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Youth@HamRadio.Fun: A Bird's Eye View

12/30/2009

Duncan P MacLachlan, KU0DM
ARRL Youth Editor

Satellites (also referred to as "birds") are nothing new to the science or Amateur Radio community. Since the very first satellite, Sputnik 1, went into orbit in 1957, amateurs have had a special interest in satellites. Ham radio operators were there at the very beginning, tuning in across the globe to try and hear Sputnik's faint beeps. The potential of utilizing satellites for communications was realized very early on, when the United States used a satellite to relay Christmas greetings from President Eisenhower in 1958. The first commercial satellite was launched in 1962 to be used by several companies for direct relay communications.

Since then, there has been massive interest in satellites for both commercial and diplomatic uses. But soon after Sputnik, hams had an idea to utilize satellites not for personal gain, but for fun. After much collaboration between hams on the West Coast, the ARRL and the Air Force, OSCAR I became the first amateur satellite to enter Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in 1961. What started as a simple beacon quickly turned into a transponder in OSCAR III, and soon a whole new sub-set in ham radio.

After a large display of interest in amateur satellites, an organization was born that would help to facilitate amateur satellites and lead the new found capability forward: the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation -- AMSAT -- was chartered in 1969. Since then, the number of LEO amateur satellites has sky rocketed, with thousands of hams using them on a daily basis.

Amateur satellites don't just appeal to the newly licensed Technician; they have a wow factor that's unlimited and almost unmatched. Whether you're 8 or 80, it seems that using a repeater hurdling through space has an irresistible draw. But it seems that very few have realized the potential that these birds hold for attracting new blood to the hobby. As an Extra class licensee who's been around the block once or twice (even at my young age), I still find huge interest in listening to a satellite as it comes into range.

Hearing a packet burst containing the ID -- followed by a frenzy of scratchy voices fading in and out exchanging a signal report and grid square -- is an experience unparalleled in the amateur world. Listening to a satellite is one experience, but jumping into the fray of a 10 or 20 minute contest (varying on the length of the pass) is another experience. Even with the knowledge in the back of your head that you're just using a repeater, the fact that it's orbiting the Earth makes hearing a station return just as rewarding as working DX. For kids of any age, seeing a satellite is a very cool experience; however hearing one is entirely different.

While there is a definite learning curve to getting on amateur satellites, there is much helpful information on the Internet with easy solutions to gaining access to the birds. You might make it a New Year's resolution to gain satellite capability and show it off to your children, grandchildren or even the neighbor kids. I have yet to try it on young blood myself; however, as a typical American teenager, I'm betting that the birds have a mass of potential for recruiting that we have yet to tap into.

A Resolution for the New Year

It's that time of the year again! Instead of making your New Year's resolution something hard to stick to, such as cleaning the garage, why not make your resolution one that you'll look forward to carrying out? Why not make your New Year's resolution one you can have fun with -- and benefit Amateur Radio?

I have two propositions for a New Year's resolution. The first is that you try something new. Regardless of how long you've been licensed, there is something in ham Radio you have yet to try. Whether it is Morse code or meteor scatter, take a leap of faith and try something that you know absolutely nothing about. The second proposition is an easy, but important one: Make one contact a day, using any mode you wish. Whether it's on a repeater or 20 meters, make one contact each day for the entire year. The most important part of Amateur Radio is using what we have. If you can make one contact a day, it not only preserves our spectrum, it is a display of our passion for Amateur Radio.

Let me know what your ham radio resolution is. Send me an e-mail with details about what you plan to do -- keep me posted on how it goes!

Upcoming Events

ARRL Straight Key Night, 0000 UTC to 2359 UTC January 1: A low-key event to get on the air with fellow CW enthusiasts and make some contacts using a straight key. While manual sending is not required, why not take one night out of your year to enjoy the challenge of pounding brass.

ARRL RTTY Round-Up, 1800 UTC Saturday, January 2 to 2400 UTC Sunday, January 3: The ARRL RTTY Round-Up is an AWESOME on-air event with plenty of action. The 24-hours-out-of-30 format is friendly to newer contesters and is one that won't favor the big guns. Exchange for those in the United States and Canada is RST and State/Province.

ARRL Kids Day, 1800 UTC to 2400 UTC Sunday, January 3. Another Kids Day coming up! This event provides youngsters enough time to give them a taste of what ham radio is all about, with an easy exchange consisting of name, age, location and favorite color. I challenge you to make at least one contact with a youngster participating in the contest, and of course get anyone under 18 on the air! Give me your feedback, stories, and pictures to be featured in the next column.

ARRL January VHF Sweepstakes, 1900 UTC January 23 to 0359 UTC January 25. This contest is a good chance to catch an opening on the "magic band" or work some sporadic-E higher up on 2 meters. Exchange is simply your grid square, with RST optional.

Thanks for reading!
73, Duncan MacLachlan, KU0DM



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