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Communications Education Space

Students Call Space Station With Home-Built Radio 330

Posted by timothy
from the prince-albert-in-a-tin-can dept.
Pizzutz writes "Four Toronto college students have accomplished a technological feat that their teachers are calling a first. The Humber College seniors made contact with the International Space Station Monday with a radio system they designed and built themselves. School officials say that, to their knowledge, that's never been accomplished by students at the college level." Somewhat disappointingly, the students actually did have permission to make contact.
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Students Call Space Station With Home-Built Radio

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  • no kidding (Score:5, Informative)

    by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:36AM (#26710117)
    Somewhat disappointingly, the students actually did have permission to make contact.

    No kidding. But this does open the door to prank calls to the ISS. I can't wait for some of those to get posted to YouTube. Or shown on NASA TV.
    • Re:no kidding (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MyLongNickName (822545) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:39AM (#26710189) Journal

      Disappointingly? Heck, that makes it three times cooler, IMO :)

    • Re:no kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:42AM (#26710247)

      Somewhat disappointingly, the students actually did have permission to make contact.

      Yes, it is truly disappointing when youngsters act responsibly.

      I understand how the story would be more romantic if they contacted the ISS out of the blue (imagine how surprised those aboard the station would be!). But the fact of the matter is that living in space is precarious at the best of times. Unexpected events, especially those that tie up communication channels, are unsafe and not welcome. Thus the students did the right thing by clearing permission first, and they should be applauded for that.

      Also, the students probably wanted their signal to actually be answered, rather than ignored or (even more likely) simply not noticed!

      • Re:no kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:56AM (#26710573)

        Somewhat disappointingly, the students actually did have permission to make contact.

        Yes, it is truly disappointing when youngsters act responsibly.

        I am much older then them but I still wouldn't call them youngsters. From TFA:

        Operation First Contact is the graduating project for 34-year-olds Gino Cunti and Paul Je of Toronto, Patrick Neelin, 25, of Welland, Ont., and Kevin Luong, 21, of Mississauga, Ont.

        They are all legal age!

        • Re:no kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

          by zappepcs (820751) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @12:23PM (#26711129) Journal

          Yeah, I read that part too and I'm trying to figure out what kind of radio they had to build that was 'way over their heads' kind of technology? Freq-hopping with 1024 bit encryption digital radio? If ham operators normally talk with the ISS and their story sounded like it was HAM radio they used, why was it such a feat? Is there something special we need to know about students in Canada? Did anyone find a link to technical details of the radio system they built?

        • by jabithew (1340853)

          Legal age for what?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by atomicthumbs (824207)
      It's amateur radio. Anybody with a license, a radio, and a good enough antenna has permission to contact the ISS.
    • Re:no kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @12:26PM (#26711211) Homepage

      Guess what I can contact the ISS WITHOUT PERMISSION. and do it regularly. I also talked to astronauts on the Columbia Shuttle, and cosmonauts in the Mir when it was in the sky. all on my home made radio. You don't need permission.

      It's called HAM RADIO. and I designed and built my own 2 meter radio and antennas when I was 16. I also built a radio from my own design and talked to people on the OTHER SIDE OF THE PLANET!

      If these "college kids" are extra special then we as a nation are completely and utterly doomed.

      College level should be designing stuff that a kid with some surplus electronics in his basement cant do.

      • by camperdave (969942) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @12:31PM (#26711319) Journal
        But... They're art majors.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Andy Dodd (701)

        Technically, your amateur radio license is the "permission".

        You DO have a license from the FCC (or equivalent regulatory body in your country), right?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Eil (82413)

        I knew that hams speak to astronauts occasionally, but I always wondered:

        Doesn't NASA get nervous that anyone with the right equipment can talk to the astronauts?

        What exactly do you talk to an astronaut about? Is it all small talk? ("Hi, how's the weather up there?")

