I’ve spent a little time after dark the last few evenings copying packets from the ham radio digipeater aboard the International Space Station. The first night I used only the stock rubber duck antenna with the Kenwood TH-D74 handheld transceiver. Despite the relative strength of the signal, I only managed to capture a couple of packets.

Last night I took the Arrow antenna to the backyard and had much better results.

Messaging via the ISS digipeater is popular because it’s relatively easy. Full-duplex isn’t required and the signal from the ISS is strong and easy to copy.

That’s the relatively “easy” part.

The more difficult part, at least for me, is becoming adept at fiddling with the handheld transceiver, in the dark, to push the right buttons at the right time, to call or respond to the other stations heard.

This is harder than it sounds even using canned messages. But it’s only difficult, not impossible and I expect with a little more practice I’ll soon be making contacts via this unique method of communicating using equipment on an orbiting outpost in space as an intermediary means of signal propagation.

One more note on using the Arrow Antenna. Until I really started looking, I would have said that I should have much success using the Arrow in my yard. It’s not until I start pointing the thing that I begin to see all sorts of problems. The trees, power lines, and even the house itself. These all limit a clear view of the sky especially below a certain elevation.

The falling leaves will help a little but I’m going to start looking at alternate locations for some of the weaker signal work. For instance, my father-in-law has 25 acres on the outskirts of town with wide open spaces and a decent view of the sky. It’s a good option but one that requires I start thinking more like a portable operator with a ready-to-roll satellite ground station.