outer space!

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