        • by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @07:58PM (#26719119) Journal

          Terrorist: We make deal with you. Al'Qaida has billions of oil dollars to make you very rich--

          American astronaut: We're not interested in dealing with terrorists! Our government will find you, you can't destroy the heart of America, you towel-headed bast--

          Russian astronaut: GIVE ME THAT! Hey! HEY YOU! This is a RUSSIAN SPACE STATION! You COWARD always fighting from behind other peoples' backs NO SPINE! I kill you! I kill you drunk! You want to fight with ME?! My VODKA kick harder than you! My MOTHER would wrap towel around your FACE!

  • by Dyinobal (1427207) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:37AM (#26710153)

    Somewhat disappointingly, the students actually did have permission to make contact.

    I imagine one could get in a lot of trouble prank calling the ISS. Though it it some what difficult to come up with space themed prank calls akin to "Is your refrigerator running". Still though, they got a good grade in the class I'm sure and likely had a lot of fun doing it. I'd say that's a grand accomplishment even if they did have permission to do it.

  • Not a first (Score:5, Informative)

    by scsirob (246572) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:37AM (#26710159)

    HAM radio amateurs including students have been in contact with ISS many times over, using voice and digital connections (Packet Radio)

    Many of the astronauts on board are HAM radio operators and make frequent contact with schools, institutions and individual amateurs. On the ground, many of these individual amateurs have designed built their own rig.

    • by malloc (30902)

      I think the emphasis was "with a radio system they designed and built themselves".

      • by Gordonjcp (186804)

        I think the emphasis was "with a radio system they designed and built themselves".

        Not really. It's pretty easy to design and build a VHF transceiver that will allow you to talk to people on the ISS.

      • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @12:19PM (#26711073) Homepage

        I think the emphasis was "with a radio system they designed and built themselves".

        Define "designed and built themselves"... did they mine the copper ore using handbuilt tools and smelt it into wire using fire struck from flint? Was the design derived in a "clean" environment from first principles?

        I thought not... posers ;-)

        • by rk (6314)
          "To build a ham radio from scratch, you must first create the universe." -- Apologies to Carl Sagan.
    • by wjh31 (1372867) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:44AM (#26710277) Homepage
      HAM SPAM?
    • Re:Not a first (Score:5, Informative)

      by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:46AM (#26710329) Homepage
      Indeed, it's sad how little knowledge there is of amateur radio among nerds these days. Part of that is the medium itself, where you're often essentially talking with bored middle-aged men about nothing (international regulations arguably forbidding interesting discussions). However, there's no better way to gain an understanding of electronics than through studying for an amateur radio license. If you start with a guide like the ARRL intro [amazon.com] , electronic gadgets become a lot less mysterious and it gets better as you proceed up the license classes. You can diagnose television or mobile phone problems, repair simple devices, or build your own for cheap like audio amplifiers. I haven't used amateur radio in over a decade now, but I'm still really happy that I got into it.
      • by Shakrai (717556) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:54AM (#26710539) Journal

        Part of that is the medium itself, where you're often essentially talking with bored middle-aged men about nothing

        So it's basically like IRC was back in the day? ;)

        • by JWSmythe (446288) *

              I'm thinking more like BBS's and FidoNet.

              I can still whistle connect tones well enough to get faxes and modems to connect. Ahh, there's a talent that's lost on most people today.

          • by Shotgun (30919)

            That talent was ALWAYS lost on most people. But, sadly, such is the world we live in.

      • Re:Not a first (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @12:33PM (#26711361) Homepage

        I tried to get some kids interested in ham radio.

        Problem was, when I started teaching theory and rules I lost half the class when they found out you could not swear or use profanity.

        Tell them they have to self censor themselves and they lose interest.

        saying SHIT is more important than knowledge to them.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by diskofish (1037768)
          Honestly, the idea of getting a ham license just for the fun probably isn't going to interest many except the most hardcore geeks.

          I am sure it was more interesting back in the old days before the internet where the only thing around was long distance telephone. There is a slew of other technology that is accessible and easy to use for casual communication.

