Alabama Students Make Amateur Radio Contact with International Space Station

At 1:02 p.m. on April 10, 2018, a group of Pinson Valley High School students gathered in the school’s auditorium to become the first Alabama high school students to contact the International Space Station via amateur radio.

The students, operating as PVHS Amateur Radio Club station KN4BBD, had about 10 minutes to interview ISS crew member Richard “Ricky” Arnold II, KE5DAU, operating as ISS Amateur Radio Club station NA1SS. The contact was Commander Arnold’s first ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station) contact as NA1SS.

The space station’s FM downlink on 145.800 MHz was easily received by terrestrial stations as the ISS passed over the state. The uplink frequency was not disclosed, but could easily be found by stations near the school. Owen, W3NH, recorded the contact from his station in North Jefferson County, and both KN4BBD and NA1SS can be heard for most of its duration.

Pinson Valley English teacher Jennifer Moore, KF4INA, was the catalyst for the event, which was additionally made possible by the support of the Birmingham Amateur Radio Club, Blount County Amateur Radio Club and Huntsville Amateur Radio Club. The Palmerdale Fire Department also helped with the installation of the antenna that was used to make the contact. Even Alabama Power went to great lengths to make the event possible by shutting down an electrical substation to eliminate radio frequency interference that could have affected the contact.

The event was live-streamed to all 56 other schools in the Jefferson County school district and on YouTube.

Other Alabama K-12 schools and a university have contacted the ISS previously, but this was the first contact made using amateur radio.