amateur (Ham) radio

Image of ISS (blue) passing over Burns SciTech Charter School, Oak Hill FL on Sept 12, 2012 (SkyView app screenshot)

Amateur radio – (also called ham radio) – use of designated radio frequency spectra for purposes of private recreation, non-commercial exchange of messages, wireless experimentation, self-training, and emergency communication.

In 2011, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) estimated there were two million people throughout the world regularly involved with amateur radio. About 830,000 amateur radio stations are located in the Americas.

Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) – The ARISS program is a cooperative venture of NASA, the ARRL and AMSAT and other international space agencies that organizes scheduled contacts via Amateur Radio between astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the ISS and classrooms and communities. With the help of experienced Amateur Radio volunteers from Amateur Radio clubs, and coordination from the ARISS Team, the ISS crewmembers speak directly with large group audiences in a variety of public forums such as school assemblies or at science museums, Scout camporees and jamborees and space camps, where students, teachers, parents, and communities learn about space and space technologies and Amateur Radio.

  • Listen To/Watch ARISS Contacts (audio, video) – Kids talking with the International Space Station – These audio and video recordings of ARISS contacts will give you a taste of how the contacts are conducted and the kind of conversations that develop between students and astronauts.
  • Students at Burns Science and Technology Charter School (video 10:28) in Oak Hill, FL had a conversation with astronaut Sunita Williams, KD5PLB on September 13, 2012. The school is a STEM school, offering core curriculum, with emphasis on science, technology, and 21st century literacies. The school hosts an amateur radio station, received through a grant from ARRL’s Education & Technology Program. Much of the school station equipment was used in the configuration for the ARISS contact. Amateur radio operators from the Daytona Beach Amateur Radio club worked with school personnel to organize the equipment and logistics for the ARISS contact.

American Radio Relay League (ARRL) – Founded in 1914 by Hiram Percy Maxim, ARRL (American Radio Relay League) is the national association for Amateur Radio in the US. Today, with more than 161,000 members, ARRL is the largest organization of radio amateurs in the world. ARRL’s mission is based on five pillars: Public Service, Advocacy, Education, Technology, and Membership.

Licensing – National governments regulate technical and operational characteristics of transmissions and issue individual stations licenses with an identifying call sign. Amateur operators are tested for their understanding of key concepts in electronics and the government’s radio regulations. Radio amateurs use a variety of voice, text, image, and data communications modes and have access to frequency allocations throughout the RF spectrum to enable communication across a city, region, country, continent, the world, or even into space.

  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC) License Grants & Exams – Operation of an amateur station requires an amateur operator license grant from the FCC. You must pass an examination testing your skills and abilities in operating an amateur station.

Call Signs – Every licensed Radio Amateur is given a call sign that is used to identify you and your location of license. Each country that has Amateur Radio status is allocated a range of call signs by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Some famous Call Signs

  • astronaut Sunita Williams, KD5PLB

Engineering ideas

  • electronics, RF spectrum, transmitter, receiver, communication modes, frequency, frequency allocation

Do It
Challenges for you to work on…

Learn more…

  • American Radio Relay League (ARRL) – To promote and advance the art, science and enjoyment of Amateur Radio.
  • ARRL Youth Resources Classroom Activities – Students can explore radio science and learn about wireless technologies right in the classroom. School Club Roundup (SCR) fosters contacts with and among school radio clubs.

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