          Only reason I am thinking about getting my license is because some of my activities involve the use of radios.
      • I'm not sure why it would be sad that nerds don't know a lot about amateur radio. The most interesting thing about shortwave radio and ham radios was opening up the opportunity to tune into foreign broadcasts and communicate with people who were far away. There is a system in place that does those things far more efficiently now. Its called the internet.

        People wax eloquent about dying technologies, but technologies die for a reason. We no longer have large groups of people who know how to repair ste
        • , whereas the internet, cellphones, and other "modern" communications systems rely on a shitload of pre-existing infrastructure before they will work.

          Ham radio just needs a radio and antenna at each end, and it works. No telephone companies, backhoe fade, DDOS attacks, etc.

        • by TigerNut (718742)
          That kind of thinking may burn us all later. At our house we have cable Internet, a home Wi-Fi hub, and cordless phones. Unfortunately, all that stuff goes down when the power fails. It's not like I don't know how to work around it, but so far I haven't actually done anything about it, other than also having a couple of old-school line-powered phones wired up. However, the time may come when the local ISP's equipment suffers a lightning strike or there is a substantial infrastructure problem in town. Instan
      • by rickb928 (945187)

        Not many people, even nerds, build their own PCs any more.

        My first ham set was Heathkit. I built it from piles of parts. The final amp I built was so good my ham friends had me building others for them. Turns out soldering isn't as simple as I thought it was, and my buddies weren't that good at it sometimes. But then again I was taught in the military, and had much practice...

        Imagine getting a motherboard kit with just the surface-mount stuff on it, and piles of parts to tack on. that's building a PC, s

      • by Andy Dodd (701)

        Same here, I almost never use my license or radio equipment any more, but ham radio is what got me started on the path to becoming an RF engineer, and I still use that knowledge gained from being a ham on a regular basis as part of my job duties.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I was going to point out that myself! And most likely this was also via amateur radio. Ham radio operators have been doing this for about 26 years now, it's definitely not a "first".

      The SAREX (Space Shuttle Amateur Radio EXperiment)Program started in 1983 when Mission Specialist Owen Garriott W5LFL operated from the shuttle for the first time. Since then there's been an established program of scheduling contacts with school students and the astronauts. First on the shuttles and now on the ISS.

      Also, Mir was

    • by LoRdTAW (99712)

      That's what I was thinking. This is news to a degree but to call it a first is a bold and unsupported claim. What radio tech did they use that is so unique? What band, what encoding, etc did they use? They mention it is in fact amateur radio but not HAM. That could be anything.

      A little more detail would actually make the article more news worthy for /. Not just "ZOMG they made a l337 radioz and talked to space men." Details please, we aren't retarded.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by nedlohs (1335013)

        "we aren't retarded."

        Do you only read with a +8 comment threshold or something?

      • by kent_eh (543303)

        A little more detail would actually make the article more news worthy for /. Not just "ZOMG they made a l337 radioz and talked to space men." Details please, we aren't retarded.

        Maybe we aren't, but the general public (for whom TFA was written) are probably quite impressed that someone who isn't a professional space radio engineer can actually do something like this.

        Which is kind of sad.

        Too many people have forgotten that making something with your own 2 hands is extremely rewarding, and not that daunting. Most seem to want to consume mass quantities of whatever the magic box tells them they need.

    • by Archon-X (264195)

      Allow me if you will, to pick you brain.
      When I was about 10, I was graced the friendship of a local ham. I setup an ancient FT-7 transceiver, a long wire antenna in a semi-random direction, and was fascinated by the world that it opened up.

      Sadly, at the time, my brain couldn't wrap around the requisites to get a license, and it all fell into obscurity.
      Now, I live in a city, so my dreams of building vast antennas is kind of over.

      To get to the point: I've still got a large attraction to the world of ham and p

      • Go check the ARRL website. Lots of ways to get into Amateur radio - even in cities. On low budgets. Only downside is you do have to talk to boring middle age men most of the time. Can't have everything.

