Satellite Operating Tips for FLSPOTA

With just 5 days to go until FLSPOTA weekend, now is the time to start preparing for getting the 35 point satellite bonus! While some of you may be experienced satellite ops, if you haven’t worked sats since the AO-51, AO-27, or even the RS-* days, it might be a good idea to read up a bit and practice some LEO ops before contest day. The current fleet of LEO sats, including AO-85, AO-91, AO-92, and SO-50 (all FM repeaters),  and FO-29, the XW-2* sats, AO-73, EO-88, CAS-4B and a couple of others are fast passes (12 minutes or so from horizon to horizon), and require tuning for Doppler shift. Operating full duplex is not required – but is HIGHLY recommended! For FM sats, nearly any HT will work for a transmitter. When operating full duplex with two separate radios, you can use something like a Baofeng for a transmitter, and a higher-quality receiver; Yaesu, Icom, and Kenwood rigs don’t “desense” or overload in the presence of the strong signal transmitted by the other radio. Full-duplex mobile rigs like the FT-8800, TM-D710 and others are also a good choice – and one you may have already in your car!

Here are a few tips:

  1. Listen to some passes over the next few days, especially if you have never made a satellite QSO or it’s been a long time. Listening will help you get the hang of the “flow” of satellite QSOs. They’re typically short, only exchanging callsigns and locator information (and of course for FLSPOTA, your park ID).
  2. If you can, schedule a pass with someone you know is a good satellite op. It’s helpful to get over that first try if you know there is someone listening for you! You can find quite a few sat ops on the very active Twitter and Facebook AMSAT communities. You can find me on twitter at twitter.com/matt_nj4y, feel free to give me shout if you want to try a QSO!
  3. Practice!!! Don’t roll up to the state park on Saturday expecting to make your first-ever satellite QSO successfully. It may go well, but it probably will not without some practice 🙂 Weekend passes tend to be very busy, so having some experience under your belt will help everyone have fun!
  4. Operate full duplex if possible. You can use a single radio that has this capability (like the Kenwood D72), or two separate radios, one for each band. It makes it a lot easier to operate and tune if you can hear your own downlink signal while transmitting – you can also make sure that you don’t accidentally transmit over another station’s QSO in progress. This is a huge etiquette issue on satellites!
  5. Use iPhone apps like GoSatWatch, Hamsat, or SatSat, or Android apps like ISS Detector or AMSATDroid. They’ll help to plan which passes to try. Make sure you update your Keplarian elements, and GPS location in the app so you have accurate pass times!
  6. AO-91 and 92 are good choices because they’re easy to hear and easy to get into. They do tend to be busy on the weekend, so SO-50 is another good option that tends to be a little quieter. AO-85 works well also, but sometimes it takes more transmit power to get into (10-15w). The others are easy to work with 5w or less.

For more info, there is an excellent guide written by Sean Kutzko, KX9X located at https://www.amsat.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/FM-Satellites-Best-Practices.pdf