Pictures from Space (by )

So the International Space Station (ISS) contains some equipment that's part of a project called ARISS, or Amateur Radio on the ISS.

One of the ARISS projects is occasional transmissions of images via SSTV, or Slow-scan television - basically colour faxes sent via radio.

Anyway, a few days ago, I saw that there was an SSTV transmission scheduled, and the ISS would be passing over England at times I would be able to try and pick it up, so I gave it a go... My setup was simple:

To receive the signal, I used a Kenwood TH-D72 handheld transceiver with its supplied little rubber antenna (although I'm sure a cheaper Baofeng transceiver would have done just fine, I wasn't sure how good a signal I'd get and didn't want to take any chances, so went for the fancier radio).

To decode the picture, I installed an Android app called Robot36.

Lacking a cable to feed the audio from the radio direct to the microphone socket on my phone, I was forced to just hold the phone next to the radio's speaker, so I didn't have high hopes!

At the appointed time, I went into the garden and listened on 144.8MHz with the radio... and got nothing but noise. I tried again at the next pass later in the day, and also got nothing, when a friend I was lamenting with pointed out that I'd gotten completely incorrect timings for the passes. I quickly installed gpredict on my computer and worked out there would be a pass at just after 7pm that evening, so I headed out again.

This time, I heard the sound of SSTV rising rapidly out of the noise as soon as the station cleared the horizon. I hit the start button on the SSTV decoder and the following partial image emerged:

You can see how the image quality improves as you go down the image, as the ISS rose above the horizon and the signal got stronger!

There was then a short pause, before I received the next image, now with only clear sky between me and the ISS. The signal was great, even with my little antenna, so the picture came out well:

The line of noise across the middle was a gust of wind, and there was a bit of traffic noise in the background throughout!

Then after a pause, I caught another one, but the ISS was starting to drop below the other horizon by now, so the image decayed towards the bottom:

Well, now I have some pictures of smiling cosmonauts in my collection!

This is hardly useful, although it was definitely cool to be receiving a picture direct from the ISS. However, with similar setups you can receive photos from weather satellite cameras, which might be handy. I should definitely get the right cable to connect my smartphone to the radio without using speaker and microphone and the air, and give it another try sometime!

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