        The FCC even dropped the Morse code requirement for General class, so if that was the kicker for you, it's gone.

        73, KL1SA
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by LandDolphin (1202876)

          Only downside is you do have to talk to boring middle age men most of the time.

          That boring middle aged man is probably thinking the same thing when he talks to you too.

  • Disappointing? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by whisper_jeff (680366) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:37AM (#26710161)
    "Somewhat disappointingly, the students actually did have permission to make contact. "

    And why is that disappointing? I think it's incredibly cool that they had permission to do something like this and would love to see officials (both school and space) take similar steps to encourage students to push the boundaries. I don't see how this is disappointing at all.
    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      It was tongue and cheek in that he was hoping it was a prank call. Look at the "from the x dept." line.
  • by Fx.Dr (915071) <exterminans@pala ... s t h o u r.com> on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:38AM (#26710171)
    ...Cap'n Crunch responded by saying "tweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet", and subsequently found out that, yes, the fridge on the ISS is in fact running.
    • by genner (694963)

      ...Cap'n Crunch responded by saying "tweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet", and subsequently found out that, yes, the fridge on the ISS is in fact running.

      But do they have prince albert in a can?

    • by wjsteele (255130)
      Fantastic... not many of today's kids would understand that reference! Thanks for the memory!

      Makes me wish modern cereal boxes had good toys like back then!!!

      Bill
  • Jeepers.

    Students built some sort of radio which they used to communicate with someone at distance?

    Will the wonders of this modern era ever cease?

  • Your first radio (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sakdoctor (1087155) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:41AM (#26710215) Homepage

    It's going to be considerably more difficult for the next generation to build their first radios, once it's all gone digital.

    There won't be much left to listen to on a simple crystal set.

    • It's going to be considerably more difficult for the next generation to build their first radios, once it's all gone digital.

      People can build their own digital equipment. I hear some people even build their own computers.

      Of course, if the digital format is proprietary, that makes things take a different turn. But that's because the format is proprietary, not because it's digital.

    • Re:Your first radio (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Muad'Dave (255648) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @12:01PM (#26710691) Homepage

      It's going to be considerably more difficult for the next generation to build their first radios, once it's all gone digital.

      You mean "write their first radios", since the era of hardware radios is essentially over? With the availability of very high speed/very high dynamic range ADCs and FPGAs capable of doing MPEG-4 decoding on the fly, I doubt you'll see much "building" and a lot more "writing" going on. Wanna get involved? Start Here [hpsdr.org].

  • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@gUUU ... inus threevowels> on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:41AM (#26710219) Homepage Journal

    Somewhat disappointingly, the students actually did have permission to make contact.

    You shouldn't be encouraging readers to attempt broadcasts without permission. Unlicensed broadcasts with power sufficient to reach the International Space Station can be a safety hazard; potentially interfering with or jamming legitimate transmissions. At the very least, one might distract the ISS crew during an important maneuver/space walk when the entire crew needs to be focused.

    (Think of it a bit like having the phone ring when you're in the middle of moving heavy furniture. Not exactly opportune.)

    These kids did the right thing by having official permission to make the broadcast. Especially because it meant that there was an astronaut available to speak with them. If it was an unlicensed transmission without prior approval, they would have gotten "hung up" on. ;-)

    • by fotbr (855184) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:47AM (#26710355) Journal

      Slight nit-pick. It doesn't take a whole lot of power to do VHF/UHF line-of-sight to (or from) low-earth-orbit. Especially if the receiving end has a) a good receiver b) a good antenna (or antenna system) or c) some combination of both, which, IIRC, the ISS does.

      • by Muad'Dave (255648)
        I was going to pounce on the same point (that of the fact that there's no RF danger at typical Earth-to-LEO power levels), but then I realized he was thinking along the lines of jamming/busting in on NASA comms with a fake message and making them lose their concentration.

