N3YWZ (Lee) recently shared his experience with amateur radio satellite tracking and FM communications through one of the few remaining FM-voice satellites, known as Saudi Sat or SO-50. Considered an EasySat, as opposed to some of the slightly more involved amateur satellites which utilize combinations of SSB voice, digital modes, beacons and telemetry, SO-50 is one of those fun satellites that can easily be monitored and easily be used as a “repeater in the sky”. Lee was able to determine that a good pass would occur on the afternoon of Jan-18th, 2014 via his long-standing use of a computer program called WXTrack. “There are many satellite tracking programs. Most are FREE and some are full of busy bells and whistles that could make you feel like Houston control within your own ham shack. WXTrack has been a dependable workhorse that was initially intended to download images from the myriad of weather satellites… and it is entirely free”, said Lee. Aware that a pass was coming soon, he set up his tripod- mounted dual-band yagi antenna and radio in preparation for the quick pass of the satellite. The simply constructed tripod is a standard-issue camera tripod, utilizing materials lying around his workshop. The radio is a dual band IC2800, however any HT will do. At the end of the tripod’s boom is a compact Log Periodic dual-band antenna manufactured by Elk Antenna. Again, a rubber ducky on the HT works quite well. Through the few minutes that the satellite was accessible from his Southern Maryland location, he confirmed QSOs with five hams located up and down the Eastern United States. Contacts were confirmed in Victor, NY, Springfield, OH, Springfield, IL, and Washington, DC. Lee Also made a contact in Florida who was able to confirm the QSO, however his call sign was unable to be determined. Lee further stated “The pass is typically about 10 minutes in length, and thus the exchanges should be offered quickly to allow everyone else a fair opportunity to share the fun. A typical exchange is your call sign and grid square. If you sense that time allows (without being rude or a time bandit), feel free to share your name and other details of your location. There are many friendships born through these satellites buzzing around up there at about 300 miles above the earth’ surface.” Lee remembers a particularly exciting day several years ago with another satellite in orbit. With his HT and rubber ducky and while standing in his backyard, he spoke to a cosmonaut on the International Space Station. “It was a fleeting exchange, but when I heard “N3YWZ. Good evening from the ISS”, I knew I would never forget that moment. Granted, I still get excited knowing that my voice can carry from my yard to the repeater in La Plata. A repeater on the moon may be the next conquest.”
Here is a short Youtube clip of Lee’s QSO shows how the conversations transpire, and how a large area becomes accessible during a satellite pass.
A useful website for determining the orbits of Saudi Sat SO-50 (as well as other satellites) is located Here
And a useful website that describes the methods for satellite hunting can be found on G6LVB’s website