        Slightly off-topic: there was an article about a guy at Arecibo that was going to attempt to radar map an asteroid. The article provided the power level, frequency, and gain of the dish. I plugged those numbers into an RF exposure limit cal

    • by BigGar' (411008)

      I call bullshit on this. The power required to reach the ISS is fairly low and easily within what is the allowed Maximum transmitting power (Typically 1500 Watts, but depending on the frequency may be lower). In any event you can bounce a transmission off the Moon and pick it up on about 100Watts on the low end.

      Depending on the antenna they probably wouldn't have required any more than 5-10 watts to do the transmission. Though with a smaller antenna power power would have been required.

      An unlicensed trans

      • An unlicensed transmission is an FCC, or the Canadian equivalent, violation and would have gotten them in trouble with that organization.

        Is there some part of this I was unclear on? Why do you think the FCC doesn't like unlicensed transmissions if not because they can interfere with other public transmissions?

        My presumption is that if they're transmitting without permission to the ISS, they're doing so without proper licensing. Which is a relatively safe assumption considering that the ISS does not (to my k

      • by Gordonjcp (186804)

        I call bullshit on this. The power required to reach the ISS is fairly low and easily within what is the allowed Maximum transmitting power

        I've not spoken to the crew of the ISS, but I have used their radio as a repeater when it was in that mode. I needed around 5W transmit power into a simple homebrewed aerial that took about an hour to make. It's not exactly difficult.

    • Contacting a receiver that's only 200-300 miles away with clear line of sight is not a major feat, nor does it require "dangerous" levels of power. There's a little doppler-shift trickery if you want to be slick about it, but the ISS is a relatively easy target for a radio signal.

      And, yeah, if they didn't have permission no one would know about it because the receiver would have ignored them.

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      distract the ISS crew? are you insane? its' not like doctor evil and you override all the speaker volume controls and scream over all speakers ,"HELLO! I HAXORED YOU!!!!! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!"

      anyone can legally contact the ISS without permission, just get a Ham radio license and the required gear.

      as for the uninformed crack you make....

      Unlicensed broadcasts with power sufficient to reach the International Space Station can be a safety hazard

      5 watts is not a hazard unless you shove the antenna into someones bra

    • There's a big difference between having a license for these frequencies and having permission from NASA to talk to the astronauts. I have a license. (It doesn't take that much power if you use a high gain antenna, since it's straight line of sight) I don't have any special permission to talk with the people on the ISS. I haven't tried, as I would expect no-one to be listening on those frequencies if it wasn't set up in advance.

      I don't see that there would be any danger if you were talking using license
  • by Muad'Dave (255648) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:43AM (#26710259) Homepage
    Yawn. While not just anyone can do what they've done, I'm saddened by the fact that an Amateur Radio hobbyist making a simple FM transceiver is considered news-worthy by the masses. What happened to the spirit of 'Experimentation and Advancement of The Radio Art'? Have we as a species lost our curiosity and drive to learn about and then do new things? I guess the TV has won. 8-(
    • by mikewren420 (264173) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:48AM (#26710399) Homepage

      Indeed... I was able to contact the ISS twice using low power (10 watts) and a simple vertical antenna. This is hardly newsworthy, as any Amateur Radio operator with a 2 meter radio (they start at $100) and a small vertical antenna can make contact, with a little luck.

      Audio from my contact and others, as well as digital stills received from the ISS are at my website: http://mikewren.com/iss-21oct08 [mikewren.com]

      • by Muad'Dave (255648)
        I chatted with an [astro|cosmo]naut on MIR once from the radio in my car while standing in a parking lot in NJ watching them fly overhead. After seeing them fade into shadow, I asked the [astro|cosmo]naut if that was a pretty sunset. He was shocked that I knew he'd just gone into shadow. I told him I was watchin', so he'd better behave.
    • Because you are just too right. Forty years ago before personal computers, to get any brownie points for this kind of thing at school you had to wind the coils yourself or bake your own resistors, because hobbyist magazines were full of designs. Ah, the great days of acorn tubes and bending aluminum chassis plates. Or the day I accidentally jammed the TV signal in a quarter mile radius, owing to the amazing bandwidth of some ex-mil tubes and misreading a capacitor value. But, sadly, that's why the authoriti
      • by Muad'Dave (255648)

        I can't tell if you're trying to be sarcastic or not.

        The general populace 'back then' actually had to have a little smarts to replace tubes in their TVs and radios. Every drug store had a tube tester and usually sold tubes. With the advent of 'black box' transistorized appliances, the need to know anything about what's going on inside went the way of the vacuum tube - into history.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I'm saddened by the fact that an Amateur Radio hobbyist making a simple FM transceiver is considered news-worthy by the masses.

      A fair point. But on the other hand, what better way is there to ignite enthusiasm for amateur radio among the masses than by showing them what it can do?

      What happened to the spirit of 'Experimentation and Advancement of The Radio Art'? Have we as a species lost our curiosity and drive to learn about and then do new things?

      Evidently these students have curiosity aplenty, which is what drove them to build their system and try to call the ISS. If this is the behavior we want to see more of, then we need to encourage said behavior: by applauding it and publicizing it, which is what this news item is doing.

      I understand your point, which is that this kind of experimentation shoul

      • by Muad'Dave (255648)
        You're correct about needing to encourage curiosity - perhaps I'm a bit pessimistic about the future. I'd love for it to be part of a 'real' science and technology curriculum in high school instead of teaching to the SOL test (such a deliciously ironic acronym).

        Don't kids these days wonder at all how the world around them works? I couldn't read/experiment enough when I was young; hell, I still can't find enough time to investigate everything I want to. I want to know how everything works from the electrons

    • Video killed the radio star. [youtube.com] It's sad, but true.
    • I know you can't RTFA, but can you at least RTFS? They didn't just build a kit.

      • by Muad'Dave (255648) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @12:33PM (#26711375) Homepage

        They didn't just build a kit.

        No, they perpetrated a worse blasphemy than building a kit - according to their website [operationf...ontact.com], they purchased a friggin' tranceiver!

        Many, many hams have the brains and skill to actually DESIGN AND BUILD something as opposed to following cookbook designs and solder pre-supplied parts down and call it a miracle. If their website is correct, they did neither wrt the radio.

    • by vitaflo (20507) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @12:07PM (#26710817) Homepage

      Well, add to that the fact that they didn't even build their own radio. Here's their website:

      http://www.operationfirstcontact.com/blog/episode16.htm [operationf...ontact.com]

      They bought an ICOM Ic-V8000 as the transceiver. Basically all they did was build an antenna.

    • For my parents' generation:
      They got free time in high school if they were well behaved and interested to play with this kind of stuff. Maybe they didn't go at this level but it was available. My generation: For us we didn't get that level of freedom till senior level courses in college, and that was obviously slipping towards graduate courses. Otherwise it is really up to the kids on their own or with their parents help to pursue hands-on learning. Of course, I don't blame any school offical for being e
    • It's getting relatively hard to advance the art after so many decades of development. Today's ham spirit lives on in P2P network protocols and similar experiments on the global network.
  • The project's blog (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    http://www.operationfirstcontact.com/blog.htm

  • by codesmith.ca (251628) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:51AM (#26710443)

    Ummm, folks? They're Canadian college students, tech school level, not university. They designed and built a 2m band 5 watt transceiver.

    When I was in college in the 90's, designing and building a low power FM transceiver from the ground up was considered a good third year project. I'm guessing that they had to design everything from power supply to antenna, and probably fabricate it themselves.

    Good on you, guys!! I'm da*ned proud of you. especially the adult student who went back for more schooling.

  • "The Humber College seniors made contact with the International Space Station Monday with a radio system they designed and built themselves."
     
    Ummm... so what? It's not like radios are hard to build, or the information to build them is hard to find, or the parts are hard to obtain.

  • Bad article (Score:5, Informative)

    by vitaflo (20507) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @12:04PM (#26710753) Homepage

    These kids did not build their own radio. The bought an Icom Ic-V8000 radio and a Yaesu G-5500 rotator and built their own antenna. One of the kids got a ham license and they were able to get some time with the IIS.

    http://www.operationfirstcontact.com/blog/episode16.htm [operationf...ontact.com]

    The only thing they did was build an antenna basically. I'm happy for them (we could use more kids getting into Ham radio) but this story is sensationalizes on something that many people have done before.

    • These kids did not build their own radio. The bought an Icom Ic-V8000 radio and a Yaesu G-5500 rotator and built their own antenna. One of the kids got a ham license and they were able to get some time with the IIS.

      http://www.operationfirstcontact.com/blog/episode16.htm [operationf...ontact.com]

      The only thing they did was build an antenna basically. I'm happy for them (we could use more kids getting into Ham radio) but this story is sensationalizes on something that many people have done before.

      Yeah, but that reporter had never heard of it before (and obviously can't be bothered to do any research that might spoil their headline.)

    • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @12:50PM (#26711791) Homepage

      This project is embarrassing. It took five college seniors ("Wireless and Telecommunications Technology" majors, no less) a whole year to build and use a pointable ham VHF antenna comparable to a fringe-area TV antenna. That's all they built; the transceiver was a stock ICOM Ic-V8000 [universal-radio.com], which is a ham mobile radio that's basically a CB radio with higher power (75W) and fewer restrictions built in. This is not exotic technology. NASA has a program devoted to doing this in high schools. [nasa.gov]

      From their blog, the only big problem was getting permission to go on the roof of a building (a large flat roof) to put up the antenna. If they'd just headed out to an open field (they're using a radio intended for car installation, after all), mounted the antenna on a tripod, and aimed it by hand, they probably could have completed the project in a week.

      Hams talk to the ISS all the time. When it's visible, it's only a few hundred miles away, after all. The only real problem is booking some astronaut time. If you don't want to bother with that, the ISS has an open packet repeater hams can use. It's only 9600 baud, using an old TNC. This technology is so old it was on Mir.

      Their blog is like reading Twitter output:
      Of course, we've been busy for real lately. There's a whole bunch of new stuff going on. Exciting stuff! For instance, we soldered the connectors to the control wires for our antenna's rotor. After all that was said and done, we were able to control the movement of our antenna from inside room N214. Here's a few pictures of us working on that.

  • by pla (258480) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @12:07PM (#26710819) Journal
    FTA: "While school contacts with the space station are routinely made through the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station program, many of those contacts are made using a traditional ham radio."

    Seriously people - We should feel pretty damned scared that this counts as some sort of "achievement" to crow about on the Slashdot FP. These guys built a home-brew shortwave radio as their senior project?

    Sorry if this sounds like "playa-hatin'", but gimme a break! Even as a "first", this doesn't sound like anything to brag about.
    • by Paul Carver (4555)

      Sorry I haven't been paying close enough attention. What did you say your senior project was? I assume it was a lot more impressive, but I just don't recall what you said it was.

  • While school contacts with the space station are routinely made through the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station program, many of those contacts are made using a traditional ham radio.

    Well, hams contacted Skylab when Owen Garriott was onboard (he's a ham) and many hams build there own radios. So while it's a neat project for college students and they deserve a round of applause for doing it, it's not like people haven't built their own radios to contact astronauts in space.

  • by tjstork (137384) <todd.bandrowsky@NOSpAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @12:26PM (#26711213) Homepage Journal

    Sorry, the Iranian kids called first. We have to put you on hold.

  • In 1962 you could shell out $29.95 for a Heathkit "Two'er", a 5-tube 2-meter transceiver, quite capable of contacting another Two'er 100 miles away with just a coathanger for an antenna. And you did not make headlines for having assembled the kit or pressed the mike button.

  • They built a Yagi. Woopie!
    • Want to call the International Space Station?
    • There's an app for